Harry Potter, Frenzy-Free Friday at book store

This post includes a Harry Potter book 7 spoiler, carefully buried so as to not post on a search engine, but decipherable. I’m not a book reviewer with an ethical responsibility, so stop reading if you prefer not to know.

With my child I joined the Harry Potter frenzy Friday night. The Barnes & Noble bookstore’s organizational efforts were astonishing. I reserved a copy of the book three weeks ago. At 6:00 pm, we had to drop by store for a wrist-band (e.g., to reserve place in line to purchase the reserved copy). My wife arrived at the store 15 minutes before 6:00, but the line was already extended. Our wrist band had number 139.

At 9:00, the Harry Potter party began. We arrived at ten till. Then came a three-hour wait in a store that became so crowded that a panicked crowd would certainly have resulted in patrons crushed to death trying to exit. I specifically told my son that if the crowd became panicked we were to remain in the store rather than rush to the exit. A fire code must have been violated. I’m certain there were at least 600 books reserved, which would translate into a crowd of nearly 1000. But there was no panic. The boredom was mind-numbing, leavened by intermittent activities. Activities to entertain kids (counting stuffed owls scattered around the store, estimating jelly beans in a jar, and matching spells to their effect), bathroom, read, cafe for snack, read, bathroom, read, bathroom, read, prizes for kid activities, read, wrist-banded folks line up for purchase with 12:01 hurrah, stand, 1 – 50 called, stand, 51 – 100 called, stand, 101-150 called, shuffle toward register, buy book, walk out door, pause in car for son to review table of contents and check final page to see whether Harry–the boy wizard–spoiler alert–word embedded in next paragraph to prevent a spoiler . . . . .

At store I almost finish Sir Walter Scott’s Bride of Lammermore and Book 1 of Potter series. Yes, Scott is much better. My son meanwhile read all of the Bionicle books not previously in his possession and polished off a Star Wars encyclopedia. Go home. Kids must be in bed by 1:30, even on special night. A not unpleasant evening, parent-child family time and gathering of young teens, very little frenzy. Word from incomplete sentence above–spoiler alert–dies. And again–more gibberish to prevent prominent search engine summary from introducing a spoiler–the answer is a happy no. I find it disturbing that I’ve allowed search engine fear to dictate my prose. If you are interested in literary culture of the present moment, pay attention (not to me –I’m a scholar–pay attention to a novelist, or essayist, or poet, or digital performance artist).

If I can’t scare you away, I’ll bore you. As my research has been focussed on the 19th-century American bestseller Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I have noted that “Does Harry Potter die?” was a popular query on search engines. I suspect that newspaper serial publication worked similarly to present-day multimedia hype. Tom died in the March 18 issue of the National Era serial, and the Jewett edition was issued on the 20th. OK, “Does Tom die?” does not translate perfectly to 19th century context. In any case, the newspaper serial version of UTC continued two more weeks, and I imagine that at least a significant portion of the Era serial’s readership purchased the book to find out how the story ended. Yes! I just knew I could connect HP to UTC.

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