It's been quite a cloudless day here in Middlesbrough, so I had a nice head-clearing walk into town and back, under my woolly hat, minded of the protagonist from π. Lots of thoughts, but no conclusions. En route, I saw and nodeed at one gentleman I knew from the Cleveland Speakers Club. Incidentally, I managed to completely forget about the first meeting of the year of said club due to Christmas celebrations; accordingly, I learnt through the post two days ago that I'll be speaking for 5-8 minutes at the second meeting on Monday coming about Colourful Gardens, a topic which is ever so me. Thanks, lads.
Anyway, while in town, I tried to solve one little problem. I have a washkit which I take away with me on my travels. It consists of a canvas bag with a stick of deodorant, a hairbrush, some hotel travel shampoos and a tube of toothpaste within. Also inside this washkit is a second canvas bag containing a sponge, a toothbrush and a soapdish with soap in - that is, the things which might get wet.
The problem with this is that the contents of the second bag always start to stink very quickly. I guess that this is a result of the sponge retaining water even once you try to wring it out. Even swapping the contents of the bag for new ones, washing the inside of the bag and starting again does not stop the problem from reoccurring very quickly. It's a problem to the extent that even once I've showered in the morning I can't be sure that I'm still not smelly simply because the sponge and the soap reek.
So what I have done is purchased a new inner canvas bag, a new soapdish, a new toothbrush and - instead of a sponge - an old-fashioned flannel. (All dangerously co-ordinated in baby blue, naturally.) I will see whether this starts to stink nearly as quickly as the sponge did and will report back.
The odd thing is that I've never heard of this being an issue for anyone else before, though surely it must be an issue which people must have solved - it could well be that the original solution is theoretically correct but that I'm just doing something wrong. Is it really that rare to have a standby travel washkit ready at all times? Tips welcome!
As you've doubtless already heard - and I'm looking forward to see to what extent this is mentioned on the mainstream news - the fifth Harry Potter novel will be released on June 21st and it will be very long. 156 days and counting; far enough in the future that it's something to look forward to, near enough that it's tangible. I have no Friends born on the Summer Solstice and the fandom's pregnant ladies should have unloaded long by then. Quick checks: the date doesn't clash with anything like a games convention and the only important sporting event that day is the athletics European Cup. Forget this weekend, let's start planning OotPCon!
The length of the book will cause logistical problems; OotP is set to be over 255,000 words long. By way of comparison, Philosopher's Stone is a shade under 87,000, about a third of the length; Goblet of Fire is about 191,000 words, so OotP is roughly a third as long again; uber-fanfic Harry Potter and the Psychic Serpent is of the order of 330,000 words, so that's the comparison. Incidentally, the British edition of Goblet spreads its 191,000 words over 630 pages; fitting 255,000 words into 768 pages is going to necessitate either larger pages (unlikely) or more tightly packed pages with smaller text (more likely, but not desirable). Not so good.
There's also the issue of whether it'll be "any good" in the first place or not. With 255,000 words, some parts of it are inevitably going to be seen as weaker than others; heck, people pick apart parts of Goblet of Fire as being extraneous to the plot already. I think that the Harry Potter bandwagon is so strong that OotP doesn't need to be outstanding - it just needs not to be much worse than the rest of the series to date. It'll be interesting to know how the publishers' editors approach OotP - whether they suggest the removal of any major sections altogether. Would the editors dare to say "Look, this just isn't as good as what you've written in the past, it isn't as good as you think it is - go back, have another go and we'll change the release date from June 21st?"
Incidentally, I would love to have been a fly on the wall at Warner Brothers when they first heard how long book five will be. People have speculated that Goblet of Fire is so long that any Goblet movie would be released in two parts a month or two apart - what are they going to do for an OotP movie? A trilogy? A pay-per-view TV mini-series? Perhaps the difficulties of filming might rule movies of Goblet and OotP out altogether. Going back to print, I look forward to the cartoons where people joke about the length of books six and seven already. Although book six being longer still again seems unthinkable, would it be wise to consider the possibility of a Harry Potter book being released in two halves?
I still regard myself as a fiction reader with less confidence and ability than most. I read reasonably quickly, self-taught as a child from an article in Reader's Digest, which got me into trouble with the teachers for a while. I estimate that I read at about 500-700 wpm, so 30,000-40,000 words per hour. (By comparison, the speed reading courses tell you that most people read at 200-400 wpm and that most speed reading courses can get you up to about 600 wpm. They also suggest that speed reading can improve your reading comprehension, which is why I've idly considered them in the past.) Accordingly, I'm expecting OotP to take up most of a day. (I raced through Goblet in a four-hour train journey, though I knew that I wasn't really taking it in first time. Indeed, I remember that I cheated and jumped to the end of it at one point.)
With this in mind, I've been mulling ideas to try to get the most out of my first read through OotP. Starting to sell the book at midnight strikes me as a bit of a recipe for disaster - people will try to read the book overnight, partly in order to be the first to finish and discuss, partly so that they can't be spoiled, but they'll miss out on a night's sleep to do so, and that really doesn't seem like the best way to enjoy the book. Incidentally, I suppose the "All time zones preceding the UK are embargoed until 00:01 am BST (British Summer Time) on Saturday 21 June 2003." comment means that Australian folk will receive the book at a sensible time of day. It also wouldn't be bad at all for the folks in PST to get the book at 4pm PST on the 20th, but I don't think that's the implication.
I've long liked the idea of getting a group of fans together in order to read OotP for the first time and share the experience chapter by chapter, much like we currently do with episodic fan fiction. (Read a chapter, discuss the chapter we've all read. Read a chapter, discuss the chapter we've all read. Repeat until end.) Would it be possible in a single day, though? Not sure, but I like the idea of finding out. (Splitting it over two days seems unnecessarily chancy - perhaps we'd have to lock up the books half-way through overnight.)
There's also the possibility of hearing the story for the first time rather than reading it - that is, getting a group of fans together and reading the story out word by word so we can share the thrills. As Stephen Fry's reading of Goblet takes (I think) 21 hours, a reading of OotP might take somewhere around 28 - so a very, very long weekend. Somehow still quite a tempting proposition, though. Incidentally, I love the thought of booking out Wembley Stadium, or many huge stadia around the world, on the release day for book seven and having tens or hundreds of thousands of fans all being exposed to book seven for the first time through a celebrity reading. That strikes me as the best possible way to enjoy the end of the story - a shared experience for the ages, a Live Aid for the 21st century. I know I'd pay very heavily for a ticket to be there - and just think how much the TV and radio rights would go for...
Got to do something very cool and friendly and fannish to celebrate the solstice and the release, though! The planning starts here!