I spent a good portion of my childhood having my mom interrupt
me while reading to say, “Jenny, put down that book
and go outside and play.” I admit it: I was a nerdy
bookworm who, each week, borrowed and read 10 books from the
library, the maximum allowed. I loved all sorts of books:
Greek mythology, Agatha Christie, Mark Twain and Beverly Cleary.
I was a big fan of fantasy too, and books by authors like
Madeline L’Engle, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis sucked me into
a different world. It didn’t do a lot for my social
life, but I couldn’t help myself.
These days, I’m chagrined to admit I don’t come
close to reading 10 books a week, but I still love to read.
A few years ago, I went to a book fair in Seattle and was
surprised to see a kitschy “Shrine to Oprah” at
one of the booths. Closer inspection revealed that this radical
feminist, independent bookstore was celebrating the fact that
“Oprah’s Book Club” had gotten housewives
to turn off soaps and pick up authors like Toni Morrison.
If I were to erect a shrine to an author, it would be to
J.K. Rowling for writing her Harry Potter books and getting
kids reading – and making it cool.
Until last Friday it had been three years since the publication
of a Harry Potter book. The anticipation for the latest book,
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – fueled by
two movies in the meantime – had reached a feverish
pitch, as most people know. Preorders broke records at online
retailer Amazon, topping $1.3 million and poising the latest
book about a boy wizard to become the best-selling book of
Everybody who’s read one of the books – or all
of them – loves Harry. I remember watching “Late
Night with David Letterman” when Daniel Radcliffe, the
young British actor who plays Harry Potter in the films, was
the guest. Radcliffe, himself a Potter fan, said he was overwhelmed
by the opportunity to play one of recent fiction’s most
beloved heroes. “I just cried when I found out I got
the part,” Radcliffe admitted. (To which Letterman quipped,
“That’s exactly what I did when I got this show.”)
One way or another, Harry Potter is a cultural phenomenon.
So when I learned Maria’s Bookshop would be hosting
a midnight release party last Friday for the newest book,
I couldn’t resist. I’ve read a few of the Potter
books – usually on a Sunday in one sitting – and
they’re loads of fun. But my main reason for going was
that the nerdy child bookworm inside of me wanted to see firsthand
if reading really was finally cool. And since it was held
on a Friday night, I dragged my boyfriend Bryan along for
a one-of-a-kind date.
We entered Maria’s at about 11:30 p.m., and the party
was already going full swing. At least a hundred people were
wandering around in costumes or pajamas. Lots of children
up way past their bedtimes were zooming around the bookstore,
fueled by sugar cookies and excitement. Some staff members
were dressed as Hogwarts teachers, and most children and many
adults had Harry’s trademark lightning bolt scar painted
on their foreheads.
We ran into a friend holding her sleepy 3-year-old, whose
face was streaked with chocolate. I asked if she read the
Harry Potter books to him, and she said, “No, but he
likes the movies.” The child bookworm inside me winced,
but I figure he can always read them when he gets older.
A “witch” announced that the raffle drawing was
about to start, and Bryan declared, “I’m going
to enter!” As he hurried through the throng of children
that was amassing, our friend turned to me sarcastically and
said, “Yeah, go beat the little children out of the
way.” Sure enough, Bryan’s name was the second
one the witch drew for the raffle, and he triumphantly returned
with a Harry Potter glitter paint kit. As he gave our sarcastic
friend’s son the potentially messy gift, it was her
turn to wince.
We then wandered to the back of the store and saw another
friend busy painting lightning bolts on foreheads. “Lightning
bolt?” she offered, and I accepted. As she painted my
forehead, she told me her husband was dressed as Professor
Snape and her son as Harry’s rival, Malfoy. “He
couldn’t sleep before this. He was too psyched,”
In the Potter books, jellybeans have flavors ranging from
vomit to truffles, depending on your luck. My friend the facepainter
had a bowl of jellybeans for anyone whose face she painted.
But two boys who had refused her services darted in and grabbed
some jellybeans from her bowl. “I hope you get one that
tastes like bogey!” she called after them, explaining
to me that “bogey” is a European colloquialism
We soon were alerted to the five-minute countdown by a young
voice and wandered toward the line for books. On the way,
we met a pharmacist who beamed that she’d been up until
midnight one night making her dark green witch’s gown.
We passed a man wearing plastic Harry Potter glasses and complimented
him on his eyewear. “Thanks! I got them at a garage
sale!” Clearly, the kids weren’t the only ones
who were excited.
Then came the countdown to midnight, cheering and suddenly,
everyone seemed to be holding copies of the new 870-paged
tome. The place was in a frenzy. One woman rushed past with
a box that said, “Harry Potter and the Order of the
Phoenix: DO NOT OPEN BEFORE JUNE 21, 2003.” I asked
her if she’d bought an entire box of books. “No,
it’s empty,” she replied, “but it has Harry
Potter on it!”
The line moved quickly, and the store cleared out almost
as quickly as parents took their tired but happy kids home.
We saw another friend who had hoped to bring her 14-year-old
niece, an avid Potter fan, but she wasn’t able to wake
her. She told us that she was a fan too, ever since the time
she was sick and her husband brought home several Harry Potter
books. “I went through them in no time,” she said.
Despite being solo, she said she had enjoyed soaking up the
atmosphere. “I love it – all these kids waiting
in line for a 900-page book,” she said. Then, after
a moment of thought, “I might buy another one.”
We said our goodbyes and joined the stream of families flooding
Main Avenue after midnight on a Friday night. A group of six
young cowboys loitering in front of Scoot ’n’
Blues asked a family in front of us, which included a 6-year-old
girl in pajamas and bear-shaped slippers, “Oh, that
book...just came out at midnight, right?” The family
nodded and hurried by, and the cowboys turned to us. “You
too?” one of them asked with a slight sneer.
The nerdy bookworm inside me straightened proudly as I grinned
and said, “Yep – us too.”
– Jen Reeder