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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Column: Reading Rainbow

Editor’s note: This column may contain spoilers from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
“The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen 19 years. All was well.” Cue tears. Cue hearts dropping. Cue the end of an era.

Our generation has been fortunate enough to witness and experience dramatic transformations in the modern world. Some will feature as catalysts of change in our children’s history books, and others will be remembered as revolutionary, but obsolete, advances in technology.

When we were in elementary school, we started reading. When we were in middle school, we were completely hooked. And when he finished growing up, so did we.

One thing that sets our generation apart, that makes us different from anyone who came before or who will come after, is Harry Potter. Now, before you roll your eyes and grumble: “Great. Here’s another wizard freak,” think about how many people you’ve seen reading a Potter book. How many people you saw standing in line at Barnes & Noble wearing bathrobes and strange hats.

I hope you said hi, because that was me. That was the person sitting next to you in lecture. And your high school English teacher.

Call me Exaggeration Ernie, but I don’t think you can deny that a lot of people would give Harry Potter a Facebook thumbs up. And I would say they don’t just like Rowling’s work – they believe in it.

On October 19, 2007, I came to see just how much faith surrounds Harry. After writing 200 words about why Rowling’s books inspired me and paying 30 cents for postage, I stood face to face with the woman herself. Besides having a little panic attack, I managed to take in the vastness of the experience. The room was filled with 2,500 fans, each of us completely aware that there truly was no place we would rather be. The aura of appreciation in that room was incomparable.

With 10 years of work, seven books and 4,176 pages, J.K. Rowling gave people across the world something to believe in. She gave the founders of mugglenet.com a network to jumpstart their careers. She inspired two brothers to harness their love for music and create “Harry and the Potters,” the first Wizard Rock band in history.

But Rowling isn’t the only one who is causing and has caused this eruption of creativity and expression among readers.

Janeites: devotees to the work of Jane Austen. Twi-Hards: those who find themselves obsessed with sparkling beings.

As easy it is to scoff at Twilight fans, it isn’t our job to criticize what sources of inspiration other people are drawn to. It is our job to understand why someone would fly to Orlando just to have some butterbeer. Why your sister feels like the world is fuzzy without her Kindle.

Just because someone hasn’t read The Fountainhead or Great Expectations, doesn’t mean they don’t get the same jitters you do when you open your favorite book. Books are friends, not subjects of stigma and judgment.

Maybe you hate J.K. Rowling for being one of the richest women in the world. Maybe you think this whole Potter business is just a bunch of useless hype. After all, they’re “just” books.

And maybe for you they are. But before you rant about why you despise the kid with the scar, think about your favorite book. Recall the first time you watched “Reading Rainbow” and felt like you were sitting on a rainbow of knowledge (Thanks, LeVar). Then relive the oh-so-familiar “Ah, ha!” moment when you realized your favorite movie was based on a book.

We believe in books. We know that it only takes one book to change the lives of millions of people – to inspire the hearts and minds of a generation, because we’ve experienced it.

Even if you haven’t picked up a book “for fun” since you were twelve, you believe in books, or at least you should, because expressing belief doesn’t just mean sharing your passions. It means supporting what others believe, and standing up for their greatness.

If your younger brother would rather stay at home and read The Chronicles of Narnia than go laser-tagging, let the little guy read. Even if you have no desire to open the wardrobe, you can still believe in books for him.

I can only hope that everyone will find that one book (or seven) that truly makes the difference for them. There is nothing quite like knowing your bookshelf houses a world of adventures, just waiting for you to step in when you need it most. When that day comes, you, like some wizard-rockers, will come to see that yes, “It’s only a story, but for so many it’s more than that. It’s a world, all on its own where we want to put on the sorting hat.”

MAYA MAKKER imagines that there’s some sort of metaphorical sorting hat in every book. Allegedly. Support the house elf cause via mgmakker@ucdavis.edu. They have beliefs too.

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