Being a Librarian Who Hasn’t Read Harry Potter is Like Being an English Professor Who Hasn’t Read Hamlet

Harry Potter Costumes

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!)


7 thoughts on “Being a Librarian Who Hasn’t Read Harry Potter is Like Being an English Professor Who Hasn’t Read Hamlet

    • Go for the audio!!!! I listen to them while I’m running or riding my bike, so it’s not even a time suck. Jim Dale, the audio narrator, is amazing — he really breathes life into the characters for me.

      • That is how I started with them, too! I love Jim Dale and they are great to listen to in the car. I got through the first six when I had an hour commute to the HS where I used to teach, and I have to admit I am a total fan.

        What’s funny about being in a Literature PhD program is that it’s totally true that you can’t admit to not having read works like Hamlet or Ulysses, but no one seems to be ashamed when they have no knowledge of poetry. Obviously my big pet peeve.

        Twilight I just can’t get behind, though one of my favorite professors teaches a class on the Twifandom and fanfiction, which sounds pretty fascinating.

  1. You aren’t alone! I’ve only made it through the first book. My reasons for giving up on Harry Potter is more about the books with which I cut my adolescent reading teeth than a simple dislike. After getting to the point where my school librarian scowled at me for checking out picture books, I started reading fantasy. Having a mom as a public librarian and a dad who was a fantasy nut gave me access to a ridiculous number of fantasy titles, as well as two guides to all the greats. After spending years of my life falling into the worlds of Tolkien, Le Guin, Alexander, and the like, reading Harry Potter felt like reading through a catalog of fantasy literary tropes. I felt hornswaggled into reading a subpar book by my friends and the general public.

    Now, I respect what Harry has done for reading. I respect the impact it has had on our culture and the children who grew up with Harry. I read enough of the wikis and FAR more of the fan fiction (more than a few of those stories will never be scoured from the dirty recesses of my mind) than any non-fan should be exposed. So, I am capable of talking about it with my tweens/teens. I just didn’t like it. However, I will say this of Harry Potter: I managed to get through the first book, which is far more than I can say for Twilight. 😉

    You are not alone!

  2. You are definitely not alone! I read the first four, but despite my numerous attempts at picking up the fifth and reading it, I have failed. Over and over again.

    I do enjoy most OTHER children’s lit, though!

    • As a fellow librarian, that has just discovered your blog, I am so, so happy that there is a kindred spirit in the world. I, too, did not get into Harry Potter, Twilight, nor the Hunger Games. Thank you for the confession and a wee bit of validation!

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