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Harry Potter: A fantastic escape from academic mumbo-jumbo

I was one of those geeky kids who would stay up late at night reading by flashlight under the covers in case my mother checked in to see if I was staying up past my bedtime. Though I was doubtless ruining my eyes and not keeping proper guard against the monsters who lived in the closet, I can now fondly remember staying up until two or three in the morning, lost in some fantasy world conjured up by authors whose names I don't recall.

Nowadays, I still stay up until two or three in the morning lost in books by authors whose names I can't recall, but I no longer regret having to tuck my flashlight under my pillow, wishing the book had been longer. All too often, I find myself heaving a sigh of relief that I've finished yet another too-dry tome and dreading having to start the next. This year, even the few books I managed to read on my own, not for any particular class, have tended towards the intellectually interesting but viscerally dull.

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Over winter break, after finishing a term paper due Jan. 3, I found myself at a loss for what to read. I was vacationing at the beach, and while splashing around in the water was fun, I needed something else to occupy myself while I sipped piña coladas and slaved away for hours over my tan. So, having been teased that I took myself too seriously, and goaded on by the prospect of winning a bet that I'd like it, I picked up the current New York Times bestseller, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." And while I'll use a hushed voice when confessing this to my friends, I admit that Harry Potter is easily one of the best books I've read in a few years.

Although I perused many worthwhile books last semester, I could take only so many pages of "Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe" before praying that one of my more distracting friends would drop in.

Harry Potter, on the other hand, was wholly engrossing — my family kept complaining that I was ignoring them. Reading "Harry Potter," I realized that I'd forgotten how it felt to lose myself in a fantastic world, where the most popular sport, Quidditch, is played on broomsticks, and owls, not computers, deliver the mail.

On the way back to school, I put aside catch-up class reading in favor of a copy of the next Harry Potter book, conveniently available at every airport newsstand. I was hooked on a rush of fantasy I hadn't felt since I was 10.

I realized that last semester I'd been taking my reading too seriously and had forgotten how much fun books can be when they distract me from the "real world" rather than attempt to explain it. It was so much fun to forget, for a few hours, that magic isn't real and that banks aren't staffed by goblins. Reading "Harry Potter" was the perfect cure for exam and term-paper stress — it forced me to remember that there's more to reading than acquiring facts. More importantly, it forced me to stop taking my learning so seriously, and, like it has done for millions of six-year-olds, it has revitalized my lost love of reading.

So, at the risk of raising the ire of a few of our professors, I urge you all to skip a little class reading and pick up something more enjoyable. I figure I'll remember the plot of "Harry Potter" 20 years from now. As for the problems of democratic transition and consolidation, I figure I'll be lucky to remember them two weeks hence. Peter Harrell is from Atlanta, Ga. He can be reached at pharrell@princeton.edu.

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