Has Harry Potter had a long range impact? The Plain Dealer, a Cleveland-based newspaper, recently sponsored an essay contest inviting participants to write about how the Harry Potter books changed their lives. They received over 300 submissions from people of all ages and backgrounds.
Judges selected one grand prize winner, four runners up, and ten honorable mentions from the submitted essays. They’re publishing one essay each day until July 15th — the release date of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 — when the grand prize winner will be revealed.
All of the essays that have been published so far reveal a lot about the relationship the author has with literature and illustrate the powerful effects that books have on people’s lives. In her essay, which received an honorable mention, 19-year-old Julie Baird writes about how the Harry Potter series helped her to overcome her awkwardness and make friends through a common connection. 14-year-old Colette V. Rzeszuto describes how Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix helped her cope with her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis. And 33-year-old Christine Borne relates how the Harry Potter books renewed her love of reading and inspired her to pursue a career in literature.
As much as I love Harry Potter, I’m not sure that J.K. Rowling‘s books changed my life in any significant way, other than causing me to yearn for magical powers and the ability to perform the Petrificus Totalus spell on my parents when they told me to do my chores. But other books have affected me in profound ways… and more than anything, the simple act of reading itself has changed my life.
I have always read to escape. In elementary school, I blasted through dozens of Babysitter’s Club, Animorphs, and Boxcar Children books to pass the hours I was stuck in daycare. As an 18-year-old exchange student, I clung to the few English language books I could find as a source of comfort in an Italian-speaking society. Today, I continue to gain pleasure and comfort from books, and have begun to hone my own writing craft in the hopes of comforting someone else someday.
Anna Quindlen’s book How Reading Changed My Life is a meditation on the ways that reading is important intellectually and emotionally. She writes, of her personal relationship with books:
“There was waking, and there was sleeping, and there were books, a kind of parallel universe in which anything might happen and frequently did, a universe in which I might be a newcomer but never really a stranger. My true world.”
Everyone has a different and powerful relationship with the books that changed their lives. Tell us your stories.