The American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meetings ended on a high note thanks to a closing session featuring actor, producer, director, host and magician Neil Patrick Harris.
Harris, 43, spoke Monday to a full house in the Georgia World Congress Center’s Sidney Marcus Auditorium, delivering a speech which marked the end of a four-day conference hosted by the world’s oldest and largest library association.
“I love books, love the feel of them. I love the smell of them. I love the tactile elements. I love them immersing my brain in uncharted territories,” Harris said to loud applause. “I love turning the last page, closing a book and being a changed person.”
He credited libraries—and librarians—with playing an invaluable role in feeding his natural curiosity.
“You don’t start reading a mature, nuanced book like ‘Gone Girl’ if you haven’t read Dr. Seuss first,” he said.
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The ALA conference draws more than 10,000 attendees from across the country, including library staff, educators, writers, publishers, trustees and exhibitors. The conference includes roughly 2,400 meetings, and featured speakers this year included Atlanta Beltline visionary Ryan Gravel, comedian W. Kamau Bell and author Kwame Alexander.
Harris told the crowd he has always been an avid reader, devouring up to 40 or 50 books a month even as an elementary school student. He kept the action light with a series of jokes about free Wi-Fi and the Dewey Decimal System.
“Misdirection is a magical skill. So is guiding someone to the right choice, and librarians do this all the time,” he said. “Sometimes a person will walk in and they might want to read Khloe Kardashian’s memoir. A librarian can guide them to read something appropriate, like anything other than Khloe Kardashian’s memoir.”
But he also came with a more personal mission also in mind.
Harris is the author of a book aimed at middle school students known as “The Magic Misfits,” which will debut this fall.
“Like a lot of children, I was enthralled with magic, and I was able to feed that curiosity at the public library,” he said. “I love seeking out how things work. I wanted to know those secrets and discover those mysteries, and the library made that search possible in a small town in New Mexico.”
The book title was inspired by magician Ed Alonzo, nicknamed “The Misfit of Magic,” who was a mentor to Harris. He liked the term “misfit” and came up with the idea to write about a group of children who don’t fit in.
“I certainly know this from my own childhood,” Harris said. “I was never quite like the other kids. I loved theater and music and magic, and not football and basketball and football.”
“The Magic Misfits” doesn’t feature any actual magic in the way of supernatural powers, but instead focuses on how each character brings a skill set that adds to the group. It will also include puzzles, secret codes and magic tricks for readers.
“What I love about this gang of kids is that, while they’re perhaps a little outside the boundaries of the norm, they quickly learn to embrace their quirks,” Harris said. “With the right team, and with the right passion and with the right guidance, everyone can be better. Everyone can belong no matter how odd we feel.”
If successful, the book will add another impressive chapter to Harris’ resume. He’s already a five-time Emmy Award winner and took home the 2014 Tony Award for Best Actor in a musical for his performance in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” He also hosted the 87th Annual Academy Awards in 2015.
The Magic Misfits isn’t even his first published book. Harris’ memoir, “Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography,” was released in 2014.
With his newest work, Harris aims at children like himself, misfits who don’t fit the traditional mold. His experience with literature began while working at a local bookstore at a young age.
“I would take inventory, and I would restock and I would organize and make displays. I would run the register,” Harris said. “I was all of 10 or 11 years old, but I was treated like such an equal. I was given a healthy amount of adult responsibility.
He credits the experience with igniting his passion for reading.
The New Mexico native went on to earn his first Golden Globe nomination in 1988 after starring alongside Whoopi Goldberg in the film “Clara’s Heart.” A second Golden Globe nomination came while starring on the ABC sitcom “Doogie Howser, M.D.” from 1989 to 1993.
More recently, Harris earned a string of Emmy Award nominations for his work on the ensemble sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.”
His latest major acting role comes as Count Olaf in the Netflix original series “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” which is based on a children’s novel series by author Lemony Snicket and debuted in January.