Friday, December 17, 2010

Harry Notter

Shortly after my son was born, I was in a thrift store rummaging through the book section. We are one of those families that donates a lot of our old stuff to thrift stores at the end of December for a tax write-off... but I am one of those people who immediately longs for the lost items and buys more than we donated at the very same store. One time at a yard sale to benefit my son's school, I inadvertently bought back several of the exact things we had donated for the sale.

Well, that day I was looking for children's books. This is more of a challenge than one would think if you are someone like me who begins to sneeze at the first unceremonious appearance of dust or dank. Browsing for semi-intact Golden Books at an urban Goodwill can really only be done with the Claritin handy.

As I was squelching the urge to categorize and alphabetize the haphazardly arranged tomes, I came upon a pristine hardcover copy of one of the Harry Potter books. This was a number of years ago, just as Harry Potter was beginning to be the big sensation it became, and I remembered seeing a news story with hoards of pre-teen kids--including many bespectacled boys--camped out at midnight at Barnes and Noble to get the newest HP book. Hmmm, I thought, I guess this is a book that my son will like when he is older. I envisioned myself sitting by a fireplace reading chapter after chapter of Harry Potter to my enthralled son. I pictured how the flickering of the flames would distort my shadow on the wall to make it resemble the ghostly characters that I imagined lurked in the pages of the book. The volume was $2. The price on the book jacket was $25. Wow, this was not only an investment, but a deal....

My Harry Potter prophesy proved to be as prescient as my dinosaur, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Lego predictions: Despite an absolute certainty that my son would take to each of these with an enthusiasm worthy of my hoarding of these items, my son had no interest in any of these. But, unlike my disappointment with his blase attitude toward a full train table and brightly colored vehicles bought at the most progressive of toy stores, when I finally got around to reading the first page of the Harry Potter book, I realized I had dodged a major, seven-volume, bullet.

First of all, I'll let you in on a little secret. When I purchase books for my pre-literate children, I review them for ease of reading aloud. That is code for short and sweet. I once made the mistake of buying a perfectly lovely book chronicling a Thai woman's attempt to protect her baby from the native animals. The damned book went through the exact same saga of the mother shooing away monkeys, water buffalo, gray mice, finishing each verse with the same rhyme... fine for the first two or three animals, but by the time the elephant came stomping by 35 pages later... well, you see the problem. So books get the yea or nay based on the syllable:picture ratio. The fewer words, the more pictures, the better. 

So when I picked up the Harry volume several years later and was already baffled by the first paragraph, I knew my fantasy of gathering the family for  Dickensian book-reading night was not gonna happen.  I confess to having been an English major at an East Coast college where liberal arts were deadly serious, and writing an appropriately verbose thesis on Samuel Richardson's use of the epistolary conceit in Clarissa, and an intricate deconstruction of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. However, in the years since the reality of family life, politics, fluctuating economies, and planes crashing into buildings, my interest in all things fictional has vanished. My patience for make-believe is limited to playing dolls with my daughter or being silly with my son. 

Speaking of my son, whose well-being I had in mind when purchasing the fantasy novel years ago, he seems to have inherited the practical academic approach that his parents embody. While some of his peers gravitate to the other-worldly stories of Harry and his friends, my son seeks out the very grounded  world of sports and the facts that are part of the territory. He roots for some teams that have had their share of hard knocks, similar to the unlikely heros of a Harry Potter book. Yes, even the practical, fantasy-averse suspend their disbelief from time to time. 

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