When I was a child, I remember sitting on our couch with my mom, a fever giving me chills, as she read to me out of a book about a sick little girl who had wanted to go to the park. Because she was sick, she couldn’t go, and her mother would always make the park in her room. She read that book to me every time I was sick, until I could read it for myself. Afterward, she would make me soup or a homemade mini chicken pie. That’s my earliest memory of me reading: that little tiny book about the sick little girl who couldn’t go to the park. I still have that little battered book somewhere, tucked in a box with all of the other books I can never bear to part with because they shaped my life so much.
I have always loved words. From those first moments that my mother read to me to today, I have loved reading and writing just about anything. I read shampoo bottles, my grandmother’s Happiness magazine that she got from the drugstore, cereal boxes, instructional manuals, newspapers, the fleeting fine print in Viagra commercials…you name it, I’ve probably tried to read it.
As I grew older and needed more difficult books than the one about the sick girl, I was gifted beyond my wildest dreams. My family knew I had an addiction to words and they complied willingly with books by Mercer Mayer, Marc Brown, Judy Blume, the American Girl series, almost anything. On holidays, I almost always got books.
Once I entered school, I flourished with reading. Writing took me a while to get the gist of, but eventually I fell in love with writing too. I was always in the library, much to the consternation of both my teachers and librarians. I read more books than anyone else in my elementary school, always topping the other students with those stupid Accelerated Reader points. It wasn’t like I wanted them; we had to take the tests when we read a book. And I read a lot of books. It got so bad that my mother had to intervene; I would purposefully complete my schoolwork, both in class work and homework before the day’s end so that I could spend the whole night reading whatever I wanted. She told the principal I didn’t have enough work to do. And so my second grade teacher gave me more work, more writing assignments, more math.
I haven’t quite forgiven her for that.
I was reading above my grade level too. In third grade, I was on a sixth grade reading level. By fifth, I was reading books most children don’t read until high school. In fourth grade, I picked up War and Peace and Gulliver’s Travels. There was no contest; Swift tickled my fancy far more than Tolstoy.
And then I met Harry Potter, the skinny little boy with messy hair and glasses that changed me as a reader forever.
I was in fifth grade. My teacher told us that if we all read the first book, she would take us to see the movie. I had never had any real interest in Harry Potter, but I couldn’t refuse a reading challenge. And, okay, the movie looked pretty good. I fell in love.
For a bushy-haired book addict and know-it-all, those books were heaven. I was Hermione Granger, complete with annoying attitude and over-large front teeth. But more than the fact that the characters were so relatable was that it felt so real, more real than any book I had read before, even Swift, who I loved.
That Christmas, I got them all. Various family members sent me one of the first four books; my parents bought me The Sorcerer’s Stone. I had them read before the end of Christmas break. I could only open one Christmas present early, and I opened one that contained The Chamber of Secrets. I read it immediately, even though the basilisk terrified me. (I was afraid of the bathroom for weeks.) I devoured Goblet of Fire in a day.
After that, I read all of the books when they came out, attending book parties at the local bookstore, and reading them the morning after. They were, and remain to this day, my favorite set of books. J.K. Rowling’s novels changed how I read. I wanted more worlds like Harry’s.
And so I passed through middle school and onto high school.
I read every South Carolina Young Adult Book Award Nominee each and every year, the only student at my school to ever do so. My favorite ones were the fantasy ones since that is my favorite genre. Like elementary school, I was hardly seen out of the library. I ate lunch in there and worked in there during my free periods, shelving books. My librarian gave me an entire bag of advanced reader copies she had received because she knew that I would cherish them. And I did. My librarians were, arguably, my best friends in high school. (I didn’t get out a lot, you see. I always had my nose stuck in some sort of book or another and nobody really wants to hang out with someone who tells them ‘Shut up, you ponce, I’m reading’.) I discovered Discworld, (embarassingly) Forks, alien planets, Victorian magic…I found thousands of worlds and I loved them all. Except 1984. And poetry. I loved required reading and did so willingly.
Now that I’m in college, I’ve slowed down a bit. I’m not quite as manic as I was before (alright, maybe I did read a seven-book series in one weekend over the summer; sue me. I was bored). I read mostly for class now and not for pleasure which is a shame. I haven’t been able to finish A Storm of Swords or any of the other books I’ve recently bought but been unable to read.
I sorely miss it.