1. Starting with the fifth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, my best friend, Bonnie, and I began standing in line at Barnes and Noble for the midnight releases. We always had a blast, but the night the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was released was particularly memorable. As the hour drew nigh, we were giddy with excitement and kept laughing about the stupidest things. We struck up a friendship with a middle-aged woman who blasted someone for trying to break in line. When we returned to the car, coveted books in hand, we sat in the parking lot to preview the chapters, and Bonnie begged me to start reading while she drove.
2. The Harry Potter books defined my childhood, so it's no surprise that the ending of the series was a defining moment for me. Even though I had gone out at midnight to procure the last books in the series, I had never pulled an all-nighter to read one until the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released. I laughed; I cried; I was shocked by the turn of events, and I could not stop reading until I turned the last page, and then the next day (i. e. several hours later when I woke up), I had to re-read the last few chapters and the epilogue because I wasn't ready for it to end just yet.
3. Because the Harry Potter books spanned a decade of publication (1997-2007), there were huge chunks of time between the release of books. I re-read the first four books in the series often, but several months, maybe a year, after the publication of the seventh and final installment in the saga, I decided to re-read them all back to back. It was a true joy. I uncovered details and saw connections that were not apparent to me the first time I had read each book. This is a series that is greater than the sum of its parts.
4. Harry Potter obviously has defined a huge chunk of my life, but my subsequent memories are Harry Potter free. This next one involves another author that had a huge impact on me while I was growing up, Sarah Dessen. Sarah Dessen's Someone Like You is one of my favorite books ever. It is the perfect blend of friendship and love. Dessen is a local author and lives in North Carolina. When I discovered at fifteen that she would be speaking at the literary festival at UNC-Chapel Hill, I had to go. During this time, I was also an avid writer and dreamed of being an author. She was my role-model. My dad is a staunch N. C. State fan and half-jokingly asserted that he would under no circumstances allow me to set foot on UNC-Chapel Hill's campus, but more important than my dad's team loyalty was his desire to help me achieve my dreams, so on a sunny April Saturday, we made the two hour trek to Chapel Hill where I got to hear Dessen read from This Lullaby, ask her questions about being a writer, and get her to sign all of my books. It was pure heaven.*
5. Since Dessen is a local author, I have gotten to attend her readings multiple times since that day in April when I was fifteen. I attended Peace College and N. C. State in Raleigh, and Dessen often stopped at local independent bookstore Quail Ridge Books for readings. When Lock and Key was in publication, she was reading at Chapel Hill, and my friends and I attended the early Saturday morning reading. When Dessen was signing my book, she complimented me on my dress and ivory trench coat. Since that meeting, every time I see Dessen at a reading, she recognizes me. It is such a heartwarming experience to be recognized by one of your favorite authors. As a side note, it was at this reading in Chapel Hill that I first met David Levithan, a friend of Dessen's. I basically made an idiot of myself going on about how much I loved Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, but it was definitely a memorable experience.
6. I've already written in great detail about the NCTE Conference I attended in November where I met Ellen Hopkins, Sonya Sones, Maggie Stiefvater, and David Levithan. This was an incredible event, and it opened my eyes to the opportunity for author visits at my school.
7. Like any good bibliophile, Amazon became my best friend in college for ordering cheap books. After attending the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Salisbury, Maryland where I heard a girl read Margaret Atwood's "Tricks with Mirrors," I promptly ordered several of Atwood's anthologies, including Two-Headed Poems, for only a few dollars. When I received them, I was shocked to discover that the cover page of my copy of Two-Headed Poems was signed by Margaret Atwood.
8. Going back a little further, my love of reading was cultivated by both my parents and grandparents. I remember in particular visiting my paternal grandparents' home where my grandma kept a little boxed set of Peter Rabbit books. I loved these books and would read them over and over when I went to their house. When I grew up, my grandma gave them to me, and now they sit in a place of honor on my bookshelf. One day I will pass them down to my niece.
9. Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind was one of the first really dense books I read in terms of content, emotion, history, detail, and length. Few books since have evoked the reaction that book did in me. It had me in tears. I screamed at the characters. At one point, I was so frustrated with the course of the novel, I threw it against the wall. This book evoked every possible emotion in me and prompted me to write this little reflection on writing:
On Becoming a Writer
I still remember the exact moment I decided I wanted to be a writer. I don't remember the date or the time, the year or how old I was, but that doesn't matter anyway - writing- really writing - isn't so much about fact...it's about feeling, and I still remember that feeling, that moment when I knew that writing was what I wanted to do with my life. I had just finished reading Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I was sobbing - that book had left me emotionally drained. Margaret Mitchell captured me in her web, and I felt like I was Scarlett - I laughed when she laughed, I cried when she cried, I hated who she hated, I loved who she loved. I yelled at the other characters, defending her to them when they turned their backs on her...we understood each other me and Scarlett...and it was in that moment that I knew. When I was sitting there crying, moved to experience every emotion by Margaret's words, I knew I wanted to do that. That I wanted to be the one changing the world, reaching the masses, or just touching one other person's life. I want my words to be the words moving people, touching their hearts, giving them an escape from their harsh reality but teaching them how to apply that story (theme) to reality. I want to move people to tears, laughter, hatred, love, joy...I want to make people think, feel. That's my dream in life.
10. That mediation on becoming a writer leads me, in a roundabout way, to memory number ten. Memory ten isn't even my bookish memory, and it certainly wasn't my words that moved the reader like I so desperately desired it to be in memory nine, but it was my guidance that caused this moment to occur. I have mentioned here and there on this blog that I am an English teacher and that my ENG 111 course is themed around banned books. Students are required to choose one book off of the ALA's Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books of 2000-2009 list to read and research for the semester. This past fall, one of my students read John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. One day after class, he approached me, and asked solemnly, "Why did Lennie have to die?" I responded, "I know. It's so sad." "I was tearing up at the end," he concurred, "and I was like am I supposed to be feeling this way?" "Yes," I said, "that is the power of great literature."
*If you are also an avid fan of Sarah Dessen or if you want to be, I encourage you to join in the Sarah Dessen Reading Challenge hosted by I Eat Words. It's a great way to re-visit old favorites or establish new ones!