Rachel Heald is interested in exploring the experiences of readers with the books and stories they love. Her research combines her multi-disciplinary education reaching into lived experience, cultural norms and structures, and the aesthetics, affects, and ideologies inside and surrounding literature. Rachel’s PhD project is an oral history of readers and their life-long and mutable relationships with a shared favourite book. She holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Missouri, a JD from Georgetown University Law Center, and an MA in Children’s Literature from the University of Roehampton. She is currently pursuing a PhD in English Literature at the University of Roehampton.
My aim in this piece was originally to craft an academic article in which I would interrogate how adults can find their interior selves unlocked and changed by the children’s books they encounter as adults. But, of course, reading is not a purely intellectual act whereby we coldly accept or reject arguments or find and appreciate beauty as an abstraction assessed by the mind only. More than a century ago, Marcel Proust wrote that a book serves as a ‘magic key’ unlocking doors to our interior gardens, providing an inspiration for personal reflection and change. As I worked, my ideas took shape around my memories of my family’s relationship with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, helping me to recognize that to demonstrate how books may change us, we must explore the story of the interior lives a book has touched. Thus, the piece below mutated into a personal story, and I tell the of my changes at the hands of a series I never particularly liked. In the critical methodology that follows my piece, I briefly discuss where these interlinking mutations fit amidst the intriguing, evolving scholarship into ‘regular’ readers and our regular reading lives.