Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon by Melissa Anelli
I admit it, I was a Harry Potter late bloomer. I've told the story before, so suffice it to say that it wasn't until after the 5th book was out that I became a Harry Potter fan. I immediately fell in love with the books and the world... but I missed almost all of the "Harry Potter phenomenon" as it was still in progress.
I only had a few friends (back then) that were Harry Potter fans, and we discussed the books excitedly, and re-read them repeatedly, but I didn't know that I was missing this whole world of HP fandom. When the 6th book released, the B&N in my area, rather than waiting for the midnight release, had already closed up shop by 11:30pm when I got there after racing from work. I was mad, reamed out the manager, and refused on principle when he offered to open the store again for me to buy a copy. I bought the book from the local grocery store instead. So it wasn't until the 7th book came out that I started to understand the magic of the Harry Potter release parties I'd missed... and the one I went to was small even to my naive eyes. But man, it was exciting. People were dressed up, there were games, the staff was doing trivia, people were practically doing the pee-dance in excitement... and when 12:00am came, the bookstore was like a well oiled machine. Every register opened and started ringing out excited Potter fans like it was a race.
That experience was amazing, and I'm glad that I got to have at least one before it was all over. Better late than never, huh?
Back then, I never knew the extent of the fandom. I knew there were websites, and I'd visited The Leaky Cauldron and the HP Lexicon. I knew that there was fan fiction, but I was never interested in it. (I'm a purist.) I didn't know that there were bands based on Harry Potter, or that there were podcasts, or conventions or anything like that. I'd seen a few YouTube videos of HP themed music, but I'd always thought it was a parody thing, never a true band. I hadn't realized that the NYT Bestseller list had been fractured by this series, or that it had changed the publishing industry so much. I knew that this series encouraged new young readers, but again, the extent was so much more than I'd thought. So this book was interesting to me, because it shows just how deeply this series touched peoples' lives.
There was a lot of detail in this book that I found fascinating, like the way that Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone made it against all odds, and how it changed the industry as I mentioned above, but at the same time, I found some parts of the book to get bogged down in too much detail. I listened to this on audio (although I do have the trade paperback as well), and the opening section, about Melissa's excitement that "it was here", went on for too long before saying what "it" was, or giving any real context to the situation at all. Turns out, it was the release date for the 7th and final book, but I think that the way it was written tried for a bit of mystery and excitement, and just failed to get that from me. I kept thinking, "Can we get to the point?" I want to hear about the books, and about the fans and about the phenomenon itself... not one person's squeeing over some mysterious "it" thing the reader doesn't get to be in on. For a while, I thought that "it" was publishing news coming down the pipeline of an exciting new series of books - so, the START of the HP series phenomenon.
I didn't really need to know the color of the dust on the Harry And The Potters' tour van, or exactly how sweaty they were, or that they chose cashmere pullovers because they were less likely to be sweat-stinky. TMI. Really. There were a lot of sections that I feel just kind of got lost in the memories and forgot the point that was supposed to be made.
In addition, aspects of the book were repetitive and disorganized. Anelli would jump from 2007 (the section I mentioned above, once I finally found out the context), to telling the history of the books being written, submitted, published, sold, etc, then on to how Anelli got involved in The Leaky Cauldron (TLC), to 9/11, to book 5, to how Anelli first read the books.. on and on. It was like playing Frogger, hopping around, back and forth. I really, really wanted a more structured format for this book, especially listening on audio. Sometimes it was hard to follow where I was in terms of timelines.
There were several sections that were repeated at least twice, and I found that to be a little tiresome. Once we've covered the basis of 'shipping/'shippers, I don't need to rehash what it is again later. We can just move on to how it's relevant to the part of the story being told. I want the history and backstory, but I don't need to know, yet again, what the city by city fan count at a Harry and the Potters show was.
Those criticisms aside, I did really enjoy this book. It made me sad at times, especially during Melissa's recounting of 9/11 and her panic at not knowing where her sister was, but it made me happy that the community of Harry Potter fans that she'd so recently found were able to support her. It made me nostalgic for the experience of reading these books for the first time, and watching this story unfold with each book. I didn't have the long gaps in which to theorize and wonder for most of them, but each new book was a revelation in just how much a story could affect me... and it STILL affects me just the way it did the first time. I cry with certain deaths, I laugh at the twins, I cheer for Neville finding the courage to stand up again and again.
These books didn't make me a reader; I'd been a reader since I was little. What they made me was a part of a huge community of people who all share the love of an extraordinary series of books which changed almost everything. I think that Harry: A History did a good job at showing that, despite the issues I had with the writing and organization.
I can't wait to revisit Harry Potter again.