Yep, you read that headline correctly: with the exception of a few lines of a friend’s copy on a girls’ holiday to Gran Canaria, I’ve never read the most popular series of books in literary history.
But before you start throwing things at me, I’m not here to bash Harry and his wizarding pals.
I’ve always wondered just what it is that makes one book insanely popular, while another that is equally good flounders in obscurity.
Some of the best read novels of recent times are often not that well thought of critically. Look at the likes of The Da Vinci Code, Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey. Although these books might not be that well written, they obviously tell a compelling story that has managed to engage millions of people around the world, inspiring those who aren’t regular readers to pick up a novel.
But I have a tendency to be stubborn. I don’t like to do something just because everyone else is. I joined Facebook years after it was the latest thing and I refuse to watch The X Factor or play Candy Crush.
There’s nothing wrong with popular culture, but I prefer to seek out amazing books that not many people know about; books that don’t have huge marketing campaigns behind them. Books that are challenging and exciting and beautiful. Books that have meaning.
It can be dangerous when a novel receives too much hype, because the reader’s expectations become so great that it’s almost impossible for the story to live up to them.
When I was younger, I sneered a bit at the Harry Potter series. I was too old for it when it came out, so it didn’t capture my imagination the same way it did for many children, who grew up with the books and became involved in the whole world as they waited eagerly for the next instalment to be released. Now I fear I might be too old to really appreciate it, although I may read it one day, when I need to get involved in a series and feel that desire to devour book after book.
Perhaps it’s a series of books I can share with my children one day, and find an appreciation of the story through their eyes.
But I must admit, if it hadn’t been such a well-loved series, it probably isn’t one I would have considered. In that sense, the popularity itself is the basis of the appeal. Now Harry Potter is included on many of the lists of classic, must-read novels, and as a serious bookworm, I feel compelled to tick it off the list.
If and when I do eventually get to the series, enough time has passed that I won’t be surrounded by a hubbub of other people’s opinions. Whilst Harry Potter will always be a phenomenon, another novel will be in the zeitgeist. I’ll be able to read the books quietly, in my own time and have space to think about them.
Sometimes you just need to discover a book for yourself, without feeling pressured into it by the sheer mass of people who are eager to share their thoughts.