Come on, give in to the hype: Harry Potter rocks!

So I spent the vast part of my Saturday a week ago - up until about 9 am on Sunday morning, in fact - with the new Harry Potter book firmly in hand. Sure, I took a few breaks, because, you know, there were social events to attend in spite of the new Harry Potter, but nevertheless, 24 hours after the book arrived on my doorstep, I was wishing the next book was out already.

A year ago I scoffed at the notion of reading the Harry Potter books. They're such a mass phenomenon that, like Baywatch, they can't possibly be any good, right? Friend after friend fell to the thrall of the wizarding world, but I held firm. OK, the radical right wants to stop kids from reading the books, that's points in the books' favor, but it's not as if the right's list of must-ban books is all that selective. What finally tipped the scales was the sheer number of the books available at the local used book store, and their resultant cheap costs. Airplane reading doesn't come much cheaper, unless you want to read the Savage Love series.

So I got hooked. I will grant you this much: I am predisposed to fantasy books. My father turned me on to The Lord of the Rings when I was a kid - by sixth grade I was reading the series at least once a year, and yes, I had no friends - and throughout junior high and high school, fantasy and science fiction were my favorite means of escaping reality. Geeky, sure, but hey, it kept me off the cocaine.

Over the past few years, though, I've read fewer and fewer of these books. Doing a Ph.D. in literature has often meant very little time for sheer pleasure reading, and while I can always explain to you the usefulness of reading something Literary, it's a lot harder to feel like my doctorate will be substantially aided by perusing 2001: The Year We Make Contact. Plus, since I had to read so much for my studies, the notion of picking up a book for pleasure became more and more foreign. Instead, I watched TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel, which offered much the same thing - the opportunity to inhabit a different world for an hour at a time - but without the reading.

Recently, though, I've come back to the idea of reading for the sheer pleasure of it - picking up a book and getting caught up in it without making little notes in pencil all over the margins. No Interesting - does this relate to Cold War?, or Augh! More sexism! It's hard to overcome the now ingrained notion that everything I read needs to have a purpose, and admittedly, it's really hard for me to read the latest Harry Potter book and not think about how fascinating it is in relation to the rise of the racist right in Britain.

OK, so I can't outrun the years of training that taught me to look for the subtext in everything - the colonial ideology in Jane Eyre or Dances With Wolves, sexism on Sesame Street. And believe me, I think that kind of training is really important - it's just that sometimes you want to critique colonialism, and sometimes you'd prefer to just dance. And - stretching a metaphor where it just shouldn't go - I'm relearning how to dance with a book in my hand. Remembering how to get lost in a book.

So Harry Potter came around at just the right time. The books create a compelling world, and they're easy to get lost in. The first book especially is a quick read, more clearly a kids' book (but smart enough for adults), with a fairly straightforward, linear narrative, but with enough twists to get me hooked. And each book is better than the last, more complex and unexpected. They've helped me rediscover the joy of reading a book not because it's useful, but simply because it's a good book. And that, quite simply, is a great thing.


June 30, 2003


New Zealand, here I come!

I'm heading to New Zealand this Thursday, which means I haven't really had that much time to write anything related to Harry Potter (and it's why the column over on the left is relatively short)... so here's the news on the trip.

I'm kind of excited about the fact that in this year of constant and mindnumbing invocations of patriotism, I will be having no July 4th. No, I won't just be out of the country - I actually will skip July 4th entirely. Yep - thanks to the International Date Line, I leave here July 3rd and arrive in New Zealand on July 5th. No July 4th at all! Which, in these shove-the-flag-down-your-throat days, is something I'm quite happy about. And no, it's not exactly unintentional, either!

I'll be flying in to Auckland, and from there taking a train to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand and where the archives I need are located. I'll do two weeks of research in Wellington, and then do some traveling around with a friend and with my boy. If all goes well, I'll be posting pictures and reports here, so keep checking the site!


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