I am chronicling this as much for myself as for anyone, and that’s my excuse for it being so long.
I was afraid I would cry. That was my biggest fear about the whole evening, for weeks beforehand. Just like I knew I was going to cry when July 21st rolled around, I couldn’t imagine being at Carnegie Hall with J.K. Rowling and not shedding some tears. (Plus, I’m always tired after traveling, and I am not great to travel with, I think, because being tired makes me more likely to cry. Mike is a saint.) I knew that, as we got our books signed, I’d have one chance to tell her what it’s meant to me.
We were allowed to bring our own book to be signed. Mike brought the special edition of Sorcerer’s Stone. But I brought with me my favorite book of the series, Goblet of Fire. The first release party we went to, the book we read on our honeymoon. If I could have only one signed, that was the one I wanted.
I did not want to ruin it by crying.
So, I’m lame, but I practiced. I practiced it over and over in the car on the way to work, on the way to a librarian conference, in my head at lunchtime. I practiced, but it didn’t make a difference. I cried every time. On Friday, before we walked over to Carnegie Hall, Mike asked if I knew what I was going to say, and tried to say it to him, but I cried. How could I distill what all of this has meant to me into one or two sentences? Reading the books out loud with Mike, sharing them with friends, release parties and costumes and years of speculating. How could I say thanks for all of that?
The night itself was basically amazing. They did a random drawing to assign seats, so we didn’t know where we were going to be until we picked up the tickets on Friday. It turned out that we were in one of the boxes. It felt like being a queen, sitting there in Carnegie Hall with an excellent view of the stage. We chatted with the people around us, taking pictures of the stage and each other. Except that of course we didn’t do that, because they told us no flash photography and we are very very obedient.
Or maybe not.
But pictures without a flash were okay.
Even Dwight got in on the fun:
The chair of greatness:
And there were some introductions and some videos, and then, finally finally, she came out. And that, my friends, is when I did cry a little, because we were there, in Carnegie Hall, giving J.K. Rowling a standing ovation. (Mike said later he knew I’d cry then, curse him.) I am not much for the standing ovations, myself. I think that we give them much too often to people who don’t really deserve them, but I didn’t mind giving one to her. The fans finally getting to say thanks for the years of fun we’ve had. She seemed really moved, and said that we had to stop or she would cry.
The reading was great, the questions were very interesting (I will say more about Dumbledore in a minute), and you can read a transcript of all of that here, so I won’t bother getting into all of it. I’ll just talk about the signing. We waited a while, still up in our box, as they cleared the people on the floor first. We watched her as she was signing the books, and what struck me the most was that she was so present for each person, looking them in the eye, listening to their stories. The Scholastic handlers, bless their hearts, were trying to move everyone along. And I understand that, I do. But if they were just going to give us a signed book, they could have done that without giving us interaction with her. The whole point of the tour was that she wanted to spend time with her fans. I didn’t begrudge anybody the chance to say what he or she wanted to say, provided it wasn’t a ridiculous amount of time.
As our turn approached, I made Mike go ahead of me in line. We are so different, because, even knowing that this was his one shot, his one chance to say something to her, he didn’t feel like he had anything to say other than, “Thank you.” Or possibly asking her to adopt him. But I sent him through first so that we could maybe stick together, that maybe the handlers wouldn’t rush me through if it was two people taking up the time of just one. It didn’t really happen like that, though. They moved us through pretty fast, and Mike went on ahead and then it was my turn. They took my book, and I watched her sign it, and then there she was, right in front of me, and I leaned in and said, “We read Goblet of Fire out loud on our honeymoon, and it is really special to have you sign it.” Here is what I remember: When I said the word honeymoon, she looked me in the eye with genuine interest, very alert. I am sure that other people have said similar things to her, that we aren’t the only ones who read Harry Potter on our honeymoon, but she also signs a lot of books for kids, and this is a grownup story, and I felt like that registered with her. She and the women around her (Scholastic employees) all went, “Awwwww.” She looked at me and said, “Thank you,” and then said something about it being special for me to say that. It’s kind of a blur after that point, and then I rejoined Mike on the other side and . . . it was so crazy, because he hadn’t seen any of it. It really did all happen so fast. And we went and had hamburgers at 10:00 at night and squealed about it and I was so tired that I just wanted to crash.
I can’t say enough about how impressed I am that she would listen to what I have to say, that she was engaged and warm and friendly with all those people. It was a really great time for us, the culmination of a lot of years of fun and fandom. We won’t ever forget it.
We were dismayed to wake up on Saturday and see the blurb across the bottom of the television, “Dumbledore is gay!” Friends called us to ask what was said and what we thought, and we told a few people about it. It’s interesting, because I went to a librarian conference on Thursday, and one of the seminars I went to talked about how gay teens are more likely than straight teens to attempt suicide, and how the presence of books with gay characters in a library correlates with lower suicide rates as well as incidents of violence and harassment in schools (that’s more specifically about school libraries). (Also, as a good Freakonomics reader, I understand that the books themselves may not be exacting change, that they could be a sign of a good overall community that wants to keep kids from being harassed. But the books are a piece of it, is my point.) And so my first thought tended on those lines, that it’s a positive thing for this character to, oh, by the way, be gay, because he’s a respected character, and it may help stop violence and harassment everywhere.
From a narrative point of view, I feel like the story obviously works without it, but that it gives more nuance and emotional resonance to the story of Dumbledore, which was already revealed to be pretty tragic. I love backstory, and that’s exactly what this is. It helps us understand why he did some of the things he did, why he got caught up in what Grindelwald was saying, even possibly why he was so aloof with other people later on. Dumbledore loved a man, the only person who was his intellectual equal. And he was very wrong about him, and that is a very sad thing. To see something so complex blurbed as, “Gay Hogwarts Professor!” is disheartening, because Dumbledore is a full, complete character. But that’s the culture we live in, I suppose, full of soundbites and sensationalism. I don’t see it as anything to get worked up about. It doesn’t change the story we have. It just fills it in a little, and that, to me, is good storytelling.
So there’s my soapbox. I hate to even have to address it, but it’s the one thing everyone’s talking about. The Great Dumbledore Outing was a very small part of a wonderful night that was part of a wonderful weekend. I guess the rest of the weekend report will be later. I keep making you wait. You can at least view the pictures online now if you’d like.