Hire Me?

To Whom it May Concern:

Let’s be honest. You’ve got all those lovely books on your shelves above that big, fat, oak desk of yours – but you’ve only read three of them. The rest you got as gifts over the years, liked the look of, and put them up there. This way, when big, important, pretentious clients come to talk to you, they can throw out a remark about whatever book they’ve happened to have read that they spot on your shelf. Sometimes, they hit on one of those books you’ve read, and the two of you can prove to each other how intelligent you are. But more often than not, you need to glance at the shelf to remember what book they’re referring to, take it down, and look sneakily at the back while pretending to show them the lovely edition you have, just so that you can remember what on earth the volume is about.

This is where I come in. I am offering, for a small fee, to spend my days reading all your books, and dedicated a half-hour a day to telling you what each book is about. Trust me, it’s much nicer to hear someone tell you about a book than to read the back or the inside flap. I’ll be able to convey the main themes and even, if your memory is good, the main characters’ names. I can guarantee that you’ll feel a lot smarter than you are with very little work!

In case you think there’s a catch, I promise you there isn’t. I am simply a bookworm looking for a way to get paid to read books. This service that I’m offering is one that I will enjoy, and we all know that happy workers make better workers. Think about it.

Looking forward to hearing from you soon,

Slightly Ignorant Eager Reader

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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.

Walk-Rage

I read while I walk. I think I’ve mentioned this before. It’s one of my quirks. I know that a lot of people find it extremely strange. I suppose I can understand that, but honestly, I don’t see how different it is from walking while listening to music. Lots of people, and I among them, walk from place to place with earphone wires dangling around their face, leading from their ears to a pocket or a bag. This is considered quite normal for this day and age. Now that we have the ability to have music in our pockets wherever we go, we do so.

Well, books have been around a lot longer than iPods. They’re also a form of entertainment, in addition to being a source of knowledge for the reader and a method of organizing it for the writer. So why is it so strange that I read while I walk?

I’m not unreasonable. I know why people look askance at me when I do so. They think I can’t see where I’m going; they think I’m going to knock into someone; they think I can’t possibly take in anything I read when I do it in that fashion. I can address each one of these concerns. First, I have terrific peripheral vision. Maybe it’s developed because of my little habit or maybe I had it before, but I can promise you that I very rarely stumble while reading, nor do I hit lampposts or trees. Second, because I have good peripheral vision, I also notice people, and rarely knock into anyone. I can honestly say that the times I’ve bumped into people while I was reading is exactly the same as when I was simply distracted, walking too fast or had misjudged the distance between me and someone else. It’ happens to everyone, right? Third, and finally, I read slower while I walk. I do sometimes need to read a line over. But why is it anyone else’s concern how much I take in while I’m reading?

Now, my detractors may think other things as well, but I’m not sure what. Do they think it’s simply too nerdy to read all the time? Do they think it’s just so very strange to see a young woman with black rings in her lips and a book in hand? I’m not sure. Frankly, I don’t care.

What I do care about, and I’ve discussed this here before as well, is the comments I need to receive. Even saying it’s the strangest, oddest, most bizarre thing in the world to be doing – why does that give people the right to comment on it to my face? They can talk behind my back about the strange girl all they want. But what gives them the right to ask me, mockingly of course, “What chapter are you on?” or demand, mockingly of course, “How about you read some of it aloud?”

Of course, there’s the whole issue of my pierced lips – those draw many inappropriate, and to my mind, unneeded comments as well, but that’s for a whole other post, some other day. The reason I chose to write, yet again, about my habit of reading while I walk is because I received the most offensive comment I’ve ever gotten today, one that made me so furious that it put tears of rage and hurt in my eyes and made me actually yell back a retort.

I was walking to the mall, bag slung over my back with my tiny laptop in it, on my way to Aroma, one of the major coffee-shop chains in Israel. I’ve recently discovered their delicious ice-espressos, to which I add some milk and turn into delicious ice-coffees that aren’t sweet or too milky. The apartment was getting oppressive, and I didn’t manage to write there, so Sir B. F. came up with the idea that I may want to come here – and indeed, here I am, writing a too-long blog post as part of my write-two-hours-a-day goal.

As I was walking, I had my book out. Funny enough, it was actually “The Mandolin Case” – a book by fellow blogger Dr. Tom Bibey. I was in the middle of a particularly exciting part, and I was waiting to see just what that “sumbitch” Olden was going to try now and how he was going to get out of his newest predicament, when I noticed, as I always do, someone walking from the opposite direction. I moved aside automatically and kept reading. As he passed, this fat, balding man who was wearing shorts and sunglasses said the following:

“Someone should give you a slap ’round the face and maybe then you’ll learn not to read when you walk.”

I literally stopped with shock, and I felt my stomach clench so hard it felt like a rock had taken up lodging in my abdomen. Someone should hit me so I won’t read while I walk?! If you can believe it, my throat is closing up right now and I feel tears prickling my eyes again, which is embarrassing as I’m in a public place with families, toddlers and businesspeople all around. How dare he?! How can someone say that? I was so furious that I yelled back, my voice breaking.

“Are you saying you want to slap me? Have you no shame?” This is a rough translation from the Hebrew – if any of you know the term chutzpa, then what I said was “Are you saying you want to hit me? What chutzpa!”

He yelled back something about it not being him who wanted to hit me, just that someone should, but I’d already turned away by then and had started walking, sticking my nose back in my book but seeing red rather than black on white.

Interesting Boredom

I always take a book with me, no matter where I’m going or for how short a time. I simply hate leaving the house without a book. I think the reason for this is mostly a fear that I’ve developed over the years – a fear of boredom. I bring a book with me wherever I go so that if, by some chance, I need to wait at a bus station or for a friend or for something unexpected – well, I’ll have something to immerse myself in. Some people can find a hundred ways to occupy themselves with their cellphones. Some people can file their nails for an hour or count how many red cars go by. I can do those things too, but I simply would prefer to have a book.

Still, there have been times when my fear of boredom has been alleviated by the fact that I can, surprisingly, entertain myself with my own thoughts fairly well. Last week, for instance, I was taking a long bus ride and I began to grow nauseous while reading. I put my book on my lap and stared out the window, trying to calm my roiling stomach and concentrate on my breathing. Soon I found myself engaged in memories and imagined conversations and in musings about this or that, while also enjoying the view and trying to invent details or stories to add to what I saw.

Boredom, I’ve discovered, can be quite pleasant at times.

Reading List

McKenzie inspired me to do this, as well as a friend I spend time with this week. I’ve always been a big reader, but I’ve never kept track of the books I’ve read. I simply look on my shelves, and I know which books I’ve read and which I haven’t. I’ve never, so far, had a doubt as to whether or not I’ve read a certain book, so I’ve never had a problem of deciding which books I should buy when I go to a bookstore. But I thought that this year, for fun more than anything, I’ll keep track.

Behold, the list of books I’ve read so far in 2010:

  1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  2. Death in Holy Orders by P. D. James
  3. Gone by Jonathan Kellerman
  4. Obsession by Jonathan Kellerman
  5. Death of An Expert Witness by P. D. James
  6. The Mozart Season by Virginia Euwer Wolff [reread]
  7. The Secret Life of Amanda K. Woods by Ann Cameron [reread]
  8. Three Junes by Julia Glass
  9. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  10. Dupont Circle by Paul Kafka-Gibbons
  11. Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint
  12. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Missing It

There’s a certain sound that keystrokes make. It’s a sound I hear a lot these days, but usually the sound’s only result is long papers about Antigone or Oedipus or Henry VIII. Not that those results are unsatisfactory – not in the least. In fact, my brain feels as if it’s expanding with every day, acquiring more material, whether useful or not, and using it to fill in the gray corners that have remained as empty and barren as understocked warehouses in thriving cities on the verge of poverty.

However, it’s been a great long while since I’ve associated the clack-clacking of fingers on keyboard with something creative. I feel like while one part of my brain is being used more and more and is stretching its limbs and crying out for joy, another part of it is slowly shrinking into the corner, scared, intimidated. The fear isn’t only from this new intellectual beast growing up near it – it’s also from the tremendous amount of talent that my eyes see every day, in the minds and eyes of other people. The school and environment I’m in is full of people who are writers at heart – many are genuine and love writing, although a fair few are also merely intellectual snobs who feel that knowledge is power that must be shown off, not just consumed. But those aren’t the intimidating ones – those are the ones I just choose not to associate with.

Still, the talent that is rampant on this campus is astounding and my creative brain seems to shrivel up with terror at the thought of being inadequate. But I miss it. I miss that part of me. I miss writing stories and poems that don’t rhyme. I miss writing character studies and wracking my imagination for new things to write about, new styles to try out, new places to describe.

I’m coming back. In a big way. I have to, if only to preserve my sanity and give myself something completely outside of my day-to-day struggle with books and papers and people to focus on. I hope I manage to stick by this promise – I’m coming back and I want to write something, even just a paragraph, each and every day. I know that I can’t expect anyone to read my words when I don’t have sufficient time to read theirs as well, but I’m going to strive to meet that goal too. When I was at home, I managed to read so many posts a day and I enjoyed it. I want to manage to read at least once or twice a week the full range of your – all my wonderfully supportive friends’ – blogs and catch up with you as well. I hope I can keep my promises this time. In the names of Dionysus, Henry VIII and Alan Turing I’ll try.

Birthday

If you think about it, the concept of birthdays is a strange one. We commemorate the day we were born – a day which we can’t remember and which we didn’t have much physical participation in. Wouldn’t it make sense to remember the day we said our first words? Or the day we took our first steps? Maybe the date of our earliest memories? But no, we celebrate this day of all days in the year as something special.

When I was a kid, birthdays just didn’t feel like regular days. They felt magical, full of special occurrences, little traditions and big wrapped gifts. My mother would read me The Birthday Bird book by Dr. Seuss every birthday morning, and then the whole family would go out to a hidden picnic table in my favorite park to eat cupcakes, play Frisbee, talk and watch the sunset through the distant skyscrapers.

Today felt like a pretty normal day, despite being my nineteenth birthday. But then, that’s what happens as you get older. Birthdays stop being magical and become just… nothing much. There are still presents and there’s still some fuss made with friends and loved ones, but the magic is gone from the day. It’s bittersweet, really, because although I miss the special fuzzy feeling that I got on my birthdays, I also appreciate that I’m wiser now and more willing to find magic in my daily routines and simple pleasures instead of putting all my excitement about life into one day of the year.