Published 12:00 am Monday, June 30, 2003

mania: Latest installment hits shelves today


Kerry Whipple

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The Natchez Democrat

Chris Cameron has had the Concordia Parish Library’s copy of &uot;Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix&uot; on reserve for the past two weeks.

&uot;It’s here, and I can’t have it yet,&uot; he said Friday from the library. &uot;I’m anxiously awaiting reading it.&uot;

You won’t likely see Cameron, a Vidalia resident, dressed up in wizard robes or attending a Potter slumber party. After all, he is a college student.

But Cameron is one of millions of fans of all ages around the world counting down the minutes until the release of the fifth book in J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular series about a boy wizard.

The book was due to be released at midnight, with stores in larger cities planning overnight events and opening express lanes for book buyers.

Bookland at Natchez Mall was selling vouchers Friday to customers who wanted to reserve a copy of the book, the ticket-shaped coupon meant to represent Harry Potter’s annual trip to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry aboard the Hogwarts Express train. The store was to be open at 8 this morning.

Natchez Mall was planning a celebration of the book’s release at 10:30 a.m. today, complete with a Harry Potter look-a-like contest and refreshments.

At independent bookstore Turning Pages, sales were slightly less brisk. But by Friday afternoon all but two of the store’s 15 pre-ordered copies were on reserve, said owner Mary Emrick.

&uot;There is much more interest&uot; in the fifth book than there was in the previous book, Emrick said. She was likely to order more books this weekend.

&uot;This gets the children reading,&uot; she said. &uot;I wish we could sell many, many more.&uot;

Cover to Cover Books & More, also an independent bookseller downtown, had at least a dozen copies of the book on reserve Friday afternoon.

Bookstores were to follow strict rules for the release of the novel &045; it couldn’t even be displayed until 12:01 this morning.

&uot;We’re ready,&uot; Cover to Cover’s Tonya Boyd. &uot;It’s unbelievable the craze. Kids of all ages enjoy it, and we’ve got mothers and grandmothers who read to their children,&uot; Boyd said.

Harry Potter’s main fan base has aged with him. The character is 15 in the new book, which reportedly includes the death of a major character.

Trey Price of Ferriday is quick to point out he’s not a &uot;fan&uot; of the books. &uot;I read the first of them when I was really young,&uot; he said. &uot;When I was younger I was into everything Harry Potter. Now it’s just more books to read.&uot;

That’s not to say Price won’t be looking for a copy of &uot;The Order of the Phoenix&uot; at the library as soon as it’s available &045; he still wants to know what happens next in the characters’ lives.

Likewise, Sammy Tuminello of Natchez, now 14, has seen some of his fervor wane, in part because of the delay in waiting for the latest installment. The last book was released three years ago. But Tuminello said he still rereads the original books.

&uot;I’ll probably go to Cover to Cover to get it as soon as it’s available,&uot; he said. &uot;They’re kind of the classic, old-time fantasy, with a new coat of paint on it.&uot;

And Tuminello appreciates how the books have encouraged so many children to read more.

&uot;By the time Harry Potter came out, I was already a pretty good reader,&uot; he said. &uot;They just inspired me more.&uot;

And children have to be serious readers to tackle Harry Potter.

The latest book is 896 pages &045; the longest children’s book ever, and also the most expensive, with a list price of $29.99.

But it’s still the top seller at amazon.com and at other booksellers that have sold pre-orders.

For Cameron &045; who was encouraged to read the books by a girlfriend &045; the appeal of the novels and their orphaned boy wizard protagonist is universal.

&uot;It’s just his determination, and the way he seems to overcome things that seem insurmountable odds,&uot; he said. &uot;It takes you back to being a kid again.&uot;