The Harry Potter Stigma

by Bryan

I’m up to 75 miles since I bought my iPod shoes, but I have not been running much in the last two weeks. I’ve been on a bad sleep schedule and I was tearing through the final two Harry Potter books, which I felt an all-consuming need to finish fairly quickly. Why? The Harry Potter stigma.

Like many New Yorkers, I read my books on the train pretty much every day, and the Harry Potter books are easily recognizable because of their heft and their distinct, colorful covers. One day last week, as I was knee-deep in the sixth book, I sat next to someone reading the seventh installment and across from someone immersed in book one. And there were only seven people on the train. The point being, it’s not easy to hide, and Harry Potter readers are everywhere. But there’s no safety in numbers: carry around a Harry Potter book, and you’ll be subjected to countless tilted heads and disdainful looks. They send messages with their eyes: You, they ask, you’re reading a children’s book? Others, undoubted, are trying to send some encouragement: I know, I’ve been there, but it’s an interesting little dynamic that, at least in my head, sets off the greater debate about the value of popular literature.

I’ve heard friends speak ill of the Harry Potter franchise and the works of Stephen King, and, by contrast, I know an English Ph.D. student who believes the text of the Harry Potter series has theoretical value. I tend to agree with the latter, because I believe one can meaningfully deconstruct almost any text, but it’s not possible to enjoy almost any text; those who believe that Harry Potter books have done a disservice to literature are underestimating the value of storytelling in the service of their own shame, or ego. But I don’t read for other people. I read for myself.