I was working as a Department Manger at a Barnes and Noble store in Burlington, Vermont, when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out. We held a midnight release party, and I remember children trying to stab each other with wands for several hours before they were finally allowed to buy their books and go home. Many of the parents came in full costume, and it was obvious that they were more obsessed with Harry Potter than their kids. The next morning, sales associates arrived to work crying, having stayed up since 2 a.m. reading only to learn of their beloved Dumbledore’s tragic demise.
Five years later, as a public librarian, the fact that I still haven’t read Harry Potter feels like a dirty little secret. I can’t help but recall that urban legend of academia, as told by Pierre Bayard in How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, in which an English professor reveals during a faculty cocktail party that he’s never read Hamlet, and is instantly fired.
At the public library, confessing that you enjoy titles such as Ulysses and Moby Dick is a terrible idea. There’s this palpable ethos of “books by the people, for the people,” which is something that I love about public libraries, but also inspires me to hide my copy of Gertrude Stein lest the other librarians in the lunchroom lower their eyes and start to whisper. Let me stress that my coworkers are wonderful people, and I know they would never really judge me just because I like these books. But the fact remains that they are always a little incredulous when I admit that I haven’t read Harry Potter.
I do like pop culture — some of my favorite books have been comics, teen fiction, memoirs, and cookbooks — and believe it or not, I even like Will Ferrell, Britney Spears, and reality TV. But there are still lots of blockbuster books that I can’t quite get behind: Twilight, for one, and we might as well throw in Nicholas Sparks while we’re at it. I don’t mind that other people like them, but they’re just not for me.
And I did, in fact, attempt to read Harry Potter several years ago. I made it all the way through the first three books before finally throwing in the towel because, c’est la vie, they weren’t my thing. The adventure and the magic didn’t grab me in quite the same way that it grabbed so many others. I am making progress, though — since then I’ve watched all the movies, and I’m now listening to the fifth book on audio after having just finished the fourth. But I’ve done these things less because I love Harry Potter, and more because I don’t want to feel like a library outcast.
And so I have to wonder, Reader: are there more of you out there? Are there other closeted librarians-who-haven’t-read-Harry-Potter? (Don’t worry — I promise not to tell your boss!)