Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics


Posted by shannonclark on June 23, 2003

On a cultural phenomenon
or, how I read year five

Well, so it was Friday night, June 20th, and at around 11:30 at night I was walking home after having eaten a great omelette at a 24hr diner between my office and my home. The weather was nice and I was enjoying the walk home, when I walked past Barnes and Noble and noticed that they would be open until 12:30am.

Ah, I remembered, Harry Potter.

So, taking this as somewhat of a sign that I really did want to get a copy of the book, and in keeping with it having just recently been my birthday, I decided to wait in line and buy a copy for myself. Slightly foolishly, rather than getting in line with the first people to ask “where is the line?”, I just milled about enjoying shopping for books at almost midnight.

I still managed to join the line before it had started to make a second bend – just one after the line from the cashier met the main aisle of the store.

Behind me, some of the truly fanatical were standing, a man and a woman who met in line but seemed very well matched (and equally deeply involved with the books). Milling about were many small children with parents in tow, though I must say, most of the buyers of the book did not seem to be buying it for children but for themselves to read.

So, for just under $20 I bought my copy early Saturday morning.

I finished it this morning, reading the last 70 pages before showering and shaving.

My summary – good, but not flawless. Definitely more interesting than many children’s novels, and clearly interested in getting a bit deeper into the characters and building up a more subtle and rich picture of the world.

That said, there were, however, some somewhat serious quibbles – though generally just minor ones.

And I think I caught at least one, possibly two typos – but numerical in nature – where initially one item was introduced, but later two were referred to (chinz chairs in one scene and owls in another).

I enjoyed the book, and the series for that matter, but also doubt that I will reread the books until I am sharing them with some future child (my own or someone else’s). In large part because, perhaps more than they borrow from fantasy novels, the books really borrow from mysteries. That is, the Potter books are not unlike a traditional detective story. Generally a fixed cast (though characters do get introduced at a later date in the Potter books than in most traditional mysteries), and some puzzle to solve by the end of the novel (or puzzles). For me, at least, after I have read a mystery once and know how it ends it rarely rewards rereading (basically only the Sherlock Holmes stories have I ever reread many times).

In part this is also because I have a very strange memory when it comes to books – it is a physical memory, I remember in part by feel of the book where different sections are, but as I am rereading a section all I need is one small trigger to remember most of the book – not verbatum but rather close to it.

I would recommend the Potter series to friends, they are certainly fun and a bit more challenging than the massive popularity would lead you to conclude. But at the same time, I also find the plotting in the most recent one a bit weak, and somewhat not as satisfying as some of the earlier books in the series – while at the same time I do find myself enjoying the length and the details – they are truly fun.

And, as a writer myself, and a friend of many writers, it is truly enjoyable to realize that this past weekend a BOOK out sold the movies (possibly even approaching the total take in the US for all movies in theaters last weekend!).

As far as I can tell, Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix sold close to 5 million copies in the US alone, at a cover price of $29.99 (though I suspect the average sale price is more like $20) that is just in the US over $100M for the weekend. And I would guess that another couple of million copies were sold overseas as well – probably bringing the weekend total to over $150M.

Extremely impressive, made lots of people money, and as a book lover I am not unhappy at all that a book can demand such affection, devotion, and spending. I just hope that the generation that is reading the Harry Potter books as children also seek out and read other books, and that perhaps they we reverse the current trends in the US.

Apparently, I read last week, less than 50% of Americans bought 1 or more books last year!

Since I probably average at least one book a week, more likely 3-4 books (especially given weekends like Memorial Day when I bought or was given close to 50 books), I find the concept of only buying one book a year almost incomprehensible.

But then again, books and where they go and are stored is for me priority number one in my housing questions, which if American television is to be believed is not at all the case for most people whether on or off a sitcom. It is a rare “cribs” or other celebrity home type show (or reality tv show) which shows a home with lots of books. Rather, seemingly the typical home has rooms dominated by TVs but only occasionally a couple of books.

To put this in perspective, I have at least 600, probably more like 750+ books in my condo, and another 250+ books still at my parent’s. And this is after selling off and getting rid of plenty of books.

When I look at my yearly budget, there is always a clear understanding with myself that I will be spending money on books, it is just a given. In some years, mostly on used books, but always at least some books. At the moment I have about 100 books waiting to be read, and Harry Potter jumped the queue, but with it complete, I will go back to the other books I am currently reading (Native Tongue, Deconstructing Economics, and a collection of short stories by M. John Harrison). When I am done with those, I think I will probably read some books by China Meiville, after that I’m not sure.


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