Farland's instincts proved to be correct. Scholastic in 1997 published "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," and a literary superstar — not to mention an international cultural phenomenon — was born. With the recent midnight release of "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" (a play written by Jack Thorne under the direction of J.K. Rowling), local fans have enjoyed revisiting memories of reading the Harry Potter books the first time around.
"We read every word of the Harry Potter series out loud in our family — better than deciding who got the copy first," says Chris Graham. "More than once we tracked down the new release while on vacation and read it in the car. Appropriately, we read the last words of the last volume on our way down Beck Street at the end of a long road trip."
Parents and children reading the books together is a dominant theme in the memories of many Harry Potter fans.
Becca Wilhite says this: "So I read all the Harry Potter books to my kids — every summer we'd read all the published books in anticipation of the new one. In the summer of '07, we read and read and read, and then I read 'Deathly Hallows' to my kids." Which made Wilhite and her children cry. And when Wilhite's husband (whom she calls a "stand-up guy" even though he doesn't "get the HP thing") saw his family weeping together on the couch, he left the room, shaking his head.
Rachel Heath remembers the day after the sixth Harry Potter novel, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," was released. She and a group of her friends were scheduled to participate in a performance at Rice-Eccles stadium. After the event was over, the girls, as well as the mother who'd driven them to the stadium, climbed back into a parked car and cracked open individual copies of "The Half-Blood Prince." "We sat in the car and read for over two hours," Rachel says. By the time the girls looked up, the parking lot was empty.
Some parents talk about the way their children and Harry Potter literally grew up together. Gigi Thorsen read the books to her daughter throughout the girl's childhood. "By the time Book 7 ["Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"] came out, she was a teenager. Our family was leaving on a cruise from Miami the Sunday the book was released." So what did they do? They found an indie bookstore, stood in line and bought two copies before boarding the ship. "My daughter read until she was finished. She might have only left the cabin for meals that first day of the cruise. And wow. So many people on the ship were jealous we had copies."
Other parents read the books on their own, which speaks to Harry Potter's huge crossover appeal.
Marianne Jenkins remembers the day she was at Lagoon with her three small children. She started reading "Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone" while her children played in the water park. And she kept right on reading "when I should have been watching my children on the carousal, the speedway, the little dragon roller coaster, the boats, and the rest of the small-fry rides. I can't remember a thing about my children's experience that day, but I do remember that I read the entire first book."
Tannia Bowers and her sister read individual copies of "The Order of the Phoenix" when both were pregnant with their last child. Because they were reading at the same pace, the sisters were able to call one another and cry together. "Reading Harry Potter while pregnant is very emotional," Bowers concludes wryly.
Scott Kamerath, who has read each of the books at least three times, read Harry Potter with his wife, Dawn, as they waited for her to go into labor.
For some readers, the Harry Potter books provided comfort and escape during difficult periods in their lives. Lauren Elkins, an English major with a taste for the classics, turned to Harry Potter during a time of deep emotional crisis. "I was swept away into Harry's world," she remembers. "I couldn't wait for the next books. I prayed for Rowling to write fast, because I needed some more therapy."
Megan Goates tells a similar story on her blog, which she created in an effort to talk to people about living with children with autism. Megan had rejected the books for years, simply because they were so popular. "I don't do pop culture peer pressure," she says. But at the end of a particularly difficult summer, Megan began reading the bestsellers — and loved them. "I read all seven books in a couple of weeks, intentionally ignoring my children whenever possible. The series cast a spell against the hard end-of-summer monotony that is life for the special needs family."
Alexandra Thomas Sandvik's memory of reading the later Harry Potter books is especially poignant. As a child she read them with her mother, Becky, who loved the novels as much as Alexandra did. When her mother died suddenly in 2004, Alexandra was left to finish the series on her own. "As I kept reading the books, I found that life without my mom was a bit like being a wizard and living in the Muggle world. You knew how bright, enchanting, and rich the world could be, but yet you were forced to live in a world that feels like a shell of the magic one. I'll always be grateful to Harry Potter for some of the magic I got to share with my mom."