Just as events can define generations — World War II, Vietnam, the Challenger explosion, 9/11 attacks — books, too, can encapsulate the feeling of a year or decade.
Just as “Gone with the Wind” enraptured people in the late 1930s and 1940s, classics like “Of Mice and Men” earned regular spots on school bookshelves around the country.
Books can give a glimpse into the mood of a nation and explore issues that rise to importance at any given time. “To Kill a Mockingbird” explored racial issues as they were driven front and center in U.S. streets.
Other times, though, books provide an escape from the world we know.
Such is the case with one of the most widely-read series of my generation — Harry Potter. Monday marks the 20th anniversary of the publishing of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
I was 11 years old when the first book hit the shelves. I experienced the joy of getting each of the new books when they became available at our local bookstore in Kent, Ohio.
The wizarding world grabbed my imagination and I often chewed my way through each book in just a day or two. I stayed up late, reading under a blanket with a flashlight, hoping my parents didn’t catch me awake long after bedtime.
The last book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” was released in 2007. I was about to start my senior year at Northwestern University. Despite the books being aimed at young adults, I couldn’t wait to pre-order my copy of the last of seven books in the series that shaped by childhood.
I remember bringing homework and Harry Potter to meetings my parents had to attend for work. I’d sit in the back of the room, skipping homework to escape for an hour or so into the world where Harry Potter lived.
I couldn’t wait to read the final story, but at the same time didn’t want the story to end.
Each Thanksgiving, when the movies came out in theaters, my family would visit the snack stand and hunker down in a theater on Black Friday as shoppers swarmed the malls.
Even now, as the movies appear on television like clockwork, I can’t help but stop flipping through channels and return to Hogwarts.
I wouldn’t say that any of the Harry Potter books are my favorite of all time. That designation is reserved for Philip Caputo’s “Means of Escape.” But, Harry Potter certainly has a place in my heart and in my memories.
J.K. Rowling’s books about the young wizard certainly have staying power and will likely be read for years to come.
As my generation becomes parents, I would wager Harry Potter covers are cracked and worn as families read to each other — perhaps under covers with flashlights, just for fun.