Part book review, part impressionistic scribblings on the joys of reading and the struggles of carving out time in which to do it, #ABookishYear is a weekly dispatch from the front lines of an intellectual journey spanning fifty-two tomes.
The Time Has Come, The Wizard Said…
By Roxanne Fequiere
I always felt as though Ms. Watson, a reedy woman with an ashen pixie cut and glasses that sat perpetually low on her nose, seemed somehow ordained for the information desk at a nearby library instead of the sixth-grade classroom she occupied five days a week. Middle-aged and partial to linen layers and sensible shoes, she looked the part, but in retrospect, it was her curriculum that reinforced my notion of her as a librarian in disguise. She was responsible for teaching us math, grammar, social studies, religion, and more, and I’m sure she did, but all I remember now are the newspapers she made us read, the magazines she subscribed us to, and the books we read together: Hatchet, Philip Hall Likes Me, I Reckon Maybe, and a book none of us had ever heard of, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Ms. Watson was an equal opportunity reading enthusiast, but there was something about this Harry Potter story that made her eyes light up. “Try to envision this scene in your mind!” she’d blurt out in the middle of a passage. “Do you see it? Wouldn’t this make a wonderful film?”
I was excited, too. I’d had my nose in a book for as long as I could remember, and Ms. Watson was clearly a member of my tribe. If she said I was going to love Hogwarts, then I was ready to be blown away. I picked up on major Matilda vibes during the first few chapters, which I thoroughly appreciated, and I was ready to see how the sniveling Dursleys would deal with Harry’s curious capabilities. There were elements of A Little Princess in Harry’s overnight transition from a cupboard under the stairs to star student at Hogwarts. It was all whimsical and charming and wonderful, and then—there were sorting hats, magical feasts, transfiguration, talk of dark arts. Reader, I’ll be honest. I checked out.
We finished the book as a class, and while I certainly appreciated the story, I was ready to move on, despite Ms. Watson’s insistence that we dive into the second book immediately on our own. And then a strange thing happened: everyone listened to her. Not just the bookish types, either—I’m talking about the athletes, the slackers, the kids who had, up until that point, never completed a book without coercion. Pretty much everyone, except me. The midday shrieks and shouts of recess evaporated as students hit pause on basketball to sit quietly with their copies of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. A bandwagon had barreled into town and I couldn’t jump on for the life of me.
This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened to me. After seeing the title A Wrinkle in Time staring at me from library shelves forever, I’d picked it up and brought it home. Dark and stormy night, yes. Charles Wallace, tell me more. Uriel, the third planet of the star Malak in the spiral nebula Messier 101—pass. I closed the book and never returned to it.
At home, when I’d read through all of my books, I’d head upstairs to check my brother’s bookshelf for new titles and leave empty-handed every time. Hobbits, dragons, elves, and aliens were the protagonists of most of his reading material, and I simply couldn’t do it. My limitations didn’t stop at books. My eyes glazed over every time my brothers grabbed the remote to flip over to Star Trek (Next Generation or Deep Space Nine); I’d leave the room when they pulled out the Star Wars box set.
For some reason, science fiction and fantasy continue to elude me for the most part. Every plot point, every flight of fancy seems to spur a dozen new questions in my mind. I couldn’t fully immerse myself in Harry Potter because I kept wondering if all the children that go to Hogwarts just remain in the Wizarding World forever. Do they learn about math and muggle global history in addition to spells? Do they graduate at the age of eighteen? Are they equipped to go back to the regular world and, like, get into Oxford if they wanted? Probably not if Hogwarts is a secret, which seems like a hindrance, right? Can they reassimilate?
[Ed. Note: Yes; not math, but yes, Muggle Studies; yes; I honestly don't think so; correct; yeah, but they wouldn't want to.]
It seemed that enjoying these works required a suspension of disbelief that I was incapable of supplying, and so I stopped trying. To this day, I’ve still only read the one Harry Potter book, and never watched the movies. If a book involves a hearty helping of magic, spells, otherworldly realms, or time travel, I generally steer clear of it. I’ve familiarized myself with the general plot of Star Wars as a courtesy to my fiancé, who began drinking the Lucasfilm Kool-Aid at an early age. I smile blankly and nod when the Potterheads in my life get onto their favorite topic, hoping my silence will conceal my dark secret.
[Ed. Note: I will never be able to get over this but you know, I will still be friends with you forever.]
Of course, when the phrase “out of this world” emerged as a contender for my next four weeks of reading, I began speaking with science fiction fans and trying to discern what it is about the fantastical that grabs them. Their answers ranged from straightforward—I mean, space fights are pretty cool—to nuanced, from extremely personal to the universal—who doesn’t love an underdog story? If the underdog happens to be a member of a highly advanced alien race, then so be it. I’m still not convinced, but, dammit, I’m tired of trudging along after that bandwagon. I’m ready to give this whole thing another go and see if I can’t find something to love.
I’m going to have to practice hanging my cynicism on a peg for the next few weeks, but I know not to push myself too far. Earlier today, I was asked if I wanted to watch a movie involving Tom Cruise, time loops, and an alien invasion, but I knew better. “No, thank you,” I demurred. I needed to preserve my energy for a few realm jumps of my own.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone
by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
by J.K. Rowling
A Little Princess
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle
by Gary Paulsen
Philip Hall Like Me.
I Reckon Maybe.
by Bette Greene
Roxanne Fequiere is a New York–based writer and editor who might just make it after all.