New York City is mental tonight. In addition to all the usual crowds around bars and nightclubs and street performances, there are all these huge lines in front of . . . bookstores.
Justine and I were walking home from seeing the Liberty at Madison Square Garden, and stopped at out usual post-game restaurant at about 10PM. Already, there were families out with their hyped-up kids, lightning bolts on foreheads and big geeky glasses on. The buzz was already in the air.
After dinner, we decided to visit the Union Square Barnes and Noble. It had all the usual signs of NYC madness. There were rented searchlights sweeping the sky, giant lines and gianter bouncers, and that all-important symbol of more demand than supply: a wristband system. Folks with yellow wristbands were the lordly pre-buyers. Lesser minions were assigned orange bands, with numbers scribbled on each one showing the order of arrival.
Over at the fabulous Books of Wonder was an even vaster line. Two lines, actually, stretching in both directions to either end of 18th Street between 5th and 6th. There were wizards, bouncers, snipers, all the usual elemants of a book-release party.
We wanted to see our pals who work at the store, just to get the business-end vibe of all this madness. Also, I figured that this was probably the only overcrowded NYC event where YA-writer status was a red-velvet-rope-cutting superpower. Justine was like, “Don’t embarrass me.” But I went to the front of the line and spotted friends, who waved us in all official-like.
Whoa, those were some tired faces. The BOW crew had all been up since dawn organizing and strategizing and lugging vast quantities of books up from the basement. And here they were some 18 hours later, wearing pointy hats and facing a mob that would be surging into the store in only ten minutes . . .
But actually, they kind of looked like they were having fun.
Whatever you think of JKR, tonight was really amazing. Here were thousands of people within a few city blocks all having a genuine cultural event. And it wasn’t about a movie star or a politician or a sporting hero . . . it was about a book. (Hey, any night on which mid-list young adult writers magically obtain line-cutting powers is okay by me.)
It reminded me of a story about Charles Dickens’ popularity. When he was serializing The Old Curiosity Shop in 1840-1, the US was a week or so behind in the narrative, because the magazines had to be brought here by sea. One of the characters, Little Nell, got sick in that Dickensian way where you can die at any moment. So reporters used to hang around the docks when cruise ships arrived from England, and shout up at the passengers before the gang planks had even been lowered: “What news of Little Nell?”
That was probably the last time people got so exercised about a fictional character, you know?
Of course, Justine and I got the heck out of Books of Wonder before the appointed hour arrived, letting the people who’d waited in line have their due, and letting those brave souls at the cash register do their jobs.
My heart goes out to bookstore employees everywhere. I hope you all survived.