I’ve never read Harry Potter. But I have reasons. The phenomenon of Harry Potter nearly cost me my sanity.

I was in high school when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released. I didn’t read it. By 2003, when Order of the Phoenix was about to be published, I was working at the Barnes & Noble in Bend, Oregon. This was my first experience with a major book release. We had an embargo date and memos about how to take reservations, how to explain that they couldn’t actually buy it before the release date, and how we would handle the book in the store before the midnight release. It was bonkers. And exciting. I wasn’t an HP reader. But I couldn’t help loving all the people who were this happy about a new book. We had pages of reservations and people calling daily to ask if we would have enough and when they would actually be let in the doors. Harry Potter was a rockstar, and these people just wanted to touch him.

As the release party approached, the excitement grew. Unfortunately so did the crazy requests. I started to dread the release party. Would we be able to corral people out the doors to prep? Would we be able to handle the lines? Was our reservation-tracking system ready? WERE WE READY?

What you have to remember, what I have to remember, is that this was the first book in the series since the first two movies had been released. Everyone who had seen the movies now wanted to catch up. For a bibliophile this is heaven! For a retail employee this is hell!

On the night of the release, I was stationed at the reservation table, checking people’s names and giving them wristbands, showing them how many copies they had reserved to purchase. A gentleman told me his name, but I couldn’t find it. We checked multiple lists. It was not there. We had a contingency plan: customers could get a different colored wristband and purchase their books at the end of the line. This was not acceptable to him. He was livid. Then he threatened me. I can’t remember if the exact word was “cut” or “stab,” but he threatened to hurt me unless I found his reservation. I’m not sure if I was more stunned or angry. This man, an adult man, was threatening a twenty-two-year-old girl over a book! My coworkers were stunned. And the most ridiculous part? We found his reservation. His first and last names had been swapped. We gave him his wristband. He got his books.

I never worked on the sales floor for another Harry Potter release party. I helped with reservations and planning. I trained new employees. I hid in a back room but still helped. For two more book releases, including the final book, I answered ridiculous questions, took thousands of reservations, and watched as the excitement around a new chapter of the Hogwarts saga grew.

But that first experience changed me: a dozen years later and I’ve never read a Harry Potter book. For a publishing student, this is sacrilege. And suddenly my reasons for avoiding the books (I’ve seen all the movies) seem small and petty. Is thirty-five too old to read Harry Potter?

Leave a Reply