When Hannah Oliver came to work this morning, she made a beeline for “The Casual Vacancy,” J.K. Rowling’s new book. The 26-year-old bookseller and social media coordinator at Politics & Prose usually reads books before they go on sale, but because of an ironclad embargo staff didn’t get access to the book until Thursday, the same day customers did. By 10:30 a.m., she was five chapters in.
“It was definitely a bit of a rush to get to the store early and see what was waiting for us,” Oliver said. Her co-workers are reading the book too, and they’ve been sharing their favorite sentences.
“It’s going by very fast,” she said. “So far, it’s very funny. I’m enjoying how snarky she’s being about normal people and suburban life, and neighborhood gossip and how exhausting that is.”
But for the most eagerly anticipated book of the year, Politics & Prose had sold only about half a dozen of their 300 copies by the time Oliver was not quite a half a dozen chapters in. That’s about a third of what the store would order for the “Harry Potter” series, but, according to senior book buyer Mark LaFramboise, 20 times more than they usually order for other books. For “Harry Potter,” the store could count on swarms of pre-teens rushing the door at midnight on the day of a new release. For “The Casual Vacancy,” the author’s first adult novel, there have been no such crowds.
“For any other book, 12 or 20 copies would be taking a major position,” LaFramboise said of the store’s 300-copy endorsement. “We’re going to be positive ... All of those kids who read [“Potter”] when they were 10 are 25 and 26 now. We think there’s a built-in audience. We’re waiting to see if it is review-proof.”
Like Politics & Prose, bookstores around the region are hoping for the best. Rowlng’s new book has been met with lukewarm reviews and inevitable comparisons to her famous wizard works. While some observers have speculated that the book will break records for swift sales, anecdotal evidence from around the region suggests otherwise.
At Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle, manager Alex Asancheyev reported that sales and inquiries about the book have been “just a couple here and there ... definitely not the same level of volume” as “Harry Potter.” His store received between 50 and 100 copies of the book.
“Just judging by how it’s gone so far, I think it will sell at a pretty standard pace,” he said. “There are a number of novels out, like the new Michael Chabon, that have sold well. We expect it to have the same pace.”
“As soon as we opened our doors, there were a couple of customers,” said David Johnson, one of the managers at the Barnes & Noble store in Clarendon. The store has 350 copies — “a lot less than ‘Harry Potter’ ” — and by 10:45 or so had sold about five or six, with eight copies held for customers on reserve. Many fans of Rowling pre-ordered copies online, but Johnson doesn’t think that will affect his store’s sales as much as other stores. “We’re in a location where people like to shop us, so there might not be any sort of backlash.”
“I think Potter fans are just curious,” he said. “They’re going to withhold judgment until they read the thing. They want to see if she pulled this off.”
Meanwhile, over in the Columbia, Md., Books-a-Million, not a single copy of “The Casual Vacancy” had sold by 11 a.m. Martin, a store manager who declined to give his last name, said he wasn’t sure why the book hadn’t brought in any customers yet.
Even if there was no rush among his clientele yet, Martin said he was still enthusiastic. A big “Harry Potter” fan, he’s been avoiding the reviews.
“I’m trying to keep myself insulated,” he said, “so [reading] it will be that much more amazing.”