I remember overhearing a conversation during lunch in seventh grade. A few girls were arguing over how to pronounce “Hermione.” I, of course, had no idea what they were talking about.
A while after that, I came across Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on one of my frequent book-gathering trips to the Brooklyn Public Library. As was standard practice for my family at the time, I came home with my stack of books and left them on the table just inside the front door. My mother would gather up all the books we wanted to read and flip through them, making sure they were appropriate for us to read.
Since this was a Friday afternoon, I knew I shouldn’t expect most books to be approved before Sunday. The few that my mother recognized were immediately approved or forbidden, but since I couldn’t read goyishe books on shabbos anyway, it didn’t really matter.
On Sunday, my mother was late in coming downstairs and making breakfast for my father. When she emerged from her room a full hour late, she met me in the upstairs hallway.
“Return this to the library,” she said, handing me Harry Potter. “You can’t read it. I read it, and it’s true what the rabbanim have been saying – it’s full of kishuf, and you don’t need to be reading about magic like this.”
I gaped at her. “You read it? The whole thing?”
“Yeah,” she admitted, a little sheepishly. “It’s a really good book. You would really love it. But you can’t read it.”
I was surprised, a little annoyed, and a lot delighted.
I didn’t care that much about reading the book – all I knew about it was that some girls in my class were obsessed with it, my mother liked it, and the blurb on the back of the book sounded interesting. But I had plenty of other reading material.
I was, however, delighted that my mother so obviously enjoyed a book that the rabbanim had forbidden.
In camp that summer, the third book was released. The book was banned by the camp administration, but one girl’s father smuggled in to her on visiting day. I was friends with this girl that summer, and when she heard I had never read Harry Potter, she was horrified. She lent me the book and I read it cover to cover in one day’s rest hour.
As soon as I got back from camp, I rushed to the library and checked out the first two books. This time, I didn’t leave them out for my mother to approve.
A few years later, when I was staff in the same camp, the sixth book was released. Again, one girl’s father smuggled it in, this time in a care package he sent the day of the book’s release.
This time, the girl who had a copy was a friend from school. We shared a room at the back of a bunkhouse, away from the communal, loud and impersonal staff building where most girls wanted to stay. She was part of the underground in camp, the girls who wanted to be here, loved camp, loved this camp rather than others with more lax rules – but thought some of the rules were ridiculous.
We had a rotation going, each of us snatching moments between work shifts to read the book.
When the first girl reached Dumbledore’s death, she freaked, but knew she couldn’t say anything, demanded to have a double turn right now so she could finish the whole book, and then urged us all to read it “omigod omigod tell me when you get to that part so I can talk to you I need to talk to someone about it omigod omigod!!!”
We were almost caught once when someone left it on her pillow during the time the clean-up inspector made her rounds. But she remembered and dashed back to her bunk just in time to stash it away.