I learned to read when I was very young, I went into kindergarten knowing how to read (which, let me tell you did not make me a popular kid). The books I gravitated towards as a kid were always those I could get lost in, ones that created a new world for me to be part of. I was a quiet kid, kind of shy and pretty awkward so books became my friends. I lived in my imagination, maybe that’s what draws me to write now.
Even as I grew up and learned how to be social I still loved getting lost in a book, I’d spend hours reading alone in my room. I always had at least one book I was reading and most of the time I had more than one. I read a lot of Nancy Drew and Goosebumps and other mystery and horror books, those still remain some of my favorite types of books. When I was in fifth grade we read The Hobbit, this was the first fantasy book I’d really ever read and I loved it. When the Book Fair came through my school that year I begged my mom for the money to buy that book. It is easily my favorite book, I own at least three copies of it.
I identified with Bilbo, this awkward, fearful character who was suddenly thrust into an adventure he wasn’t even sure he wanted. I felt that way about life, I was so happy when I was by myself because it was easier. I didn’t know how to relate to other kids, it didn’t help that my home life was so much stranger than everyone elses. My parents were divorced (that wasn’t really odd) but my mom was sick, everyone knew my mom was sick and that she walked with a cane. Yeah, that makes you the weird kid.
When my mom died when I was 12 years old I delved further into books. I read The Lord of the Rings and I started reading other fantasy books. I wanted to be in the worlds I read about, I wanted to be with the characters who made me feel less alone. There aren’t a lot of things more uncomfortable than being the new kid in school (I was in my new school for 6 months) and having your mom die. I can’t really blame the other kids for not knowing how to act around me, parents aren’t supposed to die when you’re 12 years old.
When we moved back to Los Lunas in 2000 I thought it would be better because I already knew all those people, they all knew my mom was sick and that she had died. It wasn’t much better because again, kids aren’t really equipped to deal with things like losing a parent. I was in eighth grade when I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My Step-Dad had brought the book home and told me I’d like it. I devoured it, here was a character I could really understand. I was so lonely and there wasn’t anyone around me who could even remotely understand what I was going through, but there was this character who felt all the same awkwardness and uncomfortableness about being different.
I read the first four books (the fifth didn’t come out until I was in high school) over and over to the point that I can quote those books like other people can quote movies. It wasn’t just that I liked the story or that they were entertaining, or even that they created a world I could so clearly imagine and fall into, no, it was that I related so well to Harry and I understood so much of what he felt.
As I’ve gotten older and the HP series has become one of the most famous series of books in the world I’ve seen a lot of bashing of not just the books but the fans, calling us a cult and telling us we don’t know what “real” literature is. I used to get angry when I read or heard stuff like that but it doesn’t bother me so much anymore. I know so many people who read those books and felt things similar to what I felt, that when reading them they felt less alone. The characters and the stories relieved us of the burden of our everyday lives, let us forget our own hurt for a little while and made us feel that it was possible to find someone out there who would understand. One of my closest friends is one of those people, we can have endless conversations about Harry Potter, not just because we’re nerds (and we so are) but because those books helped us, gave us a sanctuary when we didn’t have anything else.
When I about growing up I think a lot about the books and I read and the ones that always stand out in my memory are The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series. Those books were my friends when I had none, they made me feel less alone and they made me realize I wasn’t alone. If I felt those things reading those books chances are so did millions of other people, maybe we’d been through different things and had different reasons for reading but all of us found comfort in those characters and settings.
Even now, as an adult when I read those books I feel like I’m visiting an old friend and I feel comforted. I still love to read, I feel disconnected if I don’t have at least one book I’m reading and I feel better when I have at least two. I love getting lost in stories and meeting new characters, but I always come back to my oldest “friends.”