The power of story and the year of reading Harry Potter out loud
The power of story. I recall the difficult year I read J.K. Rowling's seven books of Harry Potter out loud to my kids. As was the case for millions of people around the world, Rowling entertained us, and changed us, and helped us along the way.
When I read the entire Harry Potter series out loud to my sons, I was a newly single mother, recovering from a divorce. Eli, my older son, was going on eleven, the same age as Harry in the first book. Lev, my younger son, was six. It took us an entire year to read the series out loud.
The dog would leap up onto Eli's bed and whatever adults were around that night would assemble in the boys room, sitting on the floor or settling into the big chair or flopping down on the bed. With only the reading light illuminating the room, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone would begin.
Ruth loved that the stories were so ridiculously overwrought, they just begged to be overacted. Joel inspired her. He was such a ham, and she loved listening to his renditions. She felt she could fully indulge her inner ham, too.
In Ruth, we had a professional storyteller. Ruth had been reading from her two popular novels, My Year of Meats and All Over Creation, for more than a decade. She'd read to 2,000 people in Central Park. She'd read at universities and on radio and TV.
“It felt like I was casting a spell. Drawing you all in, occasionally hearing a burst of laughter, but mostly listening to my voice and the boys’ rapt silence. I remember feeling so grateful to the books, because I love reading aloud, but mostly when I do it, it's in the context of a public performance, and I'm reading something that I've written, which means that I'm requred to feel a kind of personal investment in the outcome. But these books were not mine. I didn't have to take them personally. I would simpy enjoy the act of reading, for its own sake," she said about the stories that filled our evenings.
"I just loved curling up in the big chair in Lev's room, with the rest of you all piled in bed, aware of my own voice rising and falling, aware of the quality of the boys' attention, aware of you gently scratching Lev's back while Eli scratched the dog's ears.”
While I would inevitably get tired half way through a chapter, Louise and Ruth would always finish. They usually kept going long into a second chapter, while Eli would prop himself up on his elbow remaining utterly still lest he break the spell and they'd stop. Lev would snore softly in the background. They'd read until both kids were asleep and then laugh with satisfaction that they'd outlasted them.
Louise and Ruth were up for endless discussions with the kids the next day about the plot, the characters, the author.They'd confer with them to see what they'd missed, at what point they'd gone to sleep.
Much of the story went over Lev's head. But like the rest of us, he relished the community we formed around reading Harry Potter.
Eli's questions were endless, his understanding of Harry's struggles deep.
People you love will die
Harry showed us so well that if you keep your heart open, make a good, close friends and stay loyal to them, be brave and understand the difference between good and evil, you can not only face your demons but possibly defeat them.
I add possibly because Rowling doesn't sugar coat the truth. What I admired about her most, as I read chapter after chapter out loud, was that she never tried to dupe kids into thinking there is a formula to getting through difficulties.
Evil is real and you have to face your demons head on. I was shocked and, well, terrified, when Louise intimated as we got into Book 4 that some of my favourite characters were going to die. She had already read the series out loud to her neice and she knew what was coming.