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It Seems As Though The Whole World Is Reading Today

At 12:01 AM this morning, the sixth installment of the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” went on sale. Scholastic, the book’s American publisher, (Bloomsbury is the UK publisher) printed a record 10.8 million copies of the book, dwarfing the previous record of 8.5 million copies of 2003’s “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” The tome has sat in the No. 1 spot on Amazon.com’s best seller list since it’s release was announced last year, and as of yesterday it boasted worldwide pre-orders of more than 2 million copies, 1.4 million from Amazon alone.

Though half of those sales are in the United States, (so many that the United Parcel Service and the U.S. Postal Service have teamed up to deliver them all) the book simultaneously went on sale all over the world, including a midnight celebration at Edinburgh Castle (where over 2000 school children and their families were greeted by the author J.K. Rowling). Despite the tight security in the UK, Londoners were anxious to celebrate the book’s release. The Waterstone chain reported 300,000 people attended midnight openings at more than 100 stores across Britain. CNN reported an enthusiastic and festive response as well: “In New York, the Barnes & Noble Union Square location used a person dressed as an owl — the preferred messenger in Rowling’s books — to hand over the first box of books to cashiers. In Beaverton, Oregon, a Powell’s bookstore offered fire walkers. Books ‘N’ More in Wilmington, Ohio, featured horses dressed up as unicorns parading down the main street, and everywhere bookstore workers (and customers) came as Harry, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, instructor Severus Snape, groundskeeper Hagrid and other Potter characters.”

What is truly remarkable about the Harry Potter phenomena is that kids are actually reading again. However, the book’s popularity is not limited to kids only; the appeal has transcended all age ranges, gender, sexual orientation, religious orientation and class. My 17-year-old student mentee, Alex, planned on waiting up last night (the night of her birthday, even!) to purchase the book, and she planned on reading it straight through the night until she completed the entire thing. She anticipates that she will finish the book by 1:00 AM Sunday morning. My 45-year-old colleague Gregory wore his funky Sirius Black shirt to work yesterday and went out at lunch to buy black hightop sneakers, as he felt they would look better with his orange shoelaces. I almost thought that my 14-year-old goddaughter Kayla would cancel our dinner plans tonight so she could read through the evening, but fortunately for me, she agreed to meet anyway.

I read the first three Harry Potter books and I loved them. J.K. Rowling and illustrator Mary GrandPré have managed to make readers capable of seeing—and believing in—what is magical about our lives, and in each other. A sort of “everyday magic.” Rowling and GrandPré possess a wonderful way of taking a diverse range of references and allegories—from Shakespeare, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Dickens, fairy tales, Greek myths and more recent works like “Star Wars,” and they make them uniquely their own.

According to Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times, “The achievement of the Potter books is the same as that of the great classics of children’s literature, from the Oz novels to “The Lord of the Rings”: the creation of a richly imagined and utterly singular world, as detailed, as improbable and as mortal as our own.”

So today it seems as if the world has joined together to read a book. In a day and age filled with utter sensory overload, it seems inconceivable that a book can unite us. As for me, I am reading too, but not Harry Potter. When I went to go buy the book, the look of “Haunted” by Chuck Palahniuk, with its marvelous cover by Rodrigo Corral, seduced me. Guess other ghosts’ll scare me today.

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PUBLISHED ON Jul.16.2005 BY debbie millman
gregor’s comment is:

The Harry Potter phenomena is a mix of modern marketing, combined with a pretty darned good series of books. While not literary masterpieces by any means, they are well written. However, the books do contain the one key theme of a successful fairytale: the child's (good) victory over evil (adults). Bettelheim's book on fairytales is a wonderful read and should be a must read for anyone who plans advertising strategy. Additionally, what's enabled the succcess of the books, or the phenomena, is excellent use of all touchpoints of the the Harry Potter brand, as it were:

books, movie releases and their timing, ephemera, related products and so much more. A well executed plan based on the tremendous success of book one, which came as a surprise to the publisher.

Personally, I like the books and so do my kids. I didn't go out at midnight to get a copy, nor did I wait in line today. Rather, my neighborhood Target had plenty of copies, no lines and same price as Amazon (no shippin though!), as did QFC, the west coast supermarket chain owned by Kroger's. I read a couple chapters this evening and have enjoyed doing so.

Harry Potter has kids reading again Debbie, but there is a sunstantial amount of literature for the pre-teen and teenage group that has met with great success. The A Series of Unfortunate Events series is but one more example.

If you're interseted in a fairy tale that is a trilology of thin books

(150 pages each roughly) written for adults, French writer Marie Redonnet is my recommendation.

In the states she was published by the University of Nebraska (European Women Writers Series) and should still be in print:

Hotel Splendid

Rose Mellie Rose

Forever Valley


On Jul.16.2005 at 11:54 PM
Paul Riehle’s comment is:

I personally haven't read any of the Potter books, but it is only obvious that millions of people truly love them. It is only a positive thing for kids and adults. They have to be great great books.

When I was younger I would never read books as long as the Harry Potter books. It's great that young kids are excited enough to read 500+ page books, because my younger years have ruined me now. I still can't read a book that long.

On Jul.17.2005 at 03:37 AM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Gregor--thanks for the info on Marie Redonnet. She seems fabulous and I will be purchasing some of her books!

I think you bring up an interesting point about the Harry Potter "brand"--do you think that the books are as successful as they are, in part, by branding? Or do you think it is the writing, or the "magic," so to speak?

On Jul.17.2005 at 12:11 PM
gregor’s comment is:


I think the books would be successful to a certain point, and more on the pre Lemony Snicket movie level of the A Series of Unfortunate Events, which were quite popular prior to the movie and have begun to witness an increasing readership post-movie.

With Harry Potter, we've witnessed a phenomena, much more than a book series. I believe that is due to careful and well executed management of all appropriate touchpoints -- albeit not typically associated with a book. Fundamental to being able to execute a strategy around the books, the 1st book did indeed contain all the essential ingredients to allow this phenomena to happen: the many levels in which fairy tales work on our psyches, the value of fairy tales in literature, and a contemporary setting for this specific fairytale.

Intersting is Harry Potter has a logotype used across books, recognizable by many, and is also used across products, and this most recent book has a stylized mark for the imprinter, Arthur Irvine. I've never seen the Arthur Irvine imprint mark on any other Scholastic books (see the lower spine) It appears to be designed to work with the Harry Potter logotype. Does anyone else know of an Scholastic book published on the Arthur Irvine imprint where this mark is used with this styling? If not, that specific stylizing speaks worlds...

While the series will no doubt go down in publishing history as a classic in the sense of the Tolkein books, C.S. Lewis, and others, without contemporary marketing as it's fuel I truely believe it would not have made become the phenomena it has without the ephemera, toys, movies, and other peripherals that surround the series.

If you enjoy children's books and illustrations, my recommedation for grand prize is: The Boy Who Ate Words. So absolutely superb, I have spent hours upon hours looking at these illustrations (it's a good read too!).

(BTW - After last posting I read another 150 pages of the HP book -- it's better IMHO than the previous book)

On Jul.17.2005 at 01:30 PM
JK Rowling’s comment is:

"Londoner’s" doesn't require an apostrophe.

On Jul.17.2005 at 02:36 PM
Ferdinand de Saussure’s comment is:

"Londoner’s" doesn't require an apostrophe.

"Brilliant", as Ron Weasley would say. Thanks for the illuminating post.

On Jul.17.2005 at 03:00 PM
gregor’s comment is:

Note to self: wear tri-focals at all times.

What I indicated is the Arthur Irvine imprint is actually Arthur Levine.

On Jul.17.2005 at 08:01 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:


Thanks for the typo alert--all fixed now.

So how do you feel having sold over 7 million books this weekend in the US alone?

On Jul.17.2005 at 10:08 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Does anybody have suggestions about any other children's book series - for either story or illustration - that ought to get more recognition but doesn't?

I would suggest, as an example "The Narnia Chronicles" and the original "Wizard of Oz" books, (since "Lord of the Rings" series is so old hat now.)

This gargantuan media blitz is the perfect storm,though: popular product and advertising. Ya can't argue with that.....

On Jul.18.2005 at 10:28 AM
SERA’s comment is:

Unfortunately I did not in fact get the book until 11:30 PM on Sunday, it was given to me as a belated birthday present from my mother. She knew I wouldn't be able to control myself so she gave the book to me when our religious meetings were all done with. Since the moment I had it in my hands I ran to my room and shut the door. Flipped on some soft music and plopped down on my bed. I read through to chapter 20 and then I fell asleep. I think I even woke up this morning with the famous typed words "HARRY POTTER" on my cheek.

These books are in one word AWESOME. Having read enough books to fill a large bookcase, I can safely say that these are my favorite. I have read the series " A Series of Unfortunate Events" and I thoroughly enjoyed all eleven books. Even so, Harry Potter brings back a lot of memories; from the first day I read the first book. I have been an avid fan of the series since the first one hit the stores. I read that first one " Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" on a bet, a bet that I don’t regret making. The bet simply was to see if I could finish the book in one day's time. Sadly I didn’t win the 20 dollars but I won a better series to read than the "Ramona" series, and the " babysitter's club" series that I was so bored reading.

In fact, even if you don’t like the book you should still read one of them, I recommend the third book of the series “ Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban”. This was the one that had me hooked as a fan that wears robes to get the books on their release. These books are NOT children’s books. The simplicity of the language has said to be of fifth grade level, but then so are many newspapers and magazines. If you read closely enough and read between he lines you’ll see that a lot more adult things happen than one might expect to see in a children’s books. The allure of the books ranges as you have Debbie, to all ages, nationalities, religions and sexual orientations. Regardless of the way critics have reviewed the books, it’s up to everyone stopping by to have a look at them, to give them a chance. You have to read them, to believe them.

Happy Reading everyone!!


On Jul.18.2005 at 11:22 AM
BlueStreak’s comment is:

Does anybody have suggestions about any other children's book series

These books are NOT children’s books.

Pesky, your Word It this week is hilarious and one of the best Word Its I've seen. The kid reminds me of a young Bobby Hill.

Sera is right, Harry Potter really isn't a book for children's at all. The most happen'n children's series right now is Junie B. Jones by Barbara Parks. It's from the same publisher as Harry too.

On Jul.18.2005 at 12:03 PM
Lautaro Gabriel Gonda’s comment is:

Er, and the design aspect of this would be?

Everyone knows a new Harry Potter book has come out. Everyone knows the series has sold millions of copies and is beloved of all. This might as well be copied and pasted straight from the wire, or any other blog.

Thanks, Gregor for discussing the logotype, at least.

On Jul.18.2005 at 12:24 PM
gregor’s comment is:

Does anybody have suggestions about any other children's book series.

I've already mentioned the Series of Unfortunate Events books as well as C.S. Lewis, so here's a couple more:

Tin Tin (yes, as a product of their time these books contain certain prejudices - but those can be turned around to teach children about these issues, as we did with our kids)

American Girls Series (all my kids [3] read them -- the girls and our son)

Thomas The Tank Engine (original stories, not the PBS spin-offs)

Sailor Moon animae -- Imagine a 'otherworld,' where women are the ones with the gift of power and magic. Despite some lingering cliches and stereotypes, in a word - awesome. This was a fave of my son -- the girls had no interest, but likely as they were a little older when the animae rage took over.

Nouvelle Biblotheque Rose series. French only, but such fun if you can read them!

On Jul.18.2005 at 12:29 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Ok, so my wife and I are Harry Potter nuts. Actually, she's much more fanatic than I am — but I happily join in her enthusiasm for the books, which I think are great.

Yes, we got our books at 12:01am, along with about 2,000 other fans at a small neighborhood bookstore on Mercer Island, WA, where we used to live. The bookstore held a massive party at a nearby park, where they held a public showing of one of the movies and served muggle food. Yes, we dressed up as characters (I was Dumbledore and my wife was Trelawney) and we had a blast — along with scores of other perfectly sane adult fans who also chose to come dressed as witches and wizards. Yes, it's a marketing phenomenom, but one that celebrates reading as family entertainment, globally — something that to my knowledge, has never occurred before in such epic proportions.

Don't think of the Potter books as children's literature. They are no more children't books than Tolkein's LOR series. The writing is straightforward, but the themes, settings, and characters are as rich as any classic works by Dickens, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, or Melville. I believe that those are more fair comparisons than the more juvenile-aimed literature of CS Lewis or Frank Baum.

Good books, like good music, transcend age-classification, gender, language barriers, cultures. We should all be thankful that we still live in a time and place where this is still possible, and a simple fantasy book can bring joy to so many millions.

On Jul.18.2005 at 12:31 PM
mazzei’s comment is:

The lion the witch and the wardrobe books are great (also hear movies are on the way). Every once in a while I read the whole series... takes the edge off all the noise on the subway!

On Jul.18.2005 at 12:41 PM
chad r.’s comment is:


there is a slightly dated write-up about the Harry Potter brand wizardry on BrandChannel. Take a look and see how this Harry Potter "effect" goes (grows) beyond the bottom line.

On Jul.18.2005 at 02:28 PM
El Jefe’s comment is:

One of my favorite series of books for younger kids is by John Bellairs. "A House with a Clock in its Walls," "Revenge of the Wizards Ghost", and "A Figure in the Shadows," are some of the best magic/creepy books for children ever.

As an extra bonus, Edward Gorey did the book covers, end pages, and chapter breaks which are must see.

On Jul.18.2005 at 02:49 PM
Robyn’s comment is:

Harry Potter is the only book series I've ever read that I absolutely had to keep reading for hours on end (like book 6, although I did have to sleep for a while). I wouldn't attribute that to marketing since the first time I read it I never even heard of it (mum recommended it to me). Unknowingly, I read the second book first yet it made perfect sense.

Before Harry Potter, my favorite books were by Louis Sacher, Barbara Park, Gordan Korman (sadly, many of his books are out of print), and Roald Dahl. I've read their books many more times than HP but they're not 500+ pages long. I'd love it if next book were 800 pages or something ridiculous like that. :)

On Jul.18.2005 at 03:57 PM
Adrian’s comment is:

Since I work part-time for Barnes and Noble I got to see Harry Potter from the other side. All the preparation of the store was done by the stores themselves, nothing from corporate was sent except for the books, glasses, wrist bands and posters. The rest was up to the stores to come up with. Those planning the event at our store went through great lengths to try to keep everything true to the books and movies. Color schemes to logos to terminology, everything was researched and discussed before execution. Everyone involved in the decorations took a lot of time trying to create a real representation.

I was given the task of designing our store's tickets for the book and coming up with the Marauder's Map (store map) to show everyone where the different activities were taking place. It was fun to see the other employees faces light up with the designs and even though the book had been announced for almost seven months, it ended up being a last minute project because corporate kept changing the information. Someone gave me a vector file of the Hogwart's logo, it was fun explaining to them the difference between vector and bitmap, much like explaining magic to a muggle. They were pretty much amazed that I could take the vector file and enlarge it to almost any size I wanted.

The whole experience for me was quite fun and interesting. Every fan of the series has a style guide/book of standards in their head as to what everything is supposed to be. I had to catch up on my Harry Potter terminology to even try to comprehend what was going on at our store Friday night.

My job that night was quite easy, I was line control. I got to deal with the cranky and sometimes unfriendly customers. They complained about the lines and the process, but we had reached maximum capacity and would not budge on the fire code. I also got to stand outside in humid 80 degree weather for 5 hrs (7:30-12:30), I smelt like a water buffalo when I went home at 2:30.

The best part of the night was seeing the eyes light up of the children and some of the older folks when they first glimpsed platform 9 3/4 and got their tickets. It's nice to see kids reading and get excited about reading. Before Harry Potter, when did you ever see a child wait in line for a few hours for a book? It will be a long time after the seventh and final book is released, that children will line up for anything other than a movie, a sporting event or Muppets on Ice.

On Jul.18.2005 at 04:30 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

>Er, and the design aspect of this would be?

Hope Adrian's post above contributes to the design aspect of this discussion.

>Does anybody have suggestions about any other children's book series?

I can't help but hope that Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time series influenced JK Rowling's magical world. This was the first series I encountered as a little girl (aside from Stephen King's book Carrie, which was terrifying) that introduced me to magical otherworlds and the power of magic that is possible in us all.

On Jul.18.2005 at 04:55 PM
Joseph’s comment is:

Can't go wrong with a Palahniuk book. I have ADD and can't keep concentrated on any book I find the least been boring. Chuck's books I can sit down and read in a day without distraction. His style of writing is just captivating.

Oh yeah, who's Harry Potter anyway?


On Jul.18.2005 at 05:00 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Joseph, you may want to check out James Ellroy

On Jul.18.2005 at 05:29 PM
gregor’s comment is:

Robyn, Before Harry Potter, my favorite books were by Louis Sacher.. My son introduced me to that one -- I think I read Holes 3 times.

hehe, when my kids act up we tell them we're sending them on vacation. When they ask where, we say camp Greenlake..

Debbie, I would say yes, JK Rowling was influenced by Madeleine L'engle, but also a rich literary history of 'fantasy' books - the least of which is Tolkein. Cleary you're entranced by the magical world of HP and other books you've mentioned :)

Lautaro, Er, and the design aspect of this would be?

Ah, my friend, the design is in the words, the illustrations. they speak and we listen.

On Jul.18.2005 at 05:41 PM
graham’s comment is:

the potter books are groovy as far as it goes . . . don't think they're all that adult but what does that matter in the end . . . funny, i was thinking about them and the difference between something like lord of the rings and potter. potter suffers a bit for me by it's soap opera quality . . . on to the next revelation and the next etc. etc. until its all revealed and hey presto it's over. lord of the rings is pretty much purely narrative and concurrent themes . . . all about loss, about change. they both seem to be hitting the spot though.

check out philip pullman's 'dark materials' trilogy both as a good read and to see another angle on the 'young adult' fiction thing.

On Jul.18.2005 at 07:23 PM
gregor’s comment is:

thus far we've mentioned series of books that are for for pre-teens and up to adults. I'm almost embarrased that none of have, as of yet, mentioned the wonderful Maira Kalman Max series. Please forgive us, both Maira and Tibor.

Graham, if Harry Potter keeps my kids glued to the book, and not trying to watch Maury Povich sneakily behind my back, then I'm all for soap operas.

On Jul.18.2005 at 07:33 PM
Lautaro Gabriel Gonda’s comment is:

Debbie and Gregor,

Forgive my seeming grumpiness. As a paltry excuse I offer the fact that my carefully researched and meticulously laid out book design was just butchered by the printer (we bitch about these thing here, correct?). I misdirected the frustration, and for that I apologise. Also, I'm pretty turned off by hype, and it seemed this entry could have been plucked from any other source of HP hysteria. But you're right, it is a very well-designed book.


On Jul.18.2005 at 09:47 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Does anybody have suggestions about any other children's book series

Pesky, there is a great list here.

On Jul.19.2005 at 08:34 AM