Apparently I was a huge snob as a 10 year old.
At the time, I was gung ho about reading and especially hung up on the Spookesville series by Christopher Pike. (I still stand by those being some of the best Young Adult books I’ve read.)
My lovely, wonderful family members were kind enough to take my interests to heart and often bought me books as presents. One Christmas, this included the first Harry Potter book.
I vividly remember laying down on my blue carpet, in a room with bright blue walls, and cracking open the hard cover spine. “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much,” it began.
I read on for maybe 20 or so more pages before deciding this book was not for me. It wasn’t challenging enough, I said, because I didn’t need to pull out a dictionary while reading it. (Snob, right? Ironically, I think this proves that Hermione and I would probably get along really well.) For years, I stuck by my first impression and refused to read the Harry Potter series.
Secretly, I enjoyed the playful shock that spread across my friends’ faces when I said I hadn’t read it. “What?! Do you know how many pop cultural references you’re missing out on?” they’d often say.
While I usually laughed this off, at some point I started saying, “I know, I have to read it, just to give it another try.” If I could slog my way through In Search of Lost Time, I could definitely read Harry Potter.
About a month ago, I finally got started and I was happily surprised. As I read, I started moving faster and faster through the books, driven by that hungry “What happens next?” obsession that comes with a good book. Just yesterday, I finally finished all seven books after nearly fifteen years of protest.
And they were good!
By the third book, I had become invested in these characters. I realized I kind of wished Hermione would be my best friend and, indeed, wouldn’t it be fantastic if Hogwarts existed in real life? I want to be one of those muggle wizards! Even more exciting was how the students’ relationships developed in such a way that they started this clandestine group willing to stand together for something they believed in, and all the surprises along the way.
It’s so easy to define yourself by the things you aren’t. I do not eat meat, I do not live in the suburbs, I did not read Harry Potter. If part of your identity is as someone who questions popular culture, the lazy and easy response is to simply not participate in popular culture. But the whole “unexamined life” adage applies just as much to the grand questions of “Who am I and what do I want to do?” as the small, daily habits that comprise our days. Whether that’s what you put on your plate, the books you read, or the people you talk to.
As I leave the world of Harry Potter, it’s time for me to drop back into the book, The Golden Notebook, I so heartlessly set aside — though, it’s one I’ve been trying to finish for the better part of 10 years, so it can wait. Nevertheless, I’m happy that I can finally make all those Hogwarts and Gringott’s and Quidditch jokes now that I know the full story behind them.
Oh, but for the record, I still think this is the best version of Harry Potter.