Harry Potter is heavy reading!
November 30, 2007 7:44 AM   Subscribe

Should I finish off the Harry Potter series of books even though I get totally depressed after reading them?

So I was reading this post

and really identified with the question. I have read the first three Harry Potter novels 3 times each and each time I read them, I get way too obsessed about the characters, and way too depressed when I finish reading the books. Then I start to think about my life and how my childhood and present day life (I am 36) is so lonesome and I get even more depressed!

So the question is: do I continue with the other 4 books?

Pros: I really like the stories, and really want to know what happens to the characters before I accidentaly hear any spoiler material!

Cons: I am worried that although these books are enjoyable, they are actually doing me more harm than good (kinda like a drug, I guess) since all I end up doing is thinking about how "terrible" my life is and fantasizing way too much about an imaginary world and imaginary characters.

I guess what I really want to know is - will continued pursuit of books that illustrate themes of friendship make me stronger or make we worse?
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It all depends on what you do with them. If you use books about friendship to learn how friendship works, and to motivate you to find friends, then they are good for you.

But if you use them to beat up on yourself about how much your life sucks without friends and how it will always be that way, then I think your intuition that they are bad for you is right.

How about using the next HP book as a reward to yourself for starting therapy / joining an activity group / asking three different people to have coffee with you?
posted by ottereroticist at 7:54 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

I have never read a word of Harry Potter, but if I'm reading a book that's "doing me more harm than good", I stop reading it. If you really want to know what happens to the characters I imagine you can find out easily enough on some spoiler site. Then follow some of the reading suggestions on that other post.
posted by beagle at 7:56 AM on November 30, 2007

I know what you mean about becoming really attached to worlds and characters. I am very depressed that I will never meet and/or marry Jamie Fraser from the Outlander series -- I think romance novels can be particularly "dangerous" that way. But I adore reading the books/watching the movies/etc, because that adoration outweighs the suckiness for me. I enjoy the chance to escape from time to time (even though I'm pretty happy with my life as is), so yeah, I guess reading is a purposeful fantasy activity for me, and I know it is for a lot of my friends/family, so I don't think that in and of itself is bad for you.

Now, if you're worried that it will just emphasize things you're unhappy about, like loneliness... can you join a reading group for books like this? That way you have other people to meet, you're starting on a common ground with them, and even when the books are over you still have the shared experience of reading them to talk about together (I get to be depressed about my lack of Jamie Fraser with my mom -- it's great therapy for when I get bummed about having finished the books). This could apply for all the books that "illustrate themes of friendship" -- put yourself in a situation where you can only read them if there are other people reading them with you.
posted by olinerd at 7:58 AM on November 30, 2007 [3 favorites]

Hoo boy is that a familiar feeling. I spent years lost in books and movies, picturing my place in them or spending much of my time thinking about the characters. After a while I realized that I spent so much time in that head space because I didn't like my life very much and was happier imagining myself somewhere else.

So, I gotthehellout of the little town where I had spent my entire life and found a life that I wanted to experience first hand, without trying to live through some fictional character. Most importantly, I found a group of people who understood me in real life. Once I had these things I didn't need to live in a fictional world, I liked my life too much to hide from it. By making these changes I was able to leave my favorite stories behind without spending all day wishing I could be a part of whatever I was reading.

I think books are great for escapism, but there is a point where they get to be a crutch and keep you from examining your own life. Your current situation should be a clue that you might need to shake things up a little.
posted by Alison at 8:09 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

No. Reading for pleasure should be just that, at least in net. HP doesn't seem to meet that criteria for you. Save them for some time when you might be able to enjoy them more.
posted by OmieWise at 8:16 AM on November 30, 2007

I'd say you've had a valuable insight into yourself, and that you should probably stop reading the books for now and avoid replacing them with a similar opiate.

But, also consider if this actually offers you a path out of your isolation. Your interest in Harry Potter is shared by a lot of other people. There may be face to face discussion groups, etc that you could join, or you could try to start one yourself using craigslist, or in collaboration with your local library.

If you try this route though, you should be a little cautious that your involvement includes relating to and interacting with the other participants in ways beyond the books. Its a matter of moderation, like social drinking vs binge drinking.
posted by Good Brain at 8:19 AM on November 30, 2007

Do you have children? Are you planning on having children? Maybe you should wait until you do, and read them with your children?
posted by thebrokenmuse at 8:25 AM on November 30, 2007

Put them aside for now. Then see if you can formally or informally address the emotional issues that are crippling your enjoyment of the books, and, more importantly, appear to be limiting your life and making you very unhappy.

We all have regrets about our lives, to some degree or another, but yours appear to be relatively intense.

We all get one life. That's it. No do-overs.

Now, that may depress you even more, IF you focus on all the things you've haven't done and may never have a chance to do, but you're only 36. That's really still quite young. You still have many happy decades ahead of you if you act to improve your life now.

It doesn't have to be a big job. Don't feel overwhelmed. Try some small things that may give unexpectedly big results. For example, just how lonely are you? What can you do now to get more connected with people? Several people above have offered great suggestions, and I'm sure more will come, but this requires some more thought from you as well.

Maybe you need formal therapy, maybe you don't. But you can make real, positive changes in your life so you can live well and still enjoy someone else's fantasy without feeling bereft.
posted by maudlin at 8:25 AM on November 30, 2007

I use books for escapism. Harry Potter was a prime example of that. Instead of dealing with the 'oh boy, my life sucks in comparison' feeling, I started reading fanfiction, a lot of it. So the immersion never stopped for long before I was able to 'be' in there again.

After I read everything worth reading of HP... I switched to another fandom.

Right now I have a weird division in my life, real life and book life. At times I have no idea which is the most worthwhile one.

So yeah, bad example here. Try to avoid becoming me. If you are able to consider books as entertaining media, read them. If you consider as escape media (as you currently seem to do) avoid them until you feel you're ready to deal with them.
posted by Memo at 8:26 AM on November 30, 2007

Well, the books don't change radically, but they do get a bit darker and nastier things start happening to the characters.

Not sure if that will make the books more or less depressing to you.

I don't think the root cause of your problem is the books though.

If they're making you depressed, it's best to stop reading them, but don't expect that to fix your underlying problems.

Insert the usual AskMefi depression advice here: talk to your doctor/see a therapist/join a club or evening class or book group / start exercising...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:31 AM on November 30, 2007

Read. Them. All. Do it now. Do it as quickly as you can.


1. Because maybe if you stop reading now, you'll get over it-- maybe you won't. But once you've read them all and there's no new material to tempt you then it will be easier I think, to let go. So read them all, then box up all the books and give them away no matter how much it hurts. (The boxing-the-books up part is important because you'll be less tempted to go back to them if you have a go buy new copies.)

2. Yea I'd be depressed and obsessed too if I quit after book 3. But knowing how the next four books are written and what happens in them, I think it may help you get some closure about the characters if you read to the end. (And maybe it will help you feel better about your own life?)

3. If you can, seriously, sit down and read them as fast as you can straight through. (Yea, I know that's a lot, books 4-7 are not exactly light-weights.) If you put off a bunch of normal life stuff and just devote a weekend to getting through these books then at the end of it you'll probably be just a little bit sick of Harry and co. (just a little) *and* you'll have to get yourself moving to make up for all the time you spent reading *and* sometimes if you're feeling depressed a little solitary reading time can help out so why not?

I started reading HP when I was 11 and finished at age 20 and I spent a lot of high school wanking my way across fiction alley (sad but true)-- so I totally know emphasize with you and, yea, so do a millions of others.

p.s. Whatever you do, do not start reading fan fiction. Don't even think about it. Just say no.
posted by emmatwofour at 8:32 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Well, when I read fiction, I too get way too much into that world, so I pretty much had to lay fiction down. Happily I prefer nonfiction anyway.

I used to get similarly depressed when I would reread the LOTR trilogy.
posted by konolia at 8:33 AM on November 30, 2007

(Ew. Sorry, the grammar started to slip at the end of that. My bads.)
posted by emmatwofour at 8:34 AM on November 30, 2007

Read them, as emmatwofour says, and for the same reasons. Be aware that the fifth book, Order of the Phoenix, is no romp in the park. The villainess Rowling created for that book is orders of magnitude worse than old Voldy, who seems like a cardboard bogeyman by comparison.

A lot of people have your response to these books, as to others. Look up the definition of "Mary Sue" and be warned. Then write some fanfic and post it. It will be good for you.
posted by zadcat at 8:54 AM on November 30, 2007

I would like to insert something here--I agree that this is an opportunity to examine your own life through the feelings you have about these books. As many above mentioned, take the AskMe advice for depression and see someone, exercise, join a book club, etc.
But, there is good deal research into fanfic and fanfic communities. Henry Jenkins wrote about this in the late 90's. Membership in these communities is not something to be ashamed of, they are communities just like MetaFilter. If you can have a happy and productive relationship with yourself, you can certainly participate in fanfic.
posted by oflinkey at 9:15 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry, "there is good research..."
posted by oflinkey at 9:16 AM on November 30, 2007

If you have unresolved childhood issues, and this forces you to confront them, I think this could actually be a good thing. If it is serious (and from your tone it seems serious) you should probably not do it alone. Find other people to discuss the books with afterward, or a therepist. Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings as you read and when you are done. Getting it on paper may help. If you find yourself unable to deal with the depression, you should be certain to seek professional help. Stopping reading the books stops the immediate symptoms but doesn't address the underlying cause. I would try to fight through it.

Disclaimer: I'm not an expert on or certified in anything. Proceed at your own risk.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:55 AM on November 30, 2007

**Spoiler Alert**
Harry was predestined to be a loner, you weren't.
If the books affect you in such a negative way, I would suggest reading the epilogue of the last book. It might make you feel better.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:01 AM on November 30, 2007

Don't read the books, see the movies. With friends.
posted by happyturtle at 10:19 AM on November 30, 2007

I really feel for you anon, I was alone for way too many years. It sucks.

I'm not crazy about playing armchair psychiatrist, but I suspect that your question is not your REAL question. It may be a mask for something deeper.

Here's why I think so: the answer to your literal question is easy: should I stop reading a series that makes me unhappy? Yes. Sure, you'll miss out on the rest of the story, but you won't be unhappy. Which seems way more important than finding out what happens. And I say that as someone who is devoted to stories and fiction.

But I don't think the books are making you unhappy. Maybe they're forcing you to deal with your unhappiness, rather than repress it. You're unhappy because you're lonely, right? Of course you are. Loneliness is horrible, and it's natural to be unhappy if you're lonely.

It's also natural to try to avoid or repress stuff that makes you unhappy. But it doesn't usually work -- at least not in the long run. You can only ignore and repress for so long. So in the end, SOMETHING will remind you of it. If it's not Harry Potter, it will be something else.

Isn't your REAL question "How do I stop being so lonely?" or "How do I deal with this loneliness in my life?" Sorry, if I'm wrong. I don't have a window into your soul.

If I'm right, post THAT question. There are ways to deal with loneliness, but we'd need to know more about the specifics of your situation in order to help.
posted by grumblebee at 11:17 AM on November 30, 2007 [5 favorites]

I would stop. (Or, maybe I would really get the books from the library, read them straight through while eating cold pizza, and then return them to the library. But then I would need someone to talk to about what happened in them!)

I think grumblebee and others may be right about your
"real" question. If so, take a look at some previous questions about loneliness; there are even more than that if you search. It's common, and there's really only one thing you can do to get less lonely: do things that bring you into contact with other people.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:45 AM on November 30, 2007

Consider this:

"Hey, Doc. It hurts when I move my arm like this."

"So? Don't move your arm like that."
posted by tcv at 11:50 AM on November 30, 2007

First of all, Harry Potter has a huge following, many of which will be people like you, so consider becoming part of that community of like-minded people. You have shared loves, and it's a way to make the stories more real - through shared experience with others.

I've had a vaguely similar thing, and something that worked for me was that rather than feeling crap about myself, I was instead able to enjoy the show much more once I was actively doing something about the things in my life that I wished were more like that. I might not ever have that, but I would nearly have that, and moreso than most.
For your situation, books about friendship may be toxic if you are reading them instead of making friends, but may instead become inspiring if you are reading them while also devoting significant time and effort in your life to making friends.

Just remember that the friendships in the books only develop after many years of shared experiences, as well as trials and hardship, but you can read the books in days, not years, so just don't crosswire yourself to think things should happen in weeks that really take years :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 3:45 PM on November 30, 2007

I've read books and series of books that have saddened and depressed me in the sense that I feel for the characters and perhaps even envy their fictional world and experience but I've always been glad to have read them in the end.
posted by tomble at 5:32 PM on November 30, 2007

Oh good lord, pardon my awful unpunctuated sentence above. Must get more sleep!
posted by tomble at 5:32 PM on November 30, 2007

Just another random suggestion. If you have a clear image in your head of what you want, it may be easier to achieve it. I can sometimes read a book and try to channel that character into my own life - some characters' lives have stuck with me as ideal models for my own, grist for the mill. Maybe use the books as inspiration to help you clearly picture the life you want and how to make it real.
posted by salvia at 8:23 PM on November 30, 2007

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