Ever since I learned to read, I’ve been hungry for more. I have vivid memories of reading the Harry Potter books in grade school. At the time, my sister and I shared a room, so I would camp out beneath my covers with a flashlight until two or three in the morning. (We’ve talked about this in recent years, and she still holds a grudge for all the sleep she missed because of me.)
The books were ultimately my saving grace. I read them over and over again, each time falling more and more deeply into the pages. I grew up on a small farm, and while it was a great childhood, it was a lonely one. It was before I’d found my voice, and I was quiet--when I did speak, it was sharp, a defensive, visceral outburst. My friends were few and far between, and I was often made fun of for constantly having my nose in a book and for wearing odd clothing (a side effect of growing up without a lot of money).
I fell in love with fantasy worlds. In grade school, my parents told my siblings and me stories--some real ones from their Peace Corps days and some made up, where we were princes and princesses or about the daring knights of the round table. When I first could read, I devoured The Magic Treehouse books. Soon, I was reading at the middle and then the high school level.
My parents love to tell the story where, on my 11th birthday, I was given an “invisibility cloak.” At this point, I was deep in the world of Harry Potter. What friends I did have lived miles away from our farm, and so my time was spent in make believe. I threw my whole heart into the gift, convincing myself that the cloak was real and that no one could see me. More than anything, I wanted to disappear from reality to find my place alongside Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I even had dreams about playing Quidditch and attending Hogwarts.
Eventually, I realized I would never get my Hogwarts letter (and yes, I am still bitter all these years later). Still, my Harry Potter books have come with wherever I’ve gone. I hauled all seven to college with me for all four years, they’ve lived in every apartment I’ve had, and when I travel, they’re embedded in my iPad just in case.
My world has grown since then. I still love stories and all the parts that come with them--reading, telling, hearing, writing. Like Harry, Ron, and Hermione, I’ve realized the power of friendship, and consider myself lucky to have found lifelong friends. Today, I still read Harry Potter. My love of the world is just as strong as it was the first day I picked up the book. My copies are dog-eared, the binding is breaking, and some pages still show where my sister sneezed on them after taking cough medicine (the cherry-colored splotches made me royally mad when they first happened, but now it’s a fond memory).
I’ve expanded my books, now devouring sci fi and fantasy and anything else that falls into my lap (I’ve never been picky with my stories). Still, it’s by no means an exaggeration when I say that books have changed my life. They’ve given me support when I needed it most. I’ve found friends between their pages when I had none in reality. When I was sad or angry, they gave me solace. Even now, in this new life, I open my books to put a stopper in the loneliness.
Throughout my life, I’ve met people who say, “I don’t read.” They wear it like a badge of honor, and maybe for them it is. Maybe they were so surrounded by people all their lives, they never felt the need to turn to fiction. It’s something I cannot understand because for me, books were my life. These fictional characters were my shoulder to cry on, and I burned bridges with fictional villains.
Today, I am 22. I work a full time job, from 8-5, Monday through Friday. I live in a town where the people I work with are the only people I know. I wouldn’t be able to make it through the week if it weren’t for the love of books.
(and my dog, but that’s a story for another time)
So I ask you, dear reader, what stories or books have changed your life? What do you read to get through tough times? Or, what do you recommend?