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.