Harry Potter and the evil empire

Two weeks ago, in a corner suite on the fourth floor of the very lovely Hotel Rouge in Washington, D.C.’s tony Dupont Circle neighborhood, I lay on a king sized bed, finished my quinoa/ dried berry / green leaf lettuce / dinner salad, and read the last ten pages of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

For the first time.


Mind you, it’s no accident I made it this long without reading them. My roommate in college discovered the novel the summer after our freshman year — that would have been June, 1999. She adored it, and began reading each as it debuted, even organizing midnight Harry Potter parties at the independent bookseller in our hometown.

But I, ever the hater of all things beloved by everyone else, turned my nose up. Not only did my snobbish disdain for something I’d not read a word of give me the ability to do something unusual — that is, feel superior to my fellow English majors — it fit into my aesthetics formed — where else — in baseball.

To my mind, Harry Potter was like the Yankees: given every possible advantage for success without working hard enough to make the real fan, the burgeoning 18th c. literature aficionado, feel they’d earned it. British author? Check. Charming, if easy, narrative? Check check. Accessible for all? Checkity check check check.

But I was wrong. Harry isn’t a Yankee, though he is born under the burden of heavy expectation. He’s not Derek Jeter, a seemingly charmed (if likeable) hero. He’s certainly not Jason Giambi, or Alex Rodriguez — players who couldn’t seem to live up to their hype until they were lampreyed onto some greater player’s underbelly.

No, Harry was Johnny Damon. Johnny of an unknowable level of talent in his early years in Kansas City, Johnny with his lightning strike speed and freakish outfield instinct in Oakland. Johnny in Boston, not fully realizing until the 2004 ALCS, perhaps, just how great a foe he and his teammates were up against, Johnny and his ragtag gang of self-named misfits, the idiots, lacking pedigree and pinstripe.

The Yankees were Voldemort. (How else to explain A-Rod’s spectacularly nefarious swatting of the ball from the first baseman’s glove?) An evil, long-simmering force that took over seemingly decent people and turned them into entitled, unappreciative fan-monsters.

I’m not in any hurry to read the rest — I’ve got a stack of library books higher than Johnny’s current Mohawk taking precedence — but I’m finally learning the lesson about the book and the cover and judgment. Or, at least, the lesson about making sure you assign the correct judgment to said book.

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