Wild About Harry

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Wild About Harry

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Then there's the equally fun — if equally picked-over — back story. Rowling was a single mother on the dole. She cooked up her 11-year-old wizard on a train between London and Manchester. The first book was written while she was living with her young daughter in an Edinburgh flat with no heat. Now, at 34, the author — who recently received an Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth — is reportedly the third-highest-earning woman in Britain, and her $42 million take landed her on Forbes' 1999 celebrity income list. And it's no surprise why:

''We sold 502,000 copies online and in stores over the weekend [and] 114,000 copies in the first 60 minutes,'' marvels Mary Ellen Keating, spokesperson for Barnes & Noble, the nation's largest bookstore chain. ''We're just about out of copies.''

''We're replenishing orders today from our warehouses — they're getting drop-shipped to our stores,'' reports Ann Binkley of the Borders Group, which sold more than 200,000 copies on July 8 through Borders, Waldenbooks, and Borders.com. ''Everybody is reordering [from Stateside publisher Scholastic] today.''

''It was beyond our wildest expectations — sales were at least three times what people had projected,'' gushes Michael Jacobs, senior VP of the trade division of Scholastic. So far, there haven't been serious Harry shortages, though there might be: Three days after the book went on sale, many stores across the country were completely sold out —including three of the nine B&N superstores in New York City. Scholastic says it plans to print 2 million more copies in the next six to eight weeks. ''Our challenge is to move as quickly as we can [to make more books], but there are only so many places we can print. So we have to take a deep breath and see where it shakes out,'' says Jacobs. ''We need to ask [booksellers] to be realistic about what toexpect.''

And then, without a hint of irony, he sums up the weekend: ''This was the biggest single event in the history of bookselling.''

A gutsy statement, but something that isn't exactly news to the nation's kids and parents. Around the country on Friday night, sleepy urchins — eyes glazed with greedy anticipation — queued up for parties, entertainers, and, most of all, the chance to be the first to get a copy of the new book.

''I've been waiting a very long time. I wouldn't be able to sleep tonight without it,'' effuses Fedora Gertzman, 11, at a Borders in West Hollywood — who brightly replies ''Who wouldn't?'' when asked if she'd want to be Harry's girlfriend.

In Manhattan, the tots came strapped. ''You know what? I brought a flashlight to read it in the taxi on the way home,'' says Ruth Nachmany, 10, who at 12:30 a.m. was sitting on the floor of Barnes & Noble with her sister Tamar, 9, who was devouring her own copy. ''I don't plan to sleep tonight.''

And it isn't all kids. ''I've never seen such a fuss, but I understand why,'' marvels Anna Orozco, a Florida seventh-grade teacher who lined up early. ''We have a required reading period and before [Harry Potter], most kids would sit and pretend to read. They're not pretending anymore.'' And at the Enchanted Forest, retired preschool teacher Alice Bogie offers this testimonial: ''This is what we used to call a whopping good yarn. When I buy the books for my grandchildren, I have them all gift wrapped but one...that's for me. And I haven't been 12 for over 50 years.''

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