Again a spell is cast on fans of the `Potter' series

Readers, booksellers are gearing up for book's July 16 release

July 06, 2005|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

You can consider the Mountains typically wild about Harry.

The Ten Hills family owns multiple copies of J.K. Rowling's first five books about wizard-in-training Harry Potter, and plans to buy at least three more when the latest, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is available to readers at midnight July 15.

The Mountains will attend their third "Midnight Magic" Potter book launch at the Barnes & Noble store in Ellicott City.

In 2000, Molly Mountain finished four chapters of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by the time her parents drove her home from the bookstore. The then-8-year-old managed to polish off the 734-page book within 18 hours - including time for sleep and a previously arranged play date.

There's no telling how fast Molly can devour the new book now that she's a teenager. Her most serious Potter competitor, 15-year-old Michael, will be out of town on the big day. But Charlotte, 12, and Jack, 9, are also Potter fans. And Diane Mountain, Molly's mom, can't wait to crack open the new book, either.

"We've reread the other books many times," she says. "I was just thinking that in order to get properly prepared for Half-Blood Prince, I should reread The Order of the Phoenix - my favorite book in the series."

Anticipating what some call "Christmas in July," booksellers have also stocked up on the other Potter books, audiobooks and paraphernalia - games, calendars, book lights and DVDs.

In fact, with heavy promotion and stories about the extra security to protect the book against early release, just about everyone has heard something about Potter No. 6, supposedly the next-to-last book in the series.

Its U.S. publisher, Scholastic Books, is establishing an American publishing record by printing an initial 10.8 million copies.

Barnes & Noble stores alone have more than 750,000 preorders for the Half-Blood Prince, and chain officials expect that figure to increase to more than one million over the next 10 days.

In addition, Barnes & Noble predicts it will sell 50,000 copies each hour for the first 24 hours, according to spokeswoman Carolyn Brown.

Although Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Central Library has not received its copies of the latest Harry Potter, there's a waiting list of eager readers, says Helen Blumberg, manager of the fiction and young adult department.

Once lodged in the children's section, Harry moved into the Pratt's "young adult" room when he became a teenager a book or so ago.

Not just for kids

But his adventures have always attracted grown-ups. Nearly one in five American adults has read at least one Harry Potter book, according to a 2003 survey by the NDP Group, a New York-based research company.

"There's no other young adult book that has engendered the level of interest in readers across the board that this series has," librarian Blumberg says. "It appeals to people who just like good stories as well as to people who like fantasy. The characters are so well drawn. If you've invested the time to read the first ones, you want to find out what happens next."

Many booksellers are throwing Potter celebrations for their preorder customers on July 15. The party at the Inner Harbor Barnes & Noble will feature a fortune teller and a live owl. The Ivy Bookshop in Lake Falls Village will hold a costume contest to entertain customers waiting to pick up their books.

The Children's Bookstore in Roland Park has engaged the teenaged members of its Fantasy Book Club to host a "gala" on the small stretch of Deepdene Road in front of the store. There will be a "sorting ceremony" and other Potter-inspired events, including a "Bertie Bott's every flavor bean-eating contest."

Author visits

The tiny shop has tremendous Potter history. In 1999, author Rowling visited the bookstore for a two-hour signing - the only stop she made in the Baltimore area. Since then, the store has created its own Harry Potter moments.

In 2003, teams of staff members and friends in Harry Potter caps hand-delivered copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to the nearby homes of book buyers at midnight.

Debbie Nelson and her husband, Travers, made roughly 30 drop-offs. She remembers one home in Guilford that had signs - "HARRY POTTER DELIVERY THIS WAY" and "NEED HARRY POTTER BOOK IMMEDIATELY, HURRY!!" - posted along the walkway.

"When I rang the doorbell, the door burst open and there were two little girls in pajamas jumping up and down," Nelson says. "I have never had the thrill of handing over a book like that in my life. It was better than Santa Claus delivering the gifts."

Even though the store will celebrate the new book's arrival differently this year, she expects its readers' enthusiasm to be equally strong.

Hers certainly is.

"I can't wait until midnight!" she says.

To read more about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, go online to The Sun's Web site: baltimoresun.com/harrypotter6.

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