Reading Became Our MagicEssays - Issue 28
Reading Became Our Magic
I was never a big reader as a child. My entire family loved to read and would spend any free time they had with a book. I never saw the appeal. I tried to read, and occasionally a book would come along that would catch my interest, but I would not claim to be a reader. I grew up in a house where my entire basement was filled with book stacks, like a library; books of every type, every genre, with several different writers. The literary tastes in my family varied so widely that you could peruse the bookshelves in the basement and be sure to find a book that would meet your interest, no matter who you were or what your interest was.
Yet I found it hard to become immersed in the world of books. This was not the only thing that made me feel like an outcast from my family, but it was one thing. When family discussions would move toward books, I often left the room or daydreamed. I didn’t get it.
In 1998 I remember hearing about a new book that was getting a bunch of publicity; a children’s book about a boy who was a wizard. Still not a reader, I suggested it to my husband and thought he might enjoy it; he loved fantasy and adventure books. He showed no interest in the book and the topic was not brought up again.
On Thanksgiving Day 2001, I was with extended family. We decided to see a movie that was family friendly so we could take the kids. A large group of us (my extended family is very big) decided to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I had heard about Harry Potter since that day in 1998 when I suggested it to my husband, but still had no interest in reading the book; I was not a book lover after all. If a book was going to be made into a movie, I’d rather spend the two hours watching the movie than the days it took to read a book.
I enjoyed Sorcerer’s Stone. I thought it was a cute movie and very well done. I liked the story. So in 2002 when the Chamber of Secrets came out, I took my husband and my children to see it. This is where everything changed. I liked the movie, it was still a cute family movie, but I was confused. I walked out of the theater still not sure I understood what happened in the movie. I could feel that there were things I was missing, important things that would help this story make sense. I discussed it with my husband and he said it made perfect sense to him and explained it. I still didn’t get it. I was going to have to break down and read the book.
Knowing myself well enough to know I almost never read a book more than once, I decided to get the first Harry Potter novel from my public library. I brought it home and read it. A day and a half later I returned the book and headed to the bookstore to buy the second and third book. The story was so well written, so descriptive. I felt like I was in that world and that I understood that world. I related to the characters, I appreciated their flaws and I saw them, even the hero, as human. They were complex characters and they were almost never what they seemed. I was intrigued. The books were interesting and so well put together. I didn’t feel like I was sitting at home reading a book, I felt like I was at Hogwarts battling snakes, having parties with ghosts, and running from Slytherins. Upon starting the fourth book I began to understand the appeal of reading. I would wake up in the morning not wanting to go to work because I just wanted to find out how Harry got past the dragon or who put his name in the Goblet of Fire.
Goblet of Fire did it for me. It had everything: adventure, action, comedy and for that tiny romantic in me, romance. My most vivid memory of reading Goblet of Fire, and any Harry Potter novel before Order of the Phoenix, was when I was reading in bed late one night and Harry’s mother came out of his wand. As a mother myself I felt so much of what she would have felt. Her child was in a terrible situation, had just witnessed death, and was in a battle he didn’t yet have the skill to win. I cried. This boy who wanted nothing more than his mother was now being helped by a shadow of her. I was sold. I was now, officially, a Harry Potter fanatic.
I read the first four books in less than a week and practically demanded my husband read them. I needed someone to talk to about the books. He read them and enjoyed them, but was not as keen as I was on speculation, and a lot of times he laughed at my theories (some of which were right … but most were not.)
I consider it lucky that I joined the Harry Potter bandwagon when I did. I’m not a patient person and I can imagine that if I had to wait three years between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix I may have given up on the series. As it was, the eight months I did have to wait were virtually torturous. I got my fix by entering the fan fiction world. It was at times a terrifying place, but at other times incredibly engaging.
I also found my love of reading. It was like a drug, for that moment of time you are reading, you are someone else, you exist in another world, and your problems vanish. I was able to pinpoint what it was I loved about the Harry Potter books and find other books that I could enjoy as well. For the first time in my life I considered myself a reader. Now it’s one thing I’m pretty well known for. Granted, I’m incredibly picky about what I read, and if a book doesn’t grab me in the first few pages I’m done with it. But I love to read.
My love for Harry Potter began before my children could read. I had shared the world with my husband, and I wanted my children to love the world as well. My oldest daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism. She was slow to catch on to certain concepts, but light-years ahead of her time with others.
I began reading Harry Potter to her when she was eight. She was having difficulty reading and even after hours and hours of tutoring, she was still not getting it. She was falling behind in second grade. I feared she would never reach the level of academic achievement that I knew she could because there were so few who understood what it took to get her to that level. So her reading skills suffered terribly.
I started reading her the Sorcerer’s Stone for two reasons. I wanted to expose her to reading and to books, but I also wanted to re-read it myself. I read a chapter every night. I used a British accent for dialogue, did different voices, and really wanted her to become engaged in the book.
One night, after I finished reading the third chapter, she asked me to leave the book in her room. It was an unusual request, but I obliged. The next day I found her sitting on her floor with the book. I asked what she as doing and she said she was reading. I smiled, it was cute, but surely she wasn’t able to read all the words, and I wasn’t sure she comprehended it. That night, when I went to read a chapter to her she said she’d already read the chapter. Still not sure she comprehended it, and a little fearful she was using it as an excuse because she was growing bored with the book, I asked her if she could tell me what happened. She told me about how Uncle Vernon had gone a little crazy and was freaking out because Harry kept getting all these letters. She told me that Hagrid, the giant, came to tell Harry he was a wizard and talked about Hogwarts.
I was amazed, not only that she comprehended what she’d read, but that she’d even read more than the one chapter I was planning to read. I didn’t question how a child who was reading at a first grade level in school had managed to read a forth grade reading level book. It was what she did, it was part of who she was. She didn’t walk until she was more than a year old, but she immediately had it down and never stumbled. She didn’t talk until after she was two, but when she started talking she was using far more words than a beginner would have. It was just how she learned things, she studied the theory and then when she needed or desired to put it into practice, she did with remarkable skill. She knew the theory behind reading, she knew what it took to put the letters together to form words, she just needed the push and motivation to put it into practice.
A day later she’d finished Sorcerer’s Stone and was on to Chamber of Secrets. That moment almost made me want to cry. I don’t know what it was about those words that intrigued her or moved her in a way that no other book could, but whatever it was it was almost like a miracle. For a small moment in time I didn’t have to worry that my daughter’s developmental disability would hold her back. She continued on and has since read all the Harry Potter books numerous times. She is now fourteen years old and reads any book she can get her hands on. When she entered sixth grade three years ago she was reading at a ninth grade level. The girl, who just four years earlier was a grade level behind in her reading, was now three grade levels above. She loves books and has even been known to sleep with them under her pillow at night. I really think she never would have found her love of reading if she hadn’t found Harry Potter first.
It took an incredibly talented author and an amazing story to turn me and my daughter into avid readers. Some say there is no such thing as magic, but knowing what it took to get both of us to love books, I say reading is magic.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1999.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1998.
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