J. K. Rowling, in Person

It took an hour’s train ride, a leisurely hour’s walk down 8th Avenue, and more than two hours waiting afterwards to get it, but here it is: J. K. Rowling’s autograph on her newest book, The Casual Vacancy.

Autographed copy of Casual VacancyWhenever I look at this signature in the future, I’m going to remember the awesome moment I had. I had literally been wracking my brain ever since I bought my ticket a month before on what I was going to say to her. I knew I would have a total of five seconds to say something while she quickly signed my book, and I didn’t want to waste it the way I had with Neil Gaiman at the National Book Festival a few years ago. After hours of waiting in line, they only thing I could come up with was to comment upon the weather. [shakes head in eternal shame]

My friend Lauren was in the orchestra and I was up in the second ring, so she got the experience first. She reported back that the assistants were rushing people through, that J. K. Rowling was super nice, and that people were actually crying and hugging each other outside after meeting her. I might mention that there were an excessive amount of people dressed in Gryffindor garb too. It felt a little bit like a midnight release party.

Surrounding by all this excitement, I sat in my seat, still stumped. I finally settled on, “Thank you for making Harry’s birthday in July. It always made it feel like a birthday present just for me.”

With Harry’s birthday in July, like mine, the books always came out in the US in July. For years, I would traditionally anticipate the release of the newest Harry Potter book more than anything else. The fact that it was always in stores the week before or the week of my birthday (July 10th) always felt like a really special treat. The best birthday gift. It sounds really silly, I realize now, when the explanation is all written down, but J. K. Rowling gave me this Christmas in July feeling that was so special when I was younger. As I sped read through the first few pages of each book, each set soon before Harry’s birthday, I always got a little thrill. My birthday is in July too! I’d think. And because I read the books in July, too, it felt like the events were all happening, right then, if only I could get myself to King’s Crossing in London I could join in the adventures. It sounds silly when it’s all written down and explained, but it doesn’t feel silly. When I told J. K. Rowling, rushing the sentence as quickly as possible, what I had to say, she looked up at me, startled, her signing rhythm halted. And then she laughed, long and loud, smiling. Then she handed me my book, and it was over.  I got the satisfied feeling you get when you say exactly what you wanted to say, exactly the way you wanted to say it.

When I got outside, my brain nothing but cotton candy in my euphoria, Lauren–who had come down to earth from her own euphoria after hours of waiting for me–guided me safely to a nearby Starbucks.

I had a conversation the other day with someone who  was already an adult when the first Harry Potter came out. The books didn’t interest her that much, and she never got the fan craving for each new release. It wasn’t significant to her because she was beyond eleven years old; the experiences and adventures were hard to relate to; she was past the age of dreaming about that green-inked Hogwarts letter landing on her doorstep, which is why I think the books held so much magic for younger readers. It’s strange to think that a whole class of fifth grade children, across the world, lucked out on being eleven the same year Harry was eleven, enabling us to grow up with him. It’s like my Christmas in July feeling; it was a special feeling that lasted my entire childhood, until the last book came out the summer before I went away to college. It was a unique feeling that only a narrow spectrum of children ever will have. I can’t imagine not having that experience or not loving the books.

Since I obviously won’t be taking the book out of the house or throwing it casually in my overstuffed and mysteriously crumby purse, um, ever, it might take me a while to read the whole thing. So if you want a review, you’d best read this one instead of waiting for one of my own. But based upon J. K. Rowling’s short reading, I think I’m going to like it a lot. It’s got the same flippant humor in each sentence and description that I remember from the Harry Potter series, though I’m well aware the content is completely different. I might go with the word “spunky,” even. Have any of you read it yet? Thoughts?

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23 thoughts on “J. K. Rowling, in Person

  1. Jonny Eberle says:

    I remember the anticipation I felt before the release of the newest Harry Potter being the highlight of many summers when I was young. Growing up alongside the characters is something I will always treasure. Thanks for sharing your experience and I hope you enjoy the book!

    • hannahkarena says:

      I’m glad to hear you were able to grow up with the characters too! And the fact that we love those characters so much is a reminder of how important it is to focus upon characterization in our own writing. I would love to have readers feel as close and connected to my characters as they do for Harry, Ron, and Hermione! It’s a little lesson and/or goal I always keep in the back of my mind.

  2. Squirrel Circus says:

    Fabulous! Just the right kind of thing to say :). I read all of the books as an adult, the last several after the twins were born, and Scott totally stepped up his daddy duty, allowing myself to hole up with each new book for a few days!

    • hannahkarena says:

      I’m so glad you think so! I felt sort of silly telling people about it afterwards, and got some strange looks. How nice to be given the luxury to power read them through in a few days! I’m realizing how lucky I was that I could read as much as I did when I was younger and in school. I still haven’t even read the first page of her newest book, I’m so busy!!

      • Squirrel Circus says:

        My coolest book signing moment actually happened without me, though! My sister had David Sedaris (love, love, LOVE him) sign a book for me, and he drew a Sharpie picture of a pointy-eared and nosed dog with a red collar under his name. Unbeknownst to he OR my sister, we had JUST decided to adopt our dog Bailey, a white husky mix, who came to us wearing a bright RED collar. Totally cool.

  3. Kay Kauffman says:

    It took me a long time (and much chiding from friends) to get into the Harry Potter books. I ended up seeing the first six movies before I read any of the books, but I wanted to have them all read before I saw HP7.1. We now have a boxed set of the hardcover books that has pride of place on our bookshelf.

    While I don’t have the same nostalgia you and many of my friends have of growing up alongside the characters, I really enjoyed watching J.K. Rowling’s writing style develop over the course of the books. I read all seven of them in a month, so that was something that I picked up on that I don’t think I would have noticed if I’d read them as they were released.

    • hannahkarena says:

      I was the same with The Hunger Games. I was pretty much the last person in the world to read them. But I held off watching the movie until I finished because it ALWAYS ruins it for me if I do it the other way around. Pretty neat that you were able to read them straight through without waiting for releases though! I love falling for a series that has already been completely published and then ripping through them without pause. It’s a great sense of satisfaction to enjoy the journey all the way through. I actually thought that J.K. Rowling’s editing went a bit downhill through the series, did you get that feeling? The books kept getting longer and longer and I felt there was a lot of stuff that should have been taken out–it was tedious, etc.–but I think whatever editor got assigned to her was too nervous to touch her work!

      I’ve never read the series all the way through, I’ll have to try it and see if I pick up on similar clues!

      • Kay Kauffman says:

        I’m not sure I noticed that the editing went downhill. But it’s been a couple years since I read them, and I’ve only read them the one time. Still, when you can cut so much out of the book and still have a thoroughly enjoyable story (the movie versions), it does make you wonder, doesn’t it? Because boy, did they ever cut from the last two books in particular! I think you’re probably right, though, about whatever editor she had being too nervous to touch her work. I certainly would have been if I’d been that editor.

        However, you’re not the last person in the world to read The Hunger Games – I still haven’t read them yet, or seen the movie, despite all the good things I’ve heard. My to-be-read list grows longer every day.

  4. Katy says:

    YOU MET JK ROWLING. I’m sitting here green with envy. Thank you for letting me live vicariously through this post 🙂 And thanks for the link to my review!

    • hannahkarena says:

      I’m sorry you’re green! I hope it’s faded by now. I’m sure she’ll visit Australia at some point, she has to with the amount of fans I’m sure are there! And of course, you’re completely welcome! I’m going to do another post–maybe after NaNo–so that you can live even MORE vicariously and feel like you sat through the whole event. I took notes and quotes of awesome writing advice and other such topics.

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