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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)
J. K. Rowling
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005
672 pp., 29.99

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Alan Jacobs

Opportunity Costs

What does it profit a man to defeat the Dark Lord but lose his soul?

The stab of envy came instantly, unexpectedly. I was somewhere quite new to me: on one of the enormous ferries that run between the mainland of British Columbia and Vancouver Island. As we moved westward we traded shifting clouds for brilliant morning sunshine. My wife and I had every expectation of a delightful day on the island, and had even managed to procure some surprisingly good coffee from a helpful machine. We sat at a small round table, sipping the coffee and gazing on the small islands in the Strait of Georgia; all was well indeed. But then my eye strayed to a neighboring table. There sat a ten-year-old boy, gazing fixedly upon the face of his father, who was reading in a tense whisper from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It was July 16, 2005. The book had been released just eight hours earlier, at midnight, and though I had felt a slight pang when I discovered that I would be vacationing in Canada at the time—celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary, as it happened—I dismissed it immediately, and gave the matter no further thought. (Except, that is, to order a copy from Amazon Canada and have it sent to the B&B where we would be staying. With my wife's permission, of course.) I had every reason to believe that the book would be waiting for me when we returned that evening, but at the moment that prospect yielded little comfort. (I got still less when the book didn't show up at all. But that's another story.) It occurred to me that this was the first time since the first book in the series that anyone I knew read a Potter installment before I did. When the second one, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, appeared in Britain some months before it was scheduled to appear in the United States, I ordered that volume from Amazon U.K.—as did thousands of others, a practice that quickly led Scholastic, J. K. Rowling's American publisher, to insist upon simultaneous release of future volumes. From then on I read each book on the day of its ...

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