Sonder (Pantheon of Authors: JKR)

I’m a bit unclear on whether this is a real word or not, but I saw it in like a Buzzfeed list or something that said it was the realization that other people have lives as complex as your own. That’s a concept people seem to struggle to grasp, even good people who are nice most of the time.

I think imagining others complexly, as John Green would say, is something that comes naturally to no one. People have to be taught to be compassionate. I struggle with empathy a lot. Not an “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” struggle with empathy. More like an “I can imagine what you’re going through so hard it’s making me sad/happy/angry/fill-in-the-blank.” I blame that on how much time I’ve spent reading.

I actually didn’t encounter Harry Potter until I was about fourteen. I don’t have a clear date, but when I read it the first time, there were five books total. I borrowed them from the library, one by one, and devoured them – kind of quietly because my parents disapproved. (Reading Harry Potter was my biggest act of rebellion as a teenager, which looking back now is kind of hilarious.) I didn’t read the full series until sometime in college. I read the entire series in portions of a chapter or two before bed. This time, I was old enough and had read enough to know good writing when I saw it. I also discovered what is still my favorite overarching genre: young adult fiction. Even though Harry Potter isn’t typically labeled as YA, Rowling opened the floodgates for the YA genre. As far as I can tell, the Harry Potter series was what finally convinced big publishing that yes, young adult is a legitimate audience, and yes, there is a huge audience for it.

In a lot of ways, I have JKR to thank for who I am as a writer. For one thing, my own skill in the craft is largely due to my relationship with the Harry Potter series. Fanfiction was what first prodded me into finishing stories. I’d dabbled in writing before that (I’d been making up stories forever), but I never actually finished anything until I wrote a really cringe fanfiction about Harry Potter and a couple of long-lost relatives. My discovery of Harry Potter coincided with the first boom of Internet fiction, and I ate it up. I’d always told my own stories about books I was reading, but I’d never been able to share that with other people before. For the first time, I had joined a fandom.

JKR is also responsible for a large portion of the characters in my current novel, which is populated by my OCs and the people that grew out of them. That’s not really something I can talk about as much since it’s a work in progress, but that’s something that I’ll be eternally grateful for.

The thing about Harry Potter is, once you’ve read it, you can go your whole life finding people who also read it and have lots to say about it. Most of my good friends right now have read it and are even bigger Potterheads than I am. There’s something very reassuring about finding your tribe, even if what you have in common is a story about people who don’t exist. Because it’s real for us, and that can’t be taken away.

Right now, I’m reading The Casual Vacancy, which I got mixed up with the other one and I went in expecting a murder mystery but it’s actually a small-town political drama? But just like HP, TCV has a lot of characters who are complex and authentic JKR’s writing is most beautiful in that aspect. It’s not preachy. It doesn’t ever say outright that everyone is human and no soul is greater than another. She definitely never uses the word sonder.

And yet that’s the magic of JKR. She taught us to imagine each other complexly.

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