Harry Potter and the Skeptical Reader

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There’s no such thing as a loyal reader. Oh, we like to think we’re a pretty committed bunch … and when it comes to sequels and series, we are. But that’s loyalty to characters, not to authors. When a writer changes direction or tone, we’re suddenly skeptical. We tend to write nasty tweets and blog posts about how uninterested we are in an artist’s new work. How they should stick to what they know best. We tend to forget that what they know best is telling a story — even if that story isn’t about characters we already love.

Case in point: J.K. Rowling. She comes out with a new book, Casual Vacancy, on September 17, and even though we followed her devotedly around Hogwarts for seven books, eight movies and a theme park, somehow there seems to be very little excitement for her latest release.

The comments I’ve heard around the store? The story, a small town mystery involving local government, sounds boring. That’s true, but think about the plot information we had about any Harry Potter book before it was released: “Harry goes to school and faces Voldemort.” That’s about it. After book two, that plot sounded pretty boring too, but the reading experience was anything but dull. People also seem put off by the forgettable title: Casual Vacancy. Apparently this is a pretty common term in England, but it doesn’t have the same resonance on this side of the pond. But so what? We didn’t read a half dozen variations on Harry Potter and the Blah Blah Blah because their titles were so compelling, either.

Personally, I’m glad Rowling is deviating from Harry Potter. I’m glad she chose to change directions instead of diluting the work she’s already done by rewriting more the same story or the same theme. And I’m guessing her new book is going to be a pretty great read, even if Voldemort doesn’t make an appearance. I think we’ll all be reminded that it’s the story that makes a book magical, not the references to wands and potions.

You can preorder Casual Vacancy now, but remember not to buy books from Amazon — they’re the Voldemort of the publishing world, so ordering it from them is no better than drinking unicorn blood. Instead, grab a copy from your local bookshop. If you’re in Alabama, you can pre-order your book from my store by clicking here. If you click “pick up in store” and “pay in store,” you won’t have to enter your credit card info online. And I’ll personally hand you the book on September 27, as soon as it comes out. (I’ll even stick around to sell books a minute after midnight on the 26th, if there’s any interest in that sort of thing.)

Carrie Rollwagen is co-owner and book buyer at Church Street Coffee & Books.

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