Sales at my local newsstand must be plummeting. Instead of newspapers, many of the fellow passengers on my daily subway commute are reading books.
And not just any book.
Yes, my subway car has turned into the Harry Potter express.
Those riders are not children heading off to school. Nor am I. I am not a child between the ages of 8-12, nor am I the parent of such a child. I'm a woman in her late twenties.
My growing fascination leads me to turn down party invitations, avoid the phone and stay up way beyond any reasonable hour. I am a woman obsessed. And I have finally transcended my adult embarrassment enough to take my book into the outside world.
My fellow passengers have varying levels of Potter confidence. I see some boldly reading their books as if it were the latest literary "must have"; others try to avoid detection by wrapping their book with brown paper or stuffing it between the pages of the Economist.
Either way, as I push through the crowded train, they are easy to spot, their furrowed brows of concentration broken only by a slightly goofy grin. Eye contact between us is brief this is New York, after all but knowing.
Now, of course, we have even more reason for our somewhat smug recognition. For, unless you've been living a hermit-like existence in one of those New York subway tunnels, you must know that this weekend sees the release of the fourth Harry Potter book, "The Goblet of Fire." The print run is huge, the hype is sky-high. Amazon.com is dealing with an onslaught of orders.
I'll bet that most of those will be addressed to the adults of the household. That's a great and good thing. There's more to it than catching the tail of a growing cultural phenomenon I'm convinced that J.K. Rowling's tales of childhood and wizardry could change your life.
If you are still having difficulty taking a leap of faith, I've put together a few reasons (outside the stories themselves) to consider:
"Harry Potter" Sparks the Imagination: At a time when our biggest pleasure is watching "reality" television, it seems as if we've forgotten the thrill of going inside our heads. TV execs are no doubt patting themselves on the back as to how imaginative they are being with shows such as the just-debuted "Big Brother." But do we really want to be reminded of aspects of our humdrum lives? Do you really need to relive your freshman year of college ("The Real World"), or be confronted by "Cops" (we all know somebody), or be stranded with the cast of "Survivor" (can you say "Family Vacation"?)? True imagination is that a children's book might have Bob the Lawyer seeing himself as be a famous wizard.
"Potter" Promotes Reading as Pure Pleasure: Quite often, the New York Times' bestseller list seems to be more about I'm-smarter-than-you yuppie consumerism than about the books that people really read. I don't know anyone who finished "Infinite Jest." And do you remember the fuss over Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" (a bestselling dust-collector if there ever was one)? And who read Seamus Heaney's new translation of "Beowulf" other than this year's Whitbread Prize judges? "Harry Potter," on the other hand, will be read over and over and passed from person to person. This book takes you back to a time in your childhood when you might spend an entire Saturday in your pajamas reading just for the fun of it.
It Can Bridge the Gap Between Children and Adults: Ask any child about "Harry Potter" and you'll find them rapt with attention. They'll regale you with the entire story from start to finish. Wouldn't it be great if that could be a two-way conversation? If you are a parent, this should be reason enough.
It's Fun: Really. What other argument do you need other than that.
I know one thing's for sure. On Monday morning I will be boarding the subway with eyes puffy from my marathon-reading of my newly acquired "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." I'm sure there will be many other adults there just like me. I hope you will be one of them.