Saturday, July 09, 2005

Where To Buy Harry Potter?

I have a problem. A good problem, and one that is shared by the millions of mothers and fathers across the world. Where do I buy my copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? And at what time?

The easiest and cheapest solution is to buy from an on-line retailer like Amazon or Barnes and Noble. They are offering heavy discounts on the book ($17.99 rather than $29.99) and will guarantee delivery by Saturday, the same day the book is scheduled to go on sale, or you will get your money refunded. I wouldn’t lose any sleep that way.

But that doesn’t sound exciting. There’s no drama in getting the book delivered to your mailbox. Half the fun of this series is its drama, its insane popularity, its almost narcotic affect on children. It’s a bonafide event, one that calls for extreme measures to make sure the book is in my family’s hands as early as possible.

It’s become a family tradition to get the Harry Potter books in an unusual way. Five years ago, when my oldest daughter turned 8, we held a Harry Potter birthday party. Five girls stayed up late mixing purple food coloring into milk to make dragon’s blood, drawing zigzags on their foreheads, and having a silly time. At 10 minutes to midnight we jumped into the car and headed to Dark Carnival, a bookstore on Claremont Avenue in Berkeley. Harry Potter wasn’t as popular then and most bookstores were closed at midnight. There were only 20 people lined up to buy up Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Two years ago, at the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, my oldest daughter was enrolled in soccer camp in Aix-en-Provence, a city in Provence, France. In between smelling the lavender sachets and sipping coffee at the sidewalk cafes, I managed to find an English language bookstore. The store didn’t plan to start selling the book at 12:01 a.m., so we had to rush down in the morning. We were compensated for the delay by getting the British version of the book. The cover was different, and it had words like petrol instead of gas.

Now selling Harry Potter is an industry. Bookstores across the country are planning to stay open late and offer games and prizes in an effort to attract the hordes that will be buying this book. (Scholastic is printing 10.5 million copies for North America alone). It’s taken on a distinctly commercial tone, which I don’t like. On the other hand, who can complain about a book that has revolutionized children’s literature and opened up the field for other amazing authors, like Lemony Snicket.

Now I have a new dilemma: there are too many worthy independent bookstores to chose from. Where do I go? Where do I spend my money? This year my nephew is visiting, which means I should consider buying 3 books at $29.99 each. (You can’t expect avid Harry Potter fans to wait for the book, can you?)

My favorite bookstore, A Great Good Place For Books in the Montclair District of Oakland, has planned two days of celebration. The owners, Debi and Helen, will open the doors around 10:30 p.m., and hold games and costume contests and offer sweets and prizes. The party continues the next morning at 7 a.m. The lure? Ten percent off your next purchase.

Mrs. Dalloway’s on College Avenue in Berkeley is having a Harry Potter dress up contest. Anne Leyhe, one of the store’s owners, says she will disguise herself as Professor Sprout, who teaches herbology. It’s appropriate, since Mrs. Dalloway’s has a large stock of gardening books.

Cody’s on Fourth Street in Berkeley will stay open until 1 a.m. or later. There won’t be anybody dressed in costume giving out dragon’s milk, but so many people have pre-ordered the book they are expecting a crowd. Both the Fourth Street and Telegraph Avenue stores will open an hour early on Saturday, at 9 a.m.

The list of bookstores holding special events in the Bay Area goes on, and I’m sure this is true in cities around the country. I guess, as I said at the beginning, that this is a GOOD problem. How often do people have to grapple with which bookstore to patronize? Usually the question is whether or not to even go to a bookstore, instead of, say, the movies. I’m still undecided. I guess I’ll let the Magic help me decide.

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