Right, after last week’s free-for-all bashfest that was Fifty Shades of Grey, I want to have a look at the positive side of hype this week, and I’m going to do it in the shape of a book I thought I wouldn’t like but ended up loving.
This could have been a really tricky question, because ever since I left secondary school I’m no longer in the habit of starting to read a book if I don’t think I’m going to like it. I’d had enough of that back when I had to read books for my literary exams, and there’s no way I’m going to wrestle my way through something like Lord of the Flies again voluntarily.
So what book made me break that rule? Why, it was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
The year was… Um, 2002? I can’t quite remember, but it was pretty early in my career as a foreigner living in Britain. Despite embracing the foreign culture, there have always been certain things I firmly kept hold of as a proud Dutchwoman, and one of those is the tradition of going camping for my main summer holidays.
Except for that year. My husband and I like seeing new places, and we’d never been to Finland before. We also have friends living there, so we planned this holiday as a fortnight of driving the length and breadth of Finland, with a few days stop-off at our friends. The problem was, of course, that when you go camping you load up your car with anything and everything you like to take with you, but Finland would have been way too far to drive to. Instead we flew to Stockholm in Sweden, then took the ferry from there to Turku in Finland, where we had a hire car waiting for us.
So there I was, ready for two weeks holiday, but with the usual 20 kilo limitation on luggage you get when flying. Since I would normally take at least 5 kilos worth of books, I made the very tough decision of not taking any books with me at all. I was going to see the country, right? There’d be no time for reading!
Yeah right. We got to Heathrow airport (Gatwick? some London airport) and within ten minutes I got edgy. I had nothing to read. Oh, to have had a Kindle back then… Anyway, desperate for something to read which wouldn’t weigh me down too much I dove into the nearest WH Smith and spied a copy of the first Harry Potter book.
Up until then I’d avoided them. Children’s stuff. Overhyped rubbish. Not worth my time. But as I was staring at that slim little volume I got a niggling feeling that maybe I ought to give it a try after all. People were raving about this series, so there must have been something worthwhile about it, right? And it was such a small book, it would take up no space at all in my hand luggage, and it would keep me occupied in those few spare moments I might have. So I bought it.
My initial feelings were that I’d been right. The way the book starts it’s so firmly aimed at young teenagers that it annoyed me a little bit. But then I got to the point where Harry’s house starts filling up with letters from Hogwarts, and then Uncle Vernon took them away to some little island and Hagrid showed up and…
Well, to cut a long story short, two days later I’d finished it, and I was in Turku, frantically searching for a bookstore which might sell Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in English. By the end of the holiday I’m pretty sure I’d got up to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and I’d learnt to pack my suitcases better.
Come to think of it, this must have been 2001, because I’d read the books before the films came out, and the first film was 2001, because it came out a month before The Fellowship of the Ring, and that was 2001.
So the lesson here is that hype can be good or bad, and you really have to decide for yourself whether it’s justified or not. As far as I’m concerned, it was justified for Harry Potter, and not for Fifty Shades. There will be plenty of people who disagree, but that’s the beauty of opinions!
Anything you’d like to say after this? Please do comment! I’d like to hear from you!