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?