You probably couldn’t miss the business reports of the Harry Potter sales that dominated headlines yesterday. The first run printing was 12 million copies and a reported 8.3 million sold in the first 24 hours according to figures in USA Today.
When I look at the Potter mania, partly induced by the media, partly induced by the publishers, but most induced by the millions of fans anxious to read the books, I sigh with regret. Not because I hate Potter mania, but because I wonder if there will be something like that around for my daughter to experience. It struck me how influential these books were when I read about the girls and boys who started reading at the age of 12 and now they are adults but their whole life was marked by reading a Harry Potter book almost every year of their childhood.
There was no series where I hotly anticipated the release of a book every summer. There was no book mania in my childhood, other than my own self created one. In 2004, NEA released a Reading at Risk study which cited that in the years from 1982 to 2002, there was “an overall decline of 10 percentage points in literary readers … representing a loss of 20 million potential readers.” In 2008, NEA and the US Census Bureau plan to redo the study with results to come in 2009. Some anectodal evidence from Scholastic, the US publisher of the series, points to a recapturing of readers. Scholastic claims that “More than 50 percent of Harry Potter readers ages 5-17 say that they didn't read for fun before HP, and 65 percent say they have been doing better in school since starting to read the series.”
The local bookstores had parties for the children to come in their pajamas. There was readings, giveaways and Potter inspired games. Barnes and Noble and Borders reported that over 1.8 million people came into the bookstores on Friday and Saturday There will be readings and giveaways and Potter inspired games. The children were allowed to run amok in the store and the parents gladly opened their wallets to purchase all sorts of book related paraphernalia.
Potter mania didn’t exist when I was a child. There were no late nights at the local bookstore and beyond the occasional reading, it was mostly “don’t touch this” “don’t touch that.” My chain bookstore, the one where I buy books when I am not buying ebooks, has a train table and stuffed animals and low seating areas conducive to child sized bodies, but still that is not entirely the same as the festival that took place this last weekend.
I want that experience for my child. I want the bookstore to be the most fun place that she could possibly think of going. I want my child to always want to know where the nearest bookstore is whenever she travels. I want there to be some kind of Potter mania for my child to last her throughout her childhood.
For all its faults, Harry Potter introduced an entire generation of children to the wonders of reading, the ramifications that will be felt years from now. I can only hope that there will be something akin to Harry Potter and his Magical Reading Wand when my child grows older.
Next week: RWA Giveaways and the Announcement of the RITA Reader winner.