Saturday, July 21, 2007

harry potter and the evening of navel-gazing

As I sit in my apartment, curled on my brown mod armless couch with my feet nestled in the folds of my mon expensive rug and tea candles flickering about my living room, reflecting the gold and brown cover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I feel the urge to document how I feel at this moment.

I first read a Harry Potter book when I was 18, the summer before I started college. I was working for an independent bookstore owned by a lovely, slightly dotty British woman who upon hearing I had never read any of the books insisted that I do so, on pain of firing. The fourth book was to come out that July, and she would be damned if she would have a seller who had never read the books representing her store on this most critical of nights for the publishing industry.

I vividly remember sitting in the driver's seat of my 1998 Cougar in the backlot of the strip mall where her bookstore was tucked, flipping open the front cover of the first book and finding myself almost instantly sucked in, so much so that she had to come looking for me some time later, concerned because my break had been over for quite a while. I remember drawing lightning bolts onto little boys' foreheads the night that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out, tracing a zigzag of purple eyeliner under their bowl cuts as I quietly mourned the death of Cedric Diggory, a death I had read about earlier that night in our stocking room over pizza and cheap red wine with Aaron the Perpetual College Student who at 28 was still working on his bachelor's in liberal studies.

I don't remember acquiring book 5, but I do remember acquiring book 6, and would like to take this opportunity to apologize to my ex, who I know reads this blog, for inviting him to visit my family cabin and then completely ignoring him so that I could buy and read Harry Potter. Terribly rude of me, thousand apologies, etcetera. Revisionist historians might even contribute such behavior as a cause for him breaking up with me a week afterwards, but, water under the bridge.

Such bad behavior aside, my even worse behavior as regards Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was to flip. I skipped to the end of the book almost the moment it was in my hot little hands, and discovered the big climax before I knew the context for it. I chuckled as my sister, who, though she is five years younger is light-years ahead when it comes to self-restraint, gasped and gawped when she sloooooowly made her way to the conclusion I'd abrasively and abruptly arrived at.

And when she got there, I envied her. Not enough to make me regret flipping, mind you, but enough that two years later I still recall that envy, and a tangible sense of having given up to get. Enough so that this time around I have gone out of my way to avoid any spoilers, hints, whispers, comments as to what happens, even avoiding my usual navel-gazing articles on pop culture and social memory constructs in Slate, Salon, the NYT or similar.

I am not good at self-denial. I am quite terrible at it, if you want to get down to the nitty gritty of it. Yet I'm smart enough to understand that this is as a result of living a pretty privileged life and not having to deny myself of something if I don't want to. Not of material possessions, mind you-- I'm not rich, and given my professional choices, I never will be-- but I've always had the freedom to pursue lifestyle choices, hobbies, habits, even ways to fill my days, without an overabundance of self-denial.

But this Harry Potter is incontravertably the last book of its ilk. The last chapter in something I've enjoyed and felt invested in for eight years, beginning when I was a pale imitation of the person I am now. Trite as it sounds, these books are a link to childhood, and the sheer joy I've felt this week in anticipating holding this book, in finding out how it all ends, has felt unmistakably childlike. There is no irony, no agenda, no emotion besides glee tinged with melancholy that it has to end.

And so I sit, Harry's final saga resting in gold binding on my coffee table. MY COFFEE TABLE. Since I began this journey with Harry, I've become a person who drinks coffee. And who owns furniture to put it on. Who pays a mortgage, who has a 401K, who has regrets and messiness and has reconciled herself to hard truths and still, looking at even the table of contents, revels in a childish sense of wonder and excitement. And is so grateful that this world exists for her to enjoy.

And now that I have learned how exquisite self-denial can be, how reluctant I find myself to surrender to the end of it all.

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