July 18, 2007
Usually, when we talked books, it concerned mostly the literature of the day which in our case included works from early in the previous century to the present. Only "good stuff" gained entrée and seldom did the current read of one or the other require explanation.
This one time, however, without evident provocation of any kind, she took it upon herself to begin justifying why she had in her possession the most recent release of the "Harry Potter" series. She had probably misinterpreted my initial reaction to the "heft" of the volume as some sort of negative commentary concerning her selection.
If, in fact, my eyes did roll ever so slightly, it had more to do with what I took to be either the large-print edition of "The Complete Works of Norman Mailer" or the newest edition of the "American Heritage Dictionary." That was my story and I stuck to it — but she would have none of it. She was going to set me straight and there was no getting out of it.
Inferring a default snobbery on my part, she began her assault. Just because a novel happens to be a best seller, that doesn’t mean it is categorically unworthy. I certainly couldn’t argue with that. "Lonesome Dove" is a good example. No doubt additional specimens will come to me in time.
Why she felt she had to defend an imaginary moral high ground against someone who had openly admitted to once owning an "Annette Funicello" album was beyond me. Other friends have long confided that J. K. Rowling’s stories of witchcraft and wizardry absolutely rang with wonder.
Seeing myself as innocent of all charges, I constantly attempted to change the subject, to appeal the sentence as it were. She had a few buttons I knew I could push. Hey, how ’bout the new Richard Powers? Can that dude write, or what? And isn’t Toni Morrison’s "Beloved" the most layered and rewarding book you’ve ever read?
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Her smirk informed me that I wasn’t getting off the hook that easy. She compared Rowling metaphorically to Tolkien. She could push a few buttons of her own. Obviously, I was one of the "muggles," the all-too-literal non-magical folk in the Rowling universe, blind both to enchantment and the poetic muse. There, in one fell swoop, a shot across the bow, totally numbing my right brain. Oh the pain! The torture had become "Cheney-esque."
I struggled for my "City Lights" bookbag in the hopes that "The Paris Review Book of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, Travels, The Art of Writing, and Everything Else in the World Since 1953" could provide a tourniquet and stem the flow.
If nothing else, possibly the introduction into the proceedings of the likes of Nabokov, Erdrich, Faulkner, Auden, Vonnegut, Eco, Le Carre, and Garcia Marquez might prove a "garlic necklace" and slow the onslaught. No such luck. She was just getting started.
In her mind I was morphing from a mundane "muggle" into something much darker and more sinister. Through one nefarious alchemy or another, she saw me as having assumed the essence of the evil Lord Voldemort. Clearly, he was not a likeable sort. All trust vanished from her face. Parole was denied.
I tried the tact of comparative literature, of inserting Harry into plotlines familiar to the Grand Inquisitor. That way she could continue her filibuster while I introduced sidebars at the same time.
How would Harry fare as Raskolnikov from Dostoevsky’s "Crime and Punishment?" Or how about the role of Yossarian in "Catch-22" or that of Holden Caulfield in "Catcher in the Rye?" Luke Skywalker is certainly similar. Harry does seem to get in and out of dutch as much as a Jedi.
My options were limited. She knew that if I wasn’t hooked already, that I would never get around to reading even the first volume. Your Honor, I would like to enter these stacks of as-yet unread books that belong to my client as Exhibit A. He places himself upon the mercy of the court. He doesn’t even have time to read the ones that have so patiently waited their turn.
Embarrassed as he no doubt is by this testimony, he has yet to get around to "Henderson the Rain King" by Saul Bellow or, and this really insults his cultural heritage, "The Studs Lonigan Trilogy." And, if the truth be known, the sluggard never finished either "Gravity’s Rainbow" or "Finnegan’s Wake."
He did read "At Swim-Two-Birds" by Flann O’Brien twice however. That should count for something. At least get a bit of time taken off what is as cruel and unusual a punishment as has ever been handed out to a first-time offender. Paris Hilton feels my pain.
Of late, so as not to incur the wrath of other magical folk, I walk away as soon as I sense the aura of Hogwart’s School. Harry’s saga is well represented in concert lines, where I can most usually be found, and any interaction on the subject would most certainly result in additional scolding.
These days, of course, they tend to ignore the peripheral muggle in their midst. They are far too busy catching up on all things Harry before they take in the latest flick and join the line waiting for this weekend’s release of the newest Potter adventure.
Certainly my friend will be too involved to take notice of this humble tale. The witch would probably be proud that I’ve absorbed as much wizardry as I have over the ensuing year. I’ve become somewhat of an expert on Harry and have even been planning a trip to his bar in Venice to celebrate with a "Bellini" fashioned from sparkling Prosecco and white peach puree. That is the same Harry, right?