3) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Either a) how have you not read this already? or b) why are you, an adult, reading a children’s book? I very much come from the latter camp, and have read this largely because I became so vitriolic about the infantilisation of our culture in a slightly drunken rant with my work colleagues (a rant which took in people over 40 on scooters/skateboards, ‘adult’ colouring books etc) that they ended up by challenging me, quite fairly, to at least read the bloody thing before I criticised it. Which, even slightly drunk, seemed to me a fair point. It should be noted that said work colleagues are a) Harry Potter fans to differing degrees, b) all over the age of 25 and c) generally lovely and reasonable people (indeed, they said they’d read a book I recommended in return).
So here we are. Obviously it’s a fairly undemanding read, and whizzes past fairly fast. It’s mostly plot, as there isn’t time to give much depth to the characters (although Rowling is fairly adept at using a few nice turns of phrase or dialogue to do so); weirdly, Harry’s ‘family’ (the Dursleys) stick in my mind more than Snape or Quirrell or any of the Hogwarts lot. And the plot is largely as you’d expect: the arrival at Hogwarts is quite fun, it turns out Harry’s quite good at quidditch, there’s some nasty people around, and the good people win.
A couple of other things struck me reading it. Firstly, the overwhelming feeling that I already knew this all – I can only assume this is because of the ubiquity of the Potter franchise; I think I’ve seen a couple of the films on a plane or on TV, but I was surprised how much I was aware of. Secondly, it’s funnier and a bit sharper than the films – there are quite a few snarky, sarcastic moments, and a nice line in comedy names (for example, when young Potter is picking up his cauldron, wand etc).
Overall, it’s difficult to argue with the success: about 55 million of each (!) of the books has been sold, according to Wikipedia. And I would have gobbled it up as a kid. As an adult? Well, it probably should be filed alongside some of the less demanding police procedurals I read: undemanding escapism where you can guarantee neat ending, good beating evil and the odd good line to keep you entertained. But I’m probably not reading them all…