I came late to the Harry Potter party, only starting to read the series shortly before the sixth book was published in 2005. This wasn't due to any sort of opposition to the series, like the snobbery that rises as a backlash each time the hype wave crests with the release of a new book or movie, but rather simply due to a single, selfish desire: I didn't want to have to impatiently wait for a succession of new titles. By the time the penultimate book rolled off the presses a couple of years ago, I was ready to read, and swiftly consumed the series, falling deep into the rabbit hole of J.K. Rowling's wizarding world.
This left me with a single, impatient wait, one that ended just after the stroke of midnight on Saturday morning with the at long last official release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. While release parties were being held on Friday night at three Wal-Marts, two Border's, and one Waldenbooks in town, I happened upon word that A Room of One's Own feminist bookstore just off State Street was holding their own fete, and jumped at the chance to join the fun in downtown Madison. Just as Maxwell Street Days was winding down, I stopped in there to preorder my copy, and was told that the party started at 11 p.m. Be there, I was warned, or the book would be taken off reserve first thing Saturday morning.
"I really am overwhelmed," said Sandi Torkildson, co-owner of A Room of One's Own and host of the release party, which had a purpose beyond simply joining in the Potter craze. "The level of interest much more than I expected," she explained. "When I first though of this idea of selling Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a fundraiser for public school libraries in Madison, I thought maybe we'd sell 100 books." Interest quickly outpaced these initial expectations, though, and she decided to order 200 many months ago. "Luckily," she noted, "I was able to adjust my preorder early enough to get what we needed."
This set the stage for the party Friday night at the Johnson Street bookstore. Though Torkildson wasn't plugged into the promotional engine driving the big parties at the bigger chains, she organized several diversions to hurry up the wait, with the help of her employees, friends, and family. There was face painting -- mostly lightning-bolt scars for the forehead of course -- in one front window of the shop, and tarot card reading in the other. Then there was a table of sweets: red licorice wands, a bowl of mint and chocolate frogs, and a pile of extremely tasty pumpkin cookies.
The crowd, which grew steadily as midnight approached, was a mix of families and adult fans of the book, with many excited children in attendance. Though a handful was in costume and partaking heavily in the revelry, all were focused on getting their hands on the book and heading home to crack it open.
A pair of witches joked about arguing who would be the first to read Deathly Hallows. "We're here to get the Harry Potter book as quickly as possible and then rush home and read it," said Laurie Larson, her daughter exclaiming that she would get first crack at the book.
As midnight approached, the crowd coalesced into a line snaking from the cash register in the back nearly to the front door, as the employees readied their preorder lists and kept tabs on the official time as marked second by second on their computer. With about ninety seconds to go, a group of kids at the front of the line started to countdown, their voices progressively getting louder as the hour approached.