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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Way behind the curve

The following is a brief public service announcement:

I am still the only literate person in the civilized world who has not read a single one of the Harry Potter books.

My wife and the big kids have read all of the previous installments... and the newest one (many thanks to my younger sister for FedExing it around the world) has just passed from Zahava to Ariella.

However, for some reason I never got around to reading any of them.

It's not a religious thing, I promise!  In fact, I've always been a bit puzzled when I hear religious leaders (in many religions) voice objection to the Harry Potter stories. 

From what I've seen in the films, it seems as though there are many very healthy lessons for children of all ages.  Unlike the typical Disney fare, the world created by JK Rowling doesn't rely exclusively on fairy godmothers or prince charmings to arrive at the last moment to make everything OK.  Instead, we learn that even people with magical powers must study and work very hard at perfecting their wizardry... and that there are limits on the powers of even the most skilled practitioners. 

All of the social (bullies), financial (the poor Weasleys) and organizational (the Ministry of Magic) problems that exist in real life also exist in the fictional world of Harry Potter, et al.   And most telling, strength of character seems to count for at least as much as having an encyclopedic knowledge of spells and potions.

So... I really have no reasonable explanation as to why I haven't read any of the books. 

Therefore, this Shabbat I will finally begin reading the first in the series; HP & the Sorcerer's Stone.


Posted by David Bogner on July 28, 2005 | Permalink


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Excuse me but I must clarify. Ariella and I were sharing the book until last night when I finished it. Ari has been reading during her waking hours, while I had access only after she went to bed.

I am hoping to spend at least a half hour every evening reading with Gili, as I know that he is quite anxious to get into this book as well....

Posted by: zahava | Jul 28, 2005 2:48:33 PM

I'll leave it to the other commenters to decide whether you should be reading "HP and the Sorcerer's Stone" or "HP and the Philosopher's Stone."

But they certainly are a good read. Since you've got all 6 of them to read, if you get caught up in books, be prepared to donate a lot of your time for this.

Posted by: Dave | Jul 28, 2005 2:49:18 PM

Hi David,
meet you for coffee on my next visit, ok ? I'm back home since friday, and had my new HP book in the mailbox (amazon-preorder). I've started already, but am looking very much forward to the weekend to continue! Wish you a pleasant read.

Posted by: Jany | Jul 28, 2005 3:11:49 PM

Oh no, not the American edition! Heresy, heresy! *grumble*

May you enjoy.

Posted by: Lioness | Jul 28, 2005 3:17:40 PM

David, you are not the only one. I haven't read any of the Harry Poter saga either. Strange, because although I love that sort of stories, I've never felt attracted to this particular work.

I guess I'll finally read them along with my kids, when they are older.

OK, I might reconsider my position and read them before, if the comments of the people on this site suggest so :-)

Posted by: Sandra | Jul 28, 2005 3:24:58 PM

I've never read them. And I've never seen Star Wars.

Posted by: Natan | Jul 28, 2005 3:29:01 PM

not only have I never seen Star Wars, I get mixed up between Star Wars and Star Trek. (Does that make me the ultimate anit-geek!) I've seen the first Potter movie though, and liked it.

Posted by: ac | Jul 28, 2005 3:42:35 PM

I haven't seen Star Wars either. But I'm a Star Trek fan :-P

Posted by: Sandra | Jul 28, 2005 3:43:43 PM

No, you're not! I have not read any of the books nor seen any of the movies. I just never felt compelled; I do not really enjoy that genre. Although, all my friends are harping on me to get into it, so I may start the first book and see if I can get into it.

Posted by: Essie | Jul 28, 2005 4:10:52 PM

"I am still the only literate person in the civilized world who has not read a single one of the Harry Potter books."

Wow, and I thought I was the only one. I see from the comments here that you and I are not alone.

Not to sound like a total dud, but I never really got into fantasy books. I know it sounds boring, but I prefer non-fiction. I love learning....history, medicine, news, religion. Those are all of the types of books on my nightstand. If I do read non-fiction, it's usually a mystery.

Posted by: Stacey | Jul 28, 2005 4:14:54 PM

I'd say you're in good company. I've never read any of them either. Maybe one day I'll succumb and start. In the meantime, the first movie will do for now.

Posted by: JPT | Jul 28, 2005 4:20:34 PM

David, in Hebrew, or in English? ;) Is there a Hebrew translation?

Posted by: V. Ko | Jul 28, 2005 4:37:24 PM

OK, before I begin responding to people's comments, I need to state for the record that I was unaware of a significant difference between the US and UK editions of the books. I assumed that things like spelling 'color' instead of 'colour' might prevent American readers from being distracted... but are there really such vast differences? DO the plot lines differ? Is it simply a matter of softening the British-isms for the benefit of the American ear? I happen to be a bit of an anglophile, and have enjoyed reading several of the English mystery novelists over the years... so understanding the UK dialogue shouldn't be a problem. But is there more to it?

Please make your argument for one or the other. There are plenty of Brits in my community from whom I can surely borrow a copy of the UK edition if you manage to make a compelling case.

Now, where were we?

Oh yes...

Zahava... I stand corrected, although I wouldn't exactly call what you and Ariella have been doing 'sharing'. I've seen kids in a sandbox fight more civilly over the last shovel and bucket. :-)

Dave... I've never been afraid of making a commitment in time or effort once I decide I want to do something. I also don't mind if it takes a few months to get through the series.

Jany... I'm so sorry that we didn't get to meet during your visit. I take full responsibility for being a scatterbrain and not getting back to you. For future reference, anyone who expects to make firm plans with me needs to be fairly assertive (and remind me a couple of times for good measure). I don't manage my time as well as I should. Again, I'm sorry and hope to see you next time around.

Lioness... Clearly you have no strong feelings on the subject, but if you should meet anyone who does... would you be so kind as to ask them to tell me why one offers a better reading experience over the other? :-)

Sandra... Stay tuned... it appears there are some strong feelings on the subject.

Natan... I can't offer any comment on your Harry Potter virginity... but you should see Star Wars - if only so you'll understand frequent cultural references such as those to the famous bar scene, which has become a metaphor for any place where unsavory characters gather (e.g. "London has become the Star Wars bar scene for terrorists").

ac... I can't help you there since I made the tough choice back in high school to interact with girls rather than learn how to speak Klingon. :-)

Sandra... Please don't tell me that you speak Kingon! :-)

Essie... When people tell me I have to read something I tend to lose interest. Maybe that's why I was such a poor student in school! :-)

Stacey... I like both fiction and non-fiction. I've read most of Barbara Tuchman's history books, and I tend to like mysteries too (especially the British ones).

JPT... I'm actually surprised at all these people coming out of the woodwork who haven't read the books. With the way people have been carrying on I assumed I was the only one.

VKo... English, thanks... I break my teeth enough at work. :-)

Posted by: David | Jul 28, 2005 4:39:12 PM

To answer K. Vo, there are hebrew translations of at least the first two books in the series; I don't know about the rest. I read the first one in hebrew after going through it in English; since I already knew the story, it was a great way to work on my hebrew (including words like wand and cauldron that I never had use for before...)

Posted by: Alana | Jul 28, 2005 4:51:10 PM

Try read the British one - it's somehow more authentic.

Posted by: Yosef | Jul 28, 2005 5:00:57 PM

good for you! the first two books are ok, its somewhere around the 3rd or fourth book that you suddenly realize you like them. at least thats the way it happened with me. ill admit that i love the harry potter books, and im quite excited about the new movie (though it comes out while im in israel...)

enjoy them

Posted by: Lisa | Jul 28, 2005 5:10:11 PM

To Natan - no it doesn't make you an anti-Geek. Especially with all the stuff you do know.

Posted by: Greg T | Jul 28, 2005 5:10:30 PM

The differences are small, and were done primarily to remove barriers and confusion for American readers. Stuff that would actually trip you up without being vital for the plot. For instance:

Ron's mum knits jumpers for the kids at Christmas. In Britain a sweater is called a jumper. To the American reader, a jumper is a type of girl's dress. "Why did she knit a girl's dress for her sons?"

The changes are few & far between, were all approved by JKR, and don't alter the book in any meaningful way.

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | Jul 28, 2005 5:10:31 PM

Well it is about time.

Posted by: Jack | Jul 28, 2005 5:21:18 PM

No, I don't speak Klingon, but one of my favorite characters was Worf. He was so, how to say this, well, cute.

Posted by: Sandra | Jul 28, 2005 5:23:01 PM

Alana... And now you find you use those words more often? ;-)

Yosef... One could make the same argument about kidney pie and room-temperature beer... but I prefer my ale a little chilly and avoid eating organs through which excrement has passed. :-)

Lisa... Usually people say things like, "The first chapter or two are kinda slow... but then you won't be able to put it down!". But you're saying I have to read two or three chapters before I start to like it?! Please tell me you're joking. Oh, and we have movie theaters here in Israel... Really! :-)

Andy Levy-Stevenson... OK, thanks. By the way... what's a 'mum'? -)

Jack... I know... I know [hangs his head in shame]

Posted by: David | Jul 28, 2005 5:24:13 PM

lol, the first books are good, theyre just more focused for children. think of it, those were writen before she really knew who her audience was. but theyre still good, you jus tmight get annoyed at the reading level. or maybe thats just my snobbery.

lol, and i know you have movie theaters in israel. that just means i have to figure out where they are. and find someine to go see a harry potter movie with me...

Posted by: Lisa | Jul 28, 2005 5:43:49 PM

Lisa... My children would like to take you up on your offer to take them to see the next movie when it comes out. ;-)

Posted by: David | Jul 28, 2005 5:47:20 PM

Hey Dave, I'm literate and have never read any Harry Potter books. I'm surprised you're giving in!! Enjoy your freedom while you can. Shabbat Shalom!

Posted by: sarahb | Jul 28, 2005 5:58:45 PM

lol... sweeeet now i can go see the movie and ive made friends already! i guess im cooler to go with to the movies than a parent? no offense of course... : )

Posted by: Lisa | Jul 28, 2005 6:10:02 PM

Ah, what fun! I hope you enjoy them!

My youngest (the most rabid of my HP fans) has read both Sorcerer and Philosopher and informs me that in the US version there are vocabulary changes.

There is a handy list of them here.


Posted by: Talmida | Jul 28, 2005 6:28:04 PM

I read the first four in rapid succession (and out of order) and then I entered 8th grade... It is beyond disconcerting for me to see grown men engrossed in the latest copy of Hary Potter. When my boss had a discussion with someone about who Tom Riddle was - apparently it comes up in the sixth book, but I reminded him that the answer is in the second - my respect for him experienced a precipitous drop.
(Although, I should probably shut up because I gave in and read "The DaVinci Code.")

Posted by: tmeishar | Jul 28, 2005 6:40:23 PM

add another one to the list. I have never read them, and really don't plan to.
and now... it's just all hype.

Posted by: lisa | Jul 28, 2005 6:54:52 PM

it's just all hype.

Actually it really isn't, there is substance.

Posted by: Jack | Jul 28, 2005 7:04:19 PM

I'm actually working on a post on this subject, as if there aren't enough. :) I was first introduced to the books when I received 1-3 as a gift in 99. At the time I had never heard of Harry Potter (nor had most of the world outside Britian). I fell in love with the storyline and the elaborate setting that JKR eloquently sets. I loved CS Lewis as a child and these stories are similiar in that they completely take you to another world-one born in your imagination. These are great books to escape into. Also, There are several "Brit-isms", even in the English versions, so I can't imagine that much of the actual storyline was altered.

RE: Lisa's comments-The books most certainly have become more sophisticated through the series and I believe it is just for the reason that you noted. When JKR first began writing the series (1-3), her primary audience was children. When adults picked up on the literary genius of her stories, the books grew with the audience. The 4th book has been my favorite of the series and I'm very much looking forward to the film.

Posted by: Bayou | Jul 28, 2005 7:22:44 PM

And all this time I thought Daniel was the only one left in the world who never read the books but enjoys the movies! He's still holding out and will not read them.
But of course, he's a good hubby and got me a copy.

Posted by: Chavi | Jul 28, 2005 7:31:59 PM

I just gave the first four books books to my grandma for her 85th birthday. :-)

And btw, in Canada and the UK it's The Philosopher's Stone. The US version is the Sorcerer's Stone. This made us Canadians giggle... was a philosopher too difficult to explain to the American kids, or what?? ;-P

Posted by: celestial blue | Jul 28, 2005 8:01:42 PM

er.... apparently I wasn't too far off.


Posted by: celestial blue | Jul 28, 2005 8:02:31 PM

Who's Harry Potter?

Posted by: Carol Feldman | Jul 28, 2005 8:16:22 PM

I'm not a typical sci fi book reader, either, but I absolutely loved the HP series... i have not bought the latest, but I will be. They're just fun.

And Lisa, I'm envious that you have the opportunity to go to the movies with my niece and nephew! Enjoy! ;)

I tried to watch Star Wars movies, but couldn't get into them.

Posted by: val | Jul 28, 2005 8:58:49 PM

There is an interesting post regarding (yes I know this sounds strange) reading Harry Potter on shabboshere. I have read maybe two books and I think they are alright nothing spellbinding however.

Posted by: Jewish Blogmiester | Jul 28, 2005 9:14:30 PM

I've been reading the Hebrew versions to my children so far. We've gotten thru the books 1 and 2, and almost done w/ #3. It's fun to read all these odd Hebrew neologisms and then later learn the 'correct' English.

Once my family pointed out that Quidditch is only played on shabbat, I starting posting on my blog about HP and Jewish law.

Posted by: kaspit | Jul 28, 2005 9:56:17 PM

The great thing about Harry Potter is how Rowling manages to take cliched ideas that should make no sense, like witches with pointed hats flying on broomsticks, and make a cohesive and rational world out of them. There's a great internal consistency, and the characters behave as you would expect them to.

And yes, the third book is where it gets interesting, especially for adults.

Posted by: psychotoddler | Jul 28, 2005 10:29:53 PM

SarahB... Clearly I wouldn't think about reading something if I didn't think I'd enjoy it. And besides... I need to figure out what the heck my kids have been jabbering about all these years!

Lisa... First let's get you to Israel and have you come for a visit with us... then I'll let you decide if you want to take responsibility for 'thing one and thing two'. :-) Looking forward to hearing from you when you land.

Talmida... Thanks for the resource. Unless someone tells me that there is something more significant than slightly modified nomenclature... I'll probably stick to sorcerer.

Tmeishar... I don't think I would have given in to the temptation or hype if I wasn't a father... but the real temptation is to share something with them that they obviously enjoy. As they get closer to their teenaged years there will be fewer and fewer opportunities for enjoying the same things.

Lisa... You say it like it's a bad thing! :-)

Jack... If I was really that interested in substance I would probably be cruising the non-fiction shelf. I really need a 'beach read'... even if my beach is a comfy lounge chair on the back balcony.

Bayou... I don't have that much experience with fantasy or sci-fi, so I won't know if I like it until I try it. I doubt I'll post about it again though... I'm so far behind the curve that it would be a lot like someone 'discovering' Disco in the late 80s. :-)

Chavi... You're a lucky girl. :-)

Celestial... We're not going to go another round of American/Canadian one-upsmanship are we? I value our friendship too much for that! :-)

Carol Feldman... Well there you are! I missed you. Who's Harry Potter indeed... don't you have a teenager? BTW, how is the painting going?

Val... That's not really a done deal yet. Lisa may meet Ari and Gili and decide she can't take the bickering for a whole afternoon! :-)

Jewish Blogmiester... I'm glad it turns out to be permissible.

Kaspit... Um, you do realize that the stories are just pretend, right? :-)

Psychotoddler... You guys are scaring me now! Maybe I should just start with the 3rd book already!!!

Posted by: David | Jul 28, 2005 10:35:11 PM


One of the things that I find funny about these types of phenomena is our need to dig in and look for the deeper meaning. There are numerous discussions on whether Harry Potter is Jewish or if he is a symbol of this or that.

There are conversations about what it all means and how brilliant Rowling is with her simple yet effective symbolism of good triumphing over evil.

I sometimes wonder if we don't turn things into far more than they were ever meant to be. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Posted by: Jack | Jul 28, 2005 10:48:13 PM

Bayou's comment about loving C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia made me quite nostalgic! And I have to agree that JK Rowling's HP series is enjoyable precisely because it brings me back to the cliff-hanging excitement of my childhood reading. Books like the Narnia series, A Wrinkle In Time, The Trilogy of the Rings, The Dark is Rising Series, and.... well you get the picture.

Don't get me wrong, I've read quite a number of wonderful books as an adult. But there was something thrilling, as a child, about being naive enough for the outcomes to be both completely fanciful and unpredictable. Hats off to JK Rowling! It is a real thrill.

Posted by: zahava | Jul 28, 2005 10:54:52 PM

My Rabbi makes the comparison between seeing the movie and reading the book to watching the "Ten Commandments" instead of reading the chumash. I limit my reading to popular periodicals. I am waiting patiently for the next movie.

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 29, 2005 12:40:35 AM

I never read the HP books. Perhaps I am not literate.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Jul 29, 2005 2:21:26 AM

I don't know how literate I am, but I haven't read any of these either. I actually worked at a place where they passed the books around.

Posted by: JC | Jul 29, 2005 2:23:02 AM

NO! i havent read any of them yet! and i am semi-literate. i am reading a book, baseball and philosophy. good book...

Posted by: Tonny | Jul 29, 2005 2:29:11 AM

I must confess to having digested the first one in a big hurry. Then after picking up the second ... *poof* ... all interest was lost.

Posted by: Jim | Jul 29, 2005 9:14:37 AM

I must confess to having digested the first one in a big hurry. Then after picking up the second ... *poof* ... all interest was lost.

Posted by: Jim | Jul 29, 2005 9:15:09 AM

In developing countries we only WATCH Harry potter movies 6 months after they're released (Pirated version, of course)......pity huh!

Posted by: kakarizz | Jul 29, 2005 9:37:16 AM

The only difference between the British version and the American version of the Potter books is the publisher. In the UK it's Bloomsbury and in the US it's Scholastic. Except for licensing concerns and artwork, that's the end of the difference.

Whatever version you end up reading, enjoy. :)

(Going offline and back to reading HP-VI)

Posted by: jennifer | Jul 29, 2005 10:25:48 AM

Jack... As the owner of a largely useless English Lit. degree, I have to say that there is often much more to things than one sees or understands at first reading. Sometimes the author intends the deeper meaning... sometimes the hidden meaning is an unconscious result of outside influences on the author... and sometimes the diggers are just full of sh*t. :-)

Daniel... There seems to be a problem with your parallel construction (or your reasoning). If seeing the movie is to reading the book as seeing the Ten Commandments is to reading the Chumash (First five books of the Bible), then you are saying that one has much more to gain by reading the book... yet you end by saying something completely different.

Jordan... You're just a history snob. I promise you that if there were some tie-in between Harry Potter and the Battle of Gettysburg... you'd be on it like white on rice.

JC... Just sorta passed the books around... or actually read them? :-)

Tonny... If you want a recommendation for a great baseball book, read 'Moneyball'. You'll thank me.

Jim... That's because the story is set in England. That English fare can weigh you down. If the setting had been China... you would have wanted to read another one an hour later! :-)

Kakarizz... You don't have movie theaters with legitimate first run films in your country? May I ask where that is? I'm curious because I've been to many developing countries... even in Africa and there were at least a few theaters in most big cities.

Jennifer... Enjoy! Shabbat Shalom.

Posted by: David | Jul 29, 2005 11:51:54 AM

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