Katie and I are mid-way through the final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Having begun this reading experience with my daughter in July of this year, I cannot imagine coming to the last pages of the final book. What a powerful imaginative experience she and I now have in common, a whole language that, three months ago, we did not share. J.K. Rowling’s characters, themes, and vivid wizarding world are truly present in our household, vital and part of our daily talk, interests, and play. Katie had learned dozens of new words, and her own spoken syntax has also increased in sophistication. Her memory for the details of every book astounds me. If she has missed anything at all due to the advanced reading level, I am assured that it isn’t much. These characters are real to her: she knows their nuances, speaks about them as dimensional people. I feel my chest seize up every time I think, “Oh no, this is our last book in the series.” Even now, a lump comes to my throat.

Oh how I will miss this with her. Cuddly early mornings, or snuggled at night. That look we give each other of, “Yay, Eric went down for his nap—let’s read Harry Potter!” Sometimes I think to myself, “Maybe I can convince her that we should start the series all over again!” I wouldn’t be sorry. Harry’s magical world has become our magical world.

I wasn’t an early adopter of the Harry Potter series. As with all things that become very trendy very quickly, I steered clear of the series for awhile. In fact, I remember my mom telling me about them (and how much my brother and she enjoyed them) while I was away at college (the U.S. had published the first three by my sophomore year in college, 1999). Sometime during the summer of 2000, home and eager for something different to read, I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I couldn’t put it down. I read ravenously through the first three in the series, and I waited my turn for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (published July 2000). At that point, my mom, brother, and I were all sharing one book. So, too, with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, published in the summer of 2003.

By the time Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was published in 2005, I was deeply in need of my own copy immediately upon release. I count the reading of the 6th book as one of the most cozy and best reading experiences in my life. I was up at my brother’s apartment in Berkeley with my mom, having just completed an Advanced Placement Conference at Stanford in anticipation of teaching my second year of A.P. English to my high school juniors. The conference coincided with my brother’s July birthday, and we happened to be at Berkeley celebrating the week with him when this 6th book was released. It was a cozy week anyway (baking cookies, taking walks, seeing my brother in his element, prepping a bunch of freezer meals with my mom for David to eat after we went home, the Ranch 99 Market, the Point Reyes lighthouse, my aunts, and more). On the day it came out, we all went to the Richmond Costco and picked up a copy. My mom and I would curl up in the apartment family room while my brother studied nearby, and we all read late late into the night, drinking hot chocolate. I must have read for hours and hours straight over a day or so. I finished it before we traveled home.

Two years later, I pre-ordered my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This last book was significant for me in personal ways, and much of that is welling up again as I read this 7th book to Katie. First, I was pregnant with Katie when I read it the first time. She was just a baby growing inside of me, and now she is here and almost four years old. Whoosh, Time, whoosh. I remember, too, that my Uncle Eric was an avid Harry Potter fan. He never got to read this last book, never got to find out what happened to Harry, never saw this book be published. That thought was with me constantly as I read this book the first time in 2007, and it is even more pronounced now. There is a quality of sadness inherent even in holding this book in my hands which is bittersweet, now, because I have the joy of sharing it with my children. In any event, I remember the thud as it landed on my doorstep—yes, I was home. I tore the box open faster than anything, and I sat down right away in our big cozy yellow chair (then at Azalea House) and began reading. I remember, also, that my friend Steve was studying for the Bar that summer and had imposed a media semi-blackout on himself, not wanting to hear anything about the outcome of this book until he could get to it after his exam and read it.

So the first six books comprise 3,341 pages. I haven’t added the 7th book into this total, because we are not yet done with it. While I read much, much faster silently to myself, I estimate that each page is taking 1.5 to 2 minutes to read out loud to Katie. Due to how frequently we stop to talk about characters, plot, vocabulary, and the like, I am going to say that we probably are closer, overall, to two minutes a page. A little bit of math later, and… I calculate that we have spent somewhere close to 111 hours reading the Harry Potter series together. If we took those hours and read straight through without stopping for any reason, ever, that would amount to over 4.5 days of pure reading. That does not count all of the other reading we have done out of other books over the past three months. I feel good that her little growing brain is marinating in all of this language and imagination. Sop it up, little Katie brain, sop it up.

For me, too, I have cherished every second of this reading experience with her. Not just because we get to be cuddled together—but because I appreciate these books in a different way now that I am older. Dumbledore’s wisdom and choices as a character are so much more poignant to me now, for example. And now as a mother, I actually get physically weepy any time that Harry’s mother’s sacrifice and unconditional love are mentioned. Voldemort is much scarier to me than he was, because I know now that part of human nature that makes me understand how easily he could be real. Neville Longbottom’s silent and humble bravery also means so much more to me than they did the first time. Finally, reading all of the books right together (without waiting for one to be published every two years) gives all the characters more coherency to me, and I see their strengths and weaknesses much more clearly.

What am I going to do when we are done? I can barely think about it. I don’t want this season of Harry Potter with my daughter to end.

 

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