Monday, July 23, 2007

The Harry Potter Post

When I first started Seen Reading, I knew I would write this post. I talked myself in and out of it a dozen times. The effort ranged from riding transit all weekend to sitting in one spot and letting Harry pass me by. I decided to simply stay in my neighbourhood, not changing a thing, just going about business as usual.

I got two words for you. Holy. Hanna.

I knew. We all knew. But I’m not sure to this degree. Say what you will about Harry Potter and it’s author, J.K. Rowling, that’s not the point of this post. It’s about impact. The impact of readership. Marketing. Celebrity. Word-of-mouth. How books are sold and how books are made. Ultimately—and call me a softy— to my mind, it’s how this series has impacted hope. Harry Potter became something more than a cultural touchstone, he was a belief system.

To that end, I’ve put aside the formula of a typical entry. I can’t even begin to (want to) write to the possible realities of each of these readers. They’re all in one magical place, together. That’s the ultimate impact of Harry Potter.

So, here we go.

Location: Transit, Danforth Avenue, Withrow Park, sidewalks, bookstores, patios, coffee shops and one hair salon.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (Raincoast)

The book went on sale at midnight. I was rumbling home from a dinner when…

21 Saturday, 1:11 am (Bloor Line)

1. Asian male, late teens, steps on at Yonge Station, calling back to a young woman sitting on a bench about to open the book, “I want spoilers!”

2. Caucasian male, late 30s, rail thin, in a suit and tie, wearing glasses.

3. Black woman, early 30s, with close-shaved head, wearing a black linen dress.

4. Asian woman, early 20s, sharing the book with her boyfriend, his finger turning the pages, her legs swung over his lap.

5. Caucasian male, early teens, mother beside him, scanning the pages for questionable content.

6. Caucasian girl, 9/10, bags under her eyes, hair disheveled, clutching the book to her chest, head into her father’s shoulder.

7. Caucasian male, mid 20s, wearing khaki pants, brown dress shoes and an indigo blue polo shirt.

8. Caucasian twins, late teens, both wearing green t-shirts and jeans. One holds the book in her lap, hand placed on top like it’s a bible. She can’t breathe. She turns to the last page and her sister rips the book from her hands. She places the book between them and opens it to the beginning.

1:23 am (Danforth Avenue, street level) Standing still at a stoplight.

9. & 10. Cyclists

11. Pedestrian

To recap, that's a travel time of 17 minutes and 11 sightings. Of the 20 subway passengers I counted, 8 had purchased the book.

Page 9:

The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane. For a second they stood quite still, wands directed at each other’s chests; then, recognising each other, they stowed their wands beneath their cloaks and started walking briskly in the same direction.

‘News?’ asked the taller of the two.
‘The best,’ replied Severus Snape.

The following day:

Big breath…

12. Caucasian male, mid 40s, balding, short grey beard, wearing glasses, blue t-shirt and khaki shorts. Stands outside Book City reading the first few pages until another man joins him, rubs his shoulder and they jaywalk across to The Second Cup.

13. Caucasian woman, mid 30s, with short curly black bob, carrying the book like a football, her step light, an excited grin on her face.

14. South Asian woman, late teens, wearing pink linen shirt, white shorts and long necklace.

15. Asian girl, 13, wearing glasses, yellow sweatshirt and matching headband.

I’m starting to notice that most people’s bookmaker is a bill, yet they have no bag, proudly displaying the book like a badge.

16. Two boys, mid teens, sitting side-by-side, wearing baseball caps and jerseys. They each rest the book in their lap, leaning forward, curled away from the crowd, chins palmed.

17. Caucasian male, mid 50s, wearing a burgundy t-shirt, grey shorts and sandals.

18 –21. Four girls, early teens, sitting on blankets in a loose circle, propped up on pillows. At the centre, discarded crusts sit absent-mindedly in an empty Pizza Pizza box. A bag of Ruffles remains unopened. One girl is picking through some jellybeans.

22. Caucasian woman, early 20s, with long black wet hair, wearing a black t-shirt and black pants, sitting at a picnic table surrounded by a day’s worth of food.

About page 156:
Harry felt as though a brick has slid down through his chest into his stomach. He remembered: he had even handled the thing as they passed it round, each trying in turn to prise it open. It had been tossed into a sack of rubbish, along with the snuffbox of Wartcap powder and the music box that had made everyone sleepy…
23. & 24. Two Black girls, both wearing skinny jeans and tank tops. One wears flip-flops, the other Puma sneakers. They’re sharing a pair of headphones. They look up at the same time and sing. “Ma ma se Ma ma sa Ma ma coo sa, Ma ma se Ma ma sa Ma ma coo sa…”

I don’t know about you, but I think this J.K. Rowling is going places.

25. Caucasian male, late 20s, with spiky, bleach blonde hair, wearing a white v-neck t-shirt, black jeans and white sneakers. His leather wallet threatens to fall out of his back pocket. Holds the book in one hand, an obviously hot coffee in the other, stubbornly rocking in the centre of the car, rather than sit.

26. Caucasian woman, 20ish, wearing snug jeans and red sleeveless t-shirt. A tattoo swirl sits at the base of her spine just above the pink thong peaking out. She hikes, self-consciously, and turns her back to the subway door.

27. Caucasian woman, 16-25, it’s hard to tell, with shaggy, brown hair, tight decal tee, skinny jeans, black studded belt and black high tops. Her cuffs are rolled high, the thighs caked in fingers of paint or clay.

28. Black woman, late 30s, wearing a purple t-shirt, green scarf and flowing skirt. Her wrists jingle with dozens of thin hoops.

Page 288:
He tried to return her watery smile, then turned his attention to the book. Its spine was stiff; it had clearly never been opened before. He riffled through the pages, looking for photographs. He came across the one he sought almost at once, the young Dumbledore and his handsome companion, roaring with laughter at some long forgotten joke.

29. Caucasian woman, 30ish, pregnant, leaning into a park bench, resting the book on 8 months of belly.

30. South Asian male, late teens, wearing black long sleeved t-shirt and jeans, removing the dust jacket and forcefully cracking the spine, an audible snap with each bend.

31-42. Standing in line: counting change, holding young hands, trying not to look at the last page, jiggling, snapping gum, considering the mints, contemplating a cd, doing calf lifts, sipping a Starbucks, shuffling mindlessly, talking on a cell.

43. Hispanic woman, early 20s, swiveling in the salon chair next to her co-worker’s 2:30 cut and blow dry.

44. & 45. Two women, early 40s, wearing matching wedding bands, sit on a Timothy’s patio, plates of half-eaten pastries pushed to the side, a tube of sunscreen at the table’s centre.

Page 364:
Someone yanked Harry up by the hair, dragged him a short way, pushed him down into a sitting position, then started binding him back-to-back with other people.

46. This is heartbreaking. She’s crying.

22. (Early evening.) She’s still there, solid, unmoving.

47. I imagine her still, sitting in her wicker chair in the sunroom. She looks out over the ravine. Have the rabbits been digging in her garden again? She pads her thumb over the cheese tray, leaving nothing to waste, and finishes her port. She recalls the children. Quiet down now. Eyes front for the national anthem. She bumped into one the other day, grown and married. Did she know she’d been her favourite teacher? She struggled to recall, settling on a memory that could have been any number of students. Thank you, she’d smiled. You’ve grown into a beautiful woman. She puts the book aside, beside the others and decides tomorrow she’ll donate them to the local library.


Alias Grace said...

What a fabulous post. Whatever anyone has to say about Harry Potter and the writer who dreamed him up, your scan of Toronto in the span of a few hours really shows how diverse an audience the books have reached. If only the world could put the same energy into preventing war, famine, and poverty..!

Emily said...

I didn't see anyone reading it this morning on the way in - I was surprised.

Julie Wilson said...

Thanks alias grace. Didn't take much effort. All I had to do was step outside my door!

emily, I saw about five people this morning, but my guess is that the thing is so oppressively heavy that it's not as likely to be "seen" as other books. (I was happy to accidentally get my midnight shoppers sightings though. You could feel the energy buzzing about among die hard fans.)

Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

I didn't see a single person this morning on the bus or in the subway! I assume everyone finished it already. :)

Julie Wilson said...

I saw a few more on the way home, about 8 today. Most sightings have taken place off transit. It's such a beast of a book. And, to be honest, I think there's a joyless backlash against the series. Kick some kittens while you're at it, already. ;)

P.S. I love kittens.

Dale said...

I plan never to read a Harry Potter book or see an HP movie. The popularity of the series and the fact that everyone and his dog is mesmerised by this cleverly marketed pap is the reason I avoid it. Why follow the masses?

You, btw, are a talented writer.

P.S. I love kittens, too. Cats, not so much.