At exactly 11:25 am this morning, the last American to never read a Harry Potter book finished The Sorcerer's Stone. That American was me.
What did I think of it? Well, it's hard to say, exactly. Harry Potter has inundated our culture at a ridiculous speed; the stuff in The Sorcerer's Stone might as well be Alice in Wonderland. Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, the golden snitch, Gringotts, Nearly Headless Nick--all that stuff is as widely known as the Queen of Hearts or Tweedledum and Tweedledee (and probably more widely known than the Lobster Quadrille). As a result, there was no way to reproduce in me the sense of wonder and amazement that is one the Potter series' chief virtues. I mean, shit, how many times have I seen the film of this movie, which already contains the best ideas and jokes?
That being said, even though I stubbornly resisted Pottermania, I do have a lot of respect and admiration for the colossal panorama that is the Potter series, which is basically a modern pop opus stitched together with ideas from lesser works (I can think of two or three "school for wizards and witches" books and shows from when I was a kid, though none so fully realized) that has the unique quality of growing darker and more mature as it follows its main character.
Still, I had trouble enjoying The Sorcerer's Stone, which, for me, was almost like reading a hastily written novelization of a popular movie. The prose is as good or worse than I had imagined, and often times descends into what sounds like advertising copy ("Had Hagrid collected that package just in time? Where was it now? And did Hagrid know something about Snape that he didn't want to tell Harry?"). Shouts and screams are rendered in all caps and dialogue is paced like a movie script, and Rowling does a whole lot of telling rather than showing.
It isn't great literature, then, but I don't think it's supposed to be; the Potter series' worth ought to be gauged more as a pop culture phenomenon. Still, I didn't get much out of the book (I'd rather watch the movie) and I hope that if I actually bite the bullet and read anymore they'll get a little bit better.
Bonus note: The American version of this book uses the title "Sorcerer's Stone" instead of "Philosopher's Stone," but also "soccer" instead of "football," which I guess made sense when they thought it was going to be basically a kid's book but now is kind of annoying and/or insulting. I suspect "candy" has been changed from "sweets" as well. Ought we to understand the fact that the movie uses largely American vocabulary in the mouths of British children as an example that America has appropriated what might otherwise be seen as a peculiarly British work of literature? Go USA!