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KAPOW! celebrating ten years at Powells.com
KAPOW! Decade of Reading essay contest
What was your most memorable reading experience of the last ten years?

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Powells.com, we're asking readers worldwide to describe their most memorable reading experience of the past ten years. To get you started, a few well-known writers and Powell's employees have already taken the question for a spin. Here is one of their answers.
In The Sweet Kitchen: The Definitive Baker's Companion

In The Sweet Kitchen: The Definitive Baker's Companion
by Regan Daley

Winner of the International Association for Culinary Professionals awards for Best Baking or Dessert Book and Best Overall Book of 2000
 
Your Price: $17.50
(Used - Hardcover)

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His Dark Materials (Boxed Set)

His Dark Materials (Boxed Set)
by Philip Pullman

"Arguably the best juvenile fantasy novel of the past 20 years....It's sheerly, breathtakingly, all-stops-out thrilling." The Washington Post
 
List Price $23.97
Your Price: $13.95
(Used - Trade Paper)

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Regan Daley Discovers Daemons

I was one of those kids who read voraciously. If there wasn't at least one book on the go and a stack waiting, panic set in. I started around age six and continued in more or less the same way until well into my twenties.

Then I had kids.

Many kids, and all at the same time.

The first thirteen months after my twin sons were born, I was lucky to properly read the size on a package of diapers. But then an astonishing thing happened: they fell madly in love with books. My pile of unread novels wasn't getting any smaller (it wasn't getting much bigger, either, to be fair: they don't seem to have a literary fiction section in Toys "R" Us...), but by the time they were three and a half, the boys were begging me to start the first Harry Potter book, and we officially made the leap to chapter books.

Ironically, it was on one of my scouting missions to the kids' section that I came across what would be the most memorable reading experience of my adult life. Beside the Harry Potter box set sat a trilogy by British author Philip Pullman with the intriguing title of His Dark Materials. I'm not sure what made me think I could find time to read it, but all three volumes came home with me and I began a journey I never wanted to end.

I was not, until then, a reader of fantasy. I could name a handful of key authors, but was otherwise unfamiliar with the genre overall. Turns out this would probably suit Mr. Pullman just fine; he has infamously said he views the series not as fantasy, but as "stark reality." An interesting perspective, considering his subjects of worlds beside worlds, of ghostly Specters, of witches and Gobblers and armored bears. No doubt Pullman has fielded strong arguments to the contrary, but I'll concede with no contest: the worlds of these three volumes are born of a magnificently unique imagination, but felt as close as a breath, as familiar as the taste of hot tea.

In Pullman's alternate realities, the other worlds into which his young heroine Lyra and her companion Will advance, things are not upside-down or completely alien. Instead, fundamental aspects of our humanity are illuminated or articulated in marvelous ways.

Among these, it was the concept of daemons which resonated most deeply. In Lyra's world, every human has an animal counterpart, a creature who is viscerally connected to him or her; neither one can exist without the other. Men have female daemons, woman have male; children's daemons can change shape at will or with extreme emotion, but become fixed as adults. Sometimes, pairings are predictable: servants have dog daemons; sometimes, they are surprising: in the second book, The Subtle Knife, a man from our own world finds himself in Lyra's, and encounters his daemon for the first time: "Can you imagine my astonishment...at learning that part of my nature was female, and bird-formed, and beautiful?"

This idea of daemons was hauntingly, fiercely compelling. I began to read about spirit guides and totems, about the Jungian anima and animus. It made a kind of sense, and excited me on a level few "literary" novels had ever reached. As I was nearing the end of the second book, savoring every chapter with a kind of hunger, I had a minor epiphany: I began to think of the books of my own childhood which had made the biggest impression; the ones I lived, while reading them and for weeks after; the books which shaped me, which gave me ideas and images and whole worlds to influence the person I was becoming. I realized that almost without exception, each of these books had an element of fantasy about them. They were certainly not science fiction, and their characters dwelled in the same world I did. But there was always a way in which the finite hardness of reality was shown to be frayed or flexible or illusory; a little magic that stretched the rules.

In spite of many years of respectable literature and several of wonderful children's books, it had been decades since I had felt the kind of hunger for a story I felt with these books. Reading them reawakened in me something innate, as natural as a fear of the dark and a taste for chocolate.

About Regan Daley
Regan Daley is a freelance writer whose book In the Sweet Kitchen (Artisan, 2001) won the International Association for Culinary Professionals awards for Best Baking or Dessert Book and Best Overall Book of 2000. Currently at work on fiction and nonfiction projects, she lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband, three little boys and their food-phobic dog, Ben.

read an exclusive interview with Regan Daley
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