Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Biggest Selling Book in American History

In its first 24 hours on sale, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh and final installment in the wildly popular series by J.K. Rowling that officially went on sale at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, sold a record 8.3 million copies in the United States, according to Scholastic Inc., the book’s publisher.

What fascinates me here is not the excitement over Harry Potter. Even though I strongly anticipate that it will not be in my Top 10 books of all time, I will refrain from judging it because I haven't read it yet; and if I ever do, it will be in 10 years, when no one talks about it anymore.

What puzzles me is the excitement that drives people to wait in line, pay premiums and make all sorts of efforts to read it FIRST. Samething with movie premieres.

I mean, the book will be as good in a week, a month or even a decade. Is it because people have such boring lives that they need the excitement of waiting in line to buy a book? Is it because they are trying to make a personnality for themselves? Maybe they are seeking a moral advantages over fellows who haven't read the book yet? Or is it simply because the average person is suffering from mental inertia and cannot search any farther than what is offered right in his face? That would explain why most people score better in multiple choices tests.

I just finished a book by French adventurer Henry de Monfreid, a sort of pirate gentleman who smuggled weapons and haschich on the Red Sea at the beginning of the 20th century. The book was published in 1935, before my parents were even born. Since it is impossible to find it in any regular bookstore (they want to sell you the high margin hardcover bestsellers), I bought it online through this fantastic network of French bookstores Livre Rare Book. Paid 10 Euros (15$).

Without even reading J.K. Rowling's latest novel, I'm betting 100$ that this old dusty book with its yellow and torn pages is ten times better than that last Harry Potter.


Antoine said...

Why would they want to read it first?

Maybe because of asses who could diligently post a harmless comment like the one below on many forums?

Something in the like of: Snape dies book 7

Now you gonna ask me who the heck Snape is? I'll tell you JM, I have no idea. And neither do I know anything about Harry Potter apart from the amazing sales figures.

But what I do know however is that those 4 simple words pissed more people than US troopers killed innocent civilians in Irak. And trust me, we’re talking about a hell a lot of people here…

Sofinator said...

Je crois que les gens ont inventé les religions pour les mêmes raisons qu'ils ont créé les cultes-pop entourant la sortie d'un livre ou d'un film. En effet, tous les Harry-Potteux de ce monde - au même titre d'ailleurs que les Trekkies et les Star-Warsiens - éprouvent le besoin d'adhérer à un mouvement de masse qui les sort de leur quotidien merdique, avec tous les rites, les costumes, l'imaginaire et le faux sentiment de fraternité que cela suppose. Pourquoi un tel tollé entourant le dévoilement de la fin du bouquin? Who knows! On sait tous que d'jezusse meurt crucifié, et ça n'empêche pas des millions de lecteurs de relire le Nouveau Testament. En fait, tout le monde s'en crisse. Qu'importe, aujourd'hui, les gens ont troqué les confessionaux contre les lignes ouvertes, et la Bible contre Harry Potter. Oh well, comme qui dirait l'autre : bienheureux les creux, le royaume des cieux est à eux.

Vincent said...

Oh bordel, it's not too complicated why people went in line like this. You know what, it's definitely not great literature. It's no better than the Dragonlance series some of us read in our youth.

It's not great literature but she did manage to create characters you get attached to. People simply want to read what happens to them next. It's like when we watched Star Wars, read Lord of the Rings or any other Epic story. What Rowling did is, like Star Wars, create a story that appealed to more than one generation and so that's why it sold so well.

You know what? I didn't go this time but the last time we went on opening night. It was a lot of fun, like a geek happening. It's just fun, no more intellectual reasons than that. And as far as fun goes, reading a book is still probably better than most.

And Antoine, I agree with you, it did piss off a hell of a lot of people. It's a bit understandable, no? We're talking about 7 books averaging more than 500 pages each to finally get to the end of a story where the tension had been building for the last 1500 pages. Wouldn't you be pissed off if someone told you the end before you got there yourself?

Sofinator, we're not talking about a book that pushed people to crusades or their modern day Iraq war equivalent. This is called fun. I have read Camus and Sartre but I wouldn't qualify them as 'fun'. We read it because it's fun and entertaining, not because we're expecting it to make us think about the meaning of life.

Stacey said...

So which is worse, people waiting in line to buy the new Harry Potter, or this guy trolling a blog and formulating his theory that it's the new Bible?

Listen, I started reading the Harry Potter books when they first came out and waited for each subsequent book because I wanted to see what happened in the story. My Mom is a librarian in an elementary school and she pointed the first books out to me. I like a good story in whatever form it takes, and frankly, children's books are usually a quick read. I read the last HP in about eight hours, a fairly reasonable time investment as far as I'm concerned.

The thing with HP is that it has brought people into reading books who never really did it before, especially kids. Whether or not the book you are reading is better than this children's literature is so subjective as to be useless to this discussion. The odds of people who are reading Harry Potter seeking out such a book are slim, hence it becomes an accessibility issue. I truly believe that many fans of Rowling's books will now look for more authors whose work they enjoy. There's just no way that can be a negative thing, is there? People who might otherwise be drooling in front of their televisions may discover literature instead. Just because I, or any of the other billions of people who read these books enjoy Harry Potter doesn't mean we are unthinking sheep who have never picked up another book in our lives. And for people who may be that way, perhaps they'll be inspired to pick up more books now that the series is over.

JM said...

Hello Vince & Stace, thanks for your - very pertinent I must admit - comments.

First, my message was no attack to Harry Potter's rabid fan base. I simply cannot afford to have so much ennemies ;o)

The thing here, is not the Harry Potter phenomenon or the subjective "quality" of the books, but rather the puzzlement over the urgency to read it NOW and also the way the vast majority of people respond to what is presented to them rather that what they could get if only they would reach a little farther.

To quote Bruce Lee: "Your Art is like a finger pointing at the moon. If you focus on the finger, you miss the moon." Harry Potter's the finger, let's not miss the moon.