Sunday, January 21, 2018
Books

Want to feel old? It's been 20 years since the first 'Harry Potter' was published

He was so cute: Blond hair, blue eyes and a killer smile. He was dressed in a black robe with a fake scar on his forehead and regaling our fifth-grade class with his book report on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. As a 10-year-old with only the most sophisticated of tastes (give me a Baby-Sitters Club any day), I thought the synopsis — and his excitement — about this brand-new book sounded ridiculous and childish. But we all do crazy things to connect with our crushes, so I decided the novel couldn't be that bad and began reading the Harry Potter series.

I was behind the times, of course. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone — or Sorcerer's Stone, for us simple-minded Americans — made its debut in the United Kingdom 20 years ago, on June 26, 1997. Anniversary events, from new exhibitions to broomstick lessons, are springing up worldwide to celebrate the occasion, showcasing the long-reaching effect of author J.K. Rowling's tales.

Millennials like myself are looking at the date wondering how it can possibly be that two decades have passed since we first met Harry, Ron and Hermione, the characters who grew up right alongside us.

It wasn't until 1999 that I began the books in earnest, adamant that I would not fall for the spell they had cast over the rest of the world.

I was wrong.

I wasn't into magic, didn't enjoy "unrealistic" genres and wasn't much for following the whims of a crowd. But within pages of that first book, I fell hook, line and sinker.

It helped that Harry and I were the same age. As soon-to-be-11-year-olds with an inability to keep our mouths closed at appropriate times, I felt a kinship with this fellow ill-shaped glasses wearer. My back story was nowhere near as tragic as his, but we both had the terrible habit of sometimes feeling alone even when surrounded by people. But I never felt alone when I was reading the books.

Every few years over the next decade or so, I would wait with breathless anticipation to grab a copy of the newest installment. I was too young for midnight release parties — and refused to dress up — but I'd show up at Borders first thing in the morning to grab my beloved hardcover copy and begin reading immediately.

As an anxious child, reading was one of the few things that took me out of my head. It's hard to focus on every single thing that could go wrong or overthink every action when you're preoccupied watching someone else's life unfold. With Harry, for a few hours each day, I was transported to someone else's world, which, for an overly complicated mind like mine, was extraordinary in its own right.

But the series wasn't just an escape. Though seemingly a children's book to those not accustomed with its twisting plots, the Harry Potter books helped me deal with death in a way I could not have anticipated. Over the course of its print publication, I lost a grandfather, an uncle and a grandmother — all sudden and all devastating. I was not comforted by the fact that Harry had experienced great loss, too, but rather by how the books approached death as a whole. Sirius Black told Harry in Prisoner of Azkaban: "the ones that love us never really leave us," and I chose to believe that was true. If someone else could deal with a tragedy much greater than mine, then surely I could be strong, too.

The series also made me feel like it was okay to not be okay. Nearly the entirety of the fifth installment, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" followed a depressed, overwhelmed and short-tempered Harry. If this magical, powerful, popular boy could feel so beaten down and lonely, then I was allowed to be a hormonal and miserable girl who hated the world sometimes, too. (I'm so sorry, Mom and Dad, for what you had to put up with during my 14th year of life.)

Our timelines always seemed to have a way of aligning like that. As Harry dealt with burgeoning crushes and the painful parts of friendship, I grappled with similar issues (minus the whole fighting the Dark Lord thing). And though I had long moved on from blond boy, our bond over Harry was ever present, and we would geek out with each other on the days that the new films debuted, both so excited to see our favorite story in theaters.

The series seemed to mark time in my life in a way I didn't realize until it was over. The last book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," came out less than two months after I graduated high school. Reading it was a unique experience. At 18, I was wrapping up a story I had started at 10. Harry and I were both leaving our childhoods behind for the greater unknown. I took solace in the fact that the movies were still ongoing, but when the eighth and final film hit theaters in 2011, shortly after I had graduated college, the girl who didn't dress up drew a small lightning-shaped scar on her forehead and shed a tear (okay, several) over the end of an era.

As the first book celebrates its 20th anniversary, I can't tell you exactly how many times I've read it or the others. But at least once a year for the past 18, I have cracked open a spine, slipped back into my childhood and lost myself for hours in a magical world.

Comments
‘Year in Provence’ author Peter Mayle dies at 78

‘Year in Provence’ author Peter Mayle dies at 78

Peter Mayle, whose international bestseller A Year in Provence sent countless tourists to the vineyards and lavender fields of Southern France, has died.In an email, Mr. Mayle’s publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, reported that he died Thursday in a hospital...
Published: 01/18/18

Events: Bob Woodward to speak at Mahaffey

Book TalkAuthor and journalist Roy Peter Clark (Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer) will lead a workshop, "How to Read Like a Writer," at 2 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Oxford Exchange, 420 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Tickets $5.Bob Woodward ...
Published: 01/18/18
Notable: Books from those countries

Notable: Books from those countries

NotableBooks from those countriesHere are books by immigrants from some of the countries recently disparaged by the president. Americanah (Anchor) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a brilliant novel set in this country and in the author’s native Nigeria,...
Published: 01/18/18
Review: Tim Dorsey’s ‘The Pope of Palm Beach’ reveals a sweeter side of Serge Storms

Review: Tim Dorsey’s ‘The Pope of Palm Beach’ reveals a sweeter side of Serge Storms

It’s an odd thing to say about a book in the Serge Storms series, but The Pope of Palm Beach is really kind of sweet.Serge might not want to hear that. He does, after all, kill people, in highly creative ways, when he’s not in manic pursuit of his pa...
Published: 01/18/18
‘Fire and Fury’ burns up bestseller lists

‘Fire and Fury’ burns up bestseller lists

When author Michael Wolff was interviewed on the Today show about his book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Savannah Guthrie asked him how he felt about President Donald Trump’s attacks on it. Wolff responded, "Where do I send the box of ...
Published: 01/17/18

Events: Writers in Paradise features Banks, Lippman, more

Book TalkThe Writers in Paradise evening readings continue this week. All readings will take place in the Miller Auditorium at Eckerd College, 4200 54th Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Books will be available for purchase on site. All readings are free and o...
Published: 01/11/18
Notable: Books on Trump, one year in

Notable: Books on Trump, one year in

NotableOne year inWith the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration approaching, here are new books about him. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (Henry Holt) by Michael Wolff is the incendiary look at the administration that provoke...
Published: 01/11/18
Andre Dubus III reads to ‘sink more deeply’ into the human condition

Andre Dubus III reads to ‘sink more deeply’ into the human condition

NightstandAndre Dubus IIIEckerd College’s Writers in Paradise conference takes place this week, and one of the returning faculty members is Andre Dubus III. Dubus is the author of six books, including Bluesman, Townie and two novels turned films, The...
Published: 01/11/18
Steph Post’s Florida noir ‘Walk in the Fire’ a sizzling sequel to ‘Lightwood’

Steph Post’s Florida noir ‘Walk in the Fire’ a sizzling sequel to ‘Lightwood’

In Steph Post’s new novel, Walk in the Fire, there’s a young aspiring criminal with a gift for astute observation. Asked to describe the tiny Central Florida town of Silas, where much of the book takes place, he says, "You drive through and it’s like...
Published: 01/11/18
Former Times columnist Klinkenberg named Florida Folk Heritage Award winner

Former Times columnist Klinkenberg named Florida Folk Heritage Award winner

Raise a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice and toast former Tampa Bay Times columnist Jeff Klinkenberg. This week, he was announced as one of three 2018 winners of the Florida Folk Heritage Awards.The awards honor outstanding folk artists and folk ...
Published: 01/10/18