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L.A. bookstores not afire over J.K. Rowling's book for adults

July 18, 2012|By Carolyn Kellogg
  • J.K. Rowling, whose book "The Casual Vacancy" comes out Sept. 27, signs copies of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" on Oct. 15, 2007.
J.K. Rowling, whose book "The Casual Vacancy" comes out Sept.… (Ric Francis )

Author J.K. Rowling has reached a level of popularity few writers will ever see. Her seven-book "Harry Potter" series, while written for children, soared onto bestseller lists. Hollywood's successful film adaptations have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. And Forbes tallies Rowling's net worth at over $1 billion.

Even that, however, is not enough to guarantee artistic success.

In September, Rowling will publish her first novel for adults. "The Casual Vacancy" is a mystery set in suburban England; publisher Little, Brown describes the 512-page novel as "a big book about a small town." But will it be a big book in Los Angeles?

Maybe not. "Nobody quite knows what to expect from this book," said Charles Hauther, a staffer at Skylight Books in Los Feliz who helps order the books for the store. Skylight has not made any special effort to promote the book to its customers, and so far no one has come in and asked to put it on pre-order.

That's a contrast to Rowling's last book. When "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" was released in 2007, bookstores around the country, including Skylight, pulled out all the stops. They stayed open until midnight the day before so people could begin buying the book at 12:01 a.m. of the on-sale date. Some hosted costume contests. Some stayed open through the night hosting read-in slumber parties, where children could bring sleeping bags and read as much as they wanted before going to sleep.

Don't expect to buy "The Casual Vacancy" at midnight from an independent local bookstore. Skylight, Book Soup, Vroman's and Mysterious Galaxy won't be holding extended hours the day the book goes on sale, Sept. 27.

"So far we haven't made any special plans," said Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy Books, which has stores in Redondo Beach and San Diego. "It seems like most of our customers are taking a wait-and-see approach. They're not certain whether or not the story is going to capture them the way 'Harry Potter' did."

This book marks a departure for Rowling on two counts. It's her first book for grown-ups -- but that could work in her favor. Eight-year-olds who read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" when it came out are now 22. But are they ready to make the move with Rowling to the uncharted territory of a mystery story set in smalltown England?

All we know about the book is what the publisher has shared -- and it's not much. Barry Fairbrother dies in his early 40s, setting off a chain of events that expose a town with deep rifts. Pagford is seemingly an English idyll, but it is, the publisher promises, "a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils." The action culminates in the conflict over the election to fill the seat left vacant by Fairbrother on the parish council.

No flying. No spells. No magic.

"I think people are flexible and able to follow authors as they change genres," Hart said. "But people have been so passionate about an established world, like Harry Potter's, they're not sure if it's the author's writing or that world."

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