Friday, July 20, 2007
Waiting for Harry; Why isn't Michiko?
I might as well get this part out of the way first, just go ahead and tell you that I'm a thirty four year old woman who loves Harry Potter, and I'm not ashamed to say so. Nor do I think I should be, because I know I'm not the only one, far from it. I'm writing this the morning of Friday July the 20th, a little more than 12 hours before seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling's series will at long last be released, and it seems like everyone I know has been counting down these last few days. At least one woman's taking off two days from work, so she can read the book straight through, without distractions, and she's a veterinarian, not some sort of freelance slacker. We've been waiting, patiently or otherwise, for this book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," for an awfully long time.
At a minimum, we've been waiting since the last book, "Harry and the Half Blood Prince," was published in 2005. So that's two years right there. That's long enough, if you ask me. Especially if you consider the kind of cliffs upon which Rowling like to leave her hero and her readers hanging. If you read the Potter books, you know exactly what I mean. If not, well, how can I explain what it's like to finish a Harry Potter book? It's kind of like the end of a really great second date, when you know without a doubt that you'll be seeing the person again, but haven't a clue as to where or when, or what will really come of it. Something like that. Only usually, you aren't left waiting two years for the third date.
Really though, we've been waiting for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" ever since we happened to pick up that very first book, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," whenever that may have been. For some people, I suppose it was when it very first appeared, all the way back in 1998. Waiting that long seems unimaginable, altogether unbearable, for the impatient likes of me.
I first started reading the Harry Potter books in the fall of 2001. I was visiting a friend who had children, and had them all over her house. I'd been hearing about them, these children's books that adults were reading, that were so popular they'd taken over the Time's bestseller list. So I started reading the first, and then the second, and couldn't stop until I'd gotten through "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." And then I had to start the waiting, for the next, and then the next, and now this next and last. So I've been waiting six years, to find out what will happen to Harry, in the end.
If you haven't read the books, no doubt you're wondering right now what all this fuss is possibly about, why all these grown ups get themselves so worked up over a bunch of kid's books. The thing is, children's books or not, the Harry Potter books are really, really good. The characters are complicated, people have real regrets, with which they have to learn to live, or not, moral ambiguity abounds, even the right actions can have unwanted, unforeseen and unforeseeable, bad consequences, which cannot be undone. Some things are just unfixable. Bad things happen to good people, and good things sometimes do happen to bad people. The universe in which the Harry Potter books unfold, for all its spectacle, magic, and wonder, bears more relation to the subjective living of a real life, where nothing ever feels so steadfastly real as we'd like it to, and nothing is ever so simple or so neatly resolved as we tend to thing it should be, than the most painstakingly realistic contemporary fiction, no matter on which bookstore or library shelves it happens to be placed.
And then there's the way the series has unfolded, or, rather, the way we've all had to wait and wait, and wait some more, for each release. That's meant, for a lot of us, that we've read all of these books about a thousand times. I have, at any rate. Which has given me the sort of relationship with these books that I haven't had with any since I was a child myself, pouring endlessly over other series , Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden, the Narnia books, or Madeleine L'engle's "Wrinkle in Time," series. There's something so different about the way you read a long series of books, the way you get to know the places and the people, they become so much richer and closer over time. And that seems like such an obvious thing, doesn't it? But there's not much in the way of series fiction out there for adults, not that's struck my fancy anyway, so it's the kind of obvious thing that's easily forgotten. I'm awfully grateful to J.K. Rowling and her Harry for reminding me of it. Thanks to her, I've discovered that Madeleine L'engle's books do in fact stand the test of time, for me at least, though others from my childhood might not. And I came upon Phillip Pullman's gorgeous "His Dark Materials" trilogy. That one was mentioned in an article full of suggestions for Harry Potter fans, in need of something to read while we waited for the next installment.
Have I mentioned that I don't do well with waiting? Really, I don't, it pains me to no end. The only way I can stand it is simply by pushing it out my mind entirely, which has been increasingly difficult, as the publication date's drawn closer. All those posters in the book stores, the publicity events, and then yesterday, there was that review in the New York Times. Did you happen to see that? Or possibly you've heard about it?
I saw it there, in the front section of the Times, and read it eagerly enough, not thinking all that much about it, vaguely assuming Scholastic had sent the Times a review copy, and other than that I was just glad Michiko Kakutani didn't give away any plot points, and had given it was a good review. Then I went back through it a second time, kind of hoping, I'll admit, for a plot point or two I might have missed on the first go round. That's when it hit me, this one little line, "this volume, a copy of which was purchased at a New York City store yesterday." Yesterday. The review was published on Thursday. So "yesterday," meant that someone had been selling the book on Wednesday. Wednesday.
I don't normally have much of a problem expressing my emotions, particularly when they're of the rageful sort. Plenty of people can back me up on that. But this, this left me kind of speechless. We mere Harry Potter loving mortals have been waiting years and years for the final installment, and Michiko Kakutani not only somehow or other procures herself a copy, at a New York City store, she has to rub it in all of our faces in her review? Because I'd really like to know what store it was, exactly, and if the book was out on the shelves, for all and sundry, last Wednesday, when Kakutani's copy was purchased, or if her copy, and hers alone, was made available so very far ahead of the official release date? Or perhaps she was one of a select few, special, preferred, customers allowed to buy their books ahead of time? Whatever exactly it is, that was going on, in that New York City Store, I hope they know that what they did was wrong, and that I, for one, am very disappointed in them.
There. I feel a little better now. But not so much, because I still don't know what happens to Harry in the end, and Michiko Kakutani does. And that is just not fair.