It’s long been a source of shame that I, a 29-year-old writer and book podcaster who studied literature for well over a decade, have never read the Harry Potter books.
That’s right. Not a one.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in the United States in 1998, the year I turned 10. I was the perfect age to find and love this book and grow along with the series, but somehow, I missed it. And I kept on missing it for years after.
The 20th anniversary of the first book’s publication in the United Kingdom was just last month. From June 26, 1997 to 2017, people had loved and treasured the world of Harry Potter, and I still knew almost nothing any of it.
I decided that the time had finally come for me to read the series for the first time, while many of my friends and fellow literature lovers are on their third go-round (some more).
With the encouragement of my fellow Book Squad members (and lots of encouragement from listeners and friends!), I decided to document my journey through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as I read it for the very first time.
When I announced I’d be doing this, I was surprised at the response. People were excited for me—like, super excited. Just look at some of these comments on my Instagram post:
And now that I’ve finished the first book, I have to say: I absolutely wish I had read it sooner. Way sooner. Like, when I was 10. And not just because I never knew what a Muggle was until last week.
Fourth and fifth grade have their challenges. Everyone is getting into their awkward body and face phase, and people are trying to find their place among their classmates. Some kids make lifelong friends at this age. Some have a lot more trouble making friends and battle low self-esteem. I was somewhere in between.
While I had friends, some of whom I still talk to today, I had a tough time internally at this age. I’d been dealing with undiagnosed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for about four years, and I struggled with an extreme phobia of vomit and vomiting that took up a lot of my mental energy. School was a really scary place for me. Just a few years before this, I cried and panicked on a daily basis before school, refusing to go inside until a teacher I trusted came to my mom’s car and walked me in, tears streaming down my face and my fight-or-flight response telling me to run. School was not a place I wanted to be, even when this refusing-to-go-to-school phase had passed. For me, school was where the phobia lived. It’s where the sick kids were. Some days, it was the last place on earth I wanted to be.
Hogwarts would have meant to so much to 10-year-old me.
A school where kids who are different can go and be accepted and encouraged to embrace that difference is a concept that I’m sure speaks to countless kids, and even adults. For me, the magic isn’t the only thing I wish I hadn’t missed out on back then. Hogwarts is a place where this fear of mine wouldn’t have existed. It’s a school I’d have wanted to go to every day, and I wouldn’t have been afraid, ashamed or sad. It would have been a welcome escape for 10-year-old me, who was always looking for an escape.
Instead of physically running away from school, I could have run toward Hogwarts and Harry, Ron and Hermione. Even reading it for the first time as an adult who understands myself much better, I’m so comforted by this place and these characters. I still want to go to Hogwarts. (I’m a Gryffindor, for the record.)
When I saw Harry in his cupboard under the stairs, I saw myself, sort of trapped in my own brain in a way. While I wasn’t treated like a misfit the way Harry was by Dudley (what a dick, am I right?), I certainly felt like an outcast on the inside. I knew I was different, and I didn’t know how to be “the same” as everyone else.
Having Hogwarts to escape to in my mind would have given my brain somewhere else to go instead of into an anxiety-induced spiral. I could have gone to the world of jolly Hagrid, wise Professor McGonagall, precocious Hermione and brave Harry Potter. The world of Quidditch, magical feasts, enchanted animals and endless surprises. What a wonderful world it is.
Even though I wish I’d found Harry Potter sooner, I’m still thankful I found him at all, even if it was 20 years late. When I imagined what this blog would be like, I thought it would be lighthearted and whimsical, and readers would be amazed that I genuinely never knew a single thing about Hogwarts until last week. Maybe readers would get a chuckle out of how I had no idea who Snape was (and wow—I can’t wait to find out more about him) or what a game of Quidditch actually entailed. But I can already tell this series is going to be more important to me than getting a few laughs from readers.
Ten-year-old me and 29-year-old me are both really happy tonight. We’ve got six more books to look forward to.