I cannot remember exactly how old I was when I first learned to read, nor can I recall what specific book I first read. I cannot remember if it was a picture book or a comic, nor do I have a recollection of its subject. What I can remember is this: at school, I learned to read by piecing together words and phrases, but it was at home where I first learned to love reading.
At school, in first grade, the teacher thrust a copy of The Fat Cat Sits on the Mat into my hands and expected me to enjoy the monotonous rhyme scheme and dull plot that centered around a witch, her cat, a bat, a rat, a mat, and so on. At home, my parents read to me every night, enabling me to travel around the world in eighty days with Jules Verne and live a day as a giant with Jonathan Swift and my friend, Gulliver. Some nights, I even had the good fortune to accompany Dr. Seuss at a dinner of green eggs and ham. I was absolutely captivated.
School carried on the same way for a while: simple books, silly rhymes, reading drills. I yearned for something with more meaning or depth; I wanted to read a book like the ones my parents had read to me, the ones that freed me from boredom and allowed me to journey into other worlds or to explore my own. One day—one beautiful, joyous day—my father handed me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and after just one page, I realized this was not only a book about magic, but a book that was, itself, magical. Every time I pored over the lines, I was drawn into the book like I was somehow magnetically connected to its pages. As I read, I was no longer in Medford on my couch, but, instead, I had a new home in Hogwarts, roaming the immense castle in my long black wizarding cloak. This was happiness. This bridge to another world that I could so easily cross was now at my fingertips, and all I had to do was open a book to find it.
Who were my childhood friends? Hermione Granger, of course, was one of my best friends; she taught me that knowledge is powerful and that determination to succeed is half the battle of life. After my Harry Potter days, I also befriended Percy Jackson, a young boy unsure of his place in the world until he found friends who understood and accepted him. Percy taught me to fight for what I believe in and to hope that, in the end, my life will turn out the way it is meant to be. These were lessons I learned in first or second grade, but they stuck with me throughout the years. In this way, literature was not only my comfort and joy, but a teacher who pointed me in the right direction; I did not learn about plate tectonics or algebra, but I learned about fundamental truths of life and the beauty that is present even in a flawed world.
I felt so empowered by reading that, in sixth grade, I decided I wanted to become an author. I wanted to share my view of the world with others and to touch the people around me as deeply as I had been touched by the works of J.K. Rowling or Rick Riordan. As a sixth grader, I actually tried to write a novel that I intended to become a world-renowned bestseller. Spoiler: it didn't quite make it there. I managed to write eleven pages before I slammed into a brick wall of writer’s block and abandoned my spontaneous outburst of creativity. My once passionate dream of becoming an author was relocated to the back burner, where it now rests above a much smaller flame.
My “novel” may not have amounted to much, but boy-oh-boy, do I miss those days of elementary school innocence. Now, at sixteen, my head is cluttered with pressures of SATs, assignments from AP classes, the struggle of maintaining my GPA, and, primarily, the goal of not going completely insane. It seems that everything in my life has changed between the day when I read Harry Potter and today, when I am a stressed mess of a junior. However, my love of reading remains the same; literature is still my solace and my escape from the world around me. Whenever I have extra time, I still pick up a book and immerse myself in its world, now more than ever hoping that the characters will carry me away from my stresses and take me on a new, magical adventure. It is truly comforting to know that some things never change and that I can still rely on my old fictional friends to cheer me up or reassure me when I find that life in the real world is starting to drive me crazy. No matter what happens, I am not alone. If I get a B on the history test that I spent three hours studying for last night, so what? Even the brilliant Hermione was not always content with her results. If I have a bad day at school and feel overwhelmed by frustration or anxiety, I know I will feel better the next day because my heroic friends from literature have shown me that light always shatters the darkness.
Whenever I am asked to describe myself, I cannot paint an accurate picture of my life without including my passion for reading. From a very young age, I found that literature was an undeniably large part of my life; I was a bookworm and proud of it. The words on a page were so much more than just words—they were real places, sentient human beings, or emotions that I felt within my own life. Sometimes, it is strange for me to consider that I had to learn to read in the first place; it feels as if literature has always been a part of me, impacting my life and shaping my outlook and view of the world around me. But the truth is, had I been raised in a different environment or given different books to read, I could have grown up with a strong abhorrence of reading and literature. But I didn’t. I grew up with two parents who loved reading and who wanted me to have a chance to love reading as well. Ultimately, it is them I have to thank for presenting me with such a beautiful part of my life; reading is now as much a part of my identity as is my hair, my eyes, or my nose. And perhaps today I have less time to embark on journeys to faraway lands than I did in first grade, but the bibliophile inside of me will always rejoice in the moments when I can meet new friends, find new adventures, and return to my home away from home.