Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Extra Long Post

I've been working in books for a long time, almost half of my life now that I come to think about it, so I can tell you with authority that Harry Potter is a singular phenomena...but you probably already knew that.

I can remember the first instant I heard the name Harry Potter; it was Christmas and some kindly old grandmother had heard about a terrific import kids book she wanted to get as a gift for her grandson. I took her over to the children's section and handed her one of the two copies of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone from the shelf and she went on her merry way. It was as ordinary an encounter as any other...the only reason I remember it in fact is because others came with the same request and I made that trip to the Children's section alot that Christmas season.

A short time later the second Harry Potter book: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was quietly released. A few more grandmothers and parents came in to buy this one as word of mouth spread and it was featured on some TV shows.

Up to this point I had not once considered reading the Harry Potter books, not because I am one of those snobs who think kids books are beneath me...believe me that's as far from the truth as you can get...I just didn't have the urge. It was when the third book came out that I was sort of forced into the position of having to read the books. Our store was having a Harry Potter themed event and I got roped into hosting it. I figured since I would have to host a discussion on these books I should actually read them and so that's what I did.

I had trouble getting into the first maybe 30 or so pages of the first book and nearly gave up. It seemed like a male version of the Cinderella story and I've seen that done over and over again badly in books and movies so I was expecting the worst! How wrong I was! I forced myself to keep reading and then something magical happened and I got hooked. I couldn't put the book down, read every free second of the day and well into the night.

When I started the second book it was much the same thing, couldn't put it down! I loved it from the very first word til the last. Luckily our store got an advance readers copy of the third book, which I got to keep since I was hosting that event, and it was great! Better than the first and second! I read and re-read that book. Carried it with me for years...even after later volumes in the Potter series had been released. When the third book was released it sold out within days and we had trouble keeping it in stock.

The media circus began with the release of the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Since the third book had sold so well our store had been directed to stay open so we could begin selling copies at midnight on it's release date. We didn't expect many people to turn up at midnight for a kids book so in order to encourage people to come we promoted a Harry Potter party to start two hours before the book went on sale. There were six employees scheduled to work the store that night, one in the cafe, two to man the registers, an assistant manager and myself and another to host the party. We expected maybe 100 people tops to turn up that night. In reality almost 500 showed up! We were unprepared for the onslaught of customers and had just enough copies plus a few extras to sell people. It was a madhouse, A MADHOUSE! But the 6 of us somehow survived and when I finally got to read the Fourth book it was amazing! It was so exciting how J.K. Rowling had been able to tie so much of everything that had come before together and somehow craft a story more exciting and dire!

I didn't work the release nights for the fifth, sixth and seventh books instead I spent the weeks and days leading up to these events creating elaborate decorations and helping to plan the parties. For the fifth and sixth books I worked the day shift and picked up my book the next day and had originally planned to do the same for the seventh...but the excitement leading up to the release overcame me and I decided that I would take this last opportunity to stand in line with everyone else. So after working a long Friday I took my name tag off went home and returned a few hours later not as a bookstore employee but as a customer and Potter fan.

There were hundreds of people in the store when I arrived just after 11pm, the excitement was everywhere as people dressed in costumes wandered the store and participated in the party events. I was too excited to read anything, so I found an empty space near the registers to stand out of the way and tried to listen to my IPod for a bit. It was far too loud to really be able to hear it so I took it off almost instantly and put it away, little did I know what a huge mistake that would be.

I pulled some scrap paper out of my purse and did some doodling, unintentionally catching the conversations of those around me. I'm not sure what I I take that back, I know what I expected to hear...excited theories about the contents of the next book, responses to the new movie, people cheering and complimenting the costumes of others...but that was incredibly naive of me. Instead I heard people criticising others, badmouthing the party and employees and just inane and vicious things like:

"Oh my god I don't read books!"
"I'm only gonna read the last sentence of every chapter so I get the gist of the book."
"The book is $2 cheaper at Wal-Mart this place is ripping us off."
(at about 11:50pm) "If they don't start selling the book soon they're gonna have a fight on their hands." (there were a few variations on this one)

Then when midnight finally hit and the employees were trying to bring books up to sell the line would not shift back about 10 feet in order to create a space to put the books. Fights nearly broke out over this and it took almost 10 minutes to get people to comply.

"They made us move the line back, we should get free books" someone spat once the space was cleared. He wasn't asked to change his place in line...only move back about 10 feet. Oh the horror the horror.

I was incredibly lucky, having been there since 11pm I got an early place in line, purchased my copy and left the store about 15 minutes after 12, but I am told after I left that shouting matches broke out between customers and employees over safety issues. That someone purchased a copy of the book and drove around in the parking lot with a bullhorn reading passages from the book and lots of other "fun" events took place.

Why? Why?

Maybe the fact that I was an employee of the bookstore in question colored my opinion but I'm not sure. As a fangirl I have stood in LONG lines for many things, for concerts, for movies, to meet people at conventions and never, NEVER have I experienced anything as negative and ridiculous as this. Every time I have stood in one of these lines I have had a positive experience meeting and talking with someone who loves the same thing I love. I have made friends in lines, learned more about the things I love in lines and created life-long memories I'll always treasure but this was the complete opposite of every other line experience I've ever had. What a disappointment.

...of course that said I finished the book today and I must tell you how terrifically amazing it was! I could not have imagined a more satisfying close to this series of books if I tried. I won't say more not wanting to give away spoilers to those of you who haven't finished reading...assuming you've made it through this whole Tolstoy-esque post...

If anyone has any reactions to the new book, or Harry Potter related stories they want to share, please feel free to do so in the comments!


PJ said...

I never really got into Potter mania, but I'm surprised to hear how negative people were at your bookstore. You would think that people prepared to buy something at 12.01am would be more positive about the whole thing.
I got the impression that these midnight launches were more for the children, but it sounds like it was the adults who were not getting into the spirit of things. Shame on them.

Joe said...

My bride, MizBubs, put a copy on hold for us months ago, but I didn't bother picking it up until late Saturday afternoon, and it was still pretty hectic. I'm about 370 pages in right now, hopefully I'll finish tonight.

Dr. Monkey said...

What a great post. I love Harry but I haven't got my copy yet, I'll wait until the hubub dies down.

Anonymous said...

As you already read over at QYDJ I just loved this last novel and I was really lucky because it was released at 9:01 in the morning because of the time difference here in Australia so I had all day to read it. I was also really lucky not to have anything ruined story wise.

I deliberately chose our local 'dirt mall' centre to pick my copy up and I was 13 in the line after only being there half an hour early. The old lady behind couldn't understand why we were waiting and why they didn't just give the book over straight away. Despite my better judgement I explained the legalities to her.

I really wanted to wait in line and read it immediately especially because it was the last book. It was a little like watching the last episode of Angel at three in the morning to see it through. It was an event that I got to share in and the book was worth it.

I so agree Snape's story was a wonderfully tragic addition. I remember thinking my god she's killing the entire secondary cast LOL especially when Hedwig was slain.

Hogwarts going to battle was amazing and I wonder if the WETA people will be needed to take over those sequences!

Becca said...

You would think...but alas they were not. And I think there are more adults who love these books then least on our side of the ocean it seems.

You were smart to avoid the crowds! I'll have to pop over to your blog and see what you think of the book once you've finished.

Smart idea! Take your time and really enjoy it.

Good call to pick up the book in a less crowded store, so much easier without a 1000 people complaining around you...of course one old annoying lady could very easily trump the 1000 complainers if you are the only one she has to talk to.

And your right she did kill off the secondary cast! Poor Dobby and Lupin and Tonks and Fred! Soooo Sad!