Monday, July 23, 2007

Finis, or a Treatise on the Joys of Reading

No Harry Potter spoilers in this post! I promise!

After a marathon 500-page reading excursion, I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows today. And, while I am exceedingly fond of this book and mournfully sorry to see this series end, my post today is less about Harry Potter in particular, and more about what the series has meant to me, an adult, reading a children's series all these many years. Above all, it is about what the series has evoked for me...fond memories, exhilarating reflections on the act of reading, and a deeper understanding of myself as a reader and a lover of words.

I resisted the Harry Potter series when it first emerged, and it wasn't until Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had been out for a while (late 2001) that I really got on board with the series and decided to give it a go. I resisted reading the series because of the hype, mainly. I was bound and determined not to join the throng of followers. However, as I gazed repeatedly on the delightful covers, and finally read the blurb on the back of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I finally realized that it sounded like fun. Why not try it out?

A while ago, in a Shelfari book group, someone asked the question, "Why do you read?" A deceivingly simple question that it's taken me several weeks to formulate an answer for. Many people said "to escape!" And, while I can't deny the joy in escape, I think I read for a different reason, one of which has been repeatedly revealed to me throughout my reading and re-reading of the Harry Potter series. I read because I'm fascinated by words and the reactions they evoke from deep down inside me. Words are just markings on a page, symbols attached to arbitrary objects. There is no essence of "table" that makes it so. We assign a word to an object and suddenly it is.

I first felt the emotional power of words when I was in the third grade, and I wrote what might be my most affecting piece of fiction to date (don't tell anyone), a hypothetical letter from a soldier to her family detailing the harrowing experience of war. While it was an assignment I now look back on as propagandistic and kind of icky, my teacher, mom and grandmother thought it brilliant. It made them cry.

As I was growing up, I became further influenced by the written word and more deeply involved in the escapist facet of reading, and I felt the first inklings of the emotional and intellectual journey that I love so much now. I could sit on my very own end of my grandparents' couch under my very own reading lamp for hours, lost in the words on a page, gulping down book after book, content to live the lives of the characters. The best books always made me cry. The best books, and the best authors, could involve me so completely in their characters' world, with just some scratches on the page, these arbitrary bits we call words so as to render me completely rapt in the fictional universe. And sometimes they made me care so much, so hard, and so completely as to bring about tears.

Years later, to an even greater extent, it is this emotional pull that draws me to fiction and the resulting reflection on exactly how they do that. It's what keeps me glued to and excited about the Harry Potter series in particular. For J.K. Rowling can pull me into her fictional wizard's world and allow me to care deeply for an orphan with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Beyond the world of Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling can once again transport me back to my grandparents' couch under my very own reading lamp to those carefree days of childhood when books could make me cry. With a copy of a book in my hands I am at once spirited away and simultaneously--paradoxically--made keenly aware of the now.


  1. I read for a variety of reasons as I think many of us do (including you). I too have found that I am fascinated by words and the craft of writing. Not so much my own writing, but in the way others put words together to form a story that I am able to bring to life with my imagination as I read. There is definitely an emotional tie involved because without it, an important part of my ability to enjoy what I'm reading is missing. It's that connection that can make all the difference.

  2. Fantastic post!

    Why do I read? It is part escapism. I read when I was younger to escape; I had a lot to escape from. But, like you, I also read for the thrill of the words. To see the art and mystery and talent writers use to create whole new worlds, people, and places for me to visit and marvel at - something Harry Potter has in spades.

    And, especially when I was young - to a lesser extent now - I had an easier time having an emotional response to a book than I did to my life. It was easier and less painful. And I think books helped me learn to have that critical response to my life later though. At 8 or 9 I couldn't deal with all the things happening to me; books helped me learn. I could cry so easily over a book - but I never learned to cry for myself until I was much older. I don't know that I cried for my father's death until I was at least 16 - 8 years later.

    That is so cute that you had your own couch corner and your own light to read by. I read all over my grandparents house; but I think I read the most in my bed. Or, and I kind of miss doing this, at the kitchen table with a Dr. Pepper and a bag of Cheez Doodles! I did get caught quite a bit with a flashlight under my sheets. I'd just turn it back on after they went back to bed!

  3. Ok so I read the first line of this post, saw that you were going to talk about Harry Potter... and that's as far as I got. I'm only on page 300 something and am totally paranoid about reading about the book online! But I wanted to comment and let you know I dropped by. Glad you got the book & hope you enjoyed it! :)

    Ari (Baking and Books)

  4. Andi, this is a phenomenal post!

    I too resisted the HP hype for years and when I gave in and started reading the series, way after all of the other followers ;O) I was hooked! In love, inspired and awed by the series, the words, J.K. Rowling!

    I completely agree with your "reasons" for reading and I too am fascinated by the emotions that can be envoked by lines on a page. I don't use it as escape as much but that comes along with the emotions that you feel when you're touched by a book I suppose.

    I also think that J.K. Rowling is a genius. The ability to write this cohesive, emotional, complex series of books is amazing to me. Her imagination is unlike any other and her ability to put it to paper as well as she does is inspiring.

    I haven't started reading HP 7 yet. I almost can't bring myself to do it. Does that sound weird?

  5. That was the most well-written post re:HP. You definitely shed light with regard to true fans of the like.

    Personally, I'm holding out for the Se7en DVD box set when it's all said and done. I've yet to read a word of the books or watch a single HP movie.

    I'm thinking a vacation/DVD perusal will be in order down the line.


  6. Lit Feline, I'm not fascinated with my own writing either. I'm always struggling so hard to achieve what I think these great writers have done with words. Probably a very misguided attempt, but we'll see. lol

    Heather, thanks for sharing your experience. I certainly think books are a great coping mechanism in the younger years.

    Come back, Ari! No spoilers! lol

    Funky, I agree...Rowling really does a phenomenal job tying this very complex story together. You'll see that in book 7 she references every single book that came before. I can't imagine how she plotted it all! And it doesn't sound weird to me to delay the reading. I've been putting off The Amber Spyglass...the last in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series for OVER A YEAR because I can't bear for it to be over. With HP I just had to know, so I gulped it all down at once. lol

    Thanks, Lu!

    Nocturnal, thanks for stopping by! You're quite a strong one (and talented) to be able to sidestep both the films and the books. That takes work nowadays with everyone talking about them!

  7. andi you are such an awesome writer. You put everything so well. I'm envious....

  8. 'Manda, you're too kind. You've got me beat by a MILE girl. :)


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