Friday, July 08, 2011

Pop culture moments of my generation that I refused to take part in, pt. 2.

(Part 2 in an ongoing series [that hasn't gone on for a while].)

It was the fall of 1998. Or maybe it was the spring of '99? It's gotten a little fuzzy. Whenever it was, I was in college, and I'd officially become an English major after a brief first-year detour in the communications department. (To this day, I don't know how I wound up there -- I came into my springtime orientation session undecided, but by the following autumn when I showed up for classes, I'd been shuffled onto the pre-communication track. Someone must have checked a box when I wasn't looking.)

Anyway. This may go without saying, but English majors read a lot. Like, a lot a lot. There were times I was reading five or six novels at once, plus keeping up with reading assignments for my non-English courses, and then there were the short stories and compilations for composition classes...if I hadn't already been wearing glasses when I got to UMD, I would've needed them by the time I left. It seemed like I spent the better part of my waking hours with my nose stuck in a book.

The thing is, I loved reading -- always had. From the time I was old enough to entertain myself, I was always reading, books stacked up in my room next to my stuffed animals and My Little Ponies. My mom took us to the library all the time, and I'd come home with heaps of books half as tall as I was, burn through them in a week or two, then head back for more. During junior high, I'd go through a book a day if I got my way, and even when I got to high school and got busier with extracurricular stuff (and an actual social life), I always had something on my nightstand that I couldn't wait to finish. Reading came easy -- it wasn't a chore.

But when I got to college, that changed. The pace and the sheer volume of information shooting into my brain on a daily basis really did a number on me. I mean, it just NEVER STOPPED. You try keeping track of five novels at a time (all of which you're reading in the span of a week or two)! And quite frankly, it didn't help that UMD switched from a quarter system to a semester system midway through my four years there. Suddenly, course credit values and graduation requirements were shifting, making it tough to stay on-track unless you managed to stay one step ahead of the school's trickery. Not only was I fighting to stay on-top of my schoolwork -- I was fighting to get out of there on-time in four years. Because I was HELL BENT on graduating in four years. Scheduling my classes was like something out of Patton -- I'd make meticulous charts in my notebooks, strategizing my schedule so every class I took not only wiped out an English course requirement, but one of my general liberal arts requirements, too. I was graduating in four years, OR ELSE.

Don't get me wrong -- honestly, I don't know what else I could've been other than an English major. I never questioned it or wavered in it, because it was the natural place for me to wind up. And as stressed-out as I'd make myself, even then I knew these were very much First World Problems -- "Oh, I'm so tired from reading all day." Boo-freakin'-hoo. Sure, I could've made life easier on myself if I'd taken some shortcuts here & there -- cripes, I only resorted to Cliffs Notes once (sorry, The Scarlet Letter) (and I still feel guilty about it) -- but really, it was the part I was born to play, baby.

Anyway. Right in the middle of this, the first Harry Potter book came out.

I was up to my eyeballs in ye olde British literature when I first heard of it. Like, old-timey British literature, the stuff written in Old English with all the thees and the thines that still make my brain go numb. "Have you read Harry Potter yet?" "Oh my god, you have to read Harry Potter!" "You read a lot, you must have read Harry Potter by now?"

No, I hadn't read it. I didn't have time to read it! I had the thees and the thines!

Someone well-meaning gave me a copy of it for my birthday. It sat on the shelf for months. When summer rolled around, it stayed there, because by that point I was so sick of hearing about it that not reading it seemed like an act of rebellion. (Nerdy, nerdy rebellion.)

And so it went. And so it continued with each new book's release.

I went to the first two movies in the theater, with friends who were really eager to see them. Not having anything personally invested in the books, I was lukewarm on the movies I saw -- they seemed long (I believe the technical term I used was "assbusters"), and even my Potter-obsessed friends Emily & Kevin had fun mocking the John Williams soundtracks. To this day, we compulsively sing "duh-duh-duh-PAAAAAAW-ter!" (to the tune of the Star Wars theme) every time someone mentions them.

Which brings me to now -- the summer that the last Harry Potter movie is being released. Suddenly, I find myself strangely drawn toward the franchise -- is it all worth a second look? By stubbornly ignoring it for all these years, am I missing out on some pop culture watershed moment?

Since I graduated from college, I haven't read novels the way I used to. I still read a lot, but after getting so burned-out, now I read more long-form magazines and blogs than book-length stuff. Really, I'm reading all day -- work stuff, online stuff -- but I don't sit down with books the way I used to. Should I give Harry Potter a try? Would reading them come easy, or would it turn into a chore? Stay tuned.


Yankee Librarian said...

Read them. They're easy. I didn't read them back in the day, either. I was long out of college and working as an editor in BFE Wisconsin. I didn't read them because I read all day at work, I didn't read them because I just never got around to it and then I got behind and I didn't feel like catching up.

Fast forward to 2007. I was in the Austin, Texas airport waiting to fly back to Memphis. I was exhausted after a day-long interview at UT-Austin. I wanted something to read I didn't have to think about. The last HP book had just been released, so there was a display in the airport bookstore--I bought the first Harry Potter.

Like you, I devoured books growing up, and I read fast. I also tend to get completely caught up and lost in books. I was half-way through HP by the time we landed in Memphis, and I finished it the next day. Honestly, it's not a well-written book, and in hindsight I was surprised it had become such a phenomenon, yet.... I needed to know what happened to the characters.

That summer in Mississippi we had temps of 105+ for five weeks straight. It was too hot to do anything but stay inside in the AC. So, every Friday I would go to the bookstore and buy the next Harry Potter and read it that weekend--sometimes I'd finish the book in one day. I started number six on a Friday afternoon; I finished it Saturday afternoon, and I had to find out what happened. I ran out that second and bought number seven. And I stayed up all night to finish it. So... in the end, I read the entire series in five weeks.

Like the first one, the writing in the others isn't great, but Rowling got better (I'm not sure if she got better or if she realized her core audience was getting older--or both). Anyway, none of this mattered. It's one of those series where you get so caught up in the characters you just have to keep going to find out what happens.

So, yes.... read them.

Mary said...

This is just the nudge I was looking for. When I get my current slate of books on the nightstand cleared away, I'm starting!

nicka29 said...

I thought number 1 was just so-so, but read 2 anyway, and then was hooked by the time I was on 3. You may be able to read 1 and 2 in the same day, but you'll need to block off a day apiece when you get up to 5, 6, and 7. Come borrow them if you want. They won't strain your brain, I guarantee it.