Five Pound Book Wanted; Short Bespectacled Wizard-People Need Not Apply

For the past several days, since its long-awaited and much-hyped release, my roommate has been tirelessly reading the latest (and purportedly final) installment in the Harry Potter book series. He sits for hours on the porch, absorbed–he doesn’t speak unless spoken to; in fact the only sound he makes is the occasional chuckle, which is directed, of course, at the fictional characters within, and not at any human within his proximity.

On one level, I understand his rapt intensity: I have been a reader of this sort my entire life. When I was in my early twenties, I read all of Alexandra Ripley’s Gone With The Wind sequel in a single sitting–eight hundred pages in seven or eight hours on Christmas night. When my sister came down in the morning to make coffee, she saw me sitting at the kitchen table, where I’d been when she went to bed. You’re up early, she said. No, I replied, I’m up late. I closed the cover of the book and pushed it across the table at her. You’re kidding me, she said. I shook my head. I am no stranger to picking off a book in one go, regardless of the length of the thing–provided I have the time. Les Miserables, of course, took a few days, maybe a week. I am also very familiar with the sort of exclusionary hypnotism a good book provides–particularly a good book of fiction. Unfortunately, due to a monumentous school reading load and an inability to get back on the horse after the semester finished, I can’t remember when I was last in that trance.

On the other hand, I can not relate to my roommate’s unrelenting consumption of pages because I seem to be the only adult woman alive who has not even opened the cover of a Harry Potter book. I haven’t seen the movies, either. All I know about Harry Potter is that he’s a pint-sized wizard, he’s got a dorky redheaded friend and a cute one and maybe one other, and apparently they’re all enrolled in some magician school of sorts. Something about Warts. I know that the people behind the merchandising empire have found a way to make a little bag of jelly beans cost seven dollars, and I know that the woman who wrote the books was facing homelessness before they were picked up, and now she’s a bazillionaire.

The reason I haven’t read Harry Potter is simple. I was an underpaid employee at Borders in Monterey when the first book came out, and the second. If that’s not telling enough, let me elaborate: For weeks on end, I answered the same question, moved and re-moved thousands of copies of the same book, directed people to the same area of the store, tendered the exact same transaction. Though Christmas is gift-wrapping season, and Potter was not released at Christmas, I gift-wrapped hundreds of copies of it in a matter of less than a month. I went through this horror twice–at an astounding pay rate of seven dollars an hour (jelly beans, anyone?). So no, I had no desire to read the thing myself. As far as I was concerned, it was a thirty dollar paperweight. Kindling, perhaps, but not worth my precious reading time. In addition, I assumed that as I tend not to be enthralled by what everyone in America is obsessed with (Britney Spears, The Matrix, The Arcade Fire, etc.), it would be an expensive waste of time anyway.

However, I find myself strangely envious of my roommate. I want a book that will do that to me again.

Truth be told, I could probably pick up book one, and within a day be finished with it–and likely enjoy it despite the fact that I’m convinced it’s probably a Tolkien rip-off but with younger, more kid-friendly characters. Once I’d finished the first book, I’d devour the second, the third… and then I’d be waiting with the rest of America for the next installment. I went through that routine once with the Robert Jordan series and I gave up after the second book. And of course, there’s the whole loyalty-to-principles issue–I’ve stayed with my Potter boycott so long that I don’t want to give up now.

I could re-read the Lord Of The Rings trilogy–but I know how it ends, and that would take away the magic. Similarly, I could re-read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, two books which had me so transfixed that I finished the former while sitting in a bathroom in a motel in Memphis because my father insisted I shut out the light in the room. Then again, I know how those end, too. I want a thousand pages of someone else’s imagination that will so wholly seduce me that I will forget to go to work, eat, and sleep–and I just can’t find it.

So I beseech you, dear readers: Give me an alternative. Recommend to me a well-written fictional book or series that a) is not Harry Potter; b) has more than five hundred pages; c) is not written by a depressing Russian, d) does not involve months of anticipation for a sequel; and most importantly e) will hold me in a state of such singular awe that I will unknowingly make wide-eyed faces like the one my roommate just made, laugh out loud, cry real tears, and lament having reached the end too soon.

Until then, I’ll be reading Lester Bangs’ and Chuck Klosterman’s essays, one at a time, on the train.

~ by saltgirlspeaks on 29 July, 2007.

8 Responses to “Five Pound Book Wanted; Short Bespectacled Wizard-People Need Not Apply”

  1. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. Or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. Heck, read them both – together, that’s over 1,300 pages of fine literature more magical than a bookstore full of Harry Potters.

  2. Funny that you mention Kavalier & Clay, as I was glancing at the unread and delightfully tattered copy on my shelf just this afternoon. I happen to own both books, but have read neither. Perhaps it’s time I do. Thanks.

  3. I suppose you’ve already taken down The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged? I have also heard good things about Infinite Jest, though I could never make heads of tails of it.

  4. You’re welcome. One of the reasons that I haven’t read any of the H. Potter books either was that I didn’t want to get sucked into a never-ending series like my youngest brother has: the Wheel of Time series by, I just discovered, Robert Jordan. Curiouser and curiouser, cried Alice. Now that it supposedly does end, I’ve considered checking them all out of the library at once and reading the whole thing straight through. I probably won’t.

  5. I’m not the only one!!

    I will refrain for as long as I can… perhaps until I have kidlets, and Harry Potter is old news like Saved By The Bell, and my kids will be embarrassed that I’m reading it to them.

  6. You might try: Dirk Gentley’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. Periodically punctuated by lol & rofl.

  7. It would be absolutely strange if you haven’t seen Brad Neely’s “Wizard People, Dear Reader”. Especially since you used The words wizard people and dear reader in this post. It’s probably the funniest thing ever so you really should check it out.

  8. You could try “The Stars My Destination” by Alfred Bester (if you like sci-fi). Every couple of years I catch a glimpse of it sitting quietly on my bookshelf and for unexplained reasons I have to pick it up and read it straight through from cover to cover. It is only a fourth the length of the agreed upon thousand page criteria, but maybe you could read it four times in a row.
    I would also suggest anything by Theodore Sturgeon (another sci-fi–sort of). He mainly wrote short stories, but most of his shorts have been compiled into volumes. If you can find it, his “The Man Who Lost The Sea” is a hard one to stop reading once started.

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