On the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter

A quick summary of the Harry Potter thoughts I had today before I get into the thing:

1. “Twenty years? Gosh, I’m old.”

2. “Aww, what a nice tweet from J.K. Rowling.”

3. “Oh, so that’s why Freeform did a movie marathon this weekend.”

4. “Wait, what’s my contribution to this going to be? I don’t own any of the books anymore, so I can’t post a cute, nostalgic Instagram photo or anything.”

5. “Oh, right, words.”

NOTE: Spoilers below. You can never be too careful, I reckon, even today.

Photo via Amazon

My mom must have started buying the books for me in 1998 (they didn’t start synching UK/US release dates until Goblet of Fire – doesn’t it seem unfathomable now that books 1 and 2 were out in the UK before Sorcerer’s Stone came out here?), because I remember having them in the house very early on. In fourth grade, we took photos sometime in the first month of school as part of a “get to know your classmates” assignment, and in mine, I’m beaming with my copy of the newly-released Prisoner of Azkaban.

But here’s the thing: I don’t remember actually reading a Harry Potter book until early in high school. My sole memory of interacting with the books, aside from presumably touching them every once in a while on my bookshelf, was when my sister was assigned a book report in third grade (to keep up with dates, this would have been 2001 or 2002) that had to be about a mystery. She chose Chamber of Secrets, and sometimes, my mom would read it to us as a bedtime story. I remember the story being immensely engaging, but I never actually read it for myself until later.

Actually, you know, that last part probably isn’t true. I definitely did read the books in the way I’d always read books growing up – lots of skimming, and not a lot of comprehension. So I’d read the previous Harry Potter books when a new one came out, but I hadn’t really read them – I’d absorbed the words and maybe formed a few of the scenes, out of order, in my head. I remember being outraged when the Sorcerer’s Stone movie omitted the Potions scene at the end, but until later, I couldn’t have told you any of the other differences between the books and the movies.

(The “my reading comprehension is terrible” thing is a whole other story that extends from being assigned books way beyond my skill level just because I could read in first grade, to having my lowest SAT score come in critical reading. I won’t go into it further here, but JSYK.)

And then there was a winter break, or spring break – some non-summer break from school between 2003 and 2005 – where I decided to sit down and try to get through what would be the longest book of the series, and the newest at the time, Order of the Phoenix. My dad’s coworker had read it upon release, and the message that my dad (who’s never read the books) relayed to me was a simple, “Things are getting darker for Harry.” I remember buying it at an airport and, as a result of the previous summary, being too intimidated to start reading until I got home. As I read, I found that as engaged as I was with the story, there was still so much I didn’t understand because of my casual attitude toward the previous books. Wasn’t Sirius Black a bad guy? Why was the Ministry so anti-Harry? And what was that special spell Harry used that got him in so much trouble? (That last one despite having seen Prisoner of Azkaban in theaters. Sigh.)

So using whatever break time I had left, I dove into the previous four books. I learned about and connected to the characters, memorized the spells (even making a Word doc of all of them), and vowed to figure out a way to play Quidditch someday. Harry Potter became the deepest damn books I’d ever read, and probably the first book series I ever became attached to, aside from Little House on the Prairie or Narnia (which I was told to read in first grade and so diligently skimmed, so…you get the idea).

I didn’t go to the Half-Blood Prince book release party in town because I was sleeping over at a friend’s house, but when I got home the next day, my sister – who’d already read it by staying up all night – insisted I had to read it immediately. She even used a Post-It to cover up the chapter photo for “Flight of the Prince” (it’s of Snape) so I wouldn’t inadvertently be spoiled before the big reveal.

Then, in 2007 – a super goddamn Harry Potter summer, with the Order of the Phoenix movie and the final book both coming out in July – I attended my first and only release party for Deathly Hallows. My sister and I, of similar enthusiasm, each bought our own copy so we wouldn’t have to decide who would read it first (though, uh, she stopped reading about 100 pages in and, to my knowledge, never finished. No matter). I stayed up until 4 a.m. to read the first 70% or so, all the while texting the friend I went to the release with for his play-by-play, and then woke up just a few hours later to devour the rest. We had family in town that day from the East Coast who were anything but Harry Potter fans, so I again resorted to texting everyone I could to get their thoughts on the book.

It didn’t sink in until a few days later that the series was over. But really, I was so satisfied by how Deathly Hallows ended that I didn’t care to the extent that many I knew did. (Also, probably, the rumors of a Harry Potter encyclopedia at the time kept me hopeful that there would be more. Sigh.) And as time passed, I managed to get my Harry Potter fix in some way, whether it was rewatching a movie or two one weekend, rereading a book, taking dozens of themed Sporcle quizzes, riding the Pottermore hype before it got comically boring, or reading Mark Oshiro’s “Mark Reads Harry Potter” series as he read the books for the first time (how he managed to stay completely unspoiled until 2011, I will never, ever know and I will forever be amazed).

As only the cheesiest people say – and me, happily – the magic never really ended. I am incredibly grateful to J.K. Rowling for sharing this world with us, and between that and the previous sentence, there’s not much more I need to add to this beautiful, rambling thing.

100 things: Redux (81-100)

Welcome to part 5 of “This 25-year-old revisited her teen years. What she discovered about herself will shock you.” [ Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 ]

  1. Emerging from the darkness
    This.
  2. Knowing someone who likes the obscure things that you like…and becoming friends
    I was going to write that I can’t remember a single friendship that has arisen from us liking the same obscure things, but then I realized my entry didn’t say there was a cause-and-effect relationship between the two. So yes, at some point, I probably have started a friendship with someone where we later learned – or later both discovered – the same “obscure” things. (See #97, I suppose.)
  3. Overcoming fears
    Not yet.
  4. Herbie Hancock
    See #78. Also, in jazz band that year, we played Cantaloupe Island.
  5. Nailing a musical solo :)
    I debated posting a video of me doing just that, but you’ll just have to trust me. My senior year of high school, we went to Orlando for our music department tour, and I had a solo in one of our concert band songs. When they were giving out awards later in the trip, they announced that one of the individual excellence award was for a flute soloist – cue exaggerated nudging from my classmates – that wasn’t me. But all those people thought it was me, so that was fun.
  6. Being Haitian!
    I posted this video on my aunt’s Facebook wall and I woke up to see a bunch of Haitian relatives had liked it and my aunt had commented, “And now I want all of it!!!”
  7. EPIC WINS.
    EPIC STFU CHRISTINE.
  8. Paying slightly more for MUCH better floss
    I bought HyVee brand floss the other day. It’s fine, really.
  9. Peter Jackson
  10. Keeping busy enough not to worry
    Now it’s less wanting to be buy to distract from my anxiety, more needing to be busy because boredom, for me, means I’m apt to marathon several seasons of a TV show and get nothing done for days.
  11. Living in earthquake country – as opposed to hurricane/tornado/tsunami…
    Probably because I think the strongest earthquake I ever experienced was a 5.0 and I slept through it. Since moving to Iowa, we’ve had tornado watches and warnings, but no actual tornados. (Also, I was very happy to miss this fun-sounding quake in 2014.)
  12. Sunsets
    The Midwest has the best sunsets because it’s so flat here. Quote me.
  13. Being chosen for something prestigious
    When I was a junior in high school, my math teacher needed to nominate someone to be one of the two representatives the school sent to Apple HQ in Cupertino to learn about the laptop carts and new tech stuff they’d be implementing on campus. So, of course, he asked a guys – a friend of mine – if he’d be interested in going. Lucky for the teacher, that guy knew better; he admitted he didn’t know squat about Apple anything and suggested me instead. It wasn’t the most prestigious thing I was ever chosen to do, sure, but it was an amazing experience. Plus I got to make a podcast with the superintendent and my middle school principal in one of the workshops we attended at Apple, and I had to call them by their first names, which was SO STRANGE.
  14. Middle English
    That dark period in my life where I was so into being an English major that I memorized a good chunk of the Prologue to Canterbury Tales is over now. But I still follow @LeVostreGC on Twitter, so.
  15. University of Iowa football
    Well, they had just won the Orange Bowl… But seriously, I am still a fan, bolstered by their improbably great season last year. I never did make it to a game when I actually went to school there, though.
  16. Learning more about myself from a book
    This is so vague that I doubt I actually had a book in mind. But if I were to amend this item today, I’d say that I enjoy books that are so similar to my own (past) life and experiences that I can live somewhat vicariously through their characters. Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl is a perfect example, especially the “socially inept college freshman” part.
  17. Sigur Rós
    I could talk about how a good friend of mine introduced me to them in high school, and therefore introduced me to Iceland. I could talk about how their film Heima screened in Iowa City and I was one of the first people to get a ticket. But instead, I’ll just show you this video, because it’s the song my husband and I walked down the aisle to at our wedding.
  18. Reykjavík, Iceland
    A.K.A. “the dream.” My parents have been there, and I’m still not over it.
  19. Powell’s Books
    I’ve been here once. In fact, the entirety of my time spent in Portland has been at Powell’s (and in their strange little parking garage). But I do remember buying a Calvino book – after marveling at how many they had – and getting lost in the stacks and adoring the color-coding and just having a perfect time.
  20. Being myself, not anyone else

100 Things: Redux (21-40)

Welcome to part 2 of “This 25-year-old revisited her teen years. What she discovered about herself will shock you.” [ Part 1 ]

  1. Parallel parking PERFECTLY (on the 1st try!)
    I’m fairly confident this has never happened to me before.
  2. Powerpoints printed as worksheets
    Still true. However, I originally wrote this question when I had the convenience of “free” (that is, entirely covered by my private school tuition) printing, and I don’t have that anymore. I also prefer to print the slides to take notes when they’re posted before the class, and I’ve only had one professor at Iowa State who’s done that.
  3. Gay rights!
    Good lord, this is embarrassing. I was Jennifer Lawrence before Jennifer Lawrence was Jennifer Lawrence (and I’m older than her, so I can say that). To be clear, I’m not reacting this way because I don’t still enjoy “gay rights,” but that phrasing is so, so painfully shallow.
  4. Apples to Apples
    My first experience with Apples to Apples was actually more about my reluctance to play Apples to Apples when I was hospitalized for mental health issues. Every night on the ward, some group of people would be playing Apples to goddamn Apples and even though I knew it was an open-invitation thing I was still too worried about being rejected to join in. Then I learned it’s actually much more fun to play with people you know, and that’s why it ended up on this list.
  5. Psychology
    Every so often I think about what having a college degree in something means. Purportedly you’ve devoted a significant amount of studying to it, have developed relationships with people in the field, and you could conceivably be considered an expert in it. I don’t really feel like this. My grad school letters of recommendation were written by professors in the rehab & counseling education department (one of my two “second concentrations”) and while I feel like I have an understanding of scientific study design, basic psychological principles, and maybe a few tidbits I can regurgitate to impress people at parties, it still baffles me that I possess a piece of paper recognizing my efforts in psychology.
  6. Professors that are 100% badass
    I know exactly which professor I had on my mind when I added this item, and he wasn’t “badass” in the sense that most people probably use the word. He was a sort of understated, acquired taste-type badass. Sometimes – he never made it a “thing” – he’d have a YouTube video of a Joy Division song or something, and it was clear he was just showing it to us because he wanted to listen to some Joy Division. He was a history professor, and his lectures consisted of him standing in front of the class and talking about whatever was next on the syllabus, no PowerPoint or anything. It was hard to tell if he planned what he was going to talk about, because he was clearly so knowledgeable about history that it felt like he was just casually telling us about each topic. And I learned a lot! I almost added a history minor because of the classes I took with him. He also let me take a midterm late because my depression kept me from coming in on the scheduled exam date, which was nice of him.
  7. Apple crisp
    I made apple crisp for the first time ever about a year ago. It’s still one of my favorite things in the world.
  8. Sneaking outside food into movie theaters
    I didn’t do this at all until high school. When my friends and I would see a movie, we’d generally eat at the Mary’s Pizza Shack across the street, then walk to the gas station next to the theater and buy bags and bags of $1 candy, then unassumingly walk into the theater with our bounty. I doubt that theater would let us get away with that now.
  9. Harry Potter
    If I were to really go into this, it would warrant a post of its own. I have a story for every book, a story for every movie, and even some Stern Thoughts about how disappointing Pottermore ended up being for all the hype it got. It’s genius, it’s problematic, and it would absolutely be on my “100 happy things” list today.
  10. iChat emoticons :)
    I grew up a Mac user, and even after upgrading to OS X, I’d use the regular AIM client instead of iChat. I think I may have preferred the authenticity that came with seeing people’s screen names and custom fonts, as opposed to iChat’s first name/last name buddy lists and customizable-only-insofar-as-other-Apple-users fonts and colors. But when I first got my own Macbook Pro before starting college, it was iChat all the way. And I guess the emoticons were just strange enough to be cool, or something deep-sounding like that.

  11. Finishing a really long book
    I’m awful at remembering book titles and even plots unless they really stuck with me, so I can’t remember what book(s) I might have been talking about here. I assume either something by Italo Calvino or maybe W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, which I may have finished by the time I wrote my original list. Or maybe I was just thinking of a 500-page young adult novel that wasn’t great so much as it was long. That is a satisfying feeling, though, especially when you close a hardcover book and it makes that satisfying thunk.
  12. Reading outside in the sun
    When did I ever do this? I know for a fact I stopped going outside as soon as I discovered the Internet.
  13. Hugging people who smell nice
    I was thinking of a specific person when I wrote this. We don’t talk anymore.
  14. Pokémon
    My 2007 high school music department trip to Anaheim was all Pokémon, all the time. Pearl and Diamond had just come out for DS, and I was the only person who had Pearl, so everyone else with Diamond wanted to trade version-specific Pokémon with me to complete our Pokédexes, and the person I alluded to in #33 helped me beat the game that weekend, and, and, and.
  15. Finding old photos of myself I don’t remember taking
    I have Photobucket accounts filled with hundreds photos dating back to 2004, so this happens quite a bit whenever I remember my old passwords and feel like logging into them. And because I’d be an awful, unkind person if I didn’t share at least one, here you go (it’s probably from around the time I wrote the original “100 things” list – note the Rockstar can collection in the background):
  16. The way I make my lowercase “F”s
    Here’s a good example from my original, handwritten list. I just enjoy how clean they look. (And yes, I do dot my “I”s now.)
  17. Alan Zweibel
    I started watching the Late Show with David Letterman every night when I was a junior or senior in high school (but only during the summers – I was asleep by 9:30 on school nights). Alan Zweibel was on one night talking about his novel, The Other Shulman, which ended up being quite good. Here’s the video from his appearance:
  18. Teen lit that’s actually quality literature
    Today, there are a bevy of articles with a title similar to (or exactly) “In Defense of Reading Young Adult Fiction.” I’m not going to link to any of them, but just know they’re there. I think my view on this has changed quite a bit since I wrote this in 2010, because I think I was trying to “cover up” (in a sense) my love of YA when I didn’t really need to. Some “regular” literature is great and some is terrible, and the same is true of YA. I still read a ton of YA, and some of it is great, and some of it is terrible. But it’s not inherently worse because it’s YA. That’s all.
  19. My nostalgia drawer
    I know of two different drawers this could be, and thinking of either of them is not stirring any nostalgia. Sad!
  20. When things just make sense
    Deep, 19-year-old Christine. Very deep.

My year in 50* books

Happy (almost) 2014!

Because I feel like I read nothing this year, I’m going back to an old standby: the “read X books in one year” challenge. I think the last time I did this was in 2010, when I had all the free time in the world to read 100 books. In 2014, I’m shooting for 50 25 books. Since I’ll be a full-time student (and hopefully employed part-time as well!), I feel like this is a demanding, yet reachable goal.

I will have a list of my progress both here on this blog and on Goodreads.

I hope some of you partake as well; we could even share e-books and discuss them together! It’ll be very motivating, at any rate.

Wishing you all a happy and safe new year!

* EDIT 11/1: I’ve changed this to a much more manageable 25 books, because I wanted to maintain some goal-reaching enthusiasm despite the fact that 50 is basically out of reach now.