Literary Escapades: Sami Reiss On Books

Of all the people I asked about The Philip Roth of NYHC for I Question Not Me #4.5, Sami Reiss provided the best and most detailed response. This comprehensive discourse, along with an article he penned for GQ earlier this year, provided the impetus to feature his literary habits on Serve ‘em a Sentence. Sami needs no introduction, but the humor and style in his old zine Trumbull Escapades inspired some of my own projects along with an entire sub-generation of hardcore kids. Pick up a copy of Gratitude #3 for assorted Sami interjections, and more on his own literary proclivities below:

Tell me about yourself and your reading habits! And what are you reading right now?

Hey! I’m not a great fiction reader. I read a few at a time, thin for the commute (I work as an editor for the NHL’s website) and thick everywhere else. I don’t read much sports stuff anymore. I just finished True Grit this week and it’s just so great. Power Broker, a bit left… I stopped 600 pages in years back. Caro is prolix and reading about the tri-state area depresses me. The Prize, by Daniel Yergin, so vibrant and really funny. Brothers Karamazov, which… man… it doesn’t get better. I read John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold last month and went to The Strand after and bought seven other Le Carres the day after and found two on the street within the week. I read the best one first, Tinker Tailor is merely great. I finished The Honorable Schoolboy and it is rough. It’s nice to read third-tier fiction, because I’m such a newb and am still on the classics. The world we grew up in, we get socialized in different types of art early, so it’s nice to find foundational stuff later.

How did you become a frequent reader? And is there any point in your life that books have saved you the way that people frequently credit hardcore for saving their lives?

Growing up I read a lot, but mostly my dad’s Mad Magazines from the 1960s. A decade ago, I started working in sports and overloaded on that writing. My habits crystallized in 2013. I left a job where I wrote a lot and barely read. I couldn’t write in ‘13 because of the non-writing job I had kept. I was broke, a relationship had ended, working nights, nothing to do. I just read. I needed my vegetables. Every New Yorker cover to cover for a year, from there books by writers I liked or mentioned. That was a peaceful and fruitful time. I don’t think reading saved me. I was glum throughout, and for a while after. Reading didn’t give me life lessons, or help me meet new friends or solve my problems. But it gave me a sense of quiet, peace and purpose. It was a way to entertain myself and stay steady. It is nice to get better at something (writing) by doing nothing. I was excited every day to just get home and read. I don’t know if it’s a salvation. In our world you can feel old at 25, though as a reader and writer you’re young in your 40s. Which is nice. Maybe it saves lives. Free time was and is much less daunting knowing how many good books there are out there, and how many surprises there are bound to be.

How many library cards do you have, in what systems, and what is your favorite library branch?

I only have a NYPL card, and I only use it for Kanopy. I don’t check out many books. I can’t defend this habit, it’s super lame. I’ll spend time at the Brooklyn Public Library, read reference books and leave. There is more in 10 shelves there than on the whole internet. Ian Frazier the writer says he works at the big NYPL, in Midtown. They hold a big party every year and sometimes Robert Caro goes. I should start hanging out there. Will I? Not sure. I like buying books and having them forever and I don’t have a books budget, I buy when I see something I like. 

What is your favorite book, and who is your favorite author?

I don’t have hard favorites. There’s a peloton: James Joyce, Joseph Mitchell, Peter Hessler, E.B. White, Joan Didion, Elmore Leonard, Charles Portis, Larry McMurtry, Pynchon. I haven’t found a school of fiction I love. I don’t have the authority to have a favorite fiction writer, I’m too poorly read. Dubliners is my favorite collection and I go back to it a lot. Moby Dick made me want to lie down in silence because not a thing can follow up those chapters. It elevates the American east coast to London or Paris. Plus it’s so funny. The two books I wish I could read again for the first time are Brideshead Revisited by Waugh, which is heartbreaking, makes me want to feel bad, which I don’t like feeling. One of the best love stories ever written. The other is Barbarians at the Gate, a book of reporting about the leveraged buyout of RJR-Nabisco in the 1980s. It is honestly just the sickest fucking book ever written. It is so fucking good. If you see it, buy it. I can’t say enough about it, it is so funny and satisfying and so rich in detail. I did not think when I spent the $3 on a book about Nabisco being pulled off the stock market in the 1980s it would be one of the most ripping yarns of my life. But it is. Perfect book, and if I had a time machine I would travel back in time, read it again at my leisure, and then get to sports betting and righting wrongs, the details of which I won’t go into here. 

Thoughts on reading books at shows between bands? And have you ever moshed with a book in your pocket?

I went to shows in the 90s, the bad part, but I don’t mind this. It was a cliche back then, you would go to a localcore show and some twerp in suspenders minding a distro is reading The Sorrows of Young Werther, not helping anyone. Enough time has passed since that this association has been withdrawn. Reading a book anywhere raises a person’s dignity, especially on public transit. I’ve not moshed with a book in my back pocket. When I was going to shows and dancing I was reading Infinite Jest and Gravity’s Rainbow, which aren’t pocket reads. I never understood how people can fit books in there. I only wore 501s for a long time, to size. Those pockets can’t fit anything over a short story collection. And Dubliners meant and means too much for me to place it by my keys.

Is there any song that reminds you of a book, or vice versa?

I don’t think my brain works that way. I think the New York of V is identical to the New York of The King of Comedy. And Moss Icon reminds me of Rimbaud. Both were young, downtown beautiful, with short, small lives. Moss Icon was a mid-coast hardcore band and Rimbaud died young in what I bet was a rented apartment. Not a lot of photos of either. But their output and presentation was epochal, painfully beautiful and touched on the most universal themes of being alive and isolated. Their work will live forever. Rimbaud obviously has a better rep, but I think Moss Icon should go in the time capsule too.

Best books to take on tour?

I’ve never been on a proper tour, just a weekend here and there. I guess I never wanted to see what concert halls in Stuttgart looked like on weekday afternoons. The last tour I did was a weekend with Mil-Spec in July 2017. I thought I was getting a new job so I burned my vacation days. I didn’t get the job and don’t remember what I brought to read. I remember having very little time to do that. I went to Trash American Style, the awesome store in Connecticut, with Mental in 2003, on the way to either New York or DC. I bought Lolita and read it over the summer. It was so depressing. I made a point to not bring it to shows.

What’s your favorite literary reference in a hardcore song or band name?

It absolutely is “Here My Troubles Began” by SOS, which is on the Lockin Out “Sweet Vision” compilation. HMTB was the name of the second Maus comic I’m pretty sure. But it was also a headline on the cover of an early McSweeney’s, which is a periodical we all read and worshipped. SOS’ singer Jason Barrow and AJ McGuire and I all worshipped McSweeney’s, at least. I thought it was the start of something: hardcore kids who read David Foster Wallace and McSweeneys, who wore Arcteryxes and Jordan 1s, who sold Yankees Suck shirts and got into fights, but it didn’t broadly take off then. Barrow bought William T. Vollman’s Rising Up and Rising Down, the original hardcover, six bound books, which McSweeney’s published, and two pairs of the original lime Air Max 95s on a Saturday once. The shoes were re-released that day and the book came out the week before. I was so impressed. I doubt HMTB is the first hardcore song with overt literary themes, but i bet it’s the first comp song based on contemporary serialized writing. I love the song too, still. It’s about responsibility. Literature is an adult game, or so it seems. At first glance it looks distant from child music. But so much fiction is about how much growing up and being an adult sucks. The Updike books about the Toyota guy are not so different from Clocked In, for example. 

Is there a book that you have read recently that was far outside of the scope of your usual reading habits, but you enjoyed it nonetheless?

This will sound horrid but I try and read about things I’m not interested in. I don’t enjoy books on music, culture or fashion… or sports. Those things comprise the larger parts of my interests and career path. I follow them in news but nothing is less interesting to me. I tend to read obvious fiction and non-fiction and journalism that covers either esoteric or mainstream things in plain ways. Brideshead Revisited, which I mentioned earlier, I bought for a dollar for no reason, and can’t stop thinking about. I wish I could read it again fresh. That’s the best thing I did outside my scope. It’s an obvious book, but still, just this amazing heartbreaking love story, which I usually don’t go for. I’ve tried a couple Evelyn Waugh books since and they didn’t hit. I think rolling the dice and trying new things with an open mind is a good rule of thumb for reading and other things too.

Are there any underrated books about hardcore that you would recommend? (Bonus if they are still in print). And were you psyched to see Trumbull Fanzine [sic] referenced in the straight edge book?

I think Radio Silence and Live Suburbia, both by Anthony Pappalardo, are great, unique and well-executed artifacts that don’t fall into the regular pattern of hardcore books’ hagiography, back-patting and unverified claims. Many books on the subject read like Al Bundy reliving Polk High football. So much reporting that comes off like stenography. I guess these things are hard to report. But what isn’t? You can’t make a full book from stories too good to check. Lore is cool, don’t get me wrong. But it’s just not good enough. Dance of Days is obviously another one: maybe the only very well-reported book about hardcore. It’s great, but I wouldn’t say it’s underrated. Anthony’s books are broader, nail it, and hold up well. The book speaks from authority and not ball-washing, and is critical too, in that artifacts and scenes are left out. It’s not like the books are languishing in obscurity or anything, but they’re as good as anything on the subject. I had no idea my zine made it into the Straight Edge book. What’d they say? My hope is someone from Excessive Force found it and trashed Owen and I. 

I think the Record Aficionado books by Jay Bil are some of the best journalism on the subject too. He leafed through every single zine in the ABC No Rio library and found ads and reviews on these records no one has seen in 30-plus years. I’m biased, since we’re good friends, but I think they are the best and most complete works of documentation on the subject.

What do you say to people if they say you have too many books? Lately I’ve noticed people starting to disdain owning or collecting things, alongside a passion for decluttering, and your GQ piece was a powerful rebuttal to this trend. Do you think books are immune to this societal mania?

No one’s said that to me. Not sure owning too many books is possible. I’m close to running out of shelf space, and when I get there I’ll build more shelves. People who live in smaller apartments than mine have more books than me. Thanks for saying that about the GQ piece, I’m not sure how powerful it was! Kondo is thoughtful on books. She said if you love them, keep them. Makes sense. Aesthetic minimalism can be hectoring, and it only works when done with noble intention. Otherwise it’s a pursuit of the idle rich. It’s dumb to be singly aesthetic-minded. The Constance Garrett translations of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy look better and have cooler jackets than Pevear and Volokhonsky. But what kind of dipshit would I be if I bought those? Garrett was a butcher — you need the good versions. I am sure books are not immune from top-down culling, but these trends rise and fall like hemlines. It’s a big movement, but it doesn’t have the power to get through your front door.

Any last literary thoughts you would like to share?

One, thank you for doing your thing, I think the world has finally started to catch up to the wave you have been on for the past decade. It’s inspiring and your body of work speaks for itself. I don’t like giving advice, but I have some on reading and writing, since I am guessing some younger kids might be reading. I don’t have much authority, but these are things I’ve learned from people more talented and successful than me. 

Reading: read as much as you can, don’t read related your interests, roll the dice on books you might not go for, like what you like, and push yourself. Find time to read, it’s good for your soul. 

Writing: I’ve barely begun and I don’t have a big body of work, but I’ve had people say they like my stuff but they’re not a writer like I am and couldn’t do it. I just want say here that’s bullshit. There’s no union card. Rough analogy but it’s like playing in a hardcore band: everyone is allowed to give it a shot, and there’s no barrier to entry. Not everyone’s good, but the good ones are the ones who pay attention. Writing anything is not some sort of different world you need to be born into. If you read, you’re a writer, you can be one, you can do it. Keep reading a lot, listen to people, find trouble, read Strunk and White, write multiple drafts, don’t be precious about turns of phrase and find good editors and listen to them. Like anything else that matters it’s just work and time. Things get boring when it’s just cis white males describing their experience, we need a surfeit of dispatches, fiction or non-, about life, from everyone else out there doing it. 

Casualties of a Reading Existence: an interview with Matt Melnick of Darkside NYC

This interview with Matt Melnick is the first of a new series on Serve ‘Em a Sentence in which people in hardcore talk about books. Our scene seems to harbor a higher percentage of readers than the general population, and I wanted to shine a light on fellow biblophiles.

This is part of the existing Paper Bullets section since I am out of Maximum Penalty puns.

Darkside NYC is playing some upcoming shows this summer – more info at the end of this interview.

Tell me about yourself and your reading habits:

My name is Matthew Melnick, 55 years old and I play guitar in Darkside NYC and Downlow. I’m married and have 2 children aged 7 and 13. I like to read from both analog and digital sources: books, short stories, magazines, technical manuals, social media, and news of the day. I try to read at least a few pages of a real book every day.

And what are you reading right now?

Right now I’m reading “Age of Miracles” by John Brunner and “Lucifer’s Hammer” by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven

I read a lot of science fiction and cooking/food books.

How did you become a frequent reader?

I’ve been an avid consumer of data for as long as I can remember and have loved reading books since I was a kid but I’ve only been a frequent reader in the past year. I haven’t really gotten into reading fiction until recently. I have a short attention span (which of course makes writing hardcore music perfect for me since most of my songs are only 1 or two minutes long), and I’ve always had trouble focusing and finishing books. I could only read short stories for a long time. About a year ago I happen to find a Ray Bradbury compilation of short stories on top of a trash bin. (who would throw that out?) I started reading it on the bus after dropping my daughter at school, really enjoyed it and my new era of reading began. Since then, I’ve been traveling with at least one book as much as possible, mostly when I’m on public transit. The background noise, the long length of time I’m sitting there and the desire to withdraw from the general population all help me dig in to a story and take me somewhere else.

20 years ago I used to be the book and magazine buyer at Tower Records on 4th St and Broadway in NYC (R.I.P.) and that expanded my reading habits extensively as well as my collection! There also happens to be 4 libraries on the bus route to my daughter’s school that I pass every day which makes it easy to get a book quickly when I want to learn about a topic or just want reference for something I’ve read online.

I have tons of ebooks and PDFs on my network at home but I just can’t get into reading on a phone or tablet. There’s something about holding an actual book in your hand, the tactile sensation of paper and the turning of pages that just makes the experience of reading enjoyable.  

Is there any point in your life that books have saved you the way that people frequently credit hardcore for saving their lives?

I can’t say that books have saved me, but my book collection is an extension of my personality. Books are like air … I need them to survive. I’m always researching or trying to learn about something. I’m most comfortable when I’m surrounded by books and magazines. The guys in my band are also avid readers, which is really great. Writing and playing music with illiterate people sucks.

One thing that really bothers me lately is seeing every kid, every adult sitting with a phone in their face. I’m sure the percentage of book reading has dropped dramatically in the face of this new technology. When I read on the bus or train, I hope that even just one child might notice me reading and maybe decide to put down their phone and pick up a book for themselves. Reading hasn’t necessarily saved me, but maybe my love of reading could save someone else or be a trigger to get them busy with literacy. Reading real books is the new punk rock!

I originally thought of you for this series when I saw on Instagram the books you were rescuing from your neighbor’s trash. What’s some of the coolest stuff you have found that was discarded by others?

Ok, so I’ve been a “collector” for many years. I’ve found stuff in the trash that would shock you. Computers, furniture, books, music gear..the bigger and more insane the find, the more motivated I am to salvage it. Video game cabinets, pinball machines, stereos.. I’ve found it all.

Recently I was headed home and saw a giant pile of books tied up on the sidewalk. My eyeballs popped out! How can you just toss classic volumes of Shakespeare into the garbage? Trashing books should be illegal! Anyway, I immediately knew what my mission was. I looked around, found a stray cardboard box down the block, sorted through the books and carried my bounty all the way home from Flushing, a long ride on 2 buses but it was worth it. The following Friday I walked by again and more books. As I was going through it all, a lady came out to see what I was doing and we talked for a bit. Turns out, her boss had all these old books in his house, he recently passed away and she was throwing part of it out every week. So for 3-4 weeks, I managed to acquire lots of old cookbooks, novels, chess books, old news clippings and miscellaneous other cool reading material. And this whole experience got me into reading the works of William Shakespeare, which was just amazing. It seemed like destiny.

Superbowl of Hardcore 2007. Darkside NYC absolutely killed it at their first show in years.

How many library cards do you have, what systems, and what is your favorite library branch?

I have a library card for the Queens library and 1 for the New York Public Library. Both my children and wife have library cards. My favorite branch is the main Queens Library in Jamaica, but I’m most frequently at the Queens Library in Flushing. That’s a good one too. Both have shelves of cooking books.

The Queens Library in Jamaica has a special section on its second floor that houses a collection of rare and hard to find Queens and NYC history which can be accessed by appointment only. One day I was in the library, saw a sign about it and asked to visit. All I had to do was leave my ID and I was escorted upstairs. I was the only one there! A visitor to the collection makes a request based on what they want to research and a librarian goes to the files and brings a stack of data to your table. I was given white gloves which were required to handle the original clippings and collections. What an incredible experience it was! I was able to research the history of Laurelton and Springfield Gardens, where I live now, and dig through newspaper clips and information dating back 60-70+ years. I was there for a few hours and barely scratched the surface. I need to make another visit there soon. I recommend it for anyone interested in the history of NYC.

What is your favorite book, and who is your favorite author?

I don’t really have one favorite author. I’m really enjoying the writing of Keith Laumer lately. I just read his book “A Plague of Demons” and it was really good. I just read “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick and loved it. “Genesis of a Music” by Harry Partch is a favorite of mine. I just got a 3 volume set recently called “These Are The Voyages: TOS” by Marc Cushman which is cool. I’m a big Star Trek fan and the volumes detail every episode from each of the 3 seasons.  

When I was 14 years old, my favorite book was “Exotic Aquarium Fish” by William T. Innes. Me and my friends were big aquarium and cichlids lovers before we got into music and always referenced that book. Another favorite from 40 years ago is “African Cichlids of Lakes Malawi and Tanganyika” by Herbert Axelrod. I read that book 101 times back then.

Thoughts on reading books at shows between bands?

Haha! I could never do that. I’ve thought of doing it and actually tried a few times but the book never even came out of my bag. Too many distractions to contend with. Reading and playing gigs for me are polar opposites. My attention span sucks. I couldn’t read a single paragraph at a show.

And have you ever moshed with a book in your pocket?

That’s a good song title. No, never.

Is there any song that reminds you of a book, or vice versa?

Maybe listening to Rush’s album “2112” lyrically reminds me of reading a book. I love Emerson, Lake and Palmer and their record “Brain Salad Surgery” is very much like a book, most notable Karn Evil 9, all three impressions. Anthrax’s song “I Am The Law” obviously reminds me of Judge Dredd comics. I’m a fan of Dredd and 2000AD so that’s a song I like.

Best books to take on tour?

“How Not to Murder Your Band Members in Their Sleep” by Matthew Melnick

Out of all the bands you’ve played in, which of your bandmates had the best taste in books – and the worst?

Jason Madrock, drummer in Downlow, (now in Crazy Eddie) is an avid book and comic reader. He likes some really cool stuff. Mark Sokoll, the bass player in Darkside NYC is also a massive reader. He’s into war history books, Sherlock Holmes and other interesting topics. His wife is a librarian. The first time I visited him at his house, I was so blown away by his book collection, I surreptitiously took pictures of it when he was out of the room. I didn’t want to seem like a total geek but it was impressive. Rich O’Brien, singer of Darkside NYC is also an all around literate individual. He’s into Dostoyevsky and reads a lot of classics as well. He’s working on a song right now that’s based on Dante’s Inferno and the 9 circles of hell and just got a very nice version of the Divine Comedy as reference.

October 7, 2007: Darkside NYC at the Pyramid for Gary Muttley’s birthday bash.

What do your kids like to read, and how do you encourage them to love reading?

My 7 year old daughter thankfully likes to read and reads both fiction and nonfiction. Books on coding, Minecraft, Beauty and the Beast … all sorts of books. For homework she has to read 15 minutes a night but usually reads more. My wife and I read to her as well. She also gets a bedtime story almost every night. My son is a tougher egg to crack. He’s on his iPad a lot and skateboards but doesn’t really read as much as I’d like. He’s been teaching himself Russian which counts toward his general literary and we’re trying to incentivize his reading with rewards so maybe he’ll get into it more.

Is there a book that you have read recently that was far outside of the scope of your usual reading habits, but you enjoyed it nonetheless?

Definitely the Shakespeare tragedies. They were a bit hard to get through, and I only read a few of his plays so far but I really enjoyed them. I found a series of books at the library called “No Fear Shakespeare” which puts the original book text side by side with a modern English translation and that really helped getting through a few parts that I didn’t quite understand. Shakespeare was actually a very funny dude.

Are there any underrated books about hardcore that you would recommend? (Bonus if they are still in print)

One of my all time favorite books is “Punk” (1978) by Isabelle Anscombe, Dike Blair and Roberta Baylee. I don’t know if it’s still in print. I doubt it. I used to read it and look at the pictures in that book all the time. There’s a picture in there of the Dictators that got me into the band back then. “Hardcore California” by Peter Belsito is another favorite. Im sure there are a few more but nothing that blew me away. I don’t really read books about hardcore.

What do you say to people if they say you have too many books?


Seriously, no one’s ever said that to me, not even my wife, who’s disciplined me quite strenuously to harness my “collector” tendencies, but she’s quite an active reader in her own right. She has many books of her own. She tells me I have too many records, but not books. We’re a book loving family. My wife incidentally, is much more of a dedicated and focused reader, both past and present than I’ve ever been.

Lately I’ve noticed people starting to disdain owning or collecting things, alongside a passion for decluttering …

That does not compute.

Do you think books are immune to this societal mania?

Unfortunately, with digital media becoming more and more predominant, books seem to be going the way of the dinosaur but just like excellent food, incredible art and kick ass music, you can only get complete satisfaction with the real thing. As long as humanity exists, real paper books will exist.

Any last literary thoughts you would like to share?

Yes. Try to put down your iPad or iPhone for a little bit and pick up a book to read, even for 15 minutes. A few pages. All the memes will still be there when you get back.
Get a library card and take out a book.

If you need to bring someone a gift, instead of beer, wine, weed or flowers, bring them a book.
Donate books, don’t trash them. You wouldn’t ever think to toss your limited edition swirly colored vinyl Judge 7” in the trash now, would you?

Give a child a book and read with them.

Congratulations for reading all the way through this rambling interview. Books rule!

Upcoming Darkside NYC shows, summer 2018:

June 17 – Lucky 13 Saloon in Brooklyn, NY

with Sex and Violence aka Carnivore AD

June 30 – Irish Wolf Pub in Scranton PA

With Mad Diesel

July 22 – Mike Scondotto’s birthday show at The Hideout, Brooklyn NY

Free show/Sunday matinee
With The Last Stand and Crazy Eddie

August 12 – Ieperfest in Ieper, Belgium


White Cats, Black Squares, Idiots and the C.I.A.: An Accidental Summer Syllabus

This summer I accidentally read a bunch of books about Eastern Europe. It all started when the New Yorker featured “Constructed Worlds”, a short story excerpt of “The Idiot” by Elif Batuman, in January. The absurdist tone and astute observations of college life led me on a one-day, three-library odyssey to seek out a copy once it was widely available in the Westchester system.

But wait – this was only after I happened upon “My Cat Yugoslavia” while on the hunt for “Surveys” in the New Books section of the Mid-Manhattan Library. It was the first Summer Friday of 2017 at my office, and I was providing evening coverage in return for the morning off. I was eager to finally get my hands on “Surveys” after being alerted to its presence by Natasha Stagg leaving the editorial staff of V Magazine, and subsequently updating her in our database. An unexpected perk of my line of work: the amount of books I’ve encountered while updating the authors’ contact info. When I first looked up “Surveys” in the Westchester system, it was only stocked in White Plains, a location that is not part of my usual rotation. Happily, it was on the shelf in Mid-Manhattan, a branch with which I enjoy a love-hate relationship due to their draconian coffee policies.

Anyway, while prowling through Mid-Manhattan after having picked up Surveys, I encountered My Cat Yugoslavia also lurking in the New Books section. A Finnish novel about a talking cat? Somehow I missed the New Yorker review of this one, and I am legit peeved that no family members or associates referred me to this title after seeing the review. I headed to work with “Surveys” and “My Cat Yugoslavia” stuffed in my backpack, but no copies of The Idiot were available, which is what led me to seek it out in Westchester soon after.

When you search Elif Batuman in the WLS catalog, the sixth result is Sophie Pinkham’s “Black Square”. I also recognized Pinkham’s byline from work and was intrigued enough by the summary to acquire her debut at the New Rochelle Library when we went east for the farmer’s market that afternoon. But before actually consuming this title, I was diverted to Lindsay Moran’s “Blowing My Cover: My Life as a C.I.A. Spy”, acquired while roving the well-appointed biography section of the Bronxville branch, an unexpected pickup that nonetheless tied into my accidental non-occidental theme.

Below is a brief description of these four titles, all of which provide an engaging summer read, depending on your tastes:

My Cat Yugoslavia, by Pajtim Statovci
Cats, snakes, Finland, Kosovo and gay culture: this is one of the most unique books I’ve ingested in a minute. Suggested summer reading for any current or former coworkers, or my parents, since there are elements reminiscent of a story that my sister and I would have concocted in 1998 for our fictitious contentious town of Saratoga Sky.

My Cat Yugoslavia

NYPL: 16 copies, about half of them available in the New Books section
Westchester: 11 copies, mostly still on hold, but available in New Books or New Fiction in a number of the Sound Shore locations. Am surprised it’s not stocked in the river towns due to the significant Albanian population.

The Idiot, by Elif Batuman
Memorable characters, scenarios and the steady urbane voice of a fellow New Jersey native outweigh a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. I recently met some Harvard students who were all familiar with the novel due to its environs, and mentioned that it purposely ends inconclusively because there is a sequel planned. Also that it was inspired by Don Quixote, like the original novel by the same title.

For Ivy League grads or students, second generation immigrants, those from academically inclined families, those intrigued by languages, or the frequent residents in the middle of this Venn diagram.

NYPL: 118 copies, most still on hold
Westchester: 33 copies, 15 currently available – many in New Books section

Blowing My Cover: My Life as a C.I.A. Spy, by Lindsay Moran
Unlike the other titles featured here, this one is less recent, published in 2005, but still relevant for my accidental syllabus due to some of the action unfolding in Bulgaria and Macedonia and surfeit of colorful personalities featured throughout. I wonder what Moran would make of Macedonia as the modern hub of fake news? This one’s for you if you feel you may have missed your calling in a less adventurous position at the C.I.A. than the one that Moran pursued.

NYPL: how is this thing not stocked at the NYPL, or is it out of circulation after being an erstwhile sensation?
Westchester: 8 copies, all available

Black Square, by Sophie Pinkham
The last offering in this group of four, I took a break from Philip Roth’s “The Human Stain” (speaking of urbane New Jersey natives ) to pursue this one. While there are no talking cats or bumbling diplomats here, there are similar ruminations on languages to those put forth in “The Idiot” and a sobering overview of modern Ukraine and the conflicts it faces. Pinkham weaves a variety of subtle connections between drug use, hopelessness, intricate ethnic and linguistic allegiances and the lust for war in this gripping ethnographic debut. It’s as if Biohazard – There and Back collided with a gentle third-person account on contemporary conflict and the potential for nefarious forces behind it.

The glib generalizations presented as negatives in the New York Times review are instead to me the soul and humor of the narrative, as the elements that tie Black Square to the absurdity present in the other three titles described here.

For fans of: Ukraine and offbeat revolutionaries. Also includes a throwaway comment that Yiddish was once briefly an official language of Ukraine, which deserves some additional unpacking.

NYPL – 10 copies
Westchester – 6 copies, all available besides the one on my coffee table

Surely Not: Cotton Candy Shirley Temple

In the era post Posi Numbers, road trips through Pennsylvania can only lead to two things: 1) multiple Sheetz visits, which in turn lead to 2) the stockpiling of cotton candy Faygo.

In honor of these delicacies acquired in the Land of Kings/Land of Sheetz, I have invented the Surely Not, or a Shirley Temple with cotton candy Faygo in lieu of ginger ale. This potion is not to be confused with the Red White & Blue, a normal Shirley featuring blue cherries, which must be consumed while listening to Cold as Life.

The Surely Not:
12 oz Cotton Candy Faygo
1 dash of grenadine
1 dash of maraschino cherry juice
2 Roland Wild Berry maraschino cherries (blue maraschino cherries)

The resulting concoction is a grayish purple, like a darker Riptide Rush Gatorade. It can also be mistaken for iced coffee from afar. Woe betide any would-be iced coffee thieves attempting to snag a swig of this off your desk.

Serves: one lucky motherfucker.

Admiring and Acquiring in Sidney, NY

On the way from the Catskills to Chenango County, we stopped on a whim in Sidney, NY. While at first glance Sidney appears to have seen better days, it is alive with treats, deals and advice from locals.

We arrived via Main Street (Route 23) and parked in the gravel lot near Trackside Dining. I was thoroughly enjoying the preponderance of free parking upstate. A number of businesses along Main Street have closed due to the flood mitigation project and the street being torn up as a result, but don’t let the lack of sidewalks deter you. Locals are keenly aware of how this situation affects commerce, and make up for its appearance by being extra helpful to customers.

Rainbow’s End Consignment Shop
37 Main Street, Sidney, NY 13838

We passed another thrift shop that had closed for the day, but made our way through the construction to Rainbow’s End, which was fortuitously open. Definitely worth visiting for secondhand blazers, books, tapes, and friendly recommendations from staff. As a petite and difficult fit, I was surprised to pick up two blazers, for $1 and $4 respectively, along with a variety of books. Finding The Face on the Milk Carton here has jumpstarted my rereading of the entire series, and also resulted in a non-facetious “what grade are you going into?” by a librarian back home in Westchester when I sought a subsequent installment.

We couldn’t leave behind a copy of Sheer Terror – Beaten by the Fists of God, a small clue into the existence of hardcore somewhere in the vicinity. I wish I had brought some In Effect stickers. Overall this place was more worthwhile and less overwhelming than Mrs. B’s, a mega thrift store in Norwich that we visited the next day.

A request regarding where in town we might acquire an iced coffee led to the recommendation of Treats N Eats…

Treats N Eats
21 Union Street, Sidney, NY 13838

While Treats N Eats did not sell iced coffee, it did offer a variety of consolation prizes. We ordered the onion pedal (sic) and my degenerate travel companion requested a maple coffee milkshake. When the enthusiastic and knowledgeable Kelly asked what kind of ice cream I wanted, DTC interjected that I was lactose intolerant. She immediately offered Lactaid ice cream as an alternate base. Ironically, I’ve never seen Lactaid ice cream featured at a downstate ice cream spot, probably because it’s not actually vegan and therefore only enticing to those with lactose issues, but I was happy to find it here.

Treats N Eats uses an old style ice cream machine that blends pieces of the chosen flavor with chocolate or vanilla ice cream, so I was able to order root beer flavored Lactaid ice cream (pictured below with an onion embellishment.)

In the best of both worlds, Treats N Eats is under new management and therefore open later, but retaining their signature decadent offerings. Definitely worth a visit for the ice cream aficionado for whom Sidney’s used book and clothing offerings are also a draw.

Distance to Points Elsewhere:
30 minutes from Oneonta (Trailways bus service from NYC)
Under an hour from Cooperstown
1½ hours from Scranton
3+ hours from NYC

No Reason to Bibliophile? Intrepid Bmize Investigates:

As an unabashed snob about hardcore, I can’t help but also be discerning about bookstores. I was raised with high standards in book-fertile central New Jersey and then spoiled impossibly by working three doors down from Micawber Books. As a Westchester dweller but city toiler, I have a foot in both worlds and end up doing most of my book shopping in NYC or out of state. Post-Epsteins forays to Barnes & Noble on Central Ave leave me despondent and unfulfilled, and I usually have to hit up McNally Jackson or Greenlight for my Marie-Helene Bertino or Cornish Trilogy needs.

Yet retail establishments are slowly catching up with my cantankerous purchasing preferences. First Generation Records began its return to form as a legit destination for the unfaulty hardcore consumer (semi Nobody’s Perfect reference to assess who’s actually reading this.) Then a bespoke Barnes & Noble opened in Eastchester last fall, in the long-vacant Borders space. This store is a prototype, Big Collapse style, that is being investigated as viable for more future locations. It’s 20% smaller than the average B&N, yet somehow seems to contain more worthwhile stock.

By no means am I advocating the frequenting of chain establishments over independent shops. But until Westchester has an independent bookstore that serves my needs and criteria, I will continue to be lured by anyone with sufficient offerings. And this B&N is more than an indifferent clone of another big box store. It’s run by the same manager from the old Eastchester Borders, and staff actually have a hand in the ordering. Perhaps this is why the checkout guy seemed genuinely pleased that I complimented their selection.

No indignation for the copious selection of Roth, which is located immediately above the Rushdie.

The store opened in November 2016, but we hadn’t made it there until this weekend. I haven’t had much time to shop in the last few months, and the combination of the Westchester Library System and New York Public Library fulfills most of my needs (shoutout to the DICKS at Mid-Manhattan for making me conceal my coffee on the regular, and the much nicer staff at Mount Vernon and Eastchester.) We ended up stopping by on Saturday, aka a day I had already visited three libraries (Bronxville, Scarsdale and New Rochelle). What can I say, I needed my Elif Batuman and Joan Juliet Buck from the New Books shelf at two different locations, and was unwilling to wait.

I was fully expecting to be underwhelmed by the new B&N, but instead was grudgingly impressed by their selection. Applying my usual metrics yielded the following report, in alphabetical order by author, and broken up like a Breakdown album title. I refuse to use “Brightside” and “Happy Hour”, as some did for their b9 reviews of Posi Numbers 2005:

A bountiful Bukowski situation
Decent Chabon selection
Decent Graham Greene selection
Lucinda Rosenfeld – Class
Copious Philip Roth selection
My favorite Colm Toibin book (Brooklyn)

No Marie-Helene Bertino
No Robertson Davies
The only Jennifer Egan item was A Visit from the Goon Squad
No Natasha Stagg – Surveys, but I wasn’t really expecting that.

“We both liked Carson McCullers.” Actually I forgot to check the Carson McCullers situation.

The presence of Class was particularly indicative of the quality available here. I first discovered Class from a powerHouse Books newsletter at work, so I was pleased to also find it at a more generic suburban purveyor. I might reside in my own literary bubble, enamored with the lesser Henry Wiggen books and other oft-overlooked non-classics, but Lucinda Rosenfeld only has 708 followers on Twitter and Liked my Stout-inflected tweet about Class, so I assume her work is still somewhat under the radar of the general buying public.

I ended up buying a paperback of City on Fire since I had been thinking of rereading it anyway and it’s a behemoth in hardback. Plus I know various friends and family members who might enjoy borrowing it. And $17 for a 944-page book seemed more justifiable than $16 for the slim but amusing Our Man in Havana.

I may be easy to disgust and hard to impress in various capacities, but will be back to support this prototype Barnes & Noble in the near future. That is, once all my library books are born to expire.

Eat Side Story: Interview with Freddy Alva

Talking vegetarian food with Freddy Alva, creator of the New Breed Compilation and New Breed Documentary, which is being screened at the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers on October 16. More information is available at

Describe your eating habits, or those of anyone you worked with on the New Breed Documentary:

My eating habits fall along the Lacto-Vegetarian variety, meaning I do eat some dairy like cheese & milk but I stay away from meat, chicken & poultry.  I eat a lot of grains, pastas, legumes & also have a weak spot for “fake meat” products like Tofurky sausages/Soy chicken/Seitan meat etc. I would say the director & editor of the documentary are not vegetarians but do eat meat in a consciously healthy manner.

How did you decide to become a vegetarian, and what are some of your favorite veg spots in the city?

I became Vegetarian in the hopes of staving a long standing trend of heart disease that runs through my family so I wanted to avoid that fate or minimize it. I tried several times when I was a teenager to quit eating meat, will minimal success. It wasn’t until the summer of 1990, when I was 20 years old, that I came down with Chickenpox & was laid out for two weeks. This was the perfect opportunity to quit meat as I had no appetite whatsoever & it worked: been Vegetarian ever since. Only part that sucked is that Poison Idea played a legendary show at Abc No Rio that same week I was sick so I missed it, still bummed about that.

I love Indian food, especially South Indian vegetarian style so there’s places I like, for example: Seva in Astoria, Samudra in Jackson, Bhakti cafe in the East Village & the Ayurvedic cafe on the Upper West Side.

What is your favorite thing to eat in NYC? And what’s the best place to get Peruvian food?

My favorite thing to eat in NYC is Vegetarian fast food; stuff like Soy Seitan sandwiches, Veggie burgers, Soy chicken fingers… they can be found at places like Blossom Du Jour (6 locations), Superiority Burger. I also love getting in any Chinatown, whether it’s in Manhattan. Queens or Brooklyn: red bean buns or those Vietnamese Bahn mi sandwiches that have become so popular, Tofu version of course. As far as best Peruvian restaurants; you have to go to Queens. There are some great ones like Urubamba, La Coya or Chimu in Brooklyn. In a pinch, you can go to Mancora in the East Village, they make a great Tofu Saltado, which is a variation of a classic Peruvian dish.

What is the best thing you’ve ever eaten at a hardcore venue? And if someone was in town for the BNB Bowl, what is something you would tell them to eat that is in close proximity to Webster Hall?

Best things I remember from the past are: the Che Cafe in San Diego in 1991. I saw Infest/Born Against & others; the food was amazing at their cafe, still remember that. I also remember a Shelter show up the Anthrax in Connecticut, where the devotees brought tasty Indian veggie food to give away, that was great. Recently I went to This Is Hardcore fest in Philly & there was this amazing cart in the courtyard that made awesome Veggie Seitan & Tofu Bahn mi sandwiches. Anyone coming to BNB bowl, I would recommend Angelica’s kitchen about a block away. It’s the classic lower east side Vegetarian spot. There’s also a place right next to the Continental club, on 3rd Ave between St. Marks & 9th street, that makes these awesome “Korean Burritos” with meat or without. Of course there’s Supierority burger on St Marks, probably the best veggie burger in town at the moment.

What is the most notable thing you’ve seen someone eat on stage?

I remember Ralphie Boy (Disassociate singer) playing with Jesus Chrust at a show in a squat on the LES while munching on chicken wings & throwing the bones at the crowd. Another one is whenever Bugout Society played, they threw out White Castle burgers at the audience during their appropriately titled anthem ‘Castle Carnage’. Pretty sure I saw their singer, Charlie Boswell, munch on the burgers before flinging them at the crowd.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve eaten while traveling?

I’ll always remember traveling through Europe in the late 1990s while on a budget & getting a freshly baked baguette with cheese in Paris was immensely satisfying, practically lived on those. I’ll always remember this amazing concoction in Amsterdam called Vla. It was somewhere in between a milkshake & custard/flan, have never found it anywhere else. The best Indian food I ever ate was in Southall, London. Super spicy but completely worth it.

Have you ever been to Alamo Drafthouse, and if not, did you know they have an excellent veggie burger? Or if you’ve been, what would you advise people to order while attending New Breed Documentary screening on October 16?

I just peeped their menu & the veggie burger definitely looks like a winner. Also: their baked pretzels w/beer mustard, the omnivore pizza & tofu w/quinoa bowl all look good. I can’t forget the local ales they carry, love tasting regional beers. I have my eye on Doc’s pumpkin cider!

What is your favorite thing to cook at home right now?

This coming winter season I’m gonna make a lot of hearty vegetable soups. There’s  a cool Vegetarian cookbook that’s been sitting in my kitchen for the longest, about time I used it. Looking forward to doing some hearty lentil & minestrone soups, get a nice baguette & salad plus my favorite beverage: the perfect comfort food.

Anything else you’d like to add about the relationship between food and hardcore?

Food & hardcore seem like unlikely related subjects. At least that’s what I thought when I got into HC. It wasn’t until I met people like Adam from Life’s Blood & Dave Stein from Combined Effort Records, that my views on Vegetarianism were expanded as they were full on HC dudes that believed in the integration of both scenes; placing vegetarianism along political & ethical lines that complemented a hardcore & punk rock view of the world. My new breed co-creator, Chaka Malik, also influenced me big time. He was the first Vegan I ever met & once him & Absolution/Burn guitarist Gavin Van Vlack got a communal house together in Brooklyn; they would make these huge veggie feasts that convinced me vegetarian food can be tasty while being good for you. I owe it to friends like them from the hardcore scene for influencing this dietary choice I’ve been on for 26 years & counting.

It Looked Like For Ever: the End of the Road for Henry Wiggen and Alex Rodriguez

Some of you already know how much I love the Henry Wiggen books and have experienced my constant exhortations to read them. Mark Harris has written the best series of baseball fiction that I’ve ever encountered, and since I know many people who appreciate both baseball and fiction, I find it hard to believe that these books are not more appreciated among this particular subset of humans. They are truly the Dynamo or Show of Force of the sports fiction realm, except the material is more widely available. Sixty years after their publication, the storylines hold up well and the overall themes are still relevant. And all four novels are still in print via the University of Nebraska’s Bison Books.

In order to introduce more readers to the delights of Mount Vernon’s own Mark Harris, I had been thinking of doing a Henry Wiggen-specific blog, rather than a food blog, a book blog, or a combination of the two. Rest assured there will be much more Wiggen content in this particular outlet. But what finally provide the catalyst to write about Henry Wiggen was an unrelated world event, aka the unexpected forced retirement of Alex Rodriguez.

Last Saturday night, we heard that the Yankees had scheduled a press conference for the next morning regarding the fate of A-Rod. Multiple alarms and crazy dreams catapulted me awake in time to watch it live. When it was announced that he would be retiring in less than a week, then staying on with the Yankees as a special advisor, you could tell that he was trying to be gracious and diplomatic but was not thoroughly convinced his playing days were over. In the past week, after his last few games with the Yankees and official farewell on Friday, there have been rumors of him possibly catching on with another team (the Marlins?) in an attempt to make it to 700 home runs or beyond. No matter what you think about A-Rod, it is clear that he is a dude who loves baseball. And while his career was exceptional, his struggle is a common one, regarding players feeling they still have a little bit left, even if their teams and the general public do not concur.

Henry Wiggen experiences a similar scenario in the fourth and final Wiggen novel, It Looked Like For Ever. Published in 1979 but set in 1971, it was written long after the other three Wiggen tales that appeared in the mid 50’s (in order: The Southpaw, Bang the Drum Slowly, and A Ticket for a Seamstitch.) It Looked Like For Ever opens with the death of longstanding Mammoths manager Dutch Schnell and Henry’s subsequent speculation that he will become manager. Instead, upon returning home to Perkinsville after the funeral, he finds out he has been unceremoniously released by the club. Wiggen had been a star for 19 years, but in his fictional case there was no press conference, no speculation and no ceremony.

Like in Bang the Drum Slowly, the other best Wiggen story, For Ever opens with some wintertime travel, first to St. Louis for Dutch’s funeral and then to Japan in a short-lived exploration of continuing his career with the Oyasumi Cobras. Along the way, you are introduced to Henry and his tribulations as a “younger older person.” The 39 year old Wiggen has undergone a stunning transformation since we last saw him in 1956. Not only has he become the father of four daughters, but also a millionaire who has saved scrupulously and multiplied his earnings via savvy investments. Yet he also has prostate trouble and secret contact lenses (imagine the wearing of contacts being an issue in 2016!), and his younger daughter Hilary is distraught at the idea of never having seen him play baseball in the flesh. Her three older sisters have watched him pitch in assorted ballparks, but somehow she had never prioritized seeing him play until it was too late.

Henry vows to catch on with another team in order for Hilary to see him perform. This is the motivation that he repeats throughout the book as the reason behind his comeback: that he is desperate for his daughter to see him play. Though as he continues to pursue one avenue after another to get back onto a major league roster, it becomes clear that Henry himself believes he is still capable of playing baseball.  

I had always internally compared Henry Wiggen to Andy Pettitte, in that both were long-tenured left-handed aces and family men (though of course Henry was also a pacifist iconoclast and author, compared to the more conventional and religious Pettitte.) Pettitte himself returned to the Yankees in 2012 after leaving baseball in 2010. He was welcomed back with open arms and contributed significantly in his last two seasons. But Henry’s trajectory in For Ever reminded me of A-Rod’s plight in that he is not quite ready to end his career, and goes to great lengths to achieve that, from traveling to Japan to Washington to Tozerbury to California, and yet ultimately having things not quite turn out the way he expected.

itlookedlikeforeverAlex Rodriguez and the fictional Wiggen have a similar goal: to keep playing baseball the way they feel they are capable of, even if no one will offer them a roster spot. However, their other motivations and lives outside of baseball are vastly different. Alex lives and breathes baseball, and aside from his relationship with his daughters, it is the major component of his life. Henry has many interests outside the game, and his curiosity about the world sometimes hinders the perception of whether he is truly dedicated to his comeback. His fascination with Washington manager Ben Crowder’s food-warming dish and questions about Japanese cherry trees cause exasperation to flare at crucial moments while trying to convince those in power that he is still significantly motivated to play. Motivation is a major theme in this book: characters such as California owner Suicide Alexander openly question Henry’s motivation, as do other players and managers. No one seems to believe that someone with eclectic and refined interests like Henry can display the single-mindedness demanded by a comeback at 39.

The process of balancing Henry’s sense of self as a successful businessman and family man, author and baseball player, and his perception of himself vs. the perception that others have of him, are all essential components in the storyline. Aside from being a skillful southpaw, he’s primarily an outsider, author, skeptic, father and husband. He and Alex are each weirdos in their own way, but Henry’s attempt to juggle all of these elements while pursuing a comeback add both humor and gravity to his story.

Besides the baseball theme, my two favorite elements of Harris’s writing are his use of precise detail and sly humor. Unlike some books, where inaccuracies in plot points or timeline can send me stewing and eschewing the rest of a series, the Henry Wiggen books are painstakingly accurate in their representation of dates, places and characters. You can tell that Harris is a man of details in that he prints the entire 1955 roster in Bang the Drum Slowly (along with players’ full names, birthplaces and armed services records. The birthplaces alone were a dream to me in 1998, and immediately inspired me to take down our atlas and start crafting a fictitious roster of my own.) All of these details, regarding the 1971 circumstances of each beloved character, societal shifts and technological advances, help convincingly move the Wiggen storyline forward by a decade and a half.

A perfect example of the time shift between the last Wiggen book set in 1956, and this one in 1971, is Henry Wiggen owning a car phone. This solidifies his status as a rich man on the cutting edge of technology, and also provides assorted humorous scenarios. When he gets pulled over for driving too slowly, the cop is intrigued by his car phone and uses it to telephone his daughter in Yonkers, who reports she would be more impressed if he was speaking to young phenom Beansy Binz than Henry Wiggen. The car phone is also an essential plot device regarding his friendship with his future manager’s wife, Marva Sprat, and a source of fascination for other potential employers such as Ben Crowder. Call forwarding is also employed in a turning point in the storyline. The phone-related details are all the more enjoyable if you are familiar with the earlier books. Back in 1955 in Bang the Drum Slowly, eavesdropping by operator Tootsie provides a pipeline of essential information, for which Henry trades her two grandstand seats, “third base side, Author, lower deck, not too far back and not behind no pillars nor posts.”

Phones aside, Harris has a good eye for inserting details that reveal how American society has changed between 1956 and 1971 (especially with the additional eight years of perspective between setting the book in 1971 and publishing it in 1979.) Henry’s consternation regarding the casual dress of his young teammates, and slogan-emblazoned t-shirts in particular, culminates in him being presented a shirt bearing the slogan “Dirty Old Men Pitch Relief.” There are references to Wiggen’s hair hanging down his neck, expansion teams, night baseball, and his eldest daughter Michele being on a hijacked plane on her way to India. This potentially nightmarish scenario is mentioned in passing, but with a typically ridiculous Wiggen twist: he ended up negotiating with the hijackers by promising to teach them assorted pitching techniques. (No word on whether that would also work for a PR professional.) However, this may have resulted in his future prostate trouble, as he was unable to take a bathroom break while the ordeal unfolded. What makes all these anecdotes so enjoyable is that they are just side stories, for if they were essential components of the plot, they might be too cartoonish or unbelievable. Conversely, the plots of Harris’s stories are built on everyday human themes and events, making them just engaging enough to devour, yet realistic enough to believe.

The increased popularity of psychiatric treatment also plays a role in It Looked Like For Ever. In an effort to curb her screaming fits, Hilary Wiggen is in the care of Dr. Schiff, a Manhattan psychiatrist who “would be expensive to dress and cheap to feed,” in Henry’s observation, as she seems to subsist entirely on Coca-Cola. Dr. Schiff was recommended by Henry’s former teammate Ev McTaggart (who ended up as Mammoth manager after Dutch), whose own daughter required her services. Henry’s friend and broadcasting partner Suzanne Winograd and her daughter Bertilia are also patients. Dr. Schiff also provides the namesake for one of Hilary’s two horses, the other being Late Manager Dutch, purchased from “the horse lady of Tozerbury.”

It Looked Like For Ever is populated in part by Harris’s beloved cast of existing characters, from the Wiggen family to the Moors family establishment. However, many of the central figures in this fourth installment appear here for the first time. There are a number of new female characters, from Hilary to Dr. Schiff to Marva Sprat to Henry’s lawyer Barbara, and new baseball men, from Ben Crowder to Jack Sprat to Suicide Alexander. But they are all drawn in classic Harris style and carry the series forward authentically. In my own writing, I always worry about my characters having adequate motivation, but Harris has no similar issue, as motivation is a major topic in the book, in particular regarding Henry’s being questioned. It is perhaps a relic of the time that team executives would be so concerned regarding proper motivation of individual players, versus the present day when most organizations are desperate for capable left-handed relievers. (I am sure no one was questioning the motivation of Jesse Orosco when he was still pitching at age 46.) But due to a series of misunderstandings along with his own earnest actions, Henry’s motivation is deemed sufficient at last. “Any 39 year old millionaire that will steal 1/2 a bag of golf clubs off me at a dead man’s funeral is my kind of man.”

Most existing characters have ended up with fates appropriate or predictable in this last installment. I was only disappointed in the story of Perry Simpson, and that early characters such as Mike Mulrooney and Bradley Lord did not reappear in the 1971 World of Wiggen. The satisfying output that is It Looked Like For Ever is a marked contrast to The Lyre of Orpheus, Robertson Davies’s disappointing and almost unreadable conclusion to the Cornish trilogy, perhaps because there was never a set number of books planned in the Wiggen series. I will always be curious what compelled Harris to go back and produce one more, years after the others were completed (and conveniently, also after his own autobiography and Norman Lavers’s critical study covered them.) In Harris’s autobiography Best Father Ever Invented, he recounts an attempt in 1959 to write one more Wiggen book, set entirely during the seventh game of the World Series. But “I feel challenged to write ‘the great baseball novel.’ It died. A year later, I tried again, and again it died.” Twenty years later, what changed? Perhaps writing the script for the movie version of Bang the Drum Slowly, and envisioning Henry’s story in a modern world, compelled Harris to revisit these characters one last time.

One of the many reasons that It Looked Like For Ever may actually be the best Wiggen book is that its sense of humor is darker and more evolved than in prior stories. (Bang the Drum Slowly, in comparison, couldn’t feature too many jokes involving death due to Bruce Pearson being doomded [sic].) It Looked Like For Ever displays Harris’s ever-refined wit, and while there are many comical scenes, from Henry and Holly’s visit to the non-town of Oyasumi, to Henry’s shortlived broadcasting career, most of the best jokes involve some form of mortality. When the Wiggenses take Hilary to St. Louis for Dutch’s funeral and people ask her “and what are you going to get for Christmas, my little lady?”, she replies, “I am getting to see a dead man at last.” The scene at the Foucault Pendulum in San Francisco is another great example of Harris’s humor in that it is funny and deadly serious at the same time. From amidst the crowd waiting for the pendulum to knock down the pegs, Hilary leaps up and screams “You might be dead before you ever play baseball again,” causing a massive disturbance involving crying children and frantic museum guards, before becoming immediately ladylike, watching the pendulum knock down the peg, and sighing “at last.”

Along with liberal sprinkling of dark humor, Harris is a bit more plentiful with the Westchester references in this final Wiggen installment, probably due to the fact that Henry is spending much of his time at home while traveling back and forth to the city. He is pulled over on the Taconic, he drives on the Bronx River, and references passing through Port Chester and Mount Vernon. Port Chester is also fictionally represented as Henry’s hometown of Perkinsville, which, from its description, I would have originally surmised to be further up the line and a fictionalized version of something more like Poughkeepsie. But I guess in the fifties, Port Chester was more separated from the city, physically and culturally, than it is today. Coincidentally, I was obsessed with this series of books a full ten years before becoming a Mount Vernon resident (and discovering that Mark Harris hailed from Mount Vernon, but that is a story for another day.)

In this fourth and final installment, Wiggen is still a bit of an unreliable narrator and speaker of his own unique vernacular, despite his overall increased level of sophistication. He manages to spell the word souvenirs correctly once earlier in the book regarding Old Timers Day, but by the final page he is back to representing it more inventively. It is perfectly placed in a final sentence that appropriately ties up the mood of the series, in the last words ever written about Henry Wiggen by Mark Harris’s hand. Harris passed away in 2007, erasing the potential for additional Wiggen installments years after the fact, in the manner that got us It Looked Like For Ever. Though with Alex Rodriguez, we have no such equivalent finality, as there is still a chance that someone will sign him and further his quest for additional playing time and a shot at 700 home runs.

When my dad gave me the Henry Wiggen’s Books trilogy back in eighth grade (his edition predated It Looked Like For Ever), he said to start with Bang the Drum Slowly, then go back to The Southpaw, the first book in the series. This is still the order in which I instruct potential Wiggen acolytes to read the series: 2, 1, 3, 4. But if this too-long treatise on It Looked Like For Ever piques your interest and you must begin with the final Wiggen novel, I would still consider it a job well done, Run the Jewels style.