I suppose this week was a bit of a cheat, sort of like saying you ate a pint of ice cream for the calcium (something I have obviously never ever done.) After all, I didn’t read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows all that long ago. But rereading it seemed apropos; once I see the final Potter movie—in approximately six months, when I’ll no longer have to step over wand-carrying 9-year-olds to find my seat—that’ll be the end. No more Dumbledore or Hermione or horcruxes or thestrals. A decade of fiction, over at the closing credits.
But what could I possibly write about this week’s book? Harry Potter is pretty good? Best 700-page young adult novel since Harry Potter 6? Spoiler alert: Snape kills Dumbledore? There’s not much you can say about a cultural phenomenon that hasn’t been said in the last 10 years, or even the last 10 days. Except that there’s a bittersweet finality to closing the door on these kids right around the time I’ve finally accepted not being a kid myself.
I guess if there’s anything worth noting here, it’s not the sadness of saying goodbye to these characters, so much as how weird it feels to say goodbye to these books. I write in the About Me section of this blog of reading as a child, and of a certain passion I felt then that has since been eclipsed by the humdrum obligations of everyday adult life. By the time I personally got on the Potter train (around the time Book 3 came out in the U.S.) that passion was already fading, displaced by new obsessions like flared jeans and boys with gelled hair. It’s fair to say that these books, whose release followed me from middle school through the year I graduated college, were some of the the last vestiges of that type of reading, the kind where you literally. cannot. stop. even if it’s going on seven hours and your wrist hurts and you’ve eaten nothing but stale pretzels all day. They’re the kind of books that when you hit the end of a chapter, you think to yourself, “just one more,” (which in childhood probably meant I was highly antisocial but last week meant an additional 15 minutes on the exercise bike. Yay for being a grown-up!)
They’re also the kind of books that are hard to finish. When you’re done, when you’ve turned the final page and heard the definitive “thump” that comes with closing a hardcover, you find yourself looking around, blinking as if to remember that you don’t actually live in a world of wizards and witches, Butterbeer and Every-Flavor Beans, but are in fact curled up in your Brooklyn apartment at 2:30 a.m., crying over the death of a fictional house elf.
It’s fitting that as I write this, Borders is finalizing the details of its liquidation, which will result in the closure of some 400 bookstores. When the first Harry Potter books came out, e-books were little more than a notion. It was the idea of millions of people reading the same thing that commanded global attention, not just the idea of millions of people reading. Today, things are different. Today, the Hunger Games trilogy is a bestseller, but doesn’t command nearly the same sales as Potter did. Today, it’s all about putting out the best book technology. Today, if you see a kid blinking and looking dazed, he’s either high or just finished playing Angry Birds.
I’m sad to see Harry Potter go. Not because I don’t think it’s time—J.K. Rowling’s denouement is awesome and made me sob like a little bitch this weekend—but because it’s the end of more than a story. I can only hope the kids of the 22nd century will be engaged with books the way I was. I hope they run into a pole while walking and reading at the same time, the way I did. I hope they lug books around in their backpacks, and talk about what they’re reading with each other, and don’t need to be cajoled into “25 minutes of reading, THEN you can watch TV” negotiations. I hope that when they’re 22, and the seventh book of whatever series they’ve followed since they were 12 comes out, they download it on their iBrains and spend an entire Sunday getting lost in it. Otherwise Voldemort wins.
TITLE: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling
PAGES: 759 (in hardcover)
ALSO WROTE: the other Harry Potter books
SORTA LIKE: the other Harry Potter books
FIRST LINE: “The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.”