Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

New York City

Lit Lit

by Levi Asher on Thursday, February 21, 2008 01:21 pm

1. Mark Sarvas and his readers have proposed a whole bunch of new types of "lit" (shtick lit, hick lit, quick lit). I'd like to turn the tables and suggest one that's clearly in the air today: "Lit lit". These are books about characters obsessed with literature (see Possession by A. S. Byatt). Note that both Mark Sarvas's upcoming Harry, Revised and Keith Gessen's upcoming All the Sad Young Literary Men feature images of books on their covers (a Penguin Classic for Sarvas, a Moleskine for Gessen).

2. I'll be dropping by the Bowery Poetry Club for a quick poetry happy hour tonight at 6:30. The last time I read there, a bongo player was promised but never arrived, but tonight I am assured there will be bongos. Please come by if you can!

3. Via Quick Study, here's some alleged filmed footage of a late-in-life Friedrich Nietzsche staring into space from a hospital bed. There is some question as to whether or not this moving image is fake, but it does not appear fake to me. Nietzsche certainly does project a powerful presence in this film fragment, and that's a hell of a mustache.

4. Via Bill Ectric, Mystery Island presents an interview with Linda Lee Bukowski!

5. This brief Onion news item is strangely good, and reminds me of J. D. Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish".

New Books Report: Roy Kesey, Elizabeth Hand, Arthur Nersesian, Abbas Maroufi

by Levi Asher on Monday, December 17, 2007 11:02 pm

There were many books I wished to spend more time with and write about in 2007. Here are some that seem especially noteworthy, as the year draws to a close and I prepare for an onslaught of 2008 titles ...

All Over by Roy Kesey

The first Roy Kesey short story I ever read was "Wait", which is included in the new collection All Over, the virgin publication of Dzanc Books. "Wait" begins quietly in an airline terminal where a flight is delayed. Slowly, like a frog being boiled in heating water, things get slightly worse, then more worse, and then they go completely unhinged. Kesey's expert handling of this amoral fable won him the admiration of Stephen King, who chose it for the 2007 Best American Short Stories (which is where I first read it, though you can find it in All Over as well).

Kesey has a great and odd sense of humor, but can he write a straight story, minus all the crazy world-goes-on-tilt stuff? In fact, the first story in All Over is "Invunche y voladora", a sobering realistic drama involving a honeymooning couple desperately trying to run away from their private problems by exploring the Chilean forests. The common denominator that ties "Invunche y voladora" to "Wait" to Kesey's other stories may be a smart sense of pyschology and an interest in edgy situations. Kesey is so edgy, in fact, that when I met him last month at one of Amanda Stern's Happy Ending readings I asked him if he had taken his name from Ken Kesey, the boisterous explorer of the Pacific Northwest. He hadn't, Roy told me, but I say there's a family resemblance, and the spirit serves Roy Kesey well. All Over is one of the better books published in 2007.

Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand

This is a fetching murder mystery with an appealing veneer of New York City 70s-80s punk attitude. I know the world whereof Elizabeth Hand speaks, and she describes it well. What I like best about Hand's book is the spiky and street-smart narrative voice, which still hints at innocence when the weary narrator (who tells us she can't be a meth addict because she's too lazy to work that hard) is compelled to leave Seinfeld-Town for the ghostly coast of Maine, where a reclusive Soho photographer is hiding a dark room full of secrets.

Elizabeth Hand's book is a fun ride with a likable narrator, even though the stock mystery plotting cost me some momentum. Still, a captivating voice is the one thing a novel lives or dies by, and on that account, Generation Loss lives.

The Swing Voter of Staten Island by Arthur Nersesian

Arthur Nersesian, acclaimed author of the Bukowski-esque The Fuck-Up, here takes us into an absurdist parody of New York City, which turns out to be an actual government reproduction of New York City (the real one was evacuated after a nuclear disaster) in the middle of the Nevada desert. The narrator wakes up and has to figure out where he is and what's going on, which is extra difficult because he has been brainwashed to murder somebody and has a voice transmitting in his head.

The book's back cover includes a gorgeous map of this bizarro New York City, which has everything wrong: Flatbush Avenue intersects Sutphin Boulevard, there are sandstorms in Bensonhurst, Nazi swastikas decorate parts of Manhattan, and all five boroughs are torn between two warring political parties out of a bad Martin Scorsese movie (yes, a bad Martin Scorsese movie, don't argue with me). I have to admit that I ultimately despaired of making much sense of who was doing what to who in this very hectic story, which includes more weird inside jokes (a folksinger named Fillip Ocks? people actually care what happens in Queens? WHAAT?) than I can keep track of. But the visuals, the Francis-Bacon-esque streetscapes, are enough on their own to make this worth checking out. Ultimately I got lost inside this strange city, but you might find your way. If you like Matthew Sharpe's Jamestown or Brian Francis Slattery's Spaceman Blues (or Will Smith's I Am Legend) you may love The Swing Voter of Staten Island.

Symphony of the Dead by Abbas Maroufi

"A thin plume of smoke floated beneath the barrel arches and domed vaults of the nut-sellers' souk and forced its way out through the front gate. At the other end of the souk, a number of porters burnt wood in a brazier. A blanket covered their hands and occasionally, whenever they dared bring them out, they cracked watermelon seeds. Behind them, in a place looking somewhat like a crypt, three men were roasting the seeds in cauldrons. A mixture of smoke and steam rose into the air."

I'm drawn into Symphony of the Dead, a family saga by an Iranian exile living in Berlin, by the author's warm way with his characters as he slowly sets up the confrontations that will drive this story. I'm only beginning it now, but I'm also definitely intrigued by the epigram that opens the book, a quotation from the story of Cain and Abel that looks like it comes from the Bible, but it comes from the Koran. You may want to check out this book too.

How They Roll With E-Books in Japan

by Levi Asher on Monday, December 3, 2007 01:11 pm

1. I mentioned in my recent disdainful coverage of Amazon's Kindle e-book reader that electronic books will succeed only when they can be read on general purpose mobile devices instead of dedicated hardware. This Tech Crunch article offers a surprising glimpse at the success of mobile-phone based popular literature in Japan, where (if I understand this correctly) it is becoming common practice not only to read novels on handhelds, but also to write them on handheld devices. I'm not sure if I understand why it makes a difference whether a novel is written on a mobile device or not (nor can I imagine myself writing a novel with my thumbs). But I do think that pundits of electronic literature should read this article and see what lessons they might pick up.

2. The Litblog Co-op, after quietly missing a beat this fall, is back! We've picked a very good novel this time around: The Farther Shore by debut novelist Matthew Eck. Dan Wickett provides a good introduction on the LBC site to this harsh, slim novel about a small group of American soldiers lost in an East African battle zone. I'll be running an interview with Matthew Eck here on LitKicks next week, and pointing to other LBC sites that will also feature the book.

3. Matthew Eck's novel paints a descent into a heart of darkness in East Africa, near a beach, and I wouldn't be surprised to find that Eck was inspired by Joseph Conrad, who painted a descent into a heart of darkness in West/Central Africa, near a river. This is Joseph Conrad's 150th birthday, noted at The Guardian (via Conversational Reading) and The Independent (via Saloon).

4. Charles Bukowski a Nazi? Nobody who understands this charming writer's friendly and welcoming attitude towards literature and life will take such nonsense seriously.

5. But please do take this nonsense seriously, from Seattle's The Stranger: "The Levels of Greatness a Fiction Writer Can Achieve in America" by the irrepressible Tao Lin. Finally the glass ceiling is revealed.

6. Had a very nice time at the Small Press Book Fair in midtown Manhattan yesterday. I enjoyed a trivia challenge featuring New York Review of Books kicking the slightly sorry butts of A Public Space, who really only shined when the questions involved Edgar Allan Poe. Tim Brown was a deft and witty MC, and as Ed describes a few of us litbloggers in attendance confronted him afterwards with our desire to compete for the title. Elsewhere in the show, I enjoyed running into travel author Darrin Duford and meeting the mastermind behind Disruptive Publishing, a seriously underground publisher of odd and highly censorable books including the remains of the legendary Olympia Press catalog.

UPDATE: Eric Rosenfield from Wet Asphalt sends another report from the trivia challenge, including a great action shot of me and Ed Champion whispering the correct answer to a question that floored the A Public Space group as Sarah Weinman knowingly smiles. If you are curious, the correct answer to the question was "Becket". No, not Beckett: Becket. The question, naturally, was "who got killed in T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral".

Report from the 2007 National Book Awards

by Levi Asher on Thursday, November 15, 2007 07:12 am

As I hoped and repeatedly predicted (here, as early as September 2), Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke won the National Book Award for Fiction last night at the Marriot Marquis in Times Square, New York City. Denis Johnson is on a writing assignment in Iraq, so here's his wife Cindy Lee Johnson accepting his award with a brief, gracious speech:

But that was the end of the night. Let's start at the beginning, since I was there for the whole thing and can comment on the more esoteric details that you won't read about it in the New York Times or USA Today (whose hardworking reporter Bob Minzesheimer hung out at the blogger table, along with twittering Sarah, videocamera-wielding Jason Boog and a few other livebloggers linked below. Apparently I was the only blogger to come up with the bright idea of not posting about the event until the following morning, thus allowing me to relax and enjoy the ceremony.)

First, let's mention the arboreal stage design, which was quite good (and which I tried to feature in the above photo). Now, I know the stage design couldn't actually be a tipoff that Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke would win (since the judges don't make a final decision until the day of the awards). But the "broken tree" motif certainly suggested some synchronicity, and there it was.

Before the ceremony, everybody got to mingle at a power-packed cocktail hour. Christopher Hitchens held court at the bar, Toni Morrison basked in the love, Joan Didion sought more isolated ground, Jonathan Franzen worked the crowd smoothly until Ed Champion took the opportunity to question the self-esteemed novelist as to "why won't you be my Facebook friend?". If I were Franzen I would have simply said "I can friend or not friend whoever the fuck I like, blog boy!" but Franzen didn't find this easy way out and instead mumbled some dissemblage into Ed's microphone which you can hear via Ed's long list of liveblog posts and spontaneous podcasts linked above. I helped Ed interview Fran Lebowitz, not missing the opportunity to ask her whether or not there would be political fireworks on stage as there had been at a finalists reading the night before. I got a chance to tell Ken Kalfus how much I liked his last novel, said hi to several friends, then went upstairs to the press balcony to extract some decent fresh mozzarella from a few moribund sandwiches and wax existential over at Bookblog (where you can also find some attempted photos).

The first segment of the National Book Awards show was dull, since it featured a paean to the genius of Joan Didion by Michael Cunningham, who may or may not know how to write (The Hours didn't persuade me) but has absolutely no idea how to speak in front of an audience. His stiff, upper-class elocution suggested every bad stereotype that everybody who isn't actually part of the literary establishment imagines about the literary establishment. The fact that he was layering on gummy praise for Joan Didion, a writer I consider overrated, didn't make me like him any better. I agree with him that Joan Didion's prose feels as cold as dry ice; what I don't understand is why I'm supposed to admire that. Chilly has never been my favorite temperature.

There was a long pause for dinner, to the annoyance of those of us in the press balcony who were fed sandwiches and pasta from a buffet. I faked a cigarette break with Mary Delli Santi and thus got a chance to meet Walter Kirn, who is one of only two regular critics for the New York Times Book Review who regularly gets high scores from me.

Back upstairs, Sherman Alexie won for his young adult novel, Robert Haas's Time and Materials won for poetry, which I can't disapprove of though I was rooting for David Kirby's underdog House on Boulevard Street. Tim Wiener's Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA won for non-fiction, and he seemed like the best choice of the five to me, though I don't think the five nominees were a very good sample of the best non-fiction of the past year.

It was a dizzying evening, and I felt privileged to be there. Even a smart-ass blogger like me has to be impressed by the literary, editorial, journalistic and business talent assembled at the Marriot Marquis on this fine Wednesday night.

Reviewing the Review: September 30 2007

by Levi Asher on Sunday, September 30, 2007 07:21 pm

When we read a review of a book, we simultaneously react to two texts: the article about the book, and the book the article is about. A good reviewer must be aware of this fact.

I am pleased to find a review of Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer by Tim Jeal on the cover of the latest New York Times Book Review, but I quickly find myself repelled by reviewer Paul Theroux's mushy, overcooked treatment. Theroux certainly can write better than this, and he knows the subject matter well, so I can only guess that this review assignment caught him uninspired. He calls Jeal's book "magnificent" and tells us that this biography "has many echoes for our own time" (as a book about a 19th Century African explorer certainly should), but that's as far as Theroux goes in terms of social relevance, and most of the review features limp psychoanalytic summaries like this:

In Livingstone, the fatherless Stanley found a powerful (and idealized) father figure, whose stated mission to explore Africa could be his own. Importantly (and this is one of the many modern dimensions of Jeal's book) he found a continent where he could transform himself. Africa gave a man who had experimented with multiple identities a name, a face, a notoriety, a mission, problems to solve, and it confirmed his greatness as an explorer.

Echoes for our time? Exactly, because Paul Theroux makes this book sound like a James Frey memoir. We hear nothing at all in this review about the actual confrontation between Euro-American and Central African culture that Stanley spearheaded (no pun intended). But we hear that "Nobody knew who [Stanley] was, and he didn't want anyone to know" and that he was "shy" and "diffident when pursuing a woman". I can just imagine Barbara Walters doing the follow-up interview:

"Tell me ... what scares Henry Morton Stanley?"

In contrast, let's look at Pico Iyer's similarly speculative review of Orhan Pamuk's new Other Colors: Essays and a Story. Like Paul Theroux, Pico Iyer doesn't hesitate to guess about his subject's mental state. But Iyer's subject is a coy, metaphysical novelist, not a bold African explorer, and Iyer's multi-layered psychological treatment seems not only appropriate but essential for a consideration of Pamuk's work. I like this review very much, and I agree with points like this:

His books are, really, celebrations of multiplicity ("My Name is Red" is told in the voice of 19 narrators) which makes them celebrations of unfinishedness; the mysteries they set up are always more delicious than any attempt to solve them.

and this:

What "Other Colors" makes most clear is how seriously committed to playfulness Orhan Pamuk is.

I'm excited to read this book. Getting back to the main point, please note that one of the two reviews discussed above is an ugly mess, while the other is a good brisk read. The difference is in the critic's ability to find a voice and approach for the review that corresponds to or harmonizes with the voice and approach of the book being reviewed. A soft, kittenish critical voice is just right for Orhan Pamuk, but completely wrong for explorer Henry Morton Stanley. These two examples show this as well as any two ever will.

Like last Sunday's issue, today's Book Review is packed with good stuff and I fear I can't do it all justice. Liesl Schillinger writes elegantly about Anne Enright's The Gathering (though, based on her description, this review is as close to the book as I'll ever get). A. O. Scott increases my eagerness to read Junot Diaz's The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, especially now that I've learned the "Oscar Wao" of the title refers to Oscar Wilde. Jeremy McCarter's brief review of Alan Bennett's royal fantasia The Uncommon Reader makes me eager to read this book as well.

I was slightly bored with Leah Hager Cohen's review of Ann Patchett's Run when it started off like a worshipful puff piece, and then I almost got whiplash when Cohen started pointing out what she doesn't like about the book, which turns out to be a lot. Finally, I'm not completely down with Stephanie Zacharek's extended "pants" metaphor in reviewing Irvine Welsh's new If You Liked School, You'll Love Work, but when she's not talking about pants she does a fine job of expressing the excitement a new Irvine Welsh book always seems to bring.

The endpaper space is well-used to reprint Stephen King's provocative introduction to the newly-released Best American Short Stories of 2007, in which he speaks of the indignity of our current literary scene as represented by wan stacks of literary magazines invariably tucked into the bottom shelves of bookstore racks. He points out that:

What's not so good is that writers write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and the New Yorker, of course, the holy grail of the young fiction writer) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there.

Stephen King speaks the truth.
* * * * *

Okay, yeah, the Mets choked, Palahniuk-style, but you're crazy if you think that makes me like them any less. The enjoyment they gave me and Caryn and the kids at Shea Stadium this year is all the reason I need. Jose Reyes remains my favorite player for his optimistic spirit, although I do feel compelled to point out that the nickname "Mr. September" would not be a good choice for him. But I seriously hope he will hold his head high, because he had a great season and made New York happy this summer. The same goes for other lovable goats Oliver Perez, Tom Glavine, Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, Dave Wright, Luis Castillo, Willie Randolph, all of whom will be taking some heat from the critics and amateur humorists in the next few days.

I see some
Phillies fans are poking their heads out of the dirt. I wish them well in the playoffs. Though I won't be reading the sports sections, so it makes no difference to me.

The Burroughs Brothers and the Plastic People of the Universe

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, September 26, 2007 08:27 pm

1. As promised, I went to see Augusten Burroughs and John Elder Robison, who read from Look Me In The Eye. The elder Burroughs/Robison brother has a good sense of humor and an appealing lack of self-consciousness on stage. He's almost as big a ham as Augusten, in fact, and that's a good thing. I recommend this book to anybody who enjoyed Running With Scissors and also to anybody interested in learning more about Asperger's syndrome.

2. Blogger Marlon James says "My seer/creepy dreadlocked guy quotient increased dramatically last year when I predicted that Orham Pamuk would win the Nobel Prize" [via Maud]. Dude, relax. I picked Pamuk too, rather smoothly I may add, but I don't think that makes me suddenly Nostradamus. For the record, I'm picking New Jersey's own Philip Roth for this year's Nobel Prize, just because I'm getting this vibe about it. And I'm expecting to see the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

3. What? The Plastic People of the Universe are going to be playing Joe's Pub in Greenwich Village? Now that is something to go to.

4. You've seen my father's cartoons, right? I think writers and editors will especially relate to this great series of clippings from the 1950's, How Not To Get An Okay.

My dad has been around LitKicks before, but next week I hope to bring you something else special: a essay on Franz Kafka and Paul Auster by my very-own mom (who, by the way, knows her stuff). It's always a family affair over here in LitKicks-land.

5. Bat Segundo interviews Norma Klein. Klein's new book has an important message about the intersection of big business and war, and this interview is worth your time.

6. So, now that James Frey has just rehabilitated himself to the tune of a million smackeroos and Kaavya Viswanathan just got compared to S. E. Hinton by Dale Peck in the New York Times Book Review, do you think we can all reach down deep and find some love in our hearts for Tim "Nasty Nas" Nasdijj Barrus, and Laura "JT Leroy" Albert? Yeah, people, I think we can.

Nasdijj has been putting up some truly artistic video work as "cinemathequefilms" on You Tube, including this self-referential piece called Name Thief. Well worth visiting if you like this sort of thing.

As for Laura Albert aka J. T. Leroy, she is trying to marshall her resources for a new legal defense, and she has now created a blog. And why the hell shouldn't J. T. Leroy have a blog if J. T. Leroy wants to have a blog? It's called a pen name.


by Levi Asher on Saturday, September 22, 2007 06:17 pm

Me and Ed at the Bowery Poetry Club last Thursday night. Here's Richard Grayson's report, Caryn's pix. Thanks to George Wallace for arranging the event, and to everybody who came out to enjoy the show!

Back To The Bowery

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, September 12, 2007 07:36 pm

1. It's been a long time since I've performed at the Bowery Poetry Club. I'll be doing a quick happy-hour show at 6:30 pm next Thursday, September 20, arranged by Long Island poet George Wallace and also featuring Donald Lev, Barbara Southard and Elliot Pepper on bongo drums. There's a $6 cover charge, but it'll be worth it. I'll be doing a fast fifteen minutes, and I may even have a special guest (if you read the litblogs, it's someone I bet you know and love) jump onstage with me for a bombastic duet.

2. Okay, so. My entire life I've been going to Mets games, and all these years I've watched foul balls go to the right of me, to the left of me, below me, above me. When I was a kid I brought my mitt to Shea Stadium; now I don't carry a mitt but I'm always ready. Even though I never thought it would happen.

Well, I took Daniel to Monday night's game against the Atlanta Braves, and Yunel Escobar hit a tall foul ball off Oliver Perez's pitch that went way above our heads and bounced off the mezzanine wall. The ball then baubled down the loge level, hopping from one set of clutching fingers to another, till it fell again to our level, the field boxes, and rolled under a row of seats where Daniel dove for it, elbowed a few people out of the way, and grabbed the ball, as he tells it, from between the shoes of a guy who was trying to grip it with his feet. So, yeah. We got the ball. And the Mets won, 3-2.

3. It's the Brooklyn Book Festival! I had a nice time last year and I expect I will again this Sunday, September 18.

4. Sarah Weinman, longtime half of my favorite dynamic duo over at Galley Cat, has written a poignant farewell. But somehow I think we'll be reading more of her, not less, in years to come.

5. Matthew Bruccoli's analysis of the errors in Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby is fascinating (via Newton). But I am disturbed by the idea that editors might doubt even for a moment that, when Fitzgerald creates a character named Biloxi who is from "Biloxi, Tennessee", that geographic absurdity is a joke and not a mistake. How could anyone possibly imagine otherwise? Fitzgerald's sweet tones should not hide his natural acerbic irony. This is the writer who told us with a straight face about a diamond the size of the Ritz, after all.

6. Chad Post and Mark Binelli are in the middle of a lively chat about George Simenon's The Engagement at Words Without Borders.

7. I like Ed Champion's writing best when he gets philosophical.

8. This is really cute.

9. Scott Esposito asks: Kanye or 50? Mr. Esposito, the answer is Kanye. And I say this as a person who admired the hell out of 50 Cent's first album, Get Rich or Die Tryin'. That CD was a novel. Listen to it cover to cover and see what I mean. But his new and third CD Curtis Jackson is even worse than his second. The beats on "Straight to the Bank" and "I Get Money" are terrible, and the lyrics are even worse. Yeah, 50, you got a Ferrari, it's not that exciting anymore.

Kanye West, on the other hand, has never served up a stale dish of anything. He's a satirist, a wordsmith, and his new CD Graduation is as fresh as tomorrow's newspaper. Here's your sample Kanye West lyric of the day:

don't ever fix your lips like collagen
then say something where you gonna end up apolog'ing

I remember when 50 Cent's rhymes made me laugh like that.

If I Invaded It

by Levi Asher on Friday, August 24, 2007 10:13 am

1. Enough with the outrage about O. J. Simpson's If I Did It. The book will be dead on arrival anyway, so who cares about it? What's really obscene, I think, is that some publisher will probably pay Donald Rumsfeld a million dollars for If I Invaded It.

2. Garth Risk Hallberg caught the new A Midsummer Night's Dream at New York City's great Shakespeare in the Park. I am upset that my late August schedule of mini-vacations, Mets games and U. S. Open tennis games leaves me no time to catch this production, which also got a nice review in today's New York Times. Midsummer Night's Dream is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, and at least I can take comfort in the fact that I already saw it at Shakespeare in the Park, many years ago, with William Hurt as Oberon. If you can catch this new (and free) production, though, what are you waiting for?

3. I'm not completely down with the selection of Jamestown, Matthew Sharpe's comic-apocalypse novel, as the Litblog Co-op's Summer 2007 pick, though I do admire this hilariously anarchic book. The author's skill is beyond question, and so is his intelligence (as is revealed in this perceptive post about Don Delillo). The book's best achievement, in my opinion, is the dizzy voice of the character called Pocahontas.

But the book reads like a string of one-liners to me. Brilliant one-liners, yes, but with no believable characters and a plot too far-fetched to be gripping, I could not enjoy sludging through all these 320 pages. Sharpe reminds me of certain comedians who specialize in twisted koans, like Steven Wright or Demetri Martin. For fifteen or twenty minutes, these performers are a revelation. But would you want to listen to a 15-hour Steven Wright or Demetri Martin show? That's what 320 pages of Jamestown felt like to me.

Maybe I also think the Litblog Co-op (a group I belong to, by the way, and of which I'm very fond) tends to favor postmodern marvels over readable works of fiction. Michael Martone and Skinny-Dipping in the Lake of the Dead were also impressive experiments, but I bemoan the lack of realistic characters and engaging plots.

4. Speaking of postmodern marvels who I admire but don't personally read, here's Ed Champion on John Barth. I don't have to agree with Ed to appreciate his enthusiasm for this writer.

5. With this post, Mark Sarvas singlehandedly persuades me to try The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt. I haven't been in the habit of reading David Leavitt, but any novel with a cast of characters like this is worth a look.

6. This article follows Jonathan Franzen in dividing readers into two categories: "modeled-habit" readers learned to read from their parents, whereas "social-isolate" readers did not. As much as I love to think of myself as a "social-isolate" in every sense, I have to admit I fall into the first category, because my parents did enthusiastically teach me to love books. I guess it worked.

7. Some recent tributes to Grace Paley have made me realize I barely know her work, outside of an anthologized short story or two. I'm going to remedy that situation now.

My Sopranos Predictions

by Levi Asher on Friday, June 8, 2007 09:29 am

As has been well established, The Sopranos is a highly literary show, and as far as I'm concerned that case is closed. So, let's talk final episode predictions.

Everybody's got a theory. Some people I work with think Janice is going to kill Tony, but I can't agree with this. I think Janice and Tony's brother-sister bond goes deep, and I believe they truly like each other. You don't kill someone you've sung karaoke with. This ending would not make sense to me.

Others are saying Tony will kill himself, but I don't see that happening at all. Or Tony might actually pull his resources together and prevail over the Leotardo gang. But a surprise "happy ending" would not mesh with this season's ominous forebodings, and it would also fail to provide any real sense of closure. Phil Leotardo only recently emerged as Tony's key nemesis, and it's hardly satisfying to end a show's entire run with a surprise victory against an enemy who wasn't even around during the show's formative years. This ending is not good enough; we have to dig deeper for something that would make sense.

My friend John at work made an apt observation that resonates with me: the show's finale might finally give the series title a double meaning if Tony Soprano decides to sing. I think this will happen. He's already been getting chummy with a federal investigator, and he's got few options left. After much thought, I'm going with this theory: I predict that Tony Soprano will attempt to save himself and his family by turning government witness in the final episode.

But he won't get off that easy. Sopranos auteur David Chase will have made the decision as to the final disposition of his beloved characters according to his own ideals about what the modern mafia lifestyle means, and the Sopranos basic moral outlook is very much in line with that of the two previous masterpieces of this genre, Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather movies and Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas/Casino twofer. Chase certainly has earned the right to stand next to Coppola and Scorsese, and it's not for nothing that he's been dropping references to The Godfather more than ever lately.

This season's opener delivered a big hint when we saw Tony puttering around in his tomato garden (a sure nod to Marlon Brando's great death scene in One). Let's face facts -- before this season, Tony didn't even have a tomato garden. You better believe this means something. You don't open a season with a Godfather reference unless you're going to close it with a Godfather reference, and since the season began with a nod to One I am guessing the season (and the series) will end with a sad reference to Three. Which means that, at some point in his flight to federal protection, Tony is going to watch in horror as poor Meadow gets gunned down. Maybe even on the steps of an opera house.

That's my prediction. Tony will survive, but without his honor or his family intact.

By the way, Yahoo slipped up in its story about the the upcoming last episode, saying Bobby Bacala was murdered in "a toy store". Wrong, yahoos, it's a train shop (but what the hell do they know in California?). Bobby was shot to death in Trainland, a famous store in lovely Lynbrook, Long Island, which happens to be just about a block away from where I punch the clock every day at my day job. I took the picture at the top of this page just a few minutes ago.

Poor Bobby went down in style. I have a feeling the whole show will go down in style too, but it won't be a happy ending.


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