In search of the Best Harry Potter Reading Experience

At the end of October, as the nights were drawing in, a chill could be felt in the air, and the leaves began to turn, I found myself feeling the urge to dive once again into the soothing pages of Harry Potter. I don’t know why I associate HP with this time of year. Perhaps it’s the heavy focus in the books on Halloween and Christmas. Perhaps it’s because I find autumn is the most comfortable season of the year for me, and that’s synonymous with Hogwarts. Whatever the reason, I indulged and cracked open the latest illustrated entry into the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Perhaps the most Halloweeny of the lot, and I think still my favourite of the seven.

Once again Jim Kay has done a fantastic job of adding colour and texture to J.K. Rowling’s world. And just as the mood of the books has turned darker, so too has Kay’s illustrations. Probably my favourite page is the dementor on the Hogwarts Express – a dark, cloaked, faceless figure looming through the doorway with that gnarly hand, and a candlelit reflection of Professor Lupin staring in terror.

I have to say, on the downside, that there were fewer illustrations than my appetite would have liked. I did some reading around, and it seems that Jim Kay was a bit rushed on this job. In his own post, he expresses how good it is to be able to take his time over the next book, The Goblet of Fire, implying he had been rushed on The Prisoner of Azkaban. There are a number of spreads in a row at numerous points where the illustration is just a background wallpaper print for the text. I know the books are getting longer now, and they have to save money on the printing, but it was a bit disappointing to turn the page and find yet another wallpaper spread.

However, what I did find in this book was a fantastic new reading experience, at least for me, that made the book even more enjoyable this time round. I don’t know why, but partway through, I had the idea to listen to Stephen Fry narrate the book while I followed the text and turned the pages. It’s a complete and unabashed return to childhood, sitting in bed and looking at the illustrations and turning the pages while a grown-up reads the words. It was a total indulgence, and I absolutely loved it.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with the Audible audiobook.

I don’t care that I’m somewhere above thirty; this was by far the most enjoyable Harry Potter reading experience I’ve had yet (except, of course, for the first time I ever read the books; nothing can beat that). Stephen Fry is just the perfect person to narrate the books, and does a much better job than my rubbish internal voice, and when you add that to the illustrations, the whole experience levels up. I’m not gonna lie; I hate being an adult. It’s ghastly. So being able to return to childhood for just a short while is a wonderful antidote for the unpleasantness of adulthood. If you’re feeling rubbish, you’ve had a bad day, or the weather is being wonderfully grim, I can’t recommend this experience highly enough. Go on. Indulge.

Ravenclaw edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Look what arrived today! I know, I know, she’s gone and gotten YET ANOTHER Harry Potter book. She’s such a sucker for marketing. Well, in the case of Harry Potter, I’m really not that ashamed. And I was even more of a sucker this time because I went and preordered it directly from Bloomsbury, paying through the nose, so that I could get this awesome exclusive bookmark.

This Chamber of Secrets edition is illustrated by Levi Pinfold, just like the house editions of Philosopher’s Stone, but where Philosopher’s Stone was more Ravenclaw centric in the cover design, this one is more Chamber of Secrets centric, with the entwined snakes, Moaning Myrtle and possibly a Cornish pixie. There’s also some new extra content about Ravenclaw characters in the book and more Ravenclaw factoids. The dust cover has a lovely matt feel to it, and it also has copper embossing, which the Philosopher’s Stone edition doesn’t have. However, the page edges have the same blue and yellow striping.

I’m dead chuffed with the Ravenclaw bookmark, which is actually quite good quality. It’s a pretty standard faux leather, reasonably flexible, bookmark, with the words “Ravenclaw” above “Wit * Learning * Wisdom”. I’m slightly vexed that the illustration on it is the cover design of the Chamber of Secrets book. I think it would have been better with the Ravenclaw crest, so it wasn’t book specific. But I’m not going to cry about it. I’m kind of hoping they’ll start selling the house bookmarks separately, as I’d like to catch them all, even though I’m mostly a Ravenclaw. I like to be able to pick and choose based on my current mood!

Now I’m just debating whether to put this in my usable bookmarks stash or in my don’t-use-it-or-you-might-spoil-it bookmark collection. I’m leaning towards actually using it.

Merch Review: Harry Potter Bag and Bangles

Can I just say I love the word “bangle”. It’s probably one of my favourite words in English, so I may say it an excessive number of times in this review.

But enough of that! I treated myself to some new merch, as it was my birthday at the end of May. Any excuse! And besides, I needed a new bag for my cousin’s wedding. Again, any excuse! So where does the average girl go to buy a new bag for a black-tie do? One of her favourite merch sites, of course!

I found this frankly fabulous clutch bag on EMP. It is in the style of Harry Potter’s acceptance letter from Hogwarts. On the front is the Hogwarts crest and a faux wax seal. On the back is, of course, Harry’s address while he resided in the cupboard under the stairs. There is then a zip along the top and a small detachable wrist strap. Another addition, which I was quite excited about, is an owl post medallion. It’s solid metal and quite heavy, but once you’ve got all your crap in the bag, it doesn’t feel unbalanced. I love it as a piece of merch in its own right.

The bag is great quality faux leather, and, perhaps most importantly, the zip is good quality. There’s nothing worse on a bag than an argumentative zip! It’s a nice size to both hold in your hand and contain all your crap, and the medallion adds a nice bit of bling. I think the only thing I would do to improve it is to have the envelope flap as the opening point, so it acts just like an envelope. I have seen similar bags with this feature, but they are either more the size of a handbag or a smaller clutch, and this bag is bang on for size. Big enough to actually hold all the things you need, but small enough to still be a sensible clutch. Definitely a recommended buy!

Whilst I was looking for a new bag on EMP, I happened to stumble across another piece of Harry Potter merch that I instantly fell in love with. These are a set of three silver metal bangles made for a Ravenclaw. The widest bangle is set with dark blue “gems” to represent the house colour, the second widest bangle has the words “Learning; Wit; Wisdom; Learning” etched on it to represent the valued attributes of the house, and the thinnest bangle is etched with the house name, “Ravenclaw”.

They are, of course, available in all the houses. Hufflepuff and Gryffindor come in gold, but I’m glad that Ravenclaw is in silver, as gold hates my skin tone, and I, in turn, am not a fan of it. I’m also lucky that blue is my favourite colour, and works very well with my skin tone, so it’s the ideal house for me, even if my brain doesn’t live up to the ideals all the time!

I should say, however, that these bangles are quite small. Every other joint in my body has always been chunky, but fortunately, I have quite slender wrists, and these are about right for me. They are about 17cm in circumference. Overall, however, they are a nice quality and are quite a subtle and elegant piece of merch that only the keen of eye may notice. I wore these to my cousin’s wedding too, so they make a nice piece of jewellery for formal or informal occasions. Definitely a recommended buy for the slim-wristed.

Potter Swag

I thought I’d just share some recently acquired Harry Potter goodies, which I’m dead chuffed with. The weather is getting colder in Blighty now, so I thought I’d invest in some new socks and a jumper.

1708_HP_swag

I identify with all the Hogwarts houses to some extent, but I aspire mostly to Ravenclaw’s ideals. Hence the Ravenclaw hoodie. Plus blue is my favourite colour. And naturally I would be the Quidditch team captain 😉

I’m currently wearing the socks based on my moods. For some reason, I seem to be wearing Slytherin more than any other. Read into that what you will! Personally, I think Slytherin gets some bad press. Being cunning and ambitious is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as you are mindful of the needs and wellbeing of others. I should think a lot of great wizarding entrepreneurs and leaders have come out of Slytherin.

One gripe with the socks, though. They have fallen into the trap of thinking that Ravenclaw’s heraldic animal is a raven. That bird looks very raveny to me. But as we all know, it’s actually an eagle. I’m very pleased to see they have it right on the hoodie!

An Illustrated Treat for Potterheads

Well, I’m not going to do a review of any Harry Potter books because that feels like a totally pointless exercise. They are legendary, and that is all.

However, over the last week, I’ve been indulging in the completely beautiful illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Jim Kay is the perfect choice of illustrator (and I’m sure they had a queue of illustrators fifteen miles long to choose from). He has a kind of fantasy with a touch of quirk, realistic but not too realistic with a swoosh of watercolour style of illustrating that really suits both this genre and the HP books themselves. It’s completely refreshing to have somebody else’s visuals in my head while I’m reading, having spent all these years first with my own imaginings and then with the film adaptations blocking out anything else (am I alone in thinking this is one of the worst crimes committed by film adaptations?).

Having read HP through several times, these illustrated versions make it feel like the first time again, which is quite a feat. I’m seeing the stories again in a completely different light, and I’ve consumed Harry’s stories in every possible way so far. They are a touch on the expensive side, but if you are anything near the Potterhead that I am, it’s well worth the investment, even just for making the stories feel new again. They are beautiful items to hold in every way: the size, weight, quality of paper and of course Jim Kay’s expressive, captivating and often humorous illustrations, which give the stories a whole new dimension. The Philosopher’s Stone was a genuine treat to re-read this time around, like opening a box of chocolates to find all your favourite flavours inside.

I’m posting a couple of my favourite spreads here.