So there I was, as I would say if I was beginning a comedy routine, so there I was sitting in a big impressive room of the University of Chicago, with portraits of former someone or others decorating the high-ceilinged walls, waiting for the lecture on the Collegiate Division of Humanities to begin, feeling a bit overwhelmed by the grandeur and the amounts of other students. A girl comes and sits beside me and we kind of half ignore one another, half smile in that uncomfortable complete strangers trying to be polite sort of way. Until...she mentions something about Harry Potter and we (and a third girl sitting in the row in front of us that neither of us knew) have a twenty minute, heated, intellectual discussion about what we thought of the sixth book (lousy), whether Snape is really bad (like anyone believes that), whether Dumbledore is coming back (disagreement on the subject- possibly as a portrait), similarities to Lord of the Rings (Frodo saying he's going to fight Sauron alone and then Sam coming with him- I'm taking her word for it, I can't stand the books), how dead Sirius currently is (only somewhat), who R.A.B. is (Regulus A. Black), the symbolism of Snape's actions (some sort of sacrificing his place in the community for something or other), whether Harry is now a Horcrux (possibly), and on and on, ending with the two of us exchanging e-mail adresses, by far the closest relationship that I formed with a random seat-mate.
Nor is this the only case of Harry Potter's unifying and discussion-stimulating abilities. I recall several years ago, at a meal at our shul, someone had brought her nine year old niece from Israel with her. The poor girl sat quietly as everyone gossiped, not knowing anyone and looking awkward...Until my sister asked her if she was into Harry Potter.
Maybe this is just the first time I've even marginally been into a trend, or maybe it's the fact that the books really have a lot of fun plot and discussion, but there's something special about a book that provides hours of fun and bonding for complete strangers. Especially when it's geared specifically for the under-represented group of scifi nerds.