Witness to History

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     When you think of times when you were one of many people to witness history you think of things grand and great. Things that changed the face of the world, or at least your world. The historic moments are the ones that stay with you forever. What we forget though is that history is everywhere and that even moments that seem small and simple can change the world.

Even though it wasn’t that long ago, I remember, very vividly, the release of the last Harry Potter book – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I remember that event because as exciting as it was for fans of that series, it was also a sad day, a very sad day for the literary world. Ah, but why?

Sure, it was the end of that series and any long series like that, when it ends, there is bound to be some sadness. I am not thinking of that though. I am thinking more on the fact that I believe, in my heart of hearts, that that was the last time we’ll ever see people in such a frenzy, and in such lines for a book release. It is rare indeed that a book of any kind gets people worked up but to see the lines that formed at bookstores and stores that sold the book was incredible. Yes, there are still big books. You cannot deny the success of the Twilight books but there is rarely a book release that is a bonafide cultural phenomenon. It just doesn’t happen. People still read, yeah, but not the way they used to. I can recall rushing out to get the last books of the Dark Tower series when they were released because I had to have them. I had the same thing with record and movie releases but anymore, I don’t rush out for any media. The need just isn’t there – maybe I got old. Hmm. 

That wasn’t the case of The Deathly Hallows though. For that night I was a kid again, and I loved it. I had begun reading the books well after the first three movies had come out but when my friends kept telling me about the huge amounts of story that had been removed from the books in their adaptation to screen I felt compelled to read them for myself. What’s funny is that I wrote a ridiculous story for a friend who worked at a bookstore for her birthday and made a lot of fun of Mr. Potter. Shame on me. Anyway, this was back when the first couple books had come out and it was just starting to become a phenomenon.  But yeah, I picked the books up and tore through them. It was ridiculous. They are quick reads because they are so gripping but, wow, I read slow and I burned through them. And it was pretty funny that I had literally finished book six about a week before the last book was to come out. Hmm. Interesting.

    The release of HPDH was getting hyped pretty big and it seemed like every media outlet was in red alert mode regarding things. Heck, I remember all the ‘leaks’ that came out and proved to be false (unlike poor Ms. Myers and her vampire books, which had some aspect ruined by spoiler fans thus causing her to ditch that idea for a continuation of the books. Well done, fans.) but which were nonetheless gripping.   And so the big day arrived and to me, it was just a day, albeit one that had some vague intrigue. I was with my girlfriend and a friend of ours and, bored, we figured we’d  check out what the shenanigans were all about. It was sort of like – ohmigawd, will people be dressed up?

And yes they were. Boy were they. And it was wonderful. There’s the initial ‘too  cool for school’ side that comes out and says – oh NO! – but when you get past that it’s wonderful to see all these people dressed up as characters that began in a BOOK! How awesome is that? I cannot imagine how weird and wonderful it’d be if people dressed as characters from my stuff. It’d be crazy and fantastic. So the first place we headed was to the local Borders, here in Flint and there were SO many people, both young and old, just waiting. Lots were outside, milling about near a party tent that was set up for games and fun for everyone and inside there were just as many people wandering around dressed as wizards, witches, and the occasional headmaster or groundskeeper. It was so surreal and fantastic. I have done so many conventions it’s silly but this was all the same stuff, and all these different people, young, old, punk and nerd were all here for the same reason. It was great.

    After wandering around Borders for a bit we left, all of us feeling buzzed by the excitement, and we went by another store and saw it was not as exciting, but was still fun. There were not as many activities planned it seemed but it was still an event for a freakin’ book!

And then we drove.

And I got to thinking, thinking, thinking and I wanted so badly to go to buy the book but didn’t want to at the same time, the ‘too cool for school’ part of me trying to win the day but I refused to let it and we headed for a nearby chain that is our regional version of Wal-Mart. We got there and headed back towards the media area and there were already thirty to forty people in line. We quickly got in line and began the two and a half hour wait. And slowly but surely more people got into line so that it stretched through the back and then up an aisle. Happy with our spot in line we settled in for a long wait.

Long and aggravating wait.

I love nerds, love them, but sometimes they, er, WE, get out of hand. For reals. So we are standing in line and everyone is buzzing about the book, and the series and the movies and everything is coming up Harry. And me and my friends are being ridiculous. Well, behind us is a cute enough kid who is all aglow about Harry and he’s with his dad and they’re chatting about the book and behind them is a batch of nerds with big mouths. One of them turns to the twelve-ish year old boy and starts talking to him about Harry stuff and about what they ‘heard’ or ‘read’ what the book is about and they were getting hardcore spoilertastic. Now, I don’t recall for sure but it’s prolly a lot of crap they were spewing but really, to tell someone who isn’t asking for the info all the stuff you know about something is lame. It’s crappy. And it’s shameful as a fan. You have to respect one another and what one wants to know and not know. So the nerd starts dancing into the danger zone on spoilers and the kid and his father were none to pleased. Enter the Spoiler Avengers. So I spin around and say something snotty to the girl with the big mouth and as soon as I am done my friend lights her up with a devastating blow to her ego and with that she slithers back to her group and the father and son are joyful once more.

    And eventually midnight came and one by one we got our copies of the book and we’d all hold it like it was a treasured memento and then would leave, with less money but far more joy. I devoured that book. I couldn’t put it down. It was a horror and a pleasure to see what unfolded, pain and joy alike. I would get up early and read the book on weekends and drive my girlfriend crazy but I couldn’t stop. I had to know what happened.
And it was bliss.

    It saddens me SO much to think that we will never again queue up for a book again. We won’t because we don’t have to. We can download it instantly now, or wait, or whatever because we just don’t HAVE to wait in line. And maybe I will be shocked. Maybe a book will strike such a chord that people will be compelled to get it immediately. I dunno. I doubt it. And that’s a shame. As we evolve culturally we are moving away from our joy in the written word and we just don’t have time or interest in books. I hope I am wrong, I do. I remember waiting every month for the next release of The Green Mile book when it first came out. I miss that. I miss the thrill that books and literature can give you. Sure, sometimes it’s the gimmicks that draw us but it’s the stories, the stories that keep us there and stay with us.

And I hope that that continues to happy. Just as I hope for more books that capture all of us and spin us away into a world we had never imagined possible. To me, that’s the real magic, and it’s still alive and well, if we but keep our eyes open for it.

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