Missy leaned in slightly as Harry Potter counted down the seconds to his 11th birthday.
“Maybe he’d wake Dudley up just to annoy him,” I read from the side of her mattress. “Three … two … one … BOOM!”
At the sudden noise, she jumped in bed. Then Missy giggled and I laughed. Her eyes came alive as she twitched with eagerness and delight. Something good was coming, she knew it.
She ought to. After all, we’d been down this road before.
Regular readers will remember that I read every night to Missy, my wife’s developmentally disabled aunt. Attentive readers will remember that we made the journey through all seven Harry Potter books about two years ago. Since then, our travels have taken us to Tom Sawyer and Percy Jackson, to Peter Pan and Homer Price, to secret gardens and yellow brick roads. Every path led to a new horizon, new places to go and faces to meet.
It’s been a delight, our special time of magic and discovery. But … well … some kinds of magic are too good to only experience once.
Missy certainly thinks so.
Granted, Missy is a woman of strong habits. The familiar doesn’t seem to get old for her. She can spend an hour taking apart and putting together the same puzzle, or carefully arranging photographs in a Ziploc bag, then taking them out to do it all again.
Even so, when I offered her the chance to pick out our next book – on a whim, showing a mix of old titles and new — she pointed at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with a certain … forcefulness. Energy. Even glee.
I quickly understood. After all, I’m a veteran of the road twice traveled myself.
I’ve had people wonder at that sometimes. “How can you read a book so many times? Don’t you get tired of it?” To me, the sentence might as well be in Martian. After all, do you get tired of a friend who visits more than once?
And that’s what certain books are to me. Old friends. Not arranged like bookends, as Simon and Garfunkel put it, but between them, always ready for another call.
It’s not easy to explain to someone who doesn’t share the passion. So many things are wrapped up in it.
There’s the memories that a certain passage will evoke. When I go back through The Hobbit and reach the death of Thorin Oakenshield, the reference to the Dwarf’s rent armor always evokes Dad’s voice, explaining to an 8-year-old boy that “rent” meant the mail was torn or damaged.
There’s the anticipation that comes with a second trip, the ability to watch for details you missed the first time or realize just how early a seed was planted. Walking through Murder on the Orient Express or The Time Traveler’s Wife, I can see the pieces of plot assemble themselves, waiting for their moment on stage. Resuming the Harry Potter books, I can see Hagrid arrive on the motorcycle of Sirius Black and know who Sirius is and what heartache is about to be set in motion.
And of course, there’s the tales themselves. If I revisit a story, it’s because it’s worth spending time with. Often, it means a particular scene can still make me laugh, or wince, or start to tear up. That it can come alive like it’s happening for the first time again. Maybe this time the message will reach Romeo. Maybe this time, Sam won’t accuse Gollum. And will the Stone Table still break at the Lion’s coming?
It takes something special to reach that point, to have a story become a treasured memory. And like the best memories, re-examining them brings together who you were and who you are into a single, timeless moment.
And if it leads to a giggle in the night with a loved one – well, that’s a bonus.
Even if it does lead to a Harry situation.