Why I'll Never Read 'Harry Potter'

by Molly Labell

I was a weird kid. I went to circus camp and Revolutionary War camp, and was afraid of the rain and dogs. I had stomach problems and was unable to do anything but talk about The Beatles for, like, all of 6th grade. But the weirdest part about my childhood? I never read Harry Potter.

It’s not that I think the Harry Potter series is bad — how could I, I haven't read it — though I’ve certainly been accused before of being a book snob. I’m sure that the writing is great, and that the story is developed and gripping. And it’s not that I think it’s dumb or beneath me in anyway—I know English Ph.Ds that list J.K. Rowling’s books among their favorites. It’s just that I don’t think I’d get anything out of reading them.

I didn't read Harry Potter when it first came out because I was interested in other things: I was starting to steal my older sister's YM magazines and discovering MTV. I had just seen Cruel Intentions for the first time. I was precocious and assumed Harry Potter was too young for me; by the time the last book came out, I was reading The Female Eunuch and felt solidly out of J.K. Rowling's demographic. I had just turned 19, gotten mono, and been called "a fucking bitch" by an angry constituent at the Congresswoman's office I interned at. I felt like the ship had sailed.

I’ve also never been drawn to other worlds in my reading habits. (I’m similarly disinterested in The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings, though must admit my fondness for Roald Dahl.) Even as each book got better and better reviews, the series still didn't interest me. I’m not lacking in imagination or unable to access my inner sense of childhood whimsy, but I find it hard to suspend my disbelief and enter wholly into a fantasy world.

I know, I know: Harry’s world isn’t full fantasy — there’s human emotion at the heart of the story. There’s commentary on love, loss, and self-acceptance. I’m sure I could learn a lot about the human condition from those kid wizards. I just think I can find what I need to know elsewhere.

I'm okay with not having read Harry Potter because I already have what I think people get from the book. The series has been hailed for bringing families together and for instilling a love of reading into them — incredible — but I’ve always had that. My family is a family of readers, and our reading interests overlap; my sister and I trade memoirs, I pass my mom Jhumpa Lahiri, my mom and sister compare history books, my sister and dad discuss baseball non-fiction, and my dad has his own thing going on with mysteries. Maybe I missed a formative experience of my generation, but there are plenty others I participated in. I played that Oregon Trail game. I saw Spice World twice in theaters, okay? My parents still pay my cell phone bill. I'm a Millennial with or without Harry.

I might be wrong. I might end up loving Harry Potter if I gave it a chance. I understand how special those early books of ours can be, how real the characters can seem, and how a part of their world you can feel. I know enough people who have read the books to see that Harry became a friend of theirs when they needed it; a friend of mine says it helped her cope with a difficult childhood, allowing her to escape for just a little while. I’ve heard for years (years! My best friend had a copy with the original cover in, like, ’97) about how amazing it is — how vivid the wizarding world is and how wonderful it is to have a book that the whole family can enjoy together.

At this point, though, not reading the books has become a mildly quirky fact about me, one I pull out in tamer games of Never Have I Ever, and one which I wear almost like a badge of pride. It’s the same with The Scarlet Letter, which I have lied about reading for literally a decade now, and “Gangnam Style,” which I still have never seen nor heard. At a certain point, not experiencing these cultural touchstones became the way I chose to experience them. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything — not really. I’m a lifelong reader; I have tons of books that transport me somewhere else when I need it, or keep me right where I am when I need that, too.

Besides, cultural behemoth that it is, I’m pretty sure I know the entire plot of Harry Potter already. Here it is, for those of you who haven’t read it, either: Harry’s parents hate him because he has a scar on his cheek, so they give him to his aunt and uncle. They make Harry live in a cupboard but a giant named Hedwig knocks their house down and takes Harry away to a cute English village. They eat butter and drink beer, and he goes to school with a kid named Ron and a whip-smart gal named Hermione. Ron has siblings, or maybe he doesn’t. And Harry and Hermione crush on each other, or maybe they don’t. Regardless, the three of them have to ride on broomsticks to steal the sorcerer’s stone and release the half-blooded prisoner of Azkaban. The whole series ends with someone dying, and we’re really happy about that or really sad about it, I can’t remember which. Someone is named Snape, and he’s a severous guy, which is an adjective that I’m unfamiliar with. This is all correct, yes?

Image: soniabelviso/flickr