Off My Usual Beaten Path…Books That Defined a Generation

It’s very rare that I stray from topics pertaining to agriculture and internships here. I have trouble recalling a single post unrelated to one, the other, or both. Now, though, I need to address something slightly off-course from my usual focus. Bear with me, though. There’s a moral to this post, a lesson. It’s all about defining a generation, and defining myself.

The first time I had ever heard of the name “Harry Potter,” I was nine. My fourth grade teacher read aloud to us every day for 20 minutes, and she had accidentally stumbled upon three books by an unknown British author. After a week or two of listening to Mrs. Munk relay the book’s story to us, I was fed up. We were moving too slowly. I needed to know what was happening next. At this time, I was not what would be classified as a “reader.”

We did not have a lot of money, but somewhere between feeding a family of six and covering various other costs, my parents managed to purchase the first three books. Harry Potter was now at my disposal. While Mrs. Munk was limited to 20 minutes a day, my mother could read to my sister and I for however long. Eventually, we graduated from the out loud reading. I remember finishing the first book on my own, and realizing that it was probably the first full-length novel I had ever read. By that time, J.K. Rowling had shot upwards into fame, and suddenly Harry Potter was a household name. I pride myself on catching that wave before it was cool.

I was reading faster that J.K. Rowling could write, and my mother was thrilled that myself and my older sister were so enthralled with books. We pre-ordered every single one, and would compete over who had the rights to read it first. (The wait wouldn’t be long, though, as both my sister and I would forego food and sleep in order to remain completely focused on the book until completion. I finished Half-Blood Prince in under 24 hours.) (I think it’s fair to note that I’ve read the first five books four times. I’ve read the entire series in its entirety twice.)

Now, I’ve just returned from seeing the final movie. There’s an odd mix of feelings. There’s the sensation that a chapter of my life has closed; that I really truly am an adult now, and this is just one more milestone signaling the end of an era. There is fulfillment. Harry and I started an adventure together 12 years ago, and through text and imagery we’ve ended it together. There’s some disappointment, knowing that I will never come home to another Barnes & Noble package containing that precious next book. I will never stand in line for hours waiting for the midnight premier with my family and friends. As cliche as it is to say, it’s entirely “bittersweet.”

Why is this so profound? Why does this matter? It’s “just a story,” crafted fiction meant to distract children (although some would argue that the later works were too dark for younger audiences). On a larger scale, Harry Potter has influenced my entire generation. Even those who claim that they “don’t care” or haven’t been impacted, have been. Taking the time to argue about the validity of this claim only verifies that. For me, though, Harry Potter is a much more personal development.

I blame (and thank) J.K. Rowling for inspiration. These books began to nurture in me a love of words. They encouraged the art of storytelling. Now, I find that much of my life revolves around storytelling. I tell my story, I share the stories of others, both professionally and personally. I can’t imagine that I would have grown into this passion quite so fully without that prominent leg-up from the Harry Potter literature. I give a sizable amount of credit to Rowling, as well, for creating a safe haven for a struggling child during some exceedingly difficult times in her life. Hogwarts was not just a place far away that I read about in a fantasy book. It was a place I could escape to. Harry wasn’t just some fictional protagonist. He was a friend who led me away from the stresses of my early adolescent years, and into a new world. I remember very clearly, the summer that my father passed, spending hours reading.

Driving home from the theatre tonight, I really reflected on those complicated feelings I had revolving around the completion of this book and movie franchise. I realized this: those books are a physical embodiment of a life lesson I need to do a better job of keeping in mind. I can walk away for years, but as long as I have that book, I can pick it up and enjoy it any time I need it. Memories are similar. We may not actively consider good memories all the time, but they never go away. We can always access them, cherish them, and pull them out on a rainy day. I am very much a creature of the “here and now,” probably to a fault. I’d like to make a goal of focusing more on the positives I’ve been given throughout life. The Harry Potter chapter of my life may have closed, but no one can take those memories from me.

I know, Harry Potter is fiction. It’s a story. It’s only a matter of time before the “next big thing” comes along and blows it out of the water. You can’t deny the impact that this fiction has had on society, though. And I, for one, can’t deny the impact that Harry Potter has had on me. Thank you, J.K. Rowling.


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