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Harry Potter at 20: My Magical But Maybe Creepy Intro to Harry Potter

It all started with Anjelica Huston.

Like any normal 14-year-old, I was spending my summer obsessed with the then-48-year-old actress. It was 1999, so the internet was still experiencing growing pains, but it was advanced enough that a young teenager could find filmographies, interviews, and agent addresses where she could send letters detailing how much an actress's performance in Addams Family Values meant to her.

In one of these interviews, Huston said the last book she had read was Charming Billy by Alice McDermott. Charming Billy is an excellent novel about an Irish-American man who dies from alcoholism. Under normal circumstances, none of these things would appeal to me, but when you're 14 and obsessed, you will read anything that person read (see also: Enemies, A Love Story by Isaac Bashevis-Singer).

also I was really gay and didn't know it yet

My family was going where we went every summer: the small, historical community of Chautauqua, NY, originally founded for Methodist women, but which has since become a summer vacationing spot for families. Chautauqua is nestled on Lake Chautauqua and is, in essence, a gated town (you need a pass to get in, and cars are not encouraged inside the walls). There is an amphitheater, a library, a town square, an ice cream parlor, an opera house, a multitude of churches, a boys & girls summer camp, a baseball field, and basically everything you would ever need in one small place OMG I LOVE IT SO MUCH.

The lake

Town square + the library

It was because of Anjelica Huston's Charming Billy that I discovered Harry Potter. Well. Charming Billy and also the CLSC, or the "Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle," which was founded in 1878 and has the distinction of being the country's oldest still-operating book club.

So there I was in Chautauqua at the house we'd rented, probably watching That's My Dog, when the phone rang and the Chautauqua Library told me Charming Billy had finally come in. I walked to the town square, picked up the book, and started walking back home while reading it. Like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, but with braces and some sweet sweet just-above-the-knee jean shorts.

I was a few blocks from the house when an older man started walking next to me. Despite growing into an adult who lives her life as if she is going to be murdered any second, Chautauqua is one of the safest places in the country, and I was mainly irritated that this man seemed like he wanted to chat when I was trying to feel closer to the acclaimed actress who won an Oscar for Prizzi's Honor (a book I'd also read).

This picture is v. important to this post

He kept trying to see the cover of the book, and I finally showed it to him.

"Oh! We read that last year in CLSC."
"You know, the CLSC's Young Readers has a book that's pretty good. It might be too juvenile for you after Charming Billy, but it's about a young boy who has to live with his horrible aunt and uncle, and--"

SO THAT WAS IT. Mysterious old man pops up from nowhere, walks with me for 5 minutes, tells me about Harry Potter and vanishes. 

The CLSC's Young Readers had a program where you could read 5 books on their list, write 5 essays, and get one of the list books for free. I was the oldest you could be and still participate, so I wrote the essays, picked up Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone the day we left for Niagara Falls, and after reading it on the way, immediately made my parents stop at a mall to get Chamber of Secrets.

Then we saw Niagara Falls but I wanted to go back in the car and read my book

Who knows what was up with that old man. Why was he comin' up on a 14-year-old girl and asking about her reading choices? Why did he mention a middle grade series? Probably because Chautauqua's a strange place and Harry Potter appeals to everyone except weirdos like A.S. Byatt. 

Regardless, I am grateful, old man. I might not search through my library's microfiche for old Anjelica Huston movie reviews anymore, but I still discuss Harry Potter almost daily. I hope you were magical and not creepy. I'm choosing to believe magical. 


  1. Do not even try to convince me that it wasn't a wizard that told you to read Harry Potter.

  2. Oh I did not know. Yesterday I read something similar in harry potter book covers


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