Saturday, July 21, 2007

Can't help wondering whether millions of people all reading the same book at the same time might exert some kind of gravitational pull

Not even the punters who had thoughtfully pre-ordered their copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from Borders could escape the Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Test of standing in a long queue on a cold morning,

except by saving their $29.95 receipts for later (anyone who paid $50 was seriously ripped off) and rocking on further down the mall to the shop known in some literary circles as Anguish & Robbery: hundreds of copies, no waiting, and witches giving away pumpkin juice and Butterbeer at the door.

Some, having attained their prize, walked only as far as the nearest bench before giving way to the desire to start reading immediately,

and others didn't even get as far as that.

By the time I arrived at one of our regular Saturday morning cafes at 9.30 am, the Aerospace Engineering student and her mother the lawyer had picked up their copies, settled down in a sunny corner with their lattes, and were already up to page 60. They didn't see me come in.


Anonymous said...

Yup, purchased from Angus and Robertson; Central Market shop, queue of about six people, took next to no time.

Then delivered home for She For Whom I Cook's all-day readathon.

Zoe said...

Isn't that wonderful, those clumps of kids who just dropped to read on the ground?

I went to a lovely little bookshop here to spend a voucher I had, and was reading to Sage on the little bench next to a girl of about 13 with her HP. I asked if she was enjoying it, and her face was just glowing with pleasure.

Mummy/Crit said...

I think that Borders monumentally screwed it up somehow. I keep wondering how they could've done it better and coming up with a different solution every time....

genevieve said...

Great photos, PC - a lovely little photo-essay. I watched a news report in the butcher's on the Sky Channel after I had bought my meat. It's not often you get to watch good news about bookselling, is it?

The Devil Drink said...

Zoe asks whether it's lovely that people drop to the ground to satisfy their textual cravings right there on the street?
Um, no. Man, this reading stuff's worse than crack. If you're going to compulsively behave, I think you should make that behaviour worth it somehow. I'd get 'em into some kind of polyjuice potion cooked up by bikies in Perth, or at least, into smoking shitty overpriced grass.
I say, to answer the "isn't it cute" question: we're all in the gutter, but some of us are drinking with the stars.

Kate said...

big W, $25. no fanfare.

Target $27, which means it costs two dollars to walk a few blocks in

Adam said...

Great post, lovely photos.

I'm very happy to have paid $50 in aid of an independent store which may one day stock my own books (if I happen to get around to writing any). I guess that way I can have my populist cake, and eat it in an elitist way, too.

While I am usually critical of the 'at least it gets them reading' argument, there is something wonderful about people flopping to the ground to read for pleasure. What I have always loved about novels as a medium is that they are such an exquisite waste of time, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Adam, I'm ashamed that I hadn't thought about the independent bookstore angle. I was actually quite relieved to hear that Borders is apparently scaling back in Adelaide as it will push me to walk a few extra blocks to Imprints in future.

anon, yep, the market A&R is a good little bookshop, I agree.

Z -- I was astonsihde at those children on the ground. I had a moment of wanting to shriek at them HAEMORRHOIDS! ARTHRITIS! GET UP AT ONCE! but I decided to take a photo of them instead.

DD, you are quite right about reading and crack. I once found myself in Paris at 5 pm with nothing to read except the Michelin Guide in French (accident, I'd meant to buy it in English), and I was so desperate not to be stuck overnight with no reading matter that I bought an early Virginia Woolf novel, also in French, thinking I knew it well enough to be able to struggle along with it en francais, which would be torture but better than nothing. And indeed it was both of those things.

sigmund marx said...

when are you going to post something on your other blogs? I only recently discovered all your stuff and want to read more. Do I need to ask you a question about writing, or are you toooo busy? what have you been reading and what do you think about what you've been reading?

kate said...

I'd love to support my local independent bookseller, but he closed up shop 7 years ago. I do the walk to the next closest independent when I can, but their shop in general, and their children's section in particular, are not pram-friendly.

Also, paying a bit extra at the independent I can swallow, but I'm not prepared to pay fifty bucks Because I Do Not Have It.

adam said...

I have to hop on a train to get to any bookstore, let alone an independent, so the issues of proximity are less pressing for me. So it's only a matter of degree.

To be honest, kate, I probably can't afford it either, I just haven't realised it yet. The cost is offset a little by the fact that I'm sharing the copy as well.
I think I would only offer the imperative to shop totally independent, whatever the cost, to those who earn a lot of money.

Zoe said...

The lovely paperchain in Canberra was selling for $40, but slipping a $10 voucher in. Also they had a steam train option.

Gary Sauer-Thompson said...

I'll wait for the film.

Isn't anybody disturbed by the embrace of irrationalism (magic and occult) by the literary culture in Australia?

Or is that being too serious?

audrey said...

Love the photo of the witches on the ground...perfectly captures the thrill of reading a new HP book. Alas, such thrills are gone forever. So depressing...

I went down south for the weekend to get away from the hordes. We went to some suburban Target, strolled right through to the empty checkouts and plopped our fresh books down on the counter. In and out in FIVE minutes.

What a ride the last ten years have been though...

TimT said...

Or is that being too serious?

It sounds like a slightly different version of the conservative Christian criticism of the books.

(I haven't read the books, but the fantasy and witchcraft haven't put me off - that's an old tradition in literature, after all, and it doesn't disturb me in the least.)

Ampersand Duck said...

If anything, the embrace of magic and irrationalism is probably due to the amount of rationalism we've had rammed down our gullets for the last twelve or so years. Do you blame us for a bit of escapism, especially when it's specifically aimed at such 'rational' conservatism?

Gary Sauer-Thompson said...

yes there is a Christian critique of the Potter texts since the occult is the opposite of the word of God.

But my concern comes from within a secular enlightened culture. I find it of concern that people are dressed as witches and wizards and accept the world view.

Is it akin to believing in astology? New Ageism? Or something different?

Gary Sauer-Thompson said...

ampersand duck,
I accept that the embrace of the irrational is a reaction to a neo-liberal rationality.But the conservative one has gone antiscience in favour of the ccommon sense based on thge oprejudices and bigotry of the one nation battlers..

What then is the irrational escapism of the social liberal left?

I've had a bit of a go on a post on this at junk for code, but I'm not happy with it. So criticisms welcome.

Bernice said...

The question of price & independents is a very vexed one. Bloomsbury's distributors in Oz, Allen & Unwin, may have given the chains & big retailers huge discounts but independents still only get 35-40% discount, meaning they cannot buy the book from the wholesaler as cheaply as YOU can buy it from Target or Woolies. Borders, A&R, Dymocks, Woolies, KMart, all treat the book as a loss-leader - hoping it will drag new customers into the store, & cover their losses with additional purchases.
The only folk making anything out of this are the distributors(& Rowling, Bloomsbury & her agent). Despite Peter Lalor's stupid remark in Saturday's Oz.
Indeed many Sydney independents are sending their staff off to the nearest Target etc etc to buy their Potter stock as required....

TimT said...

Not me, Gary. It's mostly kids having fun.

Matthew da Silva said...

Did anyone see the massive chunk of gold on Rowlings' hand during TV coverage of a book signing, recently? About the size of Tasmania.

Fyodor said...

"Or is that being too serious?"

It's being too serious, GST. You were a kid once, remember?

Pavlov's Cat said...

Thinking about a whole post on the issue of anti-Potter arguments, of which Gary's is one of the more interesting, but I'd say three things on the kids-and-magic point quickly:

(1) Gary, I got where you were coming from the with the secular materialism -- but these books aren't meant to be taken literally and don't pretend to be realism or to induct kids into 'the occult'. Kids do actually know what's real and what isn't, contrary to what many adults believe.

(2) Kids' stories have always had magic in them: fairy tales, the Magic Faraway Tree, the Magic Pudding, the LIttle White Horse (Rowling's own favourite).

(3) and most importantly -- the books aren't really 'about' magic at all -- the magic is, as TimT said, the icing on the cake. The magic stuff is fun, and funny, and incredibly inventive -- but the books are about the same things we all read fiction for: kids can find their own experiences there, and learn ways of dealing with their world. So these particular books are about school, growing up, bullies, teachers who are mean to you, dealing with your family, negotiating with your friends (and enemies), negotiating failure (and success), having adventures, etc. And, of course, those two great stalwarts of all literature, love and death.

tigtog said...

Agreed, PC. The dressing up is just because it's a fun excuse for a costume party.

I'm more and more impressed with how Rowling has introduced a whole generation of kids to literature that deals honestly with the fact the bad things happen to good people, including brutal death, and that a ruthless elite can rapidly change the nature of a society by blatant fearmongering and scapegoating.

These are genuinely useful life lessons.

Gary Sauer-Thompson said...

it's not the kids --it's the adults.They are reading the books for themselves.

My concerns about non-rationality becoming irrationality (witches, wizards,occult) relate to the adults who see themselves as progressive.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Gary -- I think the key to this may lie in the discussion at Junk for Code where you say to commenter Pam that you are 'definitely outside a literary culture'. The appeal of HP for adults (well, for this adult, and for all the other adult fans I've talked to) lies precisely in its literariness.

All seven books are stuffed to overflowing with hyperliterary wordplay (everyone's name is either an allusion to another novel or kid's book, or some kind of bilingual or trilingual joke, or just onomatopoeic, as with Professor Snape whose name sounds like the snappy character he is, and whose first name, Severus, suggests his severity).

There are all sorts of other literary allusions, including a generalised play with the 'school story' convention in much the way that good crime writers play with (or against) the very strong narrative conventions of crime fiction.

There's also a really, really strong narrative pull through the Potter books, and the very clever use of independent episodic narratives within one much stronger single story that runs through the whole seven books.

And there's the really fundamental point of fiction, which is to say something about the world using stories as an indirect way of demonstrating a truth and making a statement. Adults like this just as much as kids do. (NB -- the moral world of HP isn't anywhere near as clear-cut as as lot of people who don't know the books seem to think it is, incidentally.)

I agree that for adults, reading the books is escapism, but what one is momentarily escaping from is what one knows to be the harsh truth about the world. I'm not sure I've fully understood your argument at Junk for Code but you seem to be arguing that an adult liking for the Harry Potter books is some kind of equivalent of the irrationalism of, say, creationism or any other fundie nonsense. But the difference is that the fundies really believe it.

It's to do with the capacity to think figuratively -- some people just cannot think any other way but literally, and it is they who end up in fundamentalist religion, or, in some cases, 'the occult'. (Or, of course, a certain kind of economics, as you suggest yourself.) But literary types are far more inclined to think figuratively -- in metaphors, symbols and allegories -- in a way that is quite separate from the things one actually believes about the world.

An illustrative parallel: I know a bit about astrology myself, and have a great affection for the beauties of its symbology as well as great interest in it as a phenomenon in all sorts of disciplines -- cultural history, anthropology, fine arts, comparative religion, psychology. But I don't "believe" it.

By the same token, I am charmed and entertained by the Harry Potter books and like many other people occasionally moved to tears by the quality of JKR's insights into the best of human behaviour and the way that her characters express those insights. But I don't "believe" that they're witches and wizards, and I very much doubt whether any other adult readers of HP do etiher. In fact I'd go so far as to argue that the sorts of adults who enjoy HP are exactly those who would be least likely to succumb to irrationalism in their own beliefs.

Gary Sauer-Thompson said...

not quite right about the literary thingy as the same intertexuality exists in the film world.I fully accept the diverse pleasures of reading texts.

Nor is it about the people per se ie., their motivation for reading these Potter texts or going to see the films.

It is what is being done with these texts by the culture industry --its creating a cultural formation as it were. i tis the cultural formation that is of concern because it is based on irrationality.

Fyodor said...

"Cultural formation", GST?

Like what? Are suburban lawyers and accountants spontaneously bursting into black-robed Crowleyites? Or is it your hairdresser knicking your hair for polyjuice that got you so worried?

Wow, and I thought Mary Poppins was satanic propaganda. Shows what I know.


P.S. 26 July, 811 - Bulgarian forces led by Krum defeated a Byzantine invasion in the Battle of Pliska.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Fyodor, wonderful news about Krum. I shall add him to my collection. Also (you will love this one, if you haven't already noticed it) Hogwarts is one of the many, many schools that beats St Custards at foopball in the Molesworth books.

Gary and me and Tim Dunlop had a bit of an Adders grogblog post-Fest of Ideas yesterday (except that being Adders it was more of a morning-teablog in the Art Gallery Cafe watching JM Coetzee walk by), in the course of which we attempted to thrash this question out some more. I do get where Gary is coming from (I could do a humdinger of a feminist reading if I wanted to, along the same lines) -- the difference is that it bothers him, but it doesn't bother me. Back in the Melb U English Dept, said not being bothered was practically treason.

Me, I say Adorno rules, just not all the time.

Fyodor said...

"Fyodor, wonderful news about Krum. I shall add him to my collection. Also (you will love this one, if you haven't already noticed it) Hogwarts is one of the many, many schools that beats St Custards at foopball in the Molesworth books."

Yes, delightful news.

On Molesworth, I'll have to take your word for it as your comment on Bigglesworth, RFC, has shaken my confidence in your judgement to the very core. Only the excellence of your Crawford Chronicles recommendation held me back from the abyss.

"Back in the Melb U English Dept, said not being bothered was practically treason."

I sympathise. I ain't bovvered neever.

Sorry, gratuitous plug of the outrageously clever and sexy (despite being a ginger) Catherine Tate.

P.S. Have you seen "Stranger than Fiction" yet? It's out on DVD...