I don't know what year it was but I remember that I was home for a weekend and I was amazed that my youngest brother, Sean, was willing to dedicate himself to a several-hundred page hard back book and it could hold his interest for hours on end.
That book was the 4th release in the Harry Potter series and it peaked my interest enough that I picked up his copy of the 1st release and sat down to read it. By the time the weekend was over I had read 1 through 4. I had decided that the tale of young Mr. Potter was as full on a cultural phenomenon as I may ever know(1) and it was my duty as a pop culture participant to be involved.
As the books 5, 6, and 7 were released I pre-ordered them from Amazon.com and had them shipped to my house on the release date. I read 5 and 6 within 24 hours of opening them which is a bit of a feat when you look at their page count. However, the stories move fast (though each seems to drag slightly in the middle) and would probably fit the description "page turner". Likewise, I pre-ordered book 7 before I realized that we'd be in London when it was released.
The Potter saga is wonderful but I'm almost more engaged by the phenomenon itself. It's pitched as a children's story, yet, I've had many watercooler discussions about it at the office. I'm fascinated with the story of it's author and how it's changed her life. It's strange to read things like "Harry Potter helped make his author JK Rowling the UK's richest woman with earnings six times higher than the queen, a survey has found" and think about how that affects her day-to-day existence.
It's neat to see it crop up in odd places of pop culture like Jon Stewart blaming parts of the war debacle on Voldemort, Homer Simpson renaming "Spiderpig" to "Harry Plopper" or the recent very strange episode of Doctor Who about witches in Shakespearean England where the Doctor (actor David Tennant, who had a role in the 4th HP movie) casts an "Expeliarmus " spell and thanks "Good Ol' JK" for saving the day.
I was also fascinated that from almost the minute the book was released in London I couldn't go anywhere without seeing a copy. I'll write about this more when I get the Europe posts finished, but at 12:10 AM BST a young kid walked into our hostel touting his copy. The next morning two or three were reading it at breakfast. An hour later 4 or 5 people were reading it on the Tube, even in the next pod on the London Eye I caught a girl ignoring the views to keep her nose in the book.
To no one's surprise I broke down a bought a copy of the book while waiting for the train in Paddington Station so I now own two copies that are different sizes, have different covers and artwork and were published on different continents. Since we were on vacation I took a couple days to read it rather than hole up in a hotel room to read it straight through (I finished on the plane trip home).
As an American Harry Potter fan, I consider owning both a first edition British version (1 of at least 12 million, I s'pose) and watching Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix in the theatre of the London premiere to be somewhat unique experiences.
Another unique experience was having dinner at my Pastor's house the other day when she and her husband pulled out the laptop to show this to the group:
Apparently, pop cultural phenomena are what you make of them.
1. This was pre-iPhone