A few weeks ago, I saw a friend post this on his Facebook and I thought “Yup, that’s me.”
I realized, however, not every book can be that special 4am book. That book you can’t stop thinking about and you just want to get home and read. That book that you keep turning the pages even though your eyes are burning with exhaustion and your shoulders ache from leaning against a flattened pillow. But you can’t stop. You have to see what happens next. And then next. And then next.
The 4am book is different for everyone. For me, it’s usually been fictional and fantasy based. I’ve always been an avid reader, starting with Dr Seuss and The Berenstein Bears. From there, I moved onto The Secret Garden and Black Beauty. I must have read The Secret Garden and watched the movie from the 80’s a thousand times. You can ask my grandmother. That’s all I wanted to watch when I came to her house. The Lord of the Rings entered my life when I was young because my dad loved them so much and I immediately couldn’t stop reading and re-reading The Hobbit. I dove into The Great Gatsby and Wuthering Heights, On the Road, and Catcher in the Rye. But it wasn’t until a Mr Potter entered my world that I realized how precious a book can be.
I started reading Harry Potter because of Bethany. It was becoming a phenomenon when we were in high school and at first, I was reluctant to join the masses. I was under the impression it was a children’s book and I had no interest because it didn’t sound mature like Tolkien. And the plot was almost exactly like The Wizard of Earthsea and I didn’t want to participate in copy cats. The third book was about to be published and I finally caved and read the first two books. I read them in about a day. When the third came out, it was all over for me. I had found my new obsession, my new world, my new beloved characters, my new friends.
It became tradition, starting with Goblet of Fire, to get the book at midnight and read until I crashed. It wasn’t because I wanted to finish it before anyone else. It was because I was dying to know what happened next and I didn’t want to take weeks to find out. I remember reading Order of the Phoenix at 3am in my living room and throwing the book on the floor at the end of a certain chapter featuring a veil. (Look, I’m sure we all know what happens but if I spoiled Harry Potter for anyone, I would be devastated). My mother came out of the bedroom and asked what happened and if I was ok. I was practically sobbing and she hadn’t read the book yet so I told her I was fine and she didn’t need to see this. I picked it back up, apologized to it, and kept going until I finished.
When the final book came out, I went with my two best Tarzan/Potter crazed co-workers, Nicole and Stefanie, to a midnight release. Nicole and I took the subway home together and I experienced one of the most magical New York moments in history. Every single person on that train sat down, took out their copy, and began reading. I mean, everyone from small children who had stayed up late to get the book to 20 somethings to a few middle aged to folks beyond 65 years old. We all took a second to regard each other and gave little head nods, silently saying “Ok, let’s do this.” It’s said that Rowling made reading cool again and it was that moment that I realized she truly did.
Hedwig on my head at the midnight release. Stef and I and some random character Borders invented. Hogwarts in ice!
I read the seventh book in two days. I got home and started and didn’t stop until about 6am. I slept, read on the train to and from work, on my breaks at work, and then finished it that night at about 5 or 6am. I was heartbroken that it was over but I can’t express to you how thankful I was that I had said yes to reading those first two books.
I didn’t think I’d find love again until I found The Other Boleyn Girl and the wonders of Phillippa Gregory’s historical fiction. I stayed up again reading about Anne Boleyn and the Tudors court and the treachery and betrayals of Henry VIII. I began to read her other novels about Elizabeth I and the other wives of Henry. It was another world, a more real world, but a place I could fall into and forget reality for a second. I became obsessed and started researching the real history and comparing it to the fictional versions. I became a Boleyn expert and all because of a take on the famous tale of how the little lady lost her head. The best part of the Boleyn obsession was that all the girls at Tarzan were sharing and reading the series. Nicole had hers taken away and put in the freezer because Charlie (her boyfriend at the time) was being completely ignored. This is how obsessed we were.
There was a small dry spell until The Hunger Games. Yes, I read Twilight, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Eat Pray Love, and any other book that was recommended or popular and those that my parents insisted I read. I found many new favorites but none that encompassed a complete take over of my mind, body and soul. None that gripped me until I couldn’t breathe until I met Katniss. The post apocalyptic world took a hold of me and didn’t let go until I finished Mockingjay. I read that series so quickly and I am grateful they were all published when I started because, like Harry Potter, I would have been aching to know what happened next. After I finished the series, I waited, read a few other books, and started again. I missed the characters and reading it a second, third, fourth time, I thought even more about the themes and messages that were peeking through. I started having nightmares that I was in the actual Games. It became so real to me and so possible that it scared and fascinated me all at once. That, to me, is a great fuckin’ story.
And now, I conclude with my latest obsession. Game of Thrones. I put Martin up there with Rowling, Tolkien, and Collins for the creation of a world so complex and epic, I don’t even know how the man keeps track of everything and everyone. I started the series after watching the first season on HBO. I fell in love immediately and I was shocked that I hadn’t been exposed to the series before. It was right up my alley and I was almost ashamed I hadn’t read them previously. I felt like a poser, a traitor to my geeks because I jumped on the bandwagon late. Nonetheless, I began the series with earnest and flew through the first two books. I had an idea of what happens because of the series but as always, the books open window and doors that the series does not. I am now on the third book and holy crap. I can’t stop reading it. I plan my day around when I can read this book. I stay up until 4am every night with Lincoln sleeping beside me because I can’t stop. Last night, my eyes ached and the lids were heavy as elephants and I couldn’t find a comfortable position but I kept reading. I had to finish the Arya chapter and then, OH MY GOD I had to finish the Tyrion chapter. It never ended until I started reading pages twice and realized I wasn’t absorbing any more and needed rest to begin again. These books have filled the gap where Harry and Katniss have been (and still are). I have found a new series that captures me mind, body, and soul and hasn’t even been completed yet so the anticipation and excitement lives within me again. I know I’m not even that far into the tale yet from what I’ve been told but the journey so far has been incredible. It gives a comfort that I can’t express clearly but if you read like I do, you know what I mean.
Today is Harry Potter’s 31st birthday. Yes, I know his real life age if he was real. Bethany, Alia and I baked him a lion cake once. I say Happy Birthday to him every year. That series saved my life. During my Dark Time after my most epic breakup, The Deathly Hallows came out. I was depressed, suicidal, and cried myself to sleep every night. That was until I began the series again to prepare for the last book. I started at the first page and eventually ended at the last there will ever be. And it saved me. It brought me back to a happy and safe place, a Neverland of sorts where I was worried about Harry, Hermione, and Ron, and not myself. Where my tears were for the deaths of the battle between good and evil and not for my relationship that was doomed from the start. I was not sleeping because I was reading not because I couldn’t get my mind to rest. And that, I think, proved magic does exist.
So thank you to Dr Seuss, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Kerouac, Salinger, Vonnegut, Fitzgerald, Shakespeare, Beckett, Hemingway, Gregory Maguire, Neil Gaiman, and so many others. Especially to Rowling, Tolkien, and now George R.R. Martin. Thank you for Sirius Black and Dumbledore, Frodo and Gandalf, and the Starks and Lannisters. I don’t know where I’d be without them.
Oh…and Happy Birthday, Harry. 🙂