Harry Potter series revives reading as a pastime

Kate Bigam

At 11 p.m. Friday, I arrived at the Chapel Hill Borders with a friend, where we braved the elements of a non-atmospheric variety.

We swam through a raging sea of grown adults dressed in everything from graduation gowns to evening wear. We endured the chilly summer evening and sweltering bookstore temperatures. We weathered exhaustion and annoyance to wait in a line full of people as fatigued and frustrated as we were. What’s more, we loved every minute.

In the end, it was well worth the three-hour wait and $20 hit to my wallet. I barricaded myself inside my home and read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows before the weekend was over.

If you’re already laughing at my geekiness, brace yourself. I also cried – nay, sobbed – at least a dozen times throughout the course of my reading.

When I finished the book at 5 a.m. Sunday, I was emotionally exhausted. I never dreamt I could become so attached to fictional characters that I analyzed their actions, ached when they died and rejoiced when they gave birth.

I’m certainly not the only one who did so. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sold an estimated 8.3 million copies within its first 24 hours on bookshelves.

J.K. Rowling debuted the Harry Potter story in 1997; ten years later, the series’ original fans are all grown-up, having made the journey into adulthood with Harry, Ron, Hermione and their magical wizarding world. Fans like me have done the time and earned the right to feel for Rowling’s stories.

But the author has done more than simply spin us a tale. She has single-handedly revived the reading trend.

Try to remember the last time the world got so excited about a book. How many pieces of modern-day literature have spawned Web sites, movie deals, product lines, amusement parks and neighborhood festivals? A couple books have turned churned out one or two of those, but the Harry Potter series has them all. I can’t think of another pop culture phenomenon that’s brought people together like the story of The Boy Who Lived.

More importantly, Rowling’s series has inspired people worldwide, children and adults alike, to do something virtually unheard of in this technologically dependent era – read.

Harry Potter has made children enjoy cracking open the spines of never-before-read text. It’s imbued in them the lock-yourself-in-your-bedroom-for-hours euphoria that recently only video games had the power to induce. It’s made them fans of reading and words, of libraries and bookstores and turning off the TV. The Harry Potter series has done the unthinkable – it has encouraged children to use their imaginations again.

And now? The series has ended, save the final movies due out by the end of the decade. The movies will keep Harry’s legacy alive, but for all intents and purposes, Harry’s story has come to a close.

But that doesn’t mean our desire to read should. There are millions of other books, from Vonnegut and Salinger to Dahl and Blume to Cabot and Kinsella and everyone in between.

College sometimes dampens our affection for reading, forcing us to pick up books we don’t give a damn about. But you might be surprised at how relaxing it is to read a book of your own choosing.

So turn off your TV. Step away from your computer. Put down your controller.

Pick up a book. You just might enjoy it.

Kate Bigam is a senior magazine major and forum editor for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].