Monday, May 21, 2007

Reading Harry Potter

[Another repost from my Myspace page]

The week prior to my vacation to DisneyWorld, I was listening to the NPR show "Wait, wait, don't tell me" and there was a reference to Voldemort. Now, I knew enough about the Harry Potter universe to know who Voldemort is. I read the first book back in 2000 and watched the first movie back on DVD back in 2002. But, for some reason, Harry Potter fell off my radar. Why? I can't really say. I mean, it's right up my alley. But, for some unknown reason, I never continued with the series.

The reference to Voldemort brought laughter from the panel and the audience and a thought struck me: I'm out of the loop. I am missing a common cultural connection with millions of other folks. [I don't watch American Idol and miss those cultural connections, too, but that does not bother me.] I have kept up, vaguely, with the books of Harry Potter. I knew that book 7, Deathly Hallows, is coming out on P-Day, 21 July 2007. I knew the titles of all seven books and, well, I made a decision: why not read books 1 through 6 before 21 July and then be able to join in all the fun of reading book 7 with the rest of the world? Plus, I didn't want to know the ending before reading the entire series. You could say this is me jumping on the Harry Potter bandwagon and, well, you'd be right.

And, what better place to start the series than in DisneyWorld, the land of magic? Thus, I started re-reading Harry Potter 1 while in the Magic Kingdom.

About halfway through book one--about the time Harry found out he was a wizard--I remembered how much fun these book are. And I got riveted by Harry Potter. It helps that book 1 was around 300 pages. Blew through that one in a week. I already owned book 2, Chamber of Secrets, so I started it the Sunday after I returned from DisneyWorld. Blew through that one in a week, too. And, with book 2, the larger Potter universe began to be revealed. I was hooked. There was no turning back. In fact, there was even the question of why had I waited so long. Obviously, reading these books prior to 2007 was not when I was supposed to read them.

One of the best things about reading this series three months before the last book comes out is that books 1-6 are all in used bookstores. Within two days of my return to work, I had acquired books 3, 4, and 6. Book 5 was elusive—I was determined not to buy a new copy; don't ask me why but there is something exciting about trolling around in a used bookstore and finding exactly what you are looking for. I decided to go ahead and read books 2-4 and get book 5 when the time came. I'd settle for a new copy but hoped for a used one. Two weeks later, I found book 5.

Another thing that has enabled me to blaze through these books is the audiobook versions of these stories. Before I left for DisneyWorld, I placed all the audiobooks on hold from the library. When I returned, they all were available for me. Thus, I was able to read these books in the following manner. I read the novel itself at night. In the mornings, during my 50-minute commute, I would listen to the audio version. Ditto for the evening commute. Later that night, I had the fun task of opening the novel and flashing forward a good chunk of pages to find out where I left off in the car. Then, I would read the novel and be sure to end the evening's readings at a chapter head, making it easier to find my spot on my audiobook the next morning.

The results were impressive. I read book 1 in about 6 days (including the trip). I read book 2—each book gets longer and longer—also in about six days. I read book 3 in about five days. Now, I have about 200 pages to go in the 743-page book 4. I expect each of the last three books (that is, 4-6) to take about 2-weeks each to read. I do work, after all.

Another good thing is that movies 1-4 are out on DVD now. So, as I finished one of the books, I watched the film. It helps to solidify things in my head. And, seeing the actors age helps me remember that the characters are aging, too.

A couple of interesting things about reading a series like this over weeks with all six books at my disposal rather than the way the books were published, with years between books. The obvious one is that as soon as I finish a book, I can pick up the next one. No wait whatsoever. Pretty cool, that. To be honest, after finishing book 2, I thought "Well, now, I read those pretty quickly. And I have until 21 July to read just four more books. Why don't I read something else?" That lasted less than a chapter of the 'something else' until I put that book down and read three chapters of book 3. It hooks you, it really does.

It is also fun to relate to two of my friends who have already read all six books where I am in the series. One likes to smile knowingly and give me cryptic hints, just like Rowling. The other can't wait until "I'm caught up" so we can have a good gab session about what to expect in Book 7. I imagine that they are 're-reading' the books as I read them for the first time.

A word about Rowling: I am a writer. I have written my first novel and am now writing my second. Rowling is a fantastic writer. Her prose is rich with ebullient emotion. The characters jump off the page. And she keeps things so close to the vest that when a secret is revealed, it is a joy. And everything is so tied together. By the time I'm reading book 4, I *know* that nothing is by-chance. So I pore over every detail.

And, finally, a word about Jim Dale, the reader of all the audiobook versions. (One note: with my commute and my home life, audiobooks is my primary medium for reading books. I listen to a lot of them.) I don't think I have ever heard a better reader who digs in and gets behind all the characters with his voice. He inhabits these characters and this world bringing it all to life.

It's such a fun adventure. I know I'm going to be waiting in line on 21 July to buy my copy. I've already told my two fellow Potter fans that we will have to refer to chapter numbers as we read Book 7 at different speeds. We'll have none of this "hey, what did you think when this happned?" moments (when you have not read that part). I have it all planned out that way.

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