“Are you tired? Are you bored? Are you sure you don’t want any Dramamine?” I glanced up at my mom from the book I had balanced on the airplane tray and watched as her enquiring eyes crinkled into a smile. “I never have to worry about keeping you entertained when we travel, do I?” she said, amused. Any mother would indeed worry if she were toting an eight-and a five-year-old on a nine-hour international flight, whisking them away to live in Germany for two years with the U.S. Army. However, my mom could relax for at least the length of the flight: even at the age of eight, I had a ravenous appetite for reading that kept me constantly immersed in a book. Now, I sat rigidly in my airplane seat reading what was in my mind, the pinnacle of literary achievement: The Babysitter’s Club #7 – The Truth about Stacy. Along with Nancy Drew and the Sweet Valley Twins, these books made up my entire library, or what my mom called “bubblegum books.”
Since I went through books so fast, Mom and Dad had wisely tucked away some reserves in my backpack, including a book my grandma had bought for me on an impulse after hearing it was popular. Rooting through my bag, I pulled out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling, and scrutinized the cover with the learned eye of a 2nd grade reading critic. What I saw did not impress me: loud colors, blurry impressionistic illustrations, and worst of all, a red-nosed boy as the main character. I decided that even sleeping in a hard, reclined airplane chair behind a screaming baby was preferable to staying awake to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Harry Potter was banished into my backpack and remained there long after I adjusted to that first chilling winter in Heidelberg, Germany in our third floor apartment. It remained there as I drained the base library’s scanty supply of “bubblegum books.” It remained until one rainy day when my mom was too busy to take me to the library. Sorting through some toys and books I had yet to put away, I rediscovered Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the only book in the house I had not yet read. Desperate to read something – anything – I sprawled out on my bed, and began: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, or number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal…” I lasted 10 pages. Where are the chummy girl pals? Why is the conflict not spelled on the first page? Harry is not even mentioned! Were these elements not necessary to make a book good? I had adapted to German umlauts and bratwursts, but this story was foreign to me.
I was bewildered, but slowly I grew accustomed to reading it every night before bed. I was an explorer traveling into uncharted territory, cutting a path through the jungle of big words, strange British phrases like “mate,” “chap,” or “bloke”, and plot twists that never once mentioned an invite to a sleepover. However, Rowling’s vivid descriptions kept my attention. Characters were three-dimensional (Professor Dumbledore was fond of lemon drops, had a long flowing beard, and claimed the title of Order of Merlin, First Class), and all of Rowling’s descriptions, even to the minutest detail of meeting a nervous Hogwarts professor in a pub, built up and supported her plot, rather than delayed it. In short, reading Harry Potter was like eating filet mignon after a lifetime of hamburgers; after my first bite, I had no intention of going back. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone took longer than any book I had yet read, but I remember finishing the last fifty suspenseful pages all in one day. Moving eagerly to the next two books in the series, I ran out of Harry Potter books and was forced to wait as anxiously as any fan for J.K. Rowling to publish the fourth book in the series.
I spent two years in Germany traveling and playing outside with friends, but mostly I remember reading. After Harry Potter, I discovered the imaginative red-headed Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables, the horrors of the Holocaust in The Diary of Anne Frank, and much more thanks to the base library, which had seemed completely sterile of anything worth reading. When my mom decided to home school me for 4th grade, she took me weekly to research for reports and creative writing assignments. After going through stacks of thick books, I became a fast reader and a comfortable, if not yet skilled writer. The librarians all knew me by name, and when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out, they gave me what I considered to be the greatest privilege of being the first to read the library’s only copy. The waiting list ran into the hundreds! No one waited long: at the age of nine, I finished the 752-page book in a day and a half.
When I moved back to the United States, I joined the other fanatics/freaks in Border’s at midnight, snacking on Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, to wait for the official release of the newest Harry Potter book in the series. I grew taller; the books grew longer. Cleaning out my bookcase the other day, I hesitated as I spotted the first three Harry Potter books carefully aligned on the top shelf: tattered and ripped, yellowed from where my sweaty palms had grasped them, and stained with drinks I spilled as I read and reread the books over the last eight years (although I love books, I have yet to learn to take care of them properly.) My dust rag slipped unknowingly out of my hand as I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and began to read.