To the dear, amazing, wonderful and incredible author, world builder and inspiration, J. K. Rowling,
(And also, to the fictional character who we all wish was real, Harry James Potter,)
I want to you wish you an incredible birthday. Many months ago, in May of 2009, I wrote a short little piece about how the Harry Potter books were the first ones I read on my own. I’d like to go further now, and tell the story again, because I truly believe that without the Harry Potter books, I wouldn’t have become the reader I am today. If I wouldn’t have become the reader I am, I wouldn’t have begun to write. I wouldn’t have discovered the wonders of dozens of other authors, their worlds, their views and their legacies.
But it all started with the eleven-year old wizard, forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs, that was invented by you, Miss Rowling. And I’d like to share the story of how these books changed my life, and why I’m so grateful to you.
When I was eight years old, my chief activities were playing with my friends and watching television. I was a TV kid. When I was even younger and my mother taught me how to read in English, I fought tooth and nail against it. Remember, I’d learned Hebrew at school with everyone else, but my mother wanted me to be as fluent in English as I was becoming in Hebrew. I was already bilingual, but she knew that if I didn’t learn to read and write in English as a child, I’d probably lose a lot of the benefits of being so.
By the time I was eight I knew how to read in both languages, but I didn’t like to. I liked being read to – I loved stories, it’s true. It was also the age where my friends and I spent our time inventing stories and plays and games. Stories were a big part of my life, but words on pages weren’t.
Shortly after my ninth birthday, my brother turned thirteen. For his Bar Mitzva, a great-aunt of ours gifted him with the first three Harry Potter books, the third of which had only just come out, all in hardcover. I remember I thought to myself that the books sounded dumb when someone explained to me what they were about. My nine year old mind wasn’t excited, for some reason, by the prospect of a wizard boy.
My brother read the books on his own, of course. I remember distinctly, however, the first evening my mother started reading the first book to me. I was in my bed, the same one I still sleep in now, and she read the first line, “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” I remember cutting in then and saying something along the lines of “But the book’s called Harry Potter! Who are these people?” and my mother smiled and told me to wait patiently and we’d see together.
A couple weeks later, when we reached the chapter titled “Halloween,” while my parents were having their Friday afternoon nap, I read the whole chapter alone without telling anyone. When my mother started reading it to me that night I felt so guilty that I confessed that I’d read it alone. I thought it would hurt her feelings. She was, of course, ecstatic, and gave me her blessing to continue reading the book, and the next and the next, on my own.
So Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (I had the American version) was the first book in English that didn’t have pictures in it (except for those small ones above the chapter titles) that I read most of alone, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the first book of this sort that I read completely alone, from start to finish.
It changed my life. I just kept on reading. I discovered a love for fantasy, that led me to dozens of amazing books, and later branched out to every type of book imaginable. If I’d never reached that point where I wanted so badly to know what was about to happen that I picked up the book and read the next chapter alone, then I’d never have become such an avid reader. And being a reader… means the world to me. I can’t imagine ever living without books. I can’t imagine never reading.
Harry Potter remained with me for years, and he’s still with me. I grew up with him. When he turned seventeen when the seventh and final book came out, I turned seventeen. The books saw me through the beginning, middle and end of puberty, they saw my first kisses and first periods, my first relationship and first breakup. They saw me through my father’s death. I can’t count the times I’ve read them. I know that they’re going to remain with me for my entire life.
Thank you, J. K. Rowling, for creating a world, characters and plot so amazing that you convinced a nine-year old who watched as many hours of TV a day as she could to find the wonder and beauty of words. Thank you, Harry Potter, fictional as you are, for being the star of this author’s books, for being courageous but normal, for being talented but average, for making me feel kinship with you. Thank you, Hermione Granger, the Weasleys, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, Serius Black, Fleur Delacour, Luna Lovegood, Dean Thomas,Seamus Finnegan, Neville Longbottom, Lee Jordan, Oliver Wood, Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, Katie Bell, Parvati Patil, Lavender Brown, Professors of Hogwarts, Rubeus Hagrid, the Malfoys, Dobby and Winky, Messrs. Crouch and Bagman, Tom Marvolo Riddle who grew into Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters, and, last but definitely not least (and I’m probably forgetting so many other good characters here), Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore- thank you for filling eleven (so far) years of my life with your magic.
9 thoughts on “A Birthday Card and Love Letter”
I am so happy you found those books. The Little House On The Prairie books did it for me.
Delightful letter. Some books are simply magical. The first real novel I read on my own was Anne of Green Gables, I believe.
Thank you for sharing your lovely story! There is always ‘that author’ who holds to door for us so we can go inside and discover the fantastic world behind it that is ‘reading’ and eventually for some of us, it leads to writing… 🙂
For me it was a Turkish writer, I remember reading all of her books and then I built up my courage to write a letter to her when I was 12. She wrote back… I think that was one of the happiest moments of my life!
I loved the harry potter series I remember though when I was little books called ‘The Rangers Apprentice’ got me started.
I always loved reading, but it was Tamora Pierce who taught me I wanted to write, and J.K. Rowling made me believe that I could. 🙂 I’m glad to see that she has touched the lives of others, more than just crazed-obsession-over-hot-teenage-protagonist… a real love for a world and characters.
If only we all could have such a positive impact on the world.
Wow. Isn’t it great to think about the books – the characters – who were so near and dear to you during those important formative years? For me, it was Babysitter’s Club in my pre-teens and then Nancy Drew. And then I got into John Grisham and Mary Higgins Clark.
I love the part about reading a chapter alone and thinking your mom would be upset! Ahh, the love of reading is irresistible!
Being a recent reader of your blog, I had no idea at all that English wasn’t your first language. All I can say about that is WOW, you’ve mastered it better than most who’ve known it from the start.
I love the HP books too. I’m older than you, but my oldest son (now 18) started reading this books, and I did too, right alongside of him. We’d buy our own copies because we didn’t want to wait for the other to finish. When a new book would come out we’d race each other to the end! We excitedly went to the theater each time a new movie would come out, and talk about the the parts that got left out. HP means a lot to many of us. I love hearing what it means to you!
This was superb! I could feel each word, each sentence, each paragraph as if I were witnessing it. That’s the power f a (well) written word. And you have come a long way, to be one with them who just like you, love reading and writing and can’t imagine their lives without it.
This was a blessed share. Loved it.