The Harry Potter Read Along is being hosted by Jenna at Lost Generation Reader. It starts today but I'm in York until Monday so won't be starting any reading or reviewing till then. Still, it's Harry Potter and any excuse to talk about the books is fine by me. This post is basically all about how I first got into the books; if you don't want to read that (I suspect it will be long) then skim to the bottom of the post where I've listed the books in my order of preference. That's probably all you really need to take away from this post.
It was sometime in spring 1999, and despite having lots of books I had nothing to read (a problem which persists to this day). We were in a bookshop and Mum all but threw Philosopher's Stone at me, saying that a lot of kids at her school were enjoying it and maybe I would too - bearing in mind she teaches infant school and I was 15 at the time. I took the book, skimmed the back, noted the whole "Harry is a wizard" thing which seemed pretty cool and then checked the copyright page to see who this J.K was. That she was actually a Joanne, like me, and published, like I hoped to be some day, made me decide that my money could definitely be spent on this book.
We then went to a clothes shop for my sister - because then we were very fixed in our stereotypes of bookish tomboy and clothes-loving girl - and I sat in a corner of the changing room, wedged between the wall and a stack of chairs that were inexplicably there, and read the first sentence:
"Mr and Mrs Dursley of number four, Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." (from memory, am both sad and proud of that)
I was hooked. I polished off Philosopher's Stone that day, got Chamber of Secrets the following weekend, and bought Prisoner of Azkaban when it came out even though my mother told me to save money and wait for the paperback (I waited a couple of weeks so it isn't a first edition, dammit). An equally obsessed friend and I got Goblet of Fire opening day. After that it was all midnight openings, though the one for Order of the Phoenix only happened because my mum couldn't sleep and so burst into my room at 11.30 at night saying "do you want to go buy the book?". I put off writing my MA Dissertation to read Deathly Hallows and paid for this by being the only one of my friends to have finished, meaning that I had all the Feelings and no one to share them with - though I did go into a friend's room and sob uncontrollably for five minutes over one of the deaths in that book, while being unable to tell her who it was.
I can't really explain my love for these books. I started reading them when I was in Year Ten at school and depressed and lonely, and finished when I was in my fourth year at university, happy and with some of the most awesome friends in the world. Eight years of my life had the series as a constant, and a constant I could go back to when life sucked or things got too much. I know a lot of Harry Potter fans have this sort of relationship and feeling for the series, and that there's something about the world that feels comforting even when all the bad things are happening at Hogwarts, even though it's a something that's hard to pinpoint. The books are just wonderful and there when you need them. And much as I complained about having to wait at the time, I wouldn't trade in the theories and speculations and midnight openings for anything, even to have had all 7 in 1999.
Also, J.K. Rowling is one of my personal heroes. Just throwing that out there because it is so true.
Basically, I thought that before I did this re-read I'd list the books in my order of preference to see if that changed. The first three were very easy, after that it became trickier.
1. Prisoner of Azkaban
2. Deathly Hallows
3. Goblet of Fire
4. Philosopher's Stone
5. Chamber of Secrets
6. Order of the Phoenix
7. Half-Blood Prince
In fact I have pretty much gone in chronological order from 4 onwards but I'm really not a fan of Half-Blood Prince (I think it suffers from being a prologue to Deathly Hallows). Anyway, that's my list - and my history with Harry Potter - so let's see how things change in the weeks ahead.