Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Harry and Me

Nine years ago, I was a regular reviewer of young adult fiction for Publishers Weekly. In spring, I received a galley of a YA novel fresh from the U.K. The book had me completely enthralled; I couldn't put it down. I vividly remember sitting in the brown wool club chair in my office, thinking, This is the best thing I've read since Mary Poppins.

The book was Harry Potter & the Sorceror's Stone. My starred review ran in July 1998, the first in the U.S. It began:
Readers are in for a delightful romp with this award-winning debut from England that dances in the footsteps of P.L. Travers and Roald Dahl.
I was thrilled when the second half of the sentence made it as a pull-quote. (I just Googled it: 387 hits!)

That summer, I drove from VA with the Boy Wonder (then 9) and dog Jenny to northeastern PA, land of BW's birth. We stayed with my friend Mary, whose children were 4, 6, 9 and 12. I brought along the galley of Harry Potter, and on the last day told the kids that I had a magical new book. Who wanted to hear it? They all assembled around me--except for the 12-year-old, who declared that he was "too old" to listen to stories.

As I read, the children crept closer and closer. By the end of the first chapter, they were huddled right by me--even the 12-year-old--their eyes wide, their mouths little O's of astonishment. I read until my voice gave out; the kids howled with disappointment when I stopped. I had to promise to send the galley to Mary once BW had finished it.

Next day in the car, BW, who was on fire to find out what would happen to Harry Potter, volunteered to read the rest of the book aloud (he didn't inherit my motion sickness). So for 9 hours that's just what he did--though after awhile we agreed that he should give up on giving Hagrid the same accent that I did (I'm good at Britspeak). I think he finished reading just before we pulled into our driveway. It was the best road trip ever.

Once home, BW looked up Harry Potter on Amazon and posted his enthusiastic review, in the course of which he found out that the sequel was already out in England. Mary's mother, who lives in London, was going to be staying with her soon. So I pleaded with Mary to ask her mother to bring over the second book and then mail it to me. Deal!

A few weeks later, we received a copy of the UK edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which I duly read to BW. (It has the most adorable endpapers: copies of letters to JK Rowling from schoolchildren praising the first book.) The following spring I was assigned by PW to review the book, so I read it again. My review, again starred and the first in the U.S., ran in June 1999. Here are the first and last sentences:
Fans who have been anxiously awaiting the return of young British wizard Harry Potter (and whose clamor caused the Stateside publication date to be moved up three months) will be amazed afresh, and new readers will likely join Harry's delighted legion of followers, for this tale is even more inventive and exciting than its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone....Rowling might be a Hogwarts graduate herself, for her ability to create such an engaging, imaginative, funny and, above all, heart-poundingly suspenseful yarn is nothing short of magical.
I wasn't assigned to review Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but with BW's pleas ringing in my ears, I got PW to send me an extra galley. We brought it with us on vacation to Chincoteague, and every spare moment we were inside (there were many; it was a rainy week), BW shoved it at me with the command, "READ!" So I did. I think I read the entire book aloud in just three days; that was the most TV-free beach vacation ever.

By the time the fourth HP book came out, I was no longer writing for PW, and so couldn't snag an extra galley. Though BW did suggest--several times--that I could perhaps just, you know, ask. I couldn't and didn't, so we joined the screaming mob for the Harry Potter midnight party at the Charlottesville Barnes & Noble. What a scene! Kids were literally jumping up and down in excitement, some of them while perched atop their fathers' shoulders. No way BW had the patience for me to read the book to him; he was going to gobble it up all by himself. Fine by me; I didn't relish reading any more doorstops aloud. (I have great empathy for Jim Dale and Stephen Fry.) But being the Mean Mom, I forbade BW from staying up all night to finish the book, so he spent all of Saturday reading it in bed. (I have a picture somewhere of him in his jammies, HP in front of his face propped up on the comforter.)

Book Five came out when we were at the beach. I'd called ahead to reserve a copy at the one little bookstore in Chincoteague. The guy who took the call seemed bemused that anyone would want to do that for a kids' book. We showed up to buy it as the store opened Saturday morning. Two people had been there already, but there was no one behind us. Again, the guy was scratching his head over all the fuss. (More proof--as if any was needed--that Chincoteague is The Resort That Time Forgot.)

For Book Six, I didn't even bother to think about attempting to get into the Charlottesville B&N party. BW got dropped off there and was #200-odd in line. Sometime after midnight, I hung around outside, viewing the insane crush inside and thinking NFW would I want to be in there. BW stayed up reading till some ungodly hour, then finished the book by 9pm Saturday.

And now for Book Seven.

I feel that I should mark the close of the Harry Potter Era in some way. It's not only the end of the series, but also the end of BW's boyhood, as he turned 18 in May. I live just a few doors down from the Tattered Cover, which is putting on a big bash, so I suppose I'll go over when BW does. Of course he preordered a copy, and I'm sure will stay up most of the night to read it (maybe Sunday night too), which means I'll get a crack at it by Monday. No problem; I can wait to say goodbye.


Blogagaard said...

Harry who?


Rachel said...

i luv writing and reading just like u. im a preeteen and writing my first book wich i will try to get published. any help on publishing. and even though im young im a really good author. i like the great gatsby too. trie unannatated shakespeare. its amazing.

Kely said...
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