My instinctive answer, like at least half of the other nerds my age, is the Harry Potter series. Now, usually, I would try to find another answer that isn't so... obvious? Mainstream?
But this time, I'm actually going to go with my first idea. Because the Harry Potter books really DID change my life. They helped me discover the communities that I am a part of on the Internet--Goodreads led to Nerdfighteria, then to TCWT. The friendships that I've made and the role models I have found have been paralleled by none in my non-virtual life. (I choose not to say "real life" because these friendships are very real.)
As for why I chose to read it, well... we've reached confession time, my friends. The first time I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's stone, I... didn't like it. I KNOW! I'M SORRY! I was a third grader at the time. I think it was just too scary for me. I was always the kind of kid with a huge imagination. (I remember being seven and having to fast-forward through the part of The Little Mermaid where Ursula comes out of the sea because it absolutely terrified me.) By the time I read the first HP book, it wasn't so much my waking mind as it was my dreaming one. At night, when I was about to fall asleep, the things I had read about or watched prowled into my head and gave me nightmares. (But, of course, this overactive imagination has led me to be a writer, so no complaints here.)
So for the next three years, I went around telling people that I didn't like Harry Potter. I still wince at the thought of that.
Then, the summer when I was eleven, my family and I went on a road trip. We were driving to Yellowstone, I think. My parents convinced us (meaning my little brother Sam and me) to listen to the first Harry Potter book on audiobook. It took some convincing, but I was finally willing to give it a second try. About three hours into the trip, we were hooked. We listened to the first two books and the first half of the third on that trip, and once we got home, Sam and I read the rest of them. I got to read them first, because I was older and read faster.
When I was in seventh grade, my friend told me about a group on Goodreads*, where I first connected to other writers and nerds my age through discussion of Harry Potter. Some of the people I met then, three years ago, are still some of my best friends now. Then I was introduced to the YouTube community through Kristina Horner's vlogs (of which I am still an avid fan,) then to wizard rock** and fiveawesomegirls and then to the Vlogbrothers***. The people I've met through the nerdfighter*** community and those who I've become a fan of have really helped me view my life in a way I was never able to before. I have gained so much self-confidence and pride in who I am. I've discovered what I love and have had the courage to pursue it. I hate to generalize, but I really do think I've become a better person overall than I was before.
And all this wouldn't have happened without Harry Potter.
A few notes:
*If you're interested in joining the writers' group on Goodreads that I mentioned, please feel free! The group is called Writers Who Are Children, and we're always welcoming new members. Be warned that one of our former traditions was to try and scare off (read: weird out) newbies for about a month. If they made it through that, we considered it their initiation. I think that practice has since died off a bit, but... anyways, here's a link: Writers Who Are Children
**Wizard rock is fan music written about Harry Potter. It is frankly quite wonderful. You may have heard of Harry and the Potters. My favorite wizard rock artist is Lauren Fairweather (who was also Tuesday on Fiveawesomegirls and is a really beautiful and inspiring person in general.) Here's a song of hers that pretty much sums up my experience with the Harry Potter/Nerdfighter/Goodreads community that I've been writing about:
***John and Hank Green (Yes, that's John Green as in author of The Fault in our Stars, Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns, etc.) have this awesome vlog called vlogbrothers. And they've created this awesome community called Nerdfighteria. (Note: Nerdfighters don't fight nerds. They are nerds who fight to decrease the overall suckishness of the world. Did I really just put a note within a note? Why yes, I think I did.) If you've never seen any of their videos, go watch. Now. You'll be glad I sent you. :)
January 25th – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com – Teens Can Write, Too! (We’ll announce the topic for next month’s chain)