Monthly Archives: May 2014

Harry Potter And The Forbidden Books


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

In my small Georgia hometown, which had 144 churches and one bar, Harry Potter was considered the height of devilish devices — a conspiracy created to lure innocent children down the wicked paths to moral ruin. I could count on one hand the number of kids I knew who’d read the forbidden books, and they’d been bullied for it. But I’d seen them in stacks at Wal-Mart (the only place books were actually sold in my town) and though I hadn’t dared to admit it, they’d whispered to me.

On several occasions, I’d even dared to come within 10 feet of them, where I’d stand eyeing them sidelong while pretending to casually peruse the array of candy bars by the register. With equal parts shame and fascination I memorized the cover art of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, wondering at the words hidden inside. When my friends whispered that their cousin or friend-of-a-friend had read the books (a remark met with much grimacing and head-shaking), my ears would redden. I can’t tell them, I’d think. I can’t tell them that I want to read those books.

But I did want to read them. Badly. I’m not even sure what it was that drew me. Was it their forbidden status? The thickness of the books? (I had and ever will have a weakness for fat books.) Was it the enticing, mysterious cover art?

I remember the day I finally asked my parents if I could read Harry Potter. I’d worked on the speech all week. I had my points bulleted, my arguments polished. I’d logically worked out that my best approach was, “But if I haven’t read them, how can I possibly defend myself against them?”

My first request, which came out much meeker than I’d rehearsed it to be, was met with a resounding “No.” I didn’t quit. It took several months, but finally my persistence paid off. I think my parents were, at that point, exhausted by my constant nagging, and perhaps that’s why they relented. But their permission was presented not in anger or in surrender, but as an admission of my autonomy: “We don’t want you to read the books,” they said, “but we are letting you decide for yourself. You’re 15 now, and we respect your ability to choose. From now on, what you read is your decision, and whatever you do, we’ll still love you and trust you.”

Young adult author Jessica Khoury's latest book is Vitro.

hide captionYoung adult author Jessica Khoury’s latest book is Vitro.


Susan Yang

It was a shocking moment, more liberating than anything I’d ever experienced. It marked my step into adulthood much more than getting my driver’s license or going off to college or voting the first time. It was the day my parents recognized and honored my capacity for choice, and though they didn’t necessarily like the decision I made they never wavered in their love and trust.

Harry Potter marked a huge turning point in my relationship with my parents. If they hadn’t said those words, if I’d instead guiltily read the books in secret, I might have turned out to be a very different person. Certainly my relationship with my parents would have been severely damaged. Instead, I read the books without any shame, fell in love with them, and despite their differing opinion of the books, I maintained respect for my parents.

Did I lose some friends? I did. I remember telling some that I’d read the books and even liked them, and in shock they’d declared our friendship over, that we’d never speak again. And it was true, we never did — but to my surprise, I found myself relieved. I never once missed them. I heard others whispering Did you hear that Jessica read Harry Potter? and I smiled.

Years later, I would sit in a theater with some of those same friends — and even my parents — for the opening night screening of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Years later, I’d find myself holding a butterbeer and crying in the middle of Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, because here was where it all began. Here was the beginning of my autonomy.

I wasn’t wicked. I wasn’t ashamed. But I did become more confident in my choices and in my independence. Many kids grew up with Harry Potter; I grew up because of him.

Not My Job: No Longer ‘Clueless,’ Alicia Silverstone Gets Quizzed On Parenting


Actress Alicia Silverstone attends a book signing for her book The Kind Mama on April 15, 2014 in Huntington, N.Y.


Scott Roth/AP

If you were a teenager around 1995 then you probably remember Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz in Clueless — the world’s most peppy, pampered Beverly Hills high schooler. Well, prepare to feel old, because not only is Alicia Silverstone now a mother, but she’s written a book about how to be one called The Kind Mama.

We’ve invited Silverstone to play a game called “Spare the rod, spoil the future best selling memoir.” Three questions about parenting advice of the past, as collected in the Slate article “The Worst Baby Advice Ever.”

Bustin’ Into June With Sweet, Silly Poetry


Not a single snowflake was present — in fact, it was a sunny, 75 degree day — when my friend’s 6-year-old daughter, Catherine, suddenly sang, “Do you want to build a snowman?” I thought she’d momentarily taken leave of her senses, a swoon brought on by too many Skittles.

But then she swung into yet another number from the animated musical Frozen. This time, it was “Let It Go,” the rousing song by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Like millions of other kids, Catherine heard “Let It Go” only once — and had it down cold. Now she belts it out at will: When she’s sad and wants to feel happy, or when she’s happy and wants to stay that way.

The song that does the same thing for me is particularly apt in these final days of May: “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over,” from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. Just read the following words — and as you do, think of the special feel of a summer day, and of how that essence is so well captured by Oscar Hammerstein II’s sweet, funny rhymes: “June is bustin’ out all over / The feelin’ is gettin’ so intense, / That the young Virginia creepers / Have been huggin’ the bejeepers / Outa all the mornin’ glories on the fence!”

There is something wonderfully corny about this tribute to summer fecundity, something charming and cheerful and unsophisticated. We live in a dark and complicated world, a brutal one, and it’s a relief to be able to sing, “The saplin’s are bustin’ out with sap! / Love has found my brother, Junior, /And my sister’s even loonier! / And my Ma’s gettin’ kittenish with Pap!”

Poetry has a reputation for being pretentious and effete, as impossibly remote from the lives of ordinary people. But the truth is, we’re surrounded by poetry — it just happens to come to us most often these days in popular songs both old and new. Whether it’s the winter of “Let It Go” or the summer of “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over,” such poetry syncopates all the seasons of our lives — and maybe makes the world a little less bleak. It’s hard, after all, to be too gloomy when you’re saying words like “creepers” and “bejeepers.”

Julia Keller’s next novel is called Summer of the Dead.

Not My Job: No Longer ‘Clueless,’ Alicia Silverstone Gets Quizzed On Parenting


Actress Alicia Silverstone attends a book signing for her book The Kind Mama on April 15, 2014 in Huntington, N.Y.


Scott Roth/AP

If you were a teenager around 1995 then you probably remember Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz in Clueless — the world’s most peppy, pampered Beverly Hills high schooler. Well, prepare to feel old, because not only is Alicia Silverstone now a mother, but she’s written a book about how to be one called The Kind Mama.

We’ve invited Silverstone to play a game called “Spare the rod, spoil the future best selling memoir.” Three questions about parenting advice of the past, as collected in the Slate article “The Worst Baby Advice Ever.”

Bustin’ Into June With Sweet, Silly Poetry


Not a single snowflake was present — in fact, it was a sunny, 75 degree day — when my friend’s 6-year-old daughter, Catherine, suddenly sang, “Do you want to build a snowman?” I thought she’d momentarily taken leave of her senses, a swoon brought on by too many Skittles.

But then she swung into yet another number from the animated musical Frozen. This time, it was “Let It Go,” the rousing song by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Like millions of other kids, Catherine heard “Let It Go” only once — and had it down cold. Now she belts it out at will: When she’s sad and wants to feel happy, or when she’s happy and wants to stay that way.

The song that does the same thing for me is particularly apt in these final days of May: “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over,” from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. Just read the following words — and as you do, think of the special feel of a summer day, and of how that essence is so well captured by Oscar Hammerstein II’s sweet, funny rhymes: “June is bustin’ out all over / The feelin’ is gettin’ so intense, / That the young Virginia creepers / Have been huggin’ the bejeepers / Outa all the mornin’ glories on the fence!”

There is something wonderfully corny about this tribute to summer fecundity, something charming and cheerful and unsophisticated. We live in a dark and complicated world, a brutal one, and it’s a relief to be able to sing, “The saplin’s are bustin’ out with sap! / Love has found my brother, Junior, /And my sister’s even loonier! / And my Ma’s gettin’ kittenish with Pap!”

Poetry has a reputation for being pretentious and effete, as impossibly remote from the lives of ordinary people. But the truth is, we’re surrounded by poetry — it just happens to come to us most often these days in popular songs both old and new. Whether it’s the winter of “Let It Go” or the summer of “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over,” such poetry syncopates all the seasons of our lives — and maybe makes the world a little less bleak. It’s hard, after all, to be too gloomy when you’re saying words like “creepers” and “bejeepers.”

Julia Keller’s next novel is called Summer of the Dead.

Not My Job: No Longer ‘Clueless,’ Alicia Silverstone Gets Quizzed On Parenting


Actress Alicia Silverstone attends a book signing for her book The Kind Mama on April 15, 2014 in Huntington, N.Y.


Scott Roth/AP

If you were a teenager around 1995 then you probably remember Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz in Clueless — the world’s most peppy, pampered Beverly Hills high schooler. Well, prepare to feel old, because not only is Alicia Silverstone now a mother, but she’s written a book about how to be one called The Kind Mama.

We’ve invited Silverstone to play a game called “Spare the rod, spoil the future best selling memoir.” Three questions about parenting advice of the past, as collected in the Slate article “The Worst Baby Advice Ever.”