NEW YORK — I'm a book fiend. I devour words the way some people inhale chocolate. So my friends sometimes turn to me when they need a good read.
My friend Bo's busy life had restricted his reading to newspapers and magazines and he wanted to change that, to add some substance and expand his mind. So during one telephone conversation, he asked me what I'd read recently that I'd really loved.
"Oh, have I got the books for you," I gushed. "You have to read this series, it's SO GOOD, I've been recommending it to EVERYONE!"
I went on and on about the series until he interrupted me and asked me what books I was talking about.
"Harry Potter," I said.
Then he laughed. He asked if I remembered how old I was.
Yes, actually, I'm 26.
No, I don't have any kids or younger siblings to justify why I bought all three Harry Potter books at once — and read them all in a day and a half. And, yes, I can hardly wait to read "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," which hits bookstores Saturday.
I admit it. I'm an adult who loves Harry Potter. But I'm not the only one: 43 percent of the millions of Potter books sold last year were read by people over age 14.
I don't know why these children books appeal to other grown-ups, but I know why they've captured me. Partly it's because I've just never outgrown my taste for magical adventure. "The Chronicles of Narnia," the Oz books, "The Lord of the Rings" — I've read them all.
As a 6-year-old, I'd sit on the staircase with a book in my hand, locked in my own private world. I couldn't even hear my parents call my name from a few feet away because I was in Oz with Dorothy and the Scarecrow.
I still turn to fantasy as often as possible, be it Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series or anything by Terry Pratchett.
How can you not love a fairy tale? A story where anything is possible, where people do things beyond the ordinary? When was the last time you met someone who, like Harry, can talk to snakes in their own language? Haven't you secretly always wanted a magical power? I have. Imagine what I could do if I could be invisible, like Harry.
There's plenty of magic in these books — spells, mythical creatures, wands. But that's not what draws me the most.
Fundamentally, J.K. Rowling is a great storyteller. These may be labeled children's books, but that doesn't mean they're simple or uncomplicated.
Harry doesn't start out as a happy little boy. When Rowling introduces him, Harry has just been orphaned by his parents' murder. He lives with relatives who loathe him.
And even when he escapes to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, his troubles don't disappear. There are students he hates, a professor who hates him, and attempts on his life by the evil wizard who killed his parents.
There are class issues, with rich Draco Malfoy constantly belittling Harry's poor friend Ron Weasley, and "race" issues between pureblood wizards and those born to "Muggle," or non-magical, parents.
There are issues of conscience. Often, Harry has to break a raft of school rules — or even risk his life — to do what he thinks is right. And Rowling doesn't shy away from showing that actions have consequences, that even when Harry is right, he can be punished for breaking the rules.
It may sound silly, but I think the books are somewhat inspiring.
Harry isn't perfect. He's good at certain things, like Quidditch, the popular flying sport in the magical world. But he's not the smartest student and manages sometimes to make everyone mad. Rowling makes him human; he has faults, fears and struggles.
Who can't relate to that? The Potter books are so good because they're so real.
So laugh if you like when you see me with Harry Potter in hand. You have no idea what you're missing.