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I’m Revisiting the Harry Potter Audiobooks During Quarantine, Along With Everyone Else I Know

Photo-Illustration: retailer

I am a fast and not-too-picky reader, but I’ve been finding it hard to enjoy reading during all this. I pick books up and put them down again, or space out while reading — and forget an entire chapter. And even then, when I’m reading, the world of the Before creeps in so noticeably: While reading a detective thriller by Jane Casey, I recoiled when two characters hugged.

So I’ve been turning to audiobooks instead. When I’m reading I get sucked into the world on the page — and it’s disorienting to bob in and out, according to my concentration levels. With audiobooks, I can listen passively (while making dinner), or dreamily (while on my daily walk). So far, I’ve dabbled with Claire Danes reading The Odyssey — as well as Neil Gaiman’s Norse Myths. But when it comes to bedtime, I crave reassurance, familiarity and comfort: Harry Potter.

The Harry Potter books were the reason I signed up for Audible four years ago: You get a book for free as part of the free trial. Once I finished book one, I used each month’s credit to build up the library. I’ve had the books on rotation ever since. On a recent road trip around Tasmania, The Half-Blood Prince was the only thing I listened to across 850km of wilderness driving: interesting enough to keep me alert, not too diverting to distract me. It serves a similar function now: It’s engaging enough to drown out the pre-sleep dread spirals, but familiar enough to fall asleep to. While some scenes — like Sirius’s house arrest in the Order of the Phoenix — creep too closely into reality, the familiarity of the books is so cosy — and it’s a comfort to know I have a back catalogue of roughly 115 hours to dip into.

I’m not the only one who’s relistening to Harry Potter. When I asked my book club what everyone was reading, my cousin Hanna-Lil (who works in Financial PR) replied with a screenshot of The Prisoner of Azkaban, on Audible. She told me “I always listen to Harry Potter during times of upheaval — Book 6 (The Half-Blood Prince), feels particularly apt.” She listens when the mood strikes her, but adds that the HP audiobooks are “particularly excellent for sunbathing.”

My friend Chelsey (a Strategist contributor and former librarian), says she listens to the series from start to finish each Christmas. “I tend to do an annual relisten of the whole series around Christmastime every year, but serendipitously, I didn’t finish my 2019 binge. So when the pandemic hit, it was a comfort to be able to jump right back into the action of Goblet of Fire.” Though she’s halfway through the series, Philosopher’s Stone remains her favourite — “I can practically recite along with Stephen Fry like some kind of advanced mediation.” It is a meditation of a sort: Stephen Fry’s plummy voice, combined with the absorptive world of Hogwarts is incomparably calming. I’ve tried other Wizarding World stories, like The Tales of Beedle the Bard, but, as it turns out, they’re narrated by movie cast members, like Bonnie Wright, and therefore lack exactly one-half what makes the Harry Potter audiobook experience what it is: Fry. I can’t imagine I’ll tire of the Harry Potter series at any point soon, but it’s a pleasure to know that when I do, I can just download the Calm app — where Fry is a sleep-story narrator. Or I can start on the rest of his narration back catalogue, which includes the complete Sherlock Holmes — or, more gently, Winnie the Pooh.

Photo: retailer

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I’m Revisiting the Harry Potter Audiobooks in Quarantine