Our Reading Lives

The Three Year Summer: Reading Harry Potter, One Book at a Time

The twenty year anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is upon us and boy do I feel old. It’s hard to imagine a world without Harry, now. It’s also difficult to remember that there was once a time when I did not know what a Muggle was, did not understand the significance of King’s Cross Station in London, and had not yet fallen in love with Ron Weasley because of one line towards the end of the first book: ‘That’s chess! You’ve got to make sacrifices!’ Oh, Ron. You were my first, and one true fictional love.

My nine-year-old cousin recently finished reading the entire series, and she was upset that there were no more Harry books to read. Her mum tried to tell her that there are other books, other great series, and they can find other things to read. She pointed out that none of them would be Harry. And she’s right. In the ten years since I read Deathly Hallows, I’ve read many great books, but none of them have been Harry. I don’t know if anything else can be another Harry, to be honest.

When my cousin expressed dismay at reaching the end of the series, her mum tried to explain to her how lucky she was that she could read all the books in one go. Twenty years ago, we had to wait. We couldn’t binge-read the series, where the only thing determining how quickly we discovered what happened was only our own reading speed. We had to wait years between the publication of each book—the wait for the Order of the Phoenix felt so long that some of the fandom started referring to that period as the Three Year Summer.

In some ways, I’m jealous of my cousin for being able to read the books all in one go. But in other ways, I’m grateful for the experience I had, where I had to read them one book at a time. I remember all the hours I spent on the Sugar Quill, reading fanfiction, participating in forum discussions, wondering what the gleam of triumph in Dumbledore’s eyes at the end of the Goblet of Fire meant. And the shipping wars! Oh, the debates that raged between those who thought Ron and Hermione were meant to be together (does anyone else remember the semi-colon debate?) and those who thought that Harry and Hermione were the Happily Ever After.

And I remember the release days. Oh, they were glorious. Because the books were all embargoed until midnight UK time, that meant it was 9am in Sydney, right when the shops opened. I’d line up outside the bookshop, meeting and chatting with other fans. Some of us would be dressed up (I never went to an event as extravagant as some of the midnight release parties, and really only cared about getting the book as quickly as I could). I’d get the book, take it home, and then for the next day be completely immersed in Harry’s world. I don’t think I even ate much on those days, because who needs food when you have a book that you’ve been waiting three years for?

The discussions, debates, and analyses that happened afterwards were pretty intense, too. I’ve done a PhD and spent a decade in academia, and I don’t think I’ve seen any analysis as in-depth as what the Harry Potter fandom would do in the days and years following the release of a new book. It was a wonderful time to be a Harry Potter fan.

I haven’t done a reread of the full series for a few years, but maybe now is a good time to start a new reread—twenty year anniversary, and reaching the midway point of pregnancy. Apparently the baby can hear now, and it’s never too early to start a kid on Harry, right?