millionth cup of midnight tea
Yes, it is Harry Potter Release Day, which means you and yours are probably slathering at the bit to get your grimy little midnight hands on Harry Potter V. On behalf of my friend Jessica and all of the other hapless dreading bookstore salesclerks in the world, I'd like to wrest this day back from Mr. Potter and Ms. Rowling and declare it the Official Be Nice To Salesclerk Day.
I slipped by the local Books-A-Dozen on Jessica's tip to pay for the little piece of paper that means I won't have to stand in line to buy the latest of Mr. Potter's escapades. Instead, all I will have to do is park the car (possibly a challenge), walk to the door (only a challenge if I forget my contact lenses) and toddle up to the line that says "Exchange Slips For Books Here."
Barring unforeseen forgettings of contact lenses or unfortunate and accidental poking-out of eyes after parking, I suspect this shall not be difficult.
Now getting a smile out of the clerk...that will be a bit more difficult. As far as I can tell, virtually every bookstore employee is absolutely dreading tonight's Sale-O-Rama. From chatting with the employees at Books-A-Dozen, they confirmed what Jessica said a week or two ago: everyone, and I do mean everyone, has to work tonight. Every lane open, every employee doling out the Potter as fast as the fans can fork the cash. At midnight. When what they really want to say is "Hi, welcome to Books-A-Dozen, will you please go home so I can get some sleep now?"
"But," you say, "I haven't read Harry Potter."
I said that a lot too. Sometime after the fiftieth (or was it four-hundredth? All the beatings have flowed together in my mind) friend beat me over the head with the books and said, "Look, we know you hate riding along with pop culture just because it's pop culture, but these books are actually good and you should read them," I gave in.
The first night, I read the first book.
The second night, I read the second book.
The third book took a little longer.
The fourth book went with me on a trip to Arkansas, which, by my memory, puts it at Thanksgiving of 2002. I stayed up late at night each night until I finished the book, scanning and flipping pages with an urgency and absorption that astonished me after I finished the book; as soon as I put down the fourth book, I wanted the fifth.
Multiply this by a couple of years and a few million people, and suddenly the terror-of-customers shining in the bookstore-employees' eyes is a little more understandable. They've already realized that they're the only people standing between the slathering reading hordes and the immense fines and sundry punishments their stores will face if they "break the date" and sell the book early.
(Scylla, have you met Charybdis?)
After all, I've never heard of bookstores doing book release parties before. I find this prospect so weirdly amusing and entertaining that I'm sorely tempted to take my camera with me to Books-A-Hundred to document the carnage after I claim my book.
After, not before. I'm a pragmatic girl. I want my book too, you see.
* * * * *
After I read the unfinished Potter series, someone asked me what I thought about them, and if I thought they'd ever be classified as "literature." I had several answers - "Yes." "No." "Possibly." "Only time will tell." - before my real answer emerged.
Books whose ideas and storylines are absorbed en masse by a society, no matter the quality of the writing, will be studied and examined in years to come to learn more about the society that produced the work. Quality, on the other hand, will be argued about for as long as the book is read, with some arguing that books intended for mass consumption, no matter how entertaining, cannot be classed as literature. The other side will show up armed with hardback copies of Dickens and beat their foes with them.
It doesn't matter if the Potter books will be eventually classified as "literature" or not. No matter what, these books will be studied to understand what it was about them that caught the fancy of millions.
What matters more is the act of reading itself.
So, before you pile up on the millionth couch with the millionth cup of midnight tea made tonight, remember to be nice to the salesclerks who are selling the book to you. Not only are they dealing with overexcited people during hours they don't normally work, they're also dealing with more of them in thirty minutes than they usually see in a day.
Be nice. Chances are good they'd rather be home reading the book, too.