I first posted this on my blogger account about a year ago, and I repost it now here on my own website with a Very Important Update at the end:
I’ve never been particularly secretive about the fact I am about to reveal, although I don’t disclose it readily, for I know that it is likely to shock and sometimes even cause frantic panic fits. The fact is this:I have not read all the Harry Potter books.Why confess this now, so publicly? Well, because, I feel a little left out. And sad. And can’t escape the nagging paranoia that I am in fact an imposter in the children’s book world.The constant dilemmas that I have to deal with include: what house do I belong in? Because I know that I’m either Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff, but I can’t tell the two apart so can never decide. Also, I have no idea who Luna Lovegood is, but in posters and fan art and cosplay she seems pretty awesome and I’d like to be her friend. Plus also, I don’t get all the ships, and finally, most potently, I still have no idea who dies in the end. Someone once said Dumbledore to me, but, surely not???
So here’s my Harry Potter story:When I was 16, in 1999, I did work experience at Childline, and on the last day, the girl I was work experiencing with couldn’t come for some after-work ice creams because she had to go to a book thing. She told me she was going to meet the author of Harry Potter, a book her younger siblings were all utterly obsessed with. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I was pretty heavy into my Star Trek phase and reading of Point Romances, so wasn’t really that interested.Fast forward to a year or two later, and I was working in Visitor Services at the Natural History Museum during my school holidays. A friend had leant me all the Harry Potter books so far, and I was desperate to get away from patrolling the dinosaur gallery so that I could continue with reading The Prisoner of Azkaban. I loved it. I utterly adored it. I had got my Dad into it, and he was buying the Stephen Fry audio books because he really doesn’t do reading but is totally fine with listening. This was around about the time that EVERYONE was reading Harry Potter. You could look down a tube carriage and every other person was reading one of the (then) four books, regardless of whether it had an adult or grown-up cover. I bought a hardback box set of the first four, and lugged the huge Goblet of Fire around with all of my A Level folders and text books until I was done.Then I went to University.I went to Durham to study English Literature, and suffered a massive literary shock to the system. I had hardly read anything on the syllabus. I had no idea who half the people I studied were. I felt let down by the state school system, who had clearly not done enough to prepare me for the world of degree-level literature. I was so naive to what was out there. I just had no idea that there were so many books! I floundered, but then I started reading. And then I read everything. Everything that I thought I should be reading, that is.I no longer had time for ‘children’s books’. I was a serious Literature student now. I revelled in my own pretentiousness. I knew how to correctly pronounce Middle English Chaucer for chrissakes. My only guilty pleasure was nipping to Cafe Nero in Durham every Tuesday afternoon for an hour or two, to read my freshly purchased copy of Heat Magazine. This was a dark time for ‘fun reading’. In fact, my reading became so fun-less that I didn’t pick up a novel of my own choosing for about a year and a half after I graduated.The Order of the Phoenix came out during the Summer between first and second year, and I spent that Summer working as a camp counsellor at Brant Lake Camp, in upstate New York. It was a boys camp, and most of the boys were CRAZY about Potter. There were these identical twin boys who had permission not to do any activities the day their books (one copy each) arrived so that they could read. They were nine and read the book in one day. It was incredible. My own copy was waiting for me at home, and I promised myself that I would read it as soon as I got back to London.Reader, I broke that promise. I maybe read the first couple of chapters – I seem to remember someone called Tonks??? – and then I found myself waist-deep in my second year reading list. I never picked up the book again. It’s still there on my shelf, unloved and unread.Coupled with my dedication to my course, plus the year and a half burnout of after, I never felt the need to return to Harry Potter. I was working in a radio station when the last book came out, and gleefully read the very last page just so that I could taunt the presenters and journalists I was working with. The last page on its own didn’t make any sense, so actually spoiled nothing for me or anybody else, but the desire to read the books for myself was gone.Fast forward to working at Waterstones, and re-discovering the joy of children’s books and YA. Working in the largest branch in Piccadilly, we were never short of copies of Harry Potter. Tourists would come in and ask for them all the time, as collecting the books in different languages is a thing for some people. And you know what? Shelving vast quantities of a book really kills the desire to read it. I prefer to read and get excited by the books before everyone else discovers them, a stance I still feel very strongly today. Once everyone else is reading something, the book becomes passé and I just lose the will to have anything to do with it. This is the reason I will probably never read One Day by David Nicholls, or Gone Girl, or Game of Thrones.So what does that mean for me now?It means that I look through the cosplay pics from Leakycon and wonder what the hell is going on. It makes me nervous before my peers, certain that they will shun me if they ever find out the truth. So much of YA today is intrinsic upon Harry Potter, it’s like the foundation stone for all the big writers of today. I feel left out. I feel like an impostor. And I fear that I will never, ever, truly belong.And yet, still no desire to actually read the books. Maybe I’ll get around to them one day. When everyone else has forgotten them and I get the chance to coordinate the great Harry Potter revival. Except, I think we all know that this isn’t going to happen any time soon.Make of me what you will reader. Shun me, or pity me, I deserve whatever you have to give. And when the day finally comes that my Dad arranges the family visit to the Warner Brothers Studio in Levesden (just down the road from me), I will dutifully stand outside because I know that I do not deserve to traipse down Diagon Alley.Call me a fraud, or a phoney, but at least now I can be honest. I have not read all the Harry Potter books, and probably never will.