Revenge of the bookworm

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 all time.

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,” she said.

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 for “boogers.”

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



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