Posted in Reading

Thoughts Upon Rereading Harry Potter


All of my Harry Potter books, including Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
All of my Harry Potter books, including Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out in 1997, but I didn’t hear of it until 1999. That was my first year of teaching. I was twenty-two years old, fresh out of college, and just beginning my lifelong relationship with young adult books. I’d read The Outsiders and The Giver and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and some more, but I didn’t know then that the start of my teaching career would coincide with an explosion of young adult literature. I didn’t know Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak was about to be published, couldn’t fathom the volumes and volumes of YA and MG novels I would have on my classroom shelves by the end of my teaching career, and had no idea that a seventh grader was about to introduce me to a character who would make a huge impact on me, my family, and the world.

The student’s name was Kelli, and the character’s name was Harry.

I read the first Harry Potter book reluctantly. No, let me rephrase that. I opened the first book reluctantly. It didn’t sound like something I would be interested in. A little boy who was a wizard? But Kelli spoke so highly of it (she was already reading the third book in the series) and I wanted to connect with my students, so I decided to try book one. For her.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone grabbed me from the very first page, and by the time I arrived in Diagon Alley, I was hooked. SO hooked, in fact, that I told my whole family they should read the book too, with as much enthusiasm as Kelli had used to convince me.

Every member of my family, from my niece to my dad, read the Harry Potter series. By the fourth book, most of us were picking it up on opening day. By the fifth book, I was driving to bookstores at midnight for the release party.

I’m obviously not alone in my feelings about this series. Nearly all my friends love the books. What sets me apart is that, until recently, I only read them once.

Most of my fellow Harry Potter fans have read the series at least twice. Some have read it multiple times. A couple of them reread it every summer. This befuddles me. I rarely reread books, because I’m not a particularly fast reader and there are so many titles I haven’t read lining my shelves. I usually can’t convince myself to reread a single book, let alone a seven-volume series.

But over the past couple of years, I’ve been tempted. After all, it’s been so long now since Kelli first introduced me to Harry—17 years, in fact. The age Harry was when the series ended. I’ve seen the movies of course, but that’s just more reason to reread, being able to delight in all of the details left out of the big screen versions. So I decided just to reread the first one, my favorite. And I chose to listen to it on audio book.

I checked out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from the library in February, and less than an hour into Jim Dale’s delightful narration of the boy who lived, I knew I’d be listening to the whole series. From February to August, I went straight through Harry Potter #1-7, reuniting with every character, reliving every adventure, and revisiting every corner of Hogwarts, and I’m so glad I did.

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Thoughts Upon Rereading Harry Potter (via audio book)

[SPOILER ALERT! If you’ve somehow gone this long without reading Harry Potter or at least seeing the movies, STOP! Go instead to the closest library or bookstore to pick up a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.]

* Jim Dale does an amazing job of narrating these novels. I love the voices he gives to Hagrid and Dumbledore and McGonagall, and, well, most of the other characters too. One thing was funny though. Mr. Dale didn’t pronounce the T at the end of Voldemort for the first three books, making me think I’d been wrong all along when saying it. Then suddenly in the fourth book, he added the T, so I thought I’d been right after all. But THEN I found this article about the pronunciation of the dark lord’s name, and now I think we should all just go back to referring to him as He Who Must Not Be Named.

* On this read-through, I noticed that none of the professors at Hogwarts are married or have any children. Further proof that it’s very difficult to devote your life to teaching while also raising a family.

* I can’t remember how I pictured Severus Snape before I saw Alan Rickman play him.

* I’m done watching the movies. I only ever tolerated them before, but now I will no longer idly sit in front of one on a Saturday afternoon. I want the words and the words alone to stay with me. Watching the movies makes me forget more than I remember, and I want every little detail to stick.

* Some things I had forgotten: The ghost professor of History of Magic, who died at Hogwarts but continued to teach; How little Dumbledore was in the first two books (yet how much he pervades the story even when Harry rarely sees him); How scary the cave lake/potion/horcrux scene was in The Half Blood Prince.

* What I loved even more this time: Ginny. What a strong, outspoken, independent, funny young woman. I missed her so much in book 7; Lee Jordan’s quiddich commentary (which was even better on audio); Dumbledore’s Army.

* I loved the fact that this time in book 4 when Dumbledore described finding a room filled with chamber pots when he was looking for a restroom, I knew it was foreshadowing the Room of Requirement in book 5. 🙂

* On this read-through, SPEW (The Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare) made me uncomfortable. Hermione’s heart was in the right place regarding house elves, but the way she went about trying to force freedoms onto them didn’t seem right.

* I still hate Umbridge more than I ever hated Voldemort. I actually yelled out loud at her once while listening to book 5 in my car.

* I have a list of questions ready to ask my friends and loved ones if I ever suspect them of being imposters using polyjuice potion.

* It was no easier listening to Dumbledore’s death and funeral than it was reading it in print. 😦

* Let’s talk about The Deathly Hallows. Strangely enough, the last book in the series is the one I remembered the least. And, upon rereading the series, it was also the one I liked the least. The beginning is great. The scene about “the seven Potters” is still one of my favorites. I love how everyone starts changing clothes out in the open and Harry’s embarrassed at how immodest they’re being with his body. The scene that comes next, when they’re all flying and trying to escape the Death Eaters, is awesome too—so intense and heartbreaking. (I hated it when Hedwig died.) The end of the book is also great. Neville’s a badass, and Harry sacrifices himself with his parents’ spirits by his side, only to survive again, and then he has that magical talk with Dumbledore in “King’s Cross,” ending with one of my all-time favorite quotes from his extraordinary headmaster: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” But the middle, ugh! The middle is a long, boring, repetitive slog through forests of indecision with a bunch of wand confusion thrown in for good measure. All they do is argue and apparate. I missed Hogwarts! I missed Ginny and Hagrid and Professor McGonagall and the Weasley twins. I can only figure that the first time through I read the book so fast, in such excitement to see how it ended, that I didn’t notice how bored I was through most of it.

* Lastly, I’m still a little disappointed that my prediction about Harry didn’t come true. In July of 2003, when I was reading the newly-released Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I wrote in my journal, “Prediction: When Harry graduates from Hogwarts, he will become the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.” I thought it was so perfect. He was a natural teacher, as evidenced by his lessons in the DA, and he was obviously skilled and knowledgeable about combating the dark arts. And since Hogwarts couldn’t keep a Defense teacher more than a year, I thought Harry would defeat Voldemort, break whatever curse was on the job, and become the best professor Hogwarts had ever seen. But he didn’t. And I’m still kind of sad about that.

Photos from the midnight release party at BookPeople for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in July 2007. Left = a person dressed up as a moving portrait. Center = me clutching my copy of book 7. (Side note: I still have that t-shirt. I wore it yesterday.) Right = the Voldemort dunking booth. Step right up and dunk the dark lord!
Photos from the midnight release party at BookPeople for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in July 2007. Left = a person dressed up as a moving portrait. Center = me clutching my copy of book 7. (Side note: I still have that t-shirt. I wore it yesterday.) Right = the Voldemort dunking booth. Step right up and dunk the dark lord!

In conclusion…

I still love these stories. (Even the last one.) I owe Kelli for introducing me to them. I don’t know if I’ll ever reread the whole series again or not, but I suspect I’ll pick up the first one from time to time and rediscover the magical world along with Harry.

As for the new book? I don’t have strong feelings about the existence of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I haven’t read it. I might someday. I might not. This post isn’t about that book. It’s about the world of Harry Potter as I first experienced it. That’s the world I love.


Posted in Writing

Listen to “Time Flies” at Nature Podcast


Hi everyone,

I just found out some exciting news. My flash fiction piece, “Time Flies,” which was published in Nature Futures in September, has been turned into a podcast. You can listen to it for free on the Nature Podcast website.

The story is narrated by Shalimi Bundell and Geoff Marsh, who do an excellent job with the voices of Kat and Jeremy. Honestly, listening to their take on my story gave me goosebumps.

Also, if you’re interested in learning what inspired me to write the piece, you can read my guest post on the Future Conditional blog here. The post contains spoilers though, so you’ll want to listen to the story first. 🙂

I hope you enjoy the audio version as much as I did!


Posted in Life, Reading

How I Got Here: My Life With Books


I’ve been reading a lot lately. What is “a lot”? Well, my goal was to read 50 books in 2014. As of the end of July, I’ve already finished 46. So, a LOT.

Part of the reason for the recent spike in numbers is the discovery of two new forms of reading: audio books and the Kindle app on my phone. Since January, I’ve listened to audio books almost exclusively in the car. I’m not very up-to-date on the news of the world, and I’ve probably missed out on at least a half a dozen new pop songs, but I’ve “read” fourteen novels while sitting in traffic or running errands, and I think I’m a better person for it. Without audio books, my current total for the year so far would be 32, just about on par with my goal. But with them, I’m looking at a possibility of 80 or more books this year, which is pretty cool.

I live in a household with no e-readers or iPads (shocking, I know) but this year I discovered the Kindle app on my phone and put it to use. It’s still not my preferred format—I’ve only read four books this way so far—but I do find it useful for reading in bed. My husband can’t sleep if I leave the lamp on, but the dim glow of my phone’s screen doesn’t bother him, so I can read long after he zonks out. Unless the book makes me laugh out loud like Graeme Simsions’ The Rosie Project did. Then I’m busted and have to turn off the phone. (To read Lauren Henderson’s review of The Rosie Projectclick here. I agree with her completely.)

All this reading has made me look back on my life as a reader with Wonder Years-colored glasses.


I don’t remember exactly when I learned to read, and I can’t clearly conjure up the process, but I have vague memories of not being able to read at all—staring at the words on the page of my dad’s newspaper or my mom’s novel and wondering what they said, or holding up a book and pretending to read it, making up the story as I went. I also remember, later, practicing my reading with the Sunday comics, things like Garfield that had few words and familiar themes.

That’s about as far as the memory goes. I couldn’t read, and then I could. I don’t recall much about the steps in between.

But once in a while I get a glimpse of that blurry phase in the middle. Due to fatigue or distraction, I misread something, and all of a sudden I remember that struggle, how exhausting it could be trying to decipher the BIG words on the page. Today it was the word “mythmaking” in an article in Writer’s Digest. My mind wanted to divide it after the y instead of the h and, for just a second, I was thinking, “My-what? My-thmaking?” Of course, it only took a moment for me to realize my error and move on.

That time.

A few months back, though, I was reading Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made aloud to my husband in the car. The author described a house called “Manyoaks.” About the fourth time that I said, “Man-yokes,” Mark stopped me. “What are you saying?” he asked. That’s when I realized my mistake. The house was named “Many-oaks” not “Man-yoaks.” We laughed for miles.

Once I learned to read, I was a good reader but not a voracious one. I watched a lot of TV and played a lot of video games and spent a lot of time in my backyard. Although I loved buying books from the Scholastic catalogues, I didn’t always read them. I wouldn’t call myself a hyperactive kid, but I don’t remember having the patience to sit down and read a book long enough to get into it. My mom likes to talk about how hard it was to get me to do my weekly assignments out of the “home readers” we were given. She says I was very critical of them, always asking, “Well, why did they say it that way? Why did they write it like that?” I guess I was born an editor.

I did enjoy being read to though—Mom read me the Bunnicula books and Dad read Hank the Cowdog­—and in the sixth grade when we read Bridge to Terabithia as a class, I learned how much fun it could be to study a book as a group. That love followed me though middle and high school where I enjoyed analyzing the novels and dissecting them, but still often did not actually finish them, if left to read them on my own.

It wasn’t until college when I started truly reading for pleasure. I bought books and stayed up late reading them. I wrote in the margins and swapped titles with friends. I started a journal where I listed all the books I read and discovered the value of never going anywhere without something to read.

For years, I’ve craved the “home of overflowing books,” that image that’s such a staple in books and movies about teachers and writers and scholars. In these scenes, there are always floor to ceiling bookshelves lining the walls and someone is always having to move a stack of books off a chair for someone else to sit down. There are books tucked everywhere in the room and at least two or three are always lying open. I love these rooms, these scenes. I want to be these characters.

Only recently have I realized how close I’ve come to achieving that dream.

Stacks of books around my house
Stacks of books around my house

I do live in a house of books, and I read them, and I love them, and if you want me to, I’ll talk to you about them all day long. However, thanks to the public library and audio books and my Kindle app, there’s still room for you to sit down when you come over. I’m more likely to have to move a cat off a chair than a pile of books.

In interviews, most writers say they were bookworms as children. The phrase “read everything I could get my hands on” comes up a lot, as does the description of books as their “closest friends.” In a way, I’ve been envious of those childhoods, slightly embarrassed at all the required reading I left unfinished, all the coming-of-age titles that I didn’t read until I was already of age. But I’ve come to embrace my own history with books. It may have taken me longer than some to discover the beauty of reading, but I’m here now and I’m happy. I don’t think it matters how I arrived.