Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Entering the land of Potter...

My introduction to Harry Potter took place in late 1999 (Thanksgiving weekend, to be exact) at a chain bookstore I was working at, which was located in a large suburban area. A woman with one child on her hip and one in a stroller came up and asked me where she could find the newest Harry Potter books.

“I don’t know, let me check the computer.” I walked around to the other side of the counter.

“You don’t know?”

She stared at me like I had announced I didn’t know who the president was, or that I was going to eat her babies. Good customer service skills dictated that I couldn’t call her on this twisted fish-face look, or make a sarcastic comment, so I gave her my biggest, cheesiest smile instead.

“Not off the top of my head, no. If you’ll just give me to check the computer—”

“I’ll take her,” my coworker interrupted, sharing a commiserating glance with the customer as if he couldn’t believe my stupidity either. “You’ll find them right over…”

He led her off to the Children’s section, skirting around me like I had some sort of contagious disease. What the hell? Who was this Harry Potter? Why was everyone staring at me like I was supposed to know about him? When my co-worker returned I swallowed my pride and asked, “So who is this Harry Potter, anyway?”

Apparently you’re not supposed to ask this question when your coworker is drinking from his water bottle and expect to stay dry.

He managed to spray water on me, the computer and most of the back counter before spluttering, “Where have you been living? A cave?”

“I’ve been in college.” I wiped at my chest, imagining the millions of germs in the human mouth. “Studying biology.”

My coworker nodded as if this all suddenly made since. “Practically a cave then.”

“We prefer to call it a bubble.” I made a face. It looked like I had drooled down the front of my shirt. “Now this Harry Potter thing?”

“He is not a thing! He’s…”

And so began my education in all things Harry, Hogwarts, and muggles. I went back to school after that weekend with my mind stuffed full of a mystical, magical world that I had never heard of, by a coworker who seemed waaaaay too excited by a children’s series. Big deal, I thought, next time I go to work it will be something else.

I was so naïve.

By the time I came back on Spring Break there was a release date for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and one hundred and fifty reservations on the computer. People would race in daily to ask when the book was coming out, what it was about, how many pages it would be, and we tried to answer as many questions as we possibly could. I have to admit that there was a certain glow of satisfaction that came from watching some kid or adult’s face (and I was beginning to notice that quite a few adults were reading this) light up when you took down their reservation, guaranteeing that they would have the new Harry Potter book as soon as it hit the shelves.

Everybody was happy, and why shouldn’t they be? They were getting the fourth book ten months after the third, a quicker follow-up publication couldn’t be asked for in a business where it usually takes a year or two (or more if you are those poor people reading George R. R. Martin) for the next book to come out. Even having to sign a paper swearing that I would not open the boxes until midnight on July 7th didn’t bother me too much. The hype made for good sales.

By July 1st the readers were growing restless, and I received my first attempted bribe. A tall, balding gentleman came up to the counter and asked if we had Harry Potter.

“We could put you on the reservation list, sir,” I told him. “The book comes out on the 8th.”

“I hear you’ve got it in the back.” He stared at me, waiting for a response.

“I can’t disclose that sir, but if you want to make a reservation, I can add your name to the list.” The all purpose customer service smile was once again out and in action.

He leaned over the counter, lowering his voice. “I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you sell me a copy now.”

“That’s against policy, would cost me my job, and earn my store a fine, sir. Would you like to make a reservation instead?”

Instead of replying, he walked away, but I had two more people try—one in a joking manner, and one serious—to get me to sell a copy before the release.

Sorry, but no. Chocolate, not money, is my weakness, and none of them knew to exploit that, so Harry Potter was not breached until its street date: a day filled with Potter glasses, and Dumbledore hats, and people claiming to have reservations only to realize that they had made them at a different store. All in all, I had worked Christmas seasons more hectic, and these Potter fans didn’t seem too bad.

But then came the great dry spell: three years without a new Harry Potter book. Three Potter-free years that convinced me that Harry Potter fans are the most fanatical readers on the planet. I have been “saved” by Left Behind fans, played therapist to the Robert Jordan readers (“You don’t know that he’ll never finish the series. He’s still alive, at least!”), and commiserated with the people who read Dan Brown (“I don’t know why the DaVinci Code isn’t out in paperback, either.”). I’ve passed along all the recommendations and knowledge that I knew regarding release dates and publishing hold-ups, and most take it pretty well.

And yet, there are many Potter-heads who are operating under the impression that I have some sort of direct line to J.K. Rowling.

“Why is the next book taking so long?” a woman once asked me.

“Well, she is pregnant, you know,” I responded, thinking that this was an appropriate excuse, and a way to disguise my People magazine as research. “She’s building a new life with her husband, and—”

“Pregnant!” the woman screeched. “Doesn’t she know that she has a responsible to her readers?”

“Umm.” How does one respond to that? Fortunately response did not necessary.

“She needs to be writing, not meeting the Queen, not having children, but writing! This is why we read her books. This is why—”

“I, uh, have to go help a customer over there somewhere.”

As I escaped, I assured myself that this had to be an isolated incident.

It wasn’t.

Such expectations, both of myself and of J.K. Rowling, continued beyond the release of Order of the Phoenix and into the current tension leading up to Half-Blood Prince.

So, as we approach the release of book six, I should state for the record that, I, Bookseller Chick, am NOT J.K. Rowling’s: sister, mother, daughter, father, brother, son, husband, editor, agent, publicist, publisher (American), publisher (British), printer, illustrator, priest, preacher, guardian angel, stalker, sperm donor, dog walker, housekeeper, nanny, cook, third cousin twice removed, or anyone else that may exert some modicum of control over her writing life. I did not impregnate her to cause the book’s publication to be pushed back, I’m not hiding an advanced reader copy somewhere in the back, and I’m not the boogie monster. I have absolutely no control over when, how, or in what format her next book will be released.

Just so we are clear, I also have no idea where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, what Stonehenge means, who built the Sphinx, or why we drive on parkways and park on driveways.

All I do is sell you a book or two, take your money, smile, and tell you to have a nice day.

Oh, and I still haven’t read Harry Potter.

Editorial Disclaimer from Jeeves: The author of this rant will be hog-tied and forced to read her way through the entire Harry Potter series as soon as the series is completed and the hype dies down and/or the author leaves the retail book-selling industry, whichever enables her to quit twitching at the slightest reference to all things Potter-related.

1 comment:

another HP freak said...

Hilarious! As a fellow retailer, I can certainly empathise. However as a staunch Potter fan who would never be so stupid as to assume that you have a link to JKR (it'd be easier to become the Pope and speak to God), I urge you to at least read a few chapters. That and dress up for one of those midnite release line parties. We aren't all obnoxious and silly as ears on a toaster...