I was eleven years old, dressed in a black skirt my mother had made, and waiting to go and perform in a Christmas concert.
My birthday was fairly close, so my grandparents had traveled to celebrate with a special lunch, see the concert, and then head straight home afterwards. We finished lunch, got dressed, and were about to leave the house for the concert when my grandma remembered something.
“Here’s your present,” she said, handing me a gift bag. “You can open it when you get home.”
“Thank you,” I said dutifully. Gift bags being what they are, I was able to see what was inside: a paperback copy of that book everyone was talking about, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Immediately, my heart sank. I’d heard terrible things about the book — that it was turning children into bad people. How could my grandmother have given me something like that? After the concert, I took the book gingerly out of its bag and expressed my reservations to my family.
“I think you’d like it,” said my sister. “There’s a boy who gets a lot of birthday presents and he’s angry that he didn’t get as many as he did the year before.”
“You don’t have to read the whole book if you don’t like it,” said my father. “Just try the first chapter and see what you think.”
Still full of misgivings, I sat down and opened the book. The cover art was a little scary. There were a ton of good reviews in the front. The list of chapter titles seemed interesting. And then came the first sentence …
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
And just like that, I was a fan. I still can’t say why, exactly. It might have been all of those lovely commas. It might have been the sauciness of that thank you very much. But for whatever reason, from that moment on, I devoured the other three books available at the time and impatiently re-read and re-re-read them as I waited for news of the next book and the new Harry Potter movie. I dearly wanted to play Hermione Granger in the film and was instantly jealous of this Emma Watson person when I read about her in American Girl magazine. When my father gave me the fifth book on a camping trip, I read it in two days, perched on a folding canvas chair by the fire, plagued at every turn by mosquitoes, fading daylight, and emotional turmoil.
When I got my hands on the sixth book, I had a plan: I would allow myself to look at the cover art, read the jacket blurbs, and take in all of the preliminary text, all the way through to the end of the first sentence. It was a long first sentence, if you recall. As I read it, I inched my index card down line by line, trying to take in each word slowly, failing in my craving for more details about this story. Still, I kept to my plan and succeeded in putting the book away until I had long, uninterrupted hours in which to read the rest of it properly.
I used the same method to savour the seventh book, reading long through the night until those relief-filled last words, All was well. It had been a long journey, but now it was over (not counting the movies, which were covered in Sunday’s post).
Somewhere in the middle of the epic, perhaps without realizing it, I realized that just as you can never go home again, so too could we never read a book again for the first time. From then on, I would always cringe in anticipation of the deaths, and sigh in anticipation of the resolutions. The story would never again have the old sheen of excitement, the lure of an unknown quantity. Its task now was to fade comfortably into the background, like a well-loved armchair, to be visited again for comfort and nostalgia and reminders of old promises.
How did you first encounter the Harry Potter books? Were you a mega-fan, lining up at midnight readings with a wand and a spangled hat? Or did you read quietly at home?