About 60 people waited fervently at Borderlands Books in the Mission late Monday night. And no, it wasn't for the tenth Harry Potter book, as a gawker on the street wondered.
Instead, fans congregated at 12:01 a.m. to get their hands on a copy of "A Dance with Dragons," the fifth book in George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, which you may be familiar with through the HBO's series "Game of Thrones," based on the first novel.
I read all of the available books in the early 2000s and like many fans have been pining, impatiently, for more. Some others have been waiting since the series began in 1995 and have followed each of Martin's blog posts in hopes he'd stop discussing football, and maybe, you know, finish the damn book. Others seemed more hopeful about its completion, pre-ordering way back in 2008.
"I can't wait another minute for this darn book!" said Maria Pacana, at Borderlands last night. She figures she can read about 300 pages a day in hopes of finishing the 1,000-plus-pages tome before Friday. Co-existing with her excitement was a little anger about the six-year wait.
"He's an aging and somewhat portly man, and I'm a little bit concerned that he won't finish the series," Pacana said. "I'm so afraid he's going to leave me hanging."
George R.R. Martin might have been better off not promising that Dance would come out a year after the fourth book was published, in 2005. Fans took the promise to heart, and have heaped so much vitriol upon the author online, that other writers, like Neil Gaiman, felt it necessary to come to his defense.
Perhaps it's the curse of being popular. The first four books in the series have sold 8.5 million copies in the U.S. alone. About half of those were purchased as the first season of the HBO series aired. Check out the intro to the show here:
The book's popularity has been good for local bookstores.
"Events like this make a huge difference for independent bookstores, because it's an opportunity to connect with our customers, and its a huge amount of sales in a short time," said Borderlands owner Alan Beatts.
The store sold more than 40 copies last night, along with loads of other books that fans suggested to one another. A second shipment arrives tomorrow, and the store expects to restock the book several times within the first week.
Beatts, however, doesn't think events like this are enough to stop the rising tide of e-books and the demise of non-electronic literary commerce.
"I think that bookselling has a finite life expectancy. Not so much online sales but ebooks make it unlikely that bookstores are going to continue in business indefinitely."
And on that downer, I'm going to escape into the desperate and exciting world of A Dance With Dragons.