What I learned about happiness from my love of Harry Potter: lesson #1.

One extraordinary source of happiness for me these days is the knowledge that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (or HP7, as I affectionately call it) will be clutched in my hot little hands in less than a week.

And upon reflection, I realize that my love for the Harry Potter books has taught me several important things about the nature of happiness.

First is the truth, and the primacy, and the challenge, of my First Commandment: “Be Gretchen.” (See left column for all twelve commandments.)

One fact about me is I have an enormous love for children’s literature. I love it, I just love it. I still haven’t figured out what I get from children’s literature that I don’t get from adult literature, but there’s something.

But for a long time, I didn’t admit my passionate interest in kidlit. It didn’t fit with my ideas of what I wished I were like. It wasn’t grown-up enough. I wanted to be interested in constitutional law, and serious literature, and the economy, and other adult subjects. And I was interested in those topics, but I somehow felt that I needed to hide my love of Philip Pullman and Louisa May Alcott. I repressed this side of my personality to such a degree that when the third Harry Potter book came out, I didn’t buy it for several days. I’d fooled even myself into thinking that I didn’t care.

When I started The Happiness Project, I realized that I should try to embrace this suppressed passion, but I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about doing that.

Then one day, I had lunch with an acquaintance—someone I hoped could be a friend but who wasn’t a friend yet. She was young, polished, highly educated, a well-established literary agent, and quite intimidating. But somehow it emerged that she, too, was a Harry Potter…well, freak captures the intensity of her enthusiasm. And she loved children’s literature, too. I’d found a kindred spirit.

Then it occurred to me – I knew a third person, as well. Could we start a book group? For adults reading children’s literature? Would anyone else want to do that? I decided to see if I could organize one.

Now comes the Oprah-ish part of the story: not only did it turn out that a lot of people were interested in children’s literature, but they were all highly bookish, accomplished, interesting people—and most of them I’d known, at least a little bit, before. Once I spoke up, I discovered that I already knew and liked many people who shared my interest.

Now this children’s literature book group is one of the joys of my life.

The first time our group met, I set around an email with the details (we were discussing C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe over dinner), and I included a quotation from C. S. Lewis’s brilliant essay, On Three Ways of Writing for Children:

When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

But I realized that this apologia didn’t mean much to anyone else in the group, because they’d never tried to squash their interest in children’s literature. Why had I? Remember, be Gretchen.

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Via a site I love, 43 Folders, I found an interesting post about how to handle email by another blogger I love, Colleen at Communicatrix.

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  • Cat

    Hi – great post. I am also a big fan of children’s fiction. I discovered your blog a couple months ago and wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying it. I am slowly making my way through your archived posts. Thank you so much for creating this blog. Cat

  • Vasilly

    Gretchen, you and I are so alike! For years, I hid my love of children’s fiction, including young adult books. I felt embarrased and like everyone at the bookstore or library was looking at me when I looked at children’s books. I don’t remember what happened but suddenly I didn’t care. I think it had to do with the birth of my children and my love of books being so strong, the fear left. Nowadays I bring home more children’s books than my kids, snug up in my bed, and read, filling up my heart.

  • lynn

    Thank you for this post. When I first read a similar post you wrote regarding your love for children’s literature, I realized that I was also picking up books that I that I should be interested in, but never really was. Like you, I also love children’s literature, but was almost too embarassed to admit it. You inspired me to just “be me,” have fun, and read what I wanted!
    BTW – I can’t WAIT to read the last installment of Harry Potter! :)

  • Alisa

    Hi~ I have been reading your blog for quite a long time now but this is my 1st time leaving a comment. I love your site, the quotes, links, theory, etc. And I can relate to just about everything that you write about but this post really hit home for me-I guess that is why I am finally leaving a comment! Not only do I love Children’s Lit but I struggle with the same issue you might like to call “Be Alisa,” that YOU have helped me realize I struggle with and work on. I also LOVE love love Harry Potter and can not wait for the book as well :) I was thrilled to see you posting on this topic and to see the pic of the 7th book when I logged onto your blog today.

  • http://www.gretchenrubin.com Gretchen Rubin

    It makes me very HAPPY to realize that there are even more fellow children’s literature lovers out there than I realized. We must all browse the kids’ section in the stores and libraries with heads held high. Gosh, there are just so many terrific books…maybe I will make a list of my favorites in a separate post, and ask for everyone else’s recommendations. My latest discovery — The Lightning Thief and subsequent novels by Riordan (though I must say, about half the people in my book group were less enthusiastic).
    As I write this, there are 4 days, 3 hours, 37 minutes, and 29 seconds to go until HP7 is MINE.

  • iamjustinc

    Isn’t “His Dark Materials” trilogy amazing?! I first read that series just a few years ago… I was 26 at the time. I’ve never been so enamored and unable to put a series of books down before or since reading Pullman.

  • http://www.pickypookoo.blogspot.com Sue

    I love love love children books too! Sometimes, I think they’ve got so much to teach us. More than adult literature, more than our normal pop fiction. And I’m also counting down till I get my pre-ordered HP7. Yay!

  • Karen M. Hill

    I’m new to reading your blog (now have it in My Yahoo!). Is there a link that explains your 12 commandments?

  • http://www.google.com Sonia

    Hi Gretchen! Please do make a list of your favorites someday soon! I would say at least half my book collection is made up of children’s books, and those are the books I read over and over again. I have a little son now and can’t wait for him to get older so I can share my favorites with him. I actually feel kind of sad that he’s still much too young to experience the excitement about the new Harry Potter book. If he were old enough, believe me, we’d be standing together in line at a bookstore this Friday at midnight!
    BTW, I loved the C.S. Lewis quote. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend his book “Letters to Children” – it is absolutely enchanting.

  • Tina

    Gretchen, I’m not claiming to have written a Harry Potter magnitude book, but I have recently had published a great modern tween fiction novel called Dear Jo, which deals with an internet-predator abduction and is written from the point of view of the abducted girl’s best friend. It is just out and I would love to have my publisher send it to you if you tell me where to send it … once you read it I know you will share it with your like-minded kidlit fan friends. For more info or to link to recent reviews go to http://www.christinakilbourne.com
    PS thanks for the daily dose of happiness.

  • tmeems

    Can you post your book group’s reading list? I too LOVE children’s literature.

  • http://www.kstyle-style.blogspot.com kstyle

    What a great idea. I’d love to be in a childrens literature group. Through my assosciation with aauw we have just about every book group imaginable but not a childrens lit group. I will have to bring it up at the next general meeting. great idea. k

  • http://freewebs.com/havananguyen Havana

    You’re a harry Potter fan? ha, how cooL! Are you going to be attending the midnight release?

  • http://www.gretchenrubin.com Gretchen Rubin

    Tina, I’m off to check out your book on Amazon. Congrats on writing that — I can’t wait to read it. Also ordering Letters to Children–how have I missed that? I’m a big fan of Lewis.
    I’ll absolutely post a list of my favorites, though there are so many…some of the books the kidlit reading group has read together are: Pullman’s The Golden Compass; Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods; Barrie’s Peter Pan; Burnett’s Secret Garden; ???’s Bridge to Terabithia; The Westing Game; Twilight; Nesbit’s Five Children and It; L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time; O’Brien’s Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and also The Silver Crown. We alternate between old books and modern books (though we can’t make up our minds about how to categorize books from the 50/60/70s). So good.

  • Cat

    Another great series is by Susan Cooper – The Dark is Rising. The first book is called “Over Sea, Under Stone.” I can’t wait until my daughter is a little older and we can read this series together. Joan Aiken was another favorite of mine (though I haven’t yet re-read her books as an adult) – “Nightbirds on Nantucket” and “Blackhearts in Battersea.” Cat

  • http://www.issueswithknitting.blogspot.com LaurieM

    I’m a fan of children’s Lit too. I also collect and enjoy films by Hayao Miyazaki such as “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro”. If you haven’t seen them, please check them out, you’ll be in for a treat.
    (After reading HP7 of course!)

  • http://adorita.spaces.live.com/ adora

    I agree with LaurieM, Miyazaki rocks! My picks are “Valley of the Wind”(watch it when I was 7, got me thinking about global warming) & “Grave of the Fireflies”(War sucks!)
    Kidlits are fanscinating because there is more room for imagination. For the same reason, I also love Japanese manga. A lot of my life philosophy comes from reading Osamu Tezuka’s “Phoenix” series.
    In college, people often say reading comics is stupid because they’re all pictures.(What about movies?) So I stopped reading manga and started reading New York Times Bestsellers instead.
    As the “expensive gym membership” theory you’ve mentioned, I noticed I drag reading books I should read. To be myself, I let myself read what I want to read. Last year, I discovered “Fullmetal Alchemist”. It is so so good! It’s about many things, including the value of life. Feel stupid that I had ever given it up. There are some ideas that can only be expressed in graphics. Manga rules! :D

  • jo-less

    Hee hee, I am slowly repurchasing books I loved as a child so I can re-read them and keep them. Such escapism is very underated!

  • Meg

    Gretchen, after reading how you don’t know why you love reading children’s liteature, I had a thought. Maybe it is the adventure of the children or the story surrounding them and how they get into some trouble and have to work at getting out of it, learning and growing to become all that they can be as adults.
    I have come to believe that children who read about difficulties and discover early in life that it is possible for a kid to get in & out of trouble with no help from adults in thier life. Those of us who were overly sheltered and never given those books to read seem to be missing some of those skills. Now there is Early Childhood Education.
    Meg

  • http://www.black-purl-magazine.com/blog L’Tanya

    I too have re-discovered my love of children’s literature. My 12-yo son turned me on to the Books of Ember — “The City of Ember,” “The People of Sparks,” and “The Prophet of Yonwood.” They’re excellent.

  • immi’s mum

    if you like HP and/or the phillip pullman’s then you have to read the susan cooper “the dark is rising” series. The movie of TDIR is out in October. Unclear yet whether the movie will be as good as the books. My favourite childrens books because of the king arthur theme.

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  • Leanne B

    Yay for children’s lit!! I have started collecting vintage children’s books – not even so much for my daughters, more for myself! http://www.vintagebooksfortheveryyoung.blogspot.com

  • Karen

    I teach in a mixed age 4-6 grade classroom. We just finished the book Wonder by RJ Palacio as a read aloud. The book was wonderful. Recommended by librarians, web sites, best of lists, Teaching Tolerance magazine, etc. I loved reading this book to my students and they loved the story. Each day, they could not wait to hear more. The ending brought tears to my eyes a few times. I had to explain to the class that the sign of a great book, and great writing is something that makes you feel, and seems so real containing real characters and gorgeous prose. This book is beautiful. I recommend it to everyone I know, young and old. You won’t be disappointed by Wonder, I promise!

    • gretchenrubin

      Oh, I LOVE Wonder. So, so, so good.

      My favorite scene was when the grandmother said to the sister, “I love Augie very much, but he has many angels watching over him. For me, you are my world.” (don’t worry, this is not a spoiler if you haven’t read the book!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=711212119 Kelly Harris

    I love kidlit as well. My new favorite is Hamish X and the Cheese Pirates by Sean Cullen. He is a Canadian comedian but his writing is very witty and sophisticated. I can’t wait to get the next in the series. I also love the Dragon speaker series by assurance Fletcher.

  • Gina

    There is just something compelling about kids literature – maybe it’s more pure? Less focus on the adult topics makes for a better story? During my hour plus commutes, I would visit the kids section of the library and get books on CD there. Loved them & I would enjoy my ride, listening along. If you’ve never listed to the recording of The Golden Compass, it’s fantastic as is of course Jim Dale reading Harry Potter. It was also a great way to try out books to see if my kids would like them. Unfortunately even with all the reading we’ve done over the years, my son is just not a reader (but loves to still at 13years old) Another of my favorites is Patricia Reilly Giff and her great historical fiction – just got a new one from the library yesterday. Also love Cornelia Funke…

  • Wendy

    Well, of course I love kitlit…isn’t that why we have children, just to have someone to share those books with and as an excuse to reread them :)

  • Ellea

    Love kidLit as it makes me closer the my inner child. I love the Harry Potter books as well

  • Joan Kirschner

    Gretchen, this is a great YA book about being happy with who you are…and let me just mention that it’s over 50 years old! Here’s a link from the publisher: http://www.harpercollins.com/browseinside/index.aspx?isbn13=9780061794698

  • Kianna

    I am obsessed with the Harry Potter books, I’m 24 so I grew up with them, but I literally read them every single year, without fail. I feel more connected to the Harry series than any other book I’ve read and I’ve begged and forced some of my friends to read them too because I think anyone who has lived in the time of Harry Potter and has left this world without reading them are doing themselves a huge injustice. Are you getting an idea of how passionate I am about Harry and kid lit yet? So when I came across your chapter in The Happiness Project about you passion for kid lit and Harry I thought Oh My Goodness I’m not the only one!!!!