Geeks and Freaks 

A fanboy with his own fan base mugs for Muggles, and a local writer convicts a murderously unhinged wife.

It's depressing to consider that one of the largest recent turnouts at Cody's bookstore was for an ephemeral tome titled What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Falls in Love, and How Will the Adventure Finally End? (Ulysses Press, $13.95).

That evening, Cody's hosted what seemed like a girls' high school assembly: Other than a handful of parents and some fidgety young boys, the large crowd was a rippling sea of chattering fifteen-year-old girls. They hushed reverently, though, when the Muggle magnates materialized: Emerson Spartz (a name J.K. Rowling wishes she had conjured) and Ben Schoen, two of the forces of nature behind MuggleNet.com, the absurdly popular Harry Potter fan site whose staff collaborated on the quick-buck best-seller.

Spartz, who launched the site when he was a home-schooled twelve-year-old with too much time on his hands, reported that he is now majoring in business at Notre Dame to learn how to wisely invest his earnings — MuggleNet.com pulls in six figures in advertising revenues each year — and make more money. You go, dude. Feel the magic.

He's remarkably good-looking and charming, though he was a bit self-consciously so as he impishly mugged for the girls in the audience, who vibrated palpably in his presence. Spartz also seems to have outgrown Harry Potter. He and Schoen, a pudgy teen who seems a more likely candidate to be caught in all this hoo-ha, shared an easy camaraderie ("We argue like a married couple," Spartz said), but even as they debated predictions with their fans, it seemed clear Spartz is ready to move on.

The highlight of the evening was the trivia quiz, where the question "How long is Hagrid's wand?" earned nary a smirk from the mesmerized missies or their 'rents. (Answer: Sixteen inches. Ouch.)

The Wrong Side

If you think Rowling's saga is imbued with unreality, check out this tale — one of the oldest in the world: Therapist meets girl, bonks girl, divorces wife and marries girl, endures long and combatively codependent marriage with girl, files for divorce from girl, and is offed by girl.

The absurd 2006 murder trial of erstwhile Orindan Susan Polk is the subject of journalist Carol Pogash's book Seduced by Madness: The True Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case (William Morrow, $24.95). At Cody's a couple weeks ago, the soccer mom-ish Pogash, also from Orinda, presided over what seemed more like a fortieth high school reunion than a book reading. The festive occasion, lubricated by wine and delicacies and marked by much pre-event nattering, was a tad gay and incestuous; you'd have thought they'd bused in the crowd from the upscale community over the hill where Polk bludgeoned and stabbed her estranged husband and left his body to be found by one of their teenage sons.

It's easy to conclude Felix and Susan Polk deserved each other. He was a self-inflated and assuredly unconventional psychotherapist, a devotee of the notorious proto-self-help program est, and (admittedly, like many colleagues) believed satanic sexual abuse of children was a reality. She was delusional and paranoid. Both — again, like too many supposedly sensible people — swore by recovered-memory therapy.

Pogash, who attended the entire trial, related how an elderly neighbor of the Polks, in a shaky voice, passionately vouched for the defendant from her wheelchair. During the Q&A at the Cody's event moments later, in a scene straight out of a courtroom drama, the author called on that same woman, who haltingly — and tiresomely — reiterated her testimonial. But another audience member riposted with the story of how Polk blithely accused a man she knew of sexually abusing one of her sons.

"That's it right there," Pogash responded. "The two sides of Susan Polk." Unfortunately, the wrong side prevailed.

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