Monday, July 23, 2007

Link-Mad/Reflective Chronicle Monday: Post-Potter

Okay, so I didn't post on Friday. Aside from domestic distractions, you might have heard of this little book that was about to be released at the stroke of midnight? The McNally Robinson Harry Party for Grownups wasn't by any means the biggest or the craziest party happening on Friday night in bookstores, but it had its share of big craziness. Read about how it turned out here in the Times ("swilling?!?"), here on the Obsolete Vernacular blog (scroll to the end - "classy" we like), here on NYT ArtsBeat ("stylish" is good too), and here on GalleyCat ("explosive" is even better). I'm sure there are more mentions out there -- would love to see them if you send the links.

At the risk of giving away store secrets, I think it's safe to say we had no idea how big this event would be. The HP for Grownups party two years ago when Book 6 came out was festive, but manageable, and we sold about half our stock on the night and more throughout the week. Whether it's because the bookstore is so much more well-known after two and a half years of business, or whether it's a result of everyone wanting to get in on what feels like a historical moment -- the end of the Harry Potter era, the last hurrah -- the crowd and the sales exceeded all expectations. We had lines for the fortune tellers, the tarot card readers, the costume contest, the sweepstakes entries, and of course the booze. We had a line in front of the veiled book boxes (decorated with chains and a sign reading "Azkaban") that was more like a mob. We had lines outside the door that stretched around the corner and nearly to Spring Street, a long city block away.

I was at times reminded why I don't tend to go to trendy bars or clubs anymore -- the claustrophobia of that many people, even joyful ones, crammed into a space was intense. There were some murmurs about crowd control, and we had the usual worries about theft and running out of things like sweepstakes entries and toilet paper. But I think all of us booksellers were happily amazed at the good will and good behavior of all those stylish 20-somethings. There's something about this party -- acting like a kid, immersing yourself in another world, discussing the battles of good and evil, dressing up in costume, awaiting a moment as portentious and huge as Christmas morning, being surrounded by books -- that brings out the best in everyone. Aside from some mild pushing and shoving that couldn't be helped, everyone was thoughtful of their fellow fans. We heard nothing but appreciative comments about the magicians, mystics, and decorators who put the party together. And when we counted down to midnight (my favorite part, as I'm a bit of a ham with the microphone) and started passing out books, Sarah observed that it was kind of like playing Santa Claus. We felt lucky to be the conduit for all this joy, the link between book and reader.

And I have to admit, I was a little jealous of those fans. I have somehow managed to avoid Harry Potter altogether -- never read any of the books, never saw any of the movies. The media ubiquity of the titles means that I know a few names and salient plot points, but perhaps due to my bookseller bestseller snobbery ("if everyone else is already reading it why should I?"), I've never ventured into the stories, despite my propensity toward good fantasy. And for the first time on Friday night, I wished I had read them, if only to share that sense of community that involvement in an imaginary place can give. I remember it a bit from when the Star Wars movies were re-released, or the Tolkien madness of Lord of the Rings. But this is a contemporary phenomenon, our own generation's set of myths, and there's something to be said for taking part in it, no matter how much is hype. As New York Magazine noted, years from now our grandchildren may ask us where we when the final Harry Potter book was published. I'm glad our bookstore could help to create that memory.

Wednesday I'll be back with the second in the Dream Bookstore Series: the cafe! the sidelines! and more!