Saturday, July 16, 2005

Harry Potter .... At Last

There were so many hot sweaty bodies pressed against one another at A Great Good Place For Books that it was hard to breathe. The narrow bookstore in Oakland’s Montclair district was jammed by the time I arrived with my daughter at 11:30 p.m. Owner Debi Echlin, dressed in a black witch’s hat and gown, was busy at the cash register, ringing up sales. Her helpers handed out punch and candy, ran a costume contest, and gave away gift certificates as prizes.

As midnight approached, the white and purple boxes that had been stacked at the back of the store were passed forward. Customers with tall wizard hats, broomsticks, and Dumbledore-like beards started the countdown. With one minute to go, the crowd began to chant, “60, 59, 58. 57….” At 20, people got impatient and sped up their counting. At 12:01, Josh slit open a box and held Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince aloft in the air. The crowd erupted in cheers.

The sheer number of people at the bookstore is a testament to J.K. Rowling’s popularity, as well as the importance of A Great Good Place For Books. It is truly a community bookstore, a popular cultural gathering place for people living in the hills of Oakland. There were hundreds of people jammed in the store, people who could have paid $17.99 for the book at Barnes and Noble – or $13.99 at Costco – but chose instead to support their independent bookseller.

We’ve been home about a half an hour and my 13-year old is in bed, reading away. She’ll be up much later than me. By page 32, she reports, things are not looking good for Harry. Lord Voldemort has used Harry’s blood to regain his full strength, there is a war raging, and Snape has revealed himself as evil. For those who want to know now who lives and dies in the book, the Guardian newspaper in Britain had two readers speed-read the book and file updates every few chapters. It took them seven hours to finish.

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