I have always been a reader. My mother likes to joke that I was born with a book in my hand. Unlike my wise friend JP, I can’t claim that one Childhood Book changed me from reluctant to passionate; there is no memory of a door suddenly opening. I had many books that inspired me – Kevin Henkes’Chrysanthemum and the Little Miss and Mr. books were treasured read-alouds of my younger days, and I remember reading and re-reading the Bearenstain Bears when I was finally able to read on my own.
So by the summer of 1997, I was feeling very wise and experienced (as so many young readers do). I knew exactly who I was, because I heard all of the adults around me say it: I was a reader. Skipping words to finish pages, flipping hungrily through sequels, never stopping to absorb or savor. I zipped through elementary school reading everything I could get my hands on; liking most of it, loving just a cherished few. I had discovered just how much I adored stories and characters, had found the pleasure of losing myself in pages, had learned the delight of spending an afternoon physically in the backyard but mentally in another world. I knew books, and they knew me. Nothing new to discover, I decided. I had obviously seen all there was to see about the magic of reading.
And then, Harry Potter happened.
I thought I knew how it felt to grow attached to a character, to feel like I knew them and to feel my heart grow or bleed or break with the swell of a rising plotline. I thought I knew what it meant to fall into another world, to memorize the intricacies of a universe just as complicated and alive as my own. I thought I knew the difference between right and wrong, light and dark, alive and dead. I thought, I thought, I thought.
And then, Harry Potter happened.
It showed me just how much I still have to learn. How one story can connect millions of people, millions of hearts, millions of minds. It showed me how deeply books can effect society and popular culture, how an entire generation can be shaped by a single scar. It showed me that I wasn’t the only one who would laugh and mourn and wait in line for a great book; that there was a world full of curious and passionate readers just like me. It showed me that there are universes behind every cover, waiting to be discovered. That no matter how much you have read, you have never seen it all, have never seen enough.
Like so many others my age, I grew up with Harry. He became a part of my life that lasted past the final chapter. There is a part of me that will always live at Hogwarts, and I know that I can pick up any of those seven volumes and feel at home, no matter how much in my life has changed since that first day. I don’t have the words to describe the way that the Harry Potter books changed my life. It may sound silly and flighty to see those phrases together – “Harry Potter” and “changed my life” – but it’s true. As we have discussed again and again, stories are powerful. A simple Google search forJK Rowling thank you letter will lead you to countless heartfelt accounts of the way that Harry Potter has shaped, changed, and saved its readers, all written with more heart and grace than I could ever muster. So I won’t try to explain how meaningful Harry, Ron, and Hermione have been in my life. I won’t attempt to put into words the gratitude that I feel towards JK Rowling for helping me to find my path. Instead I will join the millions that are coming together today to say, simply, thank you.