A Birthday Card and Love Letter

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.

It’s 2AM

…and I’m exhausted. I worked my butt off from 6:3oPM to after midnight, and let me tell you – as much as I love books [and you all know I do], they’re HEAVY. Needing to arrange huge shrink-wrapped packs of ten copies of The Master and Margarita is no picnic, let me tell you.

Still, it’s worth it. I got moved to the classics table – I’d been at the contemporary fiction before – and I’m so much more acquainted with the older classics, mostly because they’re translated, while the contemporary fiction includes a lot of Hebrew books I haven’t read yet [although I’d like to.] So I got to spend the evening talking about Virginia Woolf and Melville and Hemingway, as well as the Israeli Yoram Kaniuk. I got to see people’s eyes light up when they saw that The Nick Adams Stories were finally translated into Hebrew, as well as Wolff’s Flush. I got to see the people who want more than airplane books, people who want to have the copy of a book they read years ago on their shelves and people who were just discovering the wonders of the classics.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t sneer at airplane books. I’ve read two Dan Browns, so I can’t claim to be a snob. If someone loves to read, then I don’t think there’s any reason to fuss about what he or she is reading, just so long as they’re spending that much time away in someone else’s world. But still, there was something about the people I sold books to tonight that made me feel like they were kindred spirits, excited that there was a world of books out there, old as well as new, that they could discover.

Carried Away

I’ve recently discovered two authors that I’m falling in love with. The first is P. D. James, the Englishwoman who produces fabulously intricate crime novels; the second is Mr. Charles de Lint, a master of urban fantasy novels. Both of them have swept me up and have whirled me about until I’m giddy with wonder. Their novels have absolutely nothing in common, mind you, I’ve simply discovered both authors around the same period of time.

What they do have in common, however, is that incredible and indescribable magic that pulls me into their worlds from the very first page. The first words of the first page draw me in completely, engaging my senses and imagination from the very start and holding me tightly. It becomes so that I walk around doing everything with my nose buried in the book – emptying the dishwasher, making breakfast, walking to do errands… I can’t for the life of me put down the books. I find myself making excuses to stand around the kitchen making coffee just so I can keep reading instead of turning to another activity.

I love discovering new authors that carry me away completely in this fashion. I get so excited when I realize how many more books they’ve written and how much more I have to look forward to. Have any of you recently discovered anyone new and exciting to you?

Across Five States: Into Pennsylvania

A new morning dawned, bright and crisp – though the only reason it was crisp was the air conditioning which we’d left on all night. The moment we left the Day’s Inn, however, we realized just what kind of weather we’d stumbled into. It was hot, unbearable so, and humid to boot – and this at only seven in the morning! We loaded our essentials back into the U-Haul, blasted the air conditioning once more, and were on our way.

We were looking for a decent place to have breakfast, but we didn’t find any place that wasn’t fast food until after we’d entered Pennsylvania. When we crossed the state border, though, our hunger took a backseat in our minds as we gazed in wonder at the vistas around us. Almost immediately after crossing the border from Ohio, the mundane and endless flat-lands disappeared, giving way to rolling green hills. It was countryside at its most beautiful, alternating between vast expanses of grassy knolls and forests, dark and dense.

It was stunning, to say the least. There was so much wild vegetation that many of the trees were being choked by ivy climbing their very trunks, beautiful but deadly to the trees themselves. Here and there we could spot gorgeous houses perched between trees or amongst the hills, old-fashioned and grand. In the valleys between the hills we saw some large farms as well, which resulted in our delighted cries of “Sheep! Horses! Look, brown cows! More horses!” We were like children, seeing this foreign life that we’d all read about in picture books more often than seeing it around us.

We began musing about how someone would come to live here, and whether or not we would ever want to live in such an isolated place. We all agreed that we would love to live in a secluded and cozy house and write there for a season. I imagined what the winters would be like in such a place – wind and rain whipping the trees mercilessly, snow piling up and muffling the sounds of animals and the rustle of leaves. It would be like living in a fairy-tale, and yet, characters in fairy-tales always seem so lonely in the end.

We continued onwards, trying to solve crossword puzzles and keep out of the way of large trucks, and eventually we gave into our hunger and drove off the highway and entered a town. The name of the town eludes me, but we found a Denny’s there. I’d never been in one of those either, and it was another experience of discovering America. Our waitress was a darling, grey haired, plump and gruffly kind. She brought us all steaming mugs of coffee, which we were all desperate for. We ate a pleasant meal, finishing it off with a delicious Hershey’s chocolate cake, and made our way back to our seats in the truck that was already so familiar to us.