Harry Potter casts a spell on readers


Harry Potter, the 11-year-old student wizard, is dazzling the publishing industry with book sales that are more enchanting every day.

"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" -- the first two of a projected seven-book series for children -- have sold roughly 7 million copies to American and British readers and been translated into 28 languages.

Now it appears British author J.K. Rowling has cast another spell with book No. 3, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." Since it appeared in American bookstores Sept. 8, it has sold close to 270,000 copies, according to the Wall Street Journal's statistics for best-selling fiction titles. It not only tops the Journal's best-seller list but also USA Today's; the other Potter books rank 2 and 3 on both lists.

Locally, sales of the newest book about the orphaned adolescent and his adventures at an English boarding school for wizards have been quite brisk.

"Nothing else has had people coming in the way this [book] has," says Paul Gallagher, manager of Bibelot in Timonium. "It's an amazing, positive-spirited, word-of-mouth thing. It's customer-driven as opposed to being driven by some outside event like the run on Princess Diana books that followed her death."

Next month, Harry's 34-year-old creator, Rowling, will make a brief stop in Baltimore to sign books at the Children's Bookstore in Roland Park. The Oct. 18 event will permit only fans who have bought a Potter book at the store to sign up for tickets for the signing.

(All signing tickets have been distributed. Security guards, required by Rowling's American publisher, will not allow anyone without a ticket into the building while the author is there.)

The Harry Potter phenomenon delights, and mystifies, Selma Levi, head of the children's department at the Enoch Pratt Central Library. There's rarely a long waiting list for a Potter book at her location, she says, because most people would rather just buy it.

"It's especially refreshing to see younger boys, 8 and 9, wanting to read a book that is fantasy," she says. "Fantasy usually clicks in [for boys] around middle and high school. And boys in general are notorious for not really going toward fiction. But people are really embracing this series. It has enough adventure and excitement for anyone."

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