Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Finis, or a Treatise on the Joys of Reading

By Andi

Note: While this post mentions Harry Potter, I solemnly swear not to give any details of the book AT ALL.

After a marathon 500-page reading excursion, I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows . While I am exceedingly fond of this book and mournfully sorry to see this series end, this piece is less about Harry Potter in particular, and more about what the series has meant to me, an adult, reading a children's series all these many years. Above all, it is about what the series has evoked for me...fond memories, exhilarating reflections on the act of reading, and a deeper understanding of myself as a reader and a lover of words.

I resisted the Harry Potter series when it first emerged, and it wasn't until Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had been out for a while (late 2001) that I really got on board with the series and decided to give it a go. I resisted reading the series because of the hype, mainly. I was bound and determined not to join the throng of followers. However, as I gazed repeatedly on the delightful covers, and finally read the blurb on the back of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I suddenly realized that it sounded like fun. Why not try it out?

A while ago, in a Shelfari book group, someone asked the question, "Why do you read?" A deceivingly simple question that it's taken me several weeks to formulate an answer for. Many people said "to escape!" And, while I can't deny the joy in escape, I think I read for a different reason, one of which has been repeatedly revealed to me throughout my reading and re-reading of the Harry Potter series. I read because I'm fascinated by words and the reactions they evoke from deep down inside me. Words are just markings on a page, symbols attached to arbitrary objects. There is no essence of "table," for example, that makes it so. We assign a word to an object and suddenly it is.

I first felt the emotional power of words when I was in the third grade, and I wrote what might be my most affecting piece of fiction to date (don't tell anyone), a hypothetical letter from a soldier to her family detailing the harrowing experience of war. While it was an assignment I now look back on as propagandistic and kind of icky, my teacher, mom and grandmother thought it brilliant. It made them cry.

As I was growing up, I became further influenced by the written word and more deeply involved in the escapist facet of reading, and I felt the first inklings of the emotional and intellectual journey that I love so much now. I could sit on my very own end of my grandparents' couch under my very own reading lamp for hours, lost in the words on a page, gulping down book after book, content to live the lives of the characters. The best books always made me cry. The best books, and the best authors, could involve me so completely in their characters' world, with just some scratches on the page, these arbitrary bits we call words, so as to render me completely rapt in the fictional universe. And sometimes they made me care so much, so hard, and so completely as to bring about tears.

Years later, to an even greater extent, it is this emotional pull that draws me to fiction and the resulting reflection on exactly how those writers do that. It's what keeps me glued to and excited about the Harry Potter series in particular. For J.K. Rowling can pull me into her fictional wizard's world and allow me to care deeply for an orphan with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Beyond the world of Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling can once again transport me back to my grandparents' couch under my very own reading lamp to those carefree days of childhood when books could make me cry. With a copy of a book in my hands I am at once spirited away and simultaneously--paradoxically--made keenly aware of the now.

No comments: