J.K. Rowling Plays Family-Friendly Diva in Lincoln Center

British Author J. K. Rowling
J. K. Rowling, author of the "Harry Potter" series and the new novel "The Casual Vacancy". Photographer: Andrew Montgomery/Wall to Wall Media Ltd via Bloomberg

On a Lincoln Center stage more accustomed to operatic divas, last night J.K. Rowling sat wearing a slim black dress with a pointy white collar and talked about her new book, “The Casual Vacancy.”

“I feel like I’m going to have to hand out sedatives,” said author Ann Patchett as she introduced Rowling to shrieks and a standing ovation at the David H. Koch Theater.

This was Rowling’s only U.S. public appearance, and the more than 1,600 tickets to hear the “Harry Potter“ author sold out in less than an hour, according to Michelle Aielli, publicity director for Rowling’s publisher Little, Brown and Co.

For $35, the cost of the book, fans listened to Rowling answer questions from Patchett and give a brief reading. Then they received a copy of the book and could wait in line to have her sign it.

“My daughter feels like she’s meeting the Jane Austen of the 21st century,” said Cathy Onorato, who attended the reading with Lauren, a recent graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The set-up could hardly have been less operatic. There was a blow-up of the book jacket in front of a black backdrop; Rowling and Patchett looked small in their matching armchairs.

Harry Potter

They discussed how the book doesn’t have a single hero like Harry Potter, and that Rowling is good at writing about villains. Patchett, who owns an independent bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee, told Rowling she had a hard time labeling “The Casual Vacancy” a novel for adults because “we sell ‘Fifty Shades of Gray.’”

“The difference is, people have sex in this book but no one really enjoys it,” Rowling said.

After agreeing to refer to it as “a novel for grown-ups,” the two writers discussed whether children who love Harry Potter would want to read it.

“That would be inappropriate,” Rowling said. She recalled that there was a boy who looked about nine at a recent London event. She had been planning to read a section of the book where “the f-word,” as she called it with chagrin, appeared quite frequently. She gave an explicit -- “and repetitive” -- warning that the book was meant for adults, then went ahead and read the passage.

The section she read last night, about a catastrophic dinner party, was disappointingly family friendly.

(Laurie Muchnick is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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