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FTIAT: Magic Words

Ilana (SlightlyIgnorant) comments with empathy and humor, but that’s not all there is to her. She touches on difficult topics so matter of factly in her blog’s autobio you feel confident that you could talk to her about anything. And, indeed, when you start exchanging comments and emails, you find you very much want to!

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Magic Words

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

A few days ago, Deb asked to write a guest post for this, her awesome blog. I was incredibly flattered and excited and began to think of different topics I could write about. The guidelines I had received were loose enough to allow me lots of freedom: pick one thing I’m grateful for, and write about it. Simple enough, right?

Wrong.

Once I started thinking about it, I found that there were just too many things in my life that I was, am, and will continue to be grateful for. My parents raised me lovingly and treated me as an individual worthy of respect even when I was very small. My brother was a fun companion when we were kids – we wrestled and tustled all the time but we both enjoyed it – and has become a friend. My aunts have always been an inspiration to me and I’m proud to be able to call them family.

Then I thought of my friends: my oldest girlfriend from nursery-school who I’ve known for eighteen of my twenty-one years, the girl I met in third grade and spent most of my afternoons with for years, the shy and quiet teenager I met in high school who became an integral part of my life… and the list goes on.

The truth is, there are so many people whose presence in my life I’m grateful for that I can’t choose between them. It feels ungrateful, somehow, to pick just one.

Instead, I decided to pick something that may seem simple, banal, even silly – but it changed my life and is part of the reason I’m even here, writing a guest post for Deb.

I am grateful for Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling.

Are you laughing? Are you rolling your eyes? Are you sympathetically nodding and thinking Well, she must not have much going for her, I’d better humor her and read through her insane ramblings? If you stick with me, I’ll explain why I chose the boy-wizard and his famous, fabulous, fantastic creator.

My parents raised me bi-lingual; my dad spoke to me in Hebrew while my mom and I only conversed in English. When I was three, though, my family moved from sunny Los Angeles to the sunnier and sadly humid Isreal. Previously, I’d always spoken to my father in English, refusing, for reasons that are mysterious to me, to answer him in Hebrew. After the move, though, the primary language I heard spoken around me changed from English to Hebrew. I was forced to begin using the harsh, deep-throated raysh and chet, letters that Anglos find difficult to pronounce correctly. But I learned; or maybe I already knew how, and just hadn’t liked doing it.

Because of our move, instead of learning my ABCs at school, I learned how to read and write in Hebrew. First grade was agony, as I found the whole process of associating sounds and words with weird squiggles on paper to be tiring and difficult. What was worse, though, was that my lessons didn’t end when I finished my homework for school. Even after filling a workbook page or two with my wobbly, too-large, six-year old’s handwriting, I had to spend part of each afternoon with my mother, learning how to read in English.

It was horrible. I didn’t get it. I couldn’t get it. I learned to recognize the symbols that read “THE END” that appeared on the final page of each of the little books that my mom was using to teach me how to read, and I spoke those two little words with huge satisfaction whenever one of our torturous sessions was over.

Eventually, though, I could read and write in both Hebrew and English. I learned at the right age, and I suppose I didn’t have any more difficulty than any other average kid. But I still didn’t like reading. I loved being read to – one of my parents would read me a book or a chapter every night, as far as I can remember. If they’d hand me the book, though, with an inviting gesture and a smile, I would shrug my shoulders in that universal gesture that kids have for “Don’t wanna.”

I was, I confess, a TV child. At some point, my parents had to restrict my time in front of the television because if I’d had my way, I would sit in front of it all afternoon without indulging in any other activity.

When I was nine years old, in 1999, my brother turned thirteen and had his Bar Mitzvah. We visited family in California, like we did every summer, and my parents and grandparents threw a big party so he could celebrate this traditional coming of age with our American relatives. Great-Aunt Candy bought him what would become, although none of us knew it at the time, the vehicle of my salvation from Eternal-TV-Enslavement. She bought my brother, and me by extension, beautiful, hardcover copies of Harry Potter and the Sourceror’s Stone (remember, it was the American edition), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and the just released and much anticipated Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

We flew back to Israel. We must have packed the books, although I have no particular memory of that. I don’t remember being excited or looking forward to reading them with my mother, although I do remember her saying something about how she’d heard good things about the books.

I also remember, vividly, her reading me the very first line, quoted above; I interrupted her and said, quite indignantly, “Dursley? But it’s called Harry Potter!” My mother smiled and said “Let’s wait and see.”

I waited, I saw, and I fell in love. One night, reading the sixth chapter, “The Journey from Platform Nine and Three Quarters,” my mom stopped after at this line: “The train began to move. Harry saw the boys’ mother waving and their sister, half laughing, half crying, running to keep up with the train until it gathered too much speed, then she fell back and waved.” I recall how I tried to wheedle her into continuing, and how she wouldn’t because it was late and time for me to go to sleep. With that in mind, I guess what came next shouldn’t be all that surprising.

Every Friday afternoon, my parents took a long nap. I believe that on the Friday in question, my mom read me the second half of chapter nine, “The Midnight Duel,” before she took her nap. Writing this now, at the same desk I had back then, I can visualize the book sitting perfectly squared with the corners of the table, just where my mom had left it. I can see the little girl that I was, a little pudgy and still quite blonde, listening carefully to my parents snores, making sure they were sound asleep. The girl picks up the book and lies down on her bed, the same bed that is to her left as she types away on her computer twelve years later. She opens the book to chapter ten, “Halloween,” and begins to read.

I read thirteen pages, the entire chapter, the most I’d ever read on my own not only willingly, but eagerly as well. And I had loved it.

The funny thing was that I thought, for some reason, that I’d done something wrong. Once I realized I’d read a whole chapter, I balked and, carefully putting the bookmark where it had been before my intrusion, arranged the book to look as if it hadn’t been touched. I kept my secret all day, aching to read more but not daring to. I thought that telling my mother that I wanted to read the book alone would hurt her terribly. That night, when she began to read me “Halloween,” I couldn’t take it, and I blurted out the truth: that I’d already read that entire chapter. I burst into a flurry of apologies. I needn’t have worried. She laughed, and I remember her face glowing (although that might be my own emotions coloring the picture) as she handed me the book, kissed my forehead, and told me I could and should keep reading it alone.

If I hadn’t discovered the incredible world that J. K. Rowling created, I never would have become the reader I am today. My mother isn’t convinced of this, claiming that I would have developed a love of reading anyway. In the family I grew up in, it was almost inevitable, since everyone else loved to read.

But I remember very well how much I loved watching television, and I’m absolutely positive that without the Boy Who Lived, I wouldn’t have developed the all-consuming passion that I now have for books. Books have been my greatest escape, my most caring comforters, my friends in need and out of it, my protectors in every storm and my loyal sidekicks and companions during the days of calm waters and happiness. When I talk about books, about reading, my heart expands within me, my breathing grows rapid, and I experience the heady rush of true love engulf me. I wouldn’t have discovered the pure joy, the terrible sadness, the incredible empathy and endless wisdom that can be found in words, stories and characters.

And if I hadn’t discovered Harry, if I hadn’t become a reader, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know, but ultimately it doesn’t matter.

When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out in the summer of 2007, I’d just turned seventeen, like Harry. I grew up with Harry, Ron, Hermione and the others. I spent long afternoons discussing the books, speculating on what the next installments would hold. I read and reread the books I had over and over and over again, literally dozens of times, while still continuing to read widely and enthusiastically outside of the series.

Going to the first midnight-release party in Isreal, my met-in-nursery-school friend and I were already mourning the end of it all. Looking back at it now, I’m shocked to realize it was four years ago. Because Harry Potter’s importance hasn’t died out yet. Nor will it ever, even if it, for some odd reason, doesn’t become the classic it is already turning into. It will continue to live on in me, and anyone else who discovered the power of stories as they fell in love with Harry Potter.

last : A survivor by any other name . . . | Where I embrace my inner geek : next

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  1. December 16, 2011 at 5:43 am

    Omigosh! Ilana! This is positively perfect! I want to come visit Israel sooo badly, it’s hard to imagine the circumstances that led to your hating it. But, obviously, it is completely understandable. As a teacher, I’m so glad you found solace in books! They are always the best friends. What a wonderful thank you note to J.K. Rowling.

    I’m guessing you are going to be on the guest post circuit now!

    I. So. Want. You.

    Nice to meet you.

    • December 16, 2011 at 7:36 am

      Israel has many good sides, don’t get me wrong, but as someone who’s lived there, it’s been very easy to become embittered.

      I would love to be on the guest post circuit :).

  2. December 16, 2011 at 5:58 am

    LOVE this Ilana!!! Great bit of writing above! Thanks to Deb for posting and like Renee said–I would love to guest blog you anytime. XO,

    • December 16, 2011 at 7:38 am

      Thank you so much! I would be honored to write for you.

  3. December 16, 2011 at 6:11 am

    Thank you, Ilana, for such a wonderful post! You’ve captured, so perfectly, the feeling of falling in love with Harry Potter… I love how you fell in love with reading, and all the amazing comforts it provides. Your post makes me want to sneak into the kids’ room, slip one of the books off their shelf and go back to Hogwarts all over again!

    • December 16, 2011 at 7:39 am

      You should do it! Rereading the Harry Potter books is always satisfying.

  4. December 16, 2011 at 6:58 am

    oh this is so perfect. You are much younger than me, and yet, I have such fond memories and feelings about Harry Potter. Great job Deb for asking and Ilana, thank you. It was a pleasure to read this.

    • December 16, 2011 at 7:39 am

      Thank you for reading, Katy. I think that the HP series’ joy truly spans across generations.

  5. December 16, 2011 at 7:03 am

    Lovely and powerful. We are the lucky ones, the ones who derive sustenance between the covers of a book.

    • December 16, 2011 at 7:40 am

      I agree. I feel so lucky to have discovered the joy and comfort of books.

  6. December 16, 2011 at 7:25 am

    What a wonderful post. You write beautifully, which is also a gift based in the reading experience. I too love Harry Potter. Can’t wait to take a look at your blog.

    I’m currently blogging my way to a memoir. Some of my recent posts are password-protected, but if you would like to take a look, the password is “mother.” Just trying to create a degree of privacy for my family at the moment.

    Thank you for this lovely post!

    Kathy

    • December 16, 2011 at 7:41 am

      Thank you, Kathy! I will check out your blog, and I thank you for trusting me enough to give me the password for it.

  7. December 16, 2011 at 10:38 am

    How wonderful to be able to pinpoint your love of reading to a specific place in time, and how lovely your recounting of it is. You’re between my daughters’ ages, and both devoured those books, as did I. We used to get the books on cassette (later CD) and pop them in to listen to on long car rides. If you haven’t yet, listening to Jim Dale tell the stories adds a whole new dimension.

    • December 17, 2011 at 5:25 am

      I love the Stephen Fry reading of the HP series, although I’ve heard that Jim Dale is fantastic as well :).

  8. December 16, 2011 at 11:51 am

    This is amazing to me to even think. I’ve all but forgotten. Growing up with English first and only all my life, it was Dr. Seuss and the Pale Green Pants that started me reading with that same enthusiasm back in 1st grade. Thanks for this wonderful look back!

    • December 17, 2011 at 5:26 am

      Thank you for reading it! I loved Dr. Seuss, too – my mom would read me the books over and over again. I think “The Lorax” was my favorite, though it made me cry.

  9. John Erickson
    December 16, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Being of an older generation (and a less affluent one), we didn’t have that much television early in our lives. I tend to take for granted that kids learn to read first, like I did, and THEN become couch potatoes! 🙂
    Great story, Ilana. I’d love to hear some of your stories of Israel!

    • December 17, 2011 at 5:27 am

      I wish that were the case these days… I feel like more and more kids are growing up with visual stimulation so readily at hand that their imaginations don’t develop as much – I hope I’m wrong about this, though….

  10. December 16, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    It is neat to find that one good read that makes for a turning point in loving the written word. Mine was James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. I never liked reading novels before I read that book in gradeschool, and became the little boy who could enter the inside of the giant, fuzzy peach with his buggy friends. I read and re-read it, just like you with H.P. I read infrequently now, as a single mom with little time, but when I do get to engulf myself in a long book, I feel I’m in a sanctuary of sorts. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

    • December 17, 2011 at 5:28 am

      Reading is definitely a sanctuary – and it can be such a great way of relaxing and escaping the daily duties of our lives, however difficult. I hope you manage to find the time to read once in a while, even if it’s just for a few minutes!

  11. December 17, 2011 at 4:46 am

    Ilana, I absolutely love this post! Your writing is beautiful, and this is such a lovely tribute to the series! I grew up loving to read, but lost that passion in my late teens because I felt pressured to read what I was ‘supposed to’ as an adult. Then the Harry Potter series came out and my love of reading reignited. JK Rowling is amazing – and so are you!

    • December 17, 2011 at 5:30 am

      Thank you so much! I’m so glad that J. K. rekindled your passion for reading – it’s definitely a shame to lose it.

  12. December 17, 2011 at 6:49 am

    My mother and father used Spanish with me, and I answered in English. I can relate.
    As I started first and second grade in the States, I was placed in remedial reading groups. Then, Ms. Perkins, my third grade teacher gave me a chapter book. I got so engrossed in the book, she let me finish it that day exempting me from recess, arithmetic, and whatever else was planned for the day…because, she, wise teacher saw a girl fall in love with reading not wanting to stop. I so remember who helped me, where and how, I fell in love with reading. Great FTIAT choice. Great post.

    • December 17, 2011 at 9:14 am

      Thank you :). I am very honored that Deb chose me as one of the writers in this wonderful series.

  13. December 17, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    Ilana, I enjoyed your post very much as it brought back some memories for me… Gratitude is a great gift… 🙂 Happy Holidays.

    • December 17, 2011 at 10:41 pm

      Happy holidays to you as well! Glad you enjoyed :).

  14. December 19, 2011 at 6:55 am

    I loved this post. It reminded me of the moment I fell in love with books, the Little House on the Prairie series! made me into a life-long reader and learner. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    • December 19, 2011 at 8:32 pm

      I remember those! I think I had only one of them, but I loved that book. I find it so touching to read so many people’s memories of when they started reading voraciously are still intact.

  15. December 19, 2011 at 7:30 am

    Ilana, I know I am late to the party, but I loved you post and your writing style. Something as simple as a book often gets overlooked in the grand spectrum of “For this I am thankful”, but one book can have an impact!

    • December 20, 2011 at 12:46 am

      Indeed – and by now, I feel as if every book I’ve read has had some sort of impact on me, which is part of what I absolutely love about reading.

  16. December 19, 2011 at 9:55 am

    I grew up reading. I loved reading. I spent a lot of my free time as a kid and teenager, reading. Then something happened and for whatever reason, I stopped reading for many years. It wasn’t until I was almost 23 when Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was released and everyone and their mom was raving about it that I picked up and read a book.
    I was hesitant and tried very much not to be sucked into the Harry Potter mania, but we got a paperback copy of The Sorcerer’s Stone @ our store and I bought it. Almost as a joke.
    I wasn’t expecting much.
    Imagine my surprise.

    I finished it in 2 days. It was about 9pm when I finished it, and I felt like I absolutely HAD TO read the second book immediately. Luckily, it was the holiday season and stores were open late.
    I got in my car and drove to Borders and found a paperback copy of CoS and wanted so badly to buy PoA, but it was only in hard cover at the time, so I waited.

    I finished that one in a couple of days, too, and I was officially hooked. I hadn’t read a book for pleasure in 6 or 7 years, and here I was feeling desperate to read more about this Harry Potter kid.
    I was able to get the PoA shortly thereafter, and eventually read them all. I laughed out loud, I cried and I feel in love with the characters, and when the movies came out, I made sure to see them all.

    I totally understand your love of these books, and I too, am grateful for Ms. Rowling.
    Fantastic post! Thank you for sharing!

    • December 20, 2011 at 12:48 am

      Thanks for sharing your own experience, kantal113! I’m glad that the HP books got you back into reading, and I hope that you’ve continued to enjoy the wonderful escape of books :).

      • December 20, 2011 at 9:06 am

        I did for many years, until the birth of my son. Then I just didn’t have the time or focus to read an entire book. He’s 5 now, and I married a man who has 2 kids, so now that I have 3 kids to take care of, I barely do anything I love anymore. It’s unfortunate.
        I have so many books that need to be read. Every time I go to a library sale or a Borders that’s being cleared out, I buy a TON of new books. I am trying to get back into reading, but my brain is always on overdrive and I lose focus pretty quickly. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to read an entire book all the way through. The last full book I read was over the summer. It was Clive Barker’s Weave World. It was an incredible story and I highly recommend it to anyone! Up next is the Hunger Games series. 🙂

  1. December 16, 2011 at 5:44 am
  2. December 16, 2011 at 7:35 am
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