The Italian American Reader [NOOK Book]


This anthology -- the first general-reader collection of writing by Italian American authors -- is part manifesto, part Sunday dinner. A gathering of voices old and new, some speak in the accents of another age, some completely contemporary and assured, and all together for the first time. To stand with all the other popular media images we represent, now, at last, one exists in written form, the literature of Italian American life.

Inside, there are excerpts from novels, ...

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The Italian American Reader

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This anthology -- the first general-reader collection of writing by Italian American authors -- is part manifesto, part Sunday dinner. A gathering of voices old and new, some speak in the accents of another age, some completely contemporary and assured, and all together for the first time. To stand with all the other popular media images we represent, now, at last, one exists in written form, the literature of Italian American life.

Inside, there are excerpts from novels, memoirs, short stories, essays, and poems -- by the living and the dead, the famous and the obscure. The excerpts are variously moving, funny, poignant, lusty, biting, reverent, witty, loving, angry, and wise, dealing in the most profound aspects of our lives no matter who we are: home, love, sex, family, food, work, God, death.

Characters range from gangsters to grandmas, lovers to fighters, thinkers to doers, sinners to saints, with special appearances by Frank Sinatra and the Virgin Mary.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061745324
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 576
  • File size: 905 KB

Meet the Author

Bill Tonelli is a journalist and magazine editor in New York. He is the author of The Amazing Story of the Tonelli Family in America.

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First Chapter

The Italian American Reader

Don DeLillo


Bronzini thought that walking was an art. He was out nearly every day after school, letting the route produce a medley of sounds and forms and movements, letting the voices fall and the aromas deploy in ways that varied, but not too much, from day to day. He stopped to talk to cardplayers in a social club and watched a woman buy a flounder in the market. He peeled a tangerine and wondered how a flatfish lying glassy on flaked ice, a thing scraped with a net from the dim sea, could seem so eloquent a fellow creature. Its deadness was a force in those bulging eyes. Such intense emptiness. He thought of the old device of double take, how it comically embodies the lapsed moment where a life used to be.

He watched an aproned boy wrap the fish in a major headline.

Even in this compact neighborhood there were streets to revisit and men doing interesting jobs, day labor, painters in drip coveralls or men with sledgehammers he might pass the time with, Sicilians busting up a sidewalk, faces grained with stone dust. The less a job pays, Bronzini thought, the harder the work, the more impressive the spectacle. Or a waiter having a smoke during a lull, one of those fast-aging men who are tired all the time. The waiters had tired lives, three jobs, backaches and bad feet. They were more tired than the men in red neckerchiefs who swung the heavy hammers. They smoked and coughed and told him how tired they were and looked for a place on the sidewalk where they might situate the phlegm they were always spitting up.

He ate the last wedge of tangerine and left the market holding the spiral rind in his hand. He walked slowly north glancing in shop windows. There were silver points of hair in his brush mustache, still so few they were countable, and he wore rimless spectacles with wire temples because at thirty-eight, or so said his wife, he wanted to convince himself he was older, settled in his contentments, all the roilsome things finally buttoned and done.

He heard voices and looked down a side street filled with children playing. A traffic stanchion carried a sign marking the area a play street and blocking the way to cars and delivery trucks. With cars, more cars, with the status hunger, the hot horsepower, the silver smash of chrome, Bronzini saw that the pressure to free the streets of children would make even these designated areas extinct.

He imagined a fragment of chalked pavement cut clean and lifted out and elaborately packed -- shipped to some museum in California where it would share the hushed sunlight with marble carvings from antiquity. Street drawing; hopscotch; chalk on paved asphalt; Bronx, 1951. But they don't call it hopscotch, do they? It's patsy or potsy here. It's buck-buck, not johnny-on-the-pony. It's hango seek -- you count to a hundred by fives and set out into alleyways, shinnying up laundry poles and over back fences, sticking your head into coal bins to find the hiding players.

Bronzini stood and watched.

Girls playing jacks and jumping double dutch. Boys at boxball, marbles and ringolievio. Five boys each with a foot in a segmented circle that had names of countries marked in the wedges. China, Russia, Africa, France and Mexico. The kid who is it stands at the center of the circle with a ball in his hand and slowly chants the warning words: I de-clare a-war u-pon.

Bronzini didn't own a car, didn't drive a car, didn't want one, didn't need one, wouldn't take one if somebody gave it to him. Stop walking, he thought, and you die.

George the Waiter stood smoking near the service entrance of the restaurant where he worked. He was a face on a pole, a man not yet out of his thirties who carried something stale and unspontaneous, an inward tension that kept him apart. Over the spare body a white shirt with black vest and black trousers and above the uniform his jut features looking a little bloodsucked.

Bronzini walked over and took up a position next to George and they stood without speaking for a long moment in the odd solidarity two strangers might share watching a house burn down.

Three boys and a girl played down-the-river against the side of a building, each kid occupying a box formed by separations in the sidewalk. One of them slap-bounced a ball diagonally off the pavement so that it hit up against the wall and veered off into another player's box.

He was George the Waiter in a second sense, that his life seemed suspended in some dire expectation. What is George waiting for? Bronzini couldn't help seeing a challenge here. He liked to educe comment from the untalkative man, draw him forth, make him understand that his wish to be friendless was not readily respected here.

Then the second player bounced the ball into someone else's box, hitting it hard or lightly, slicing at the lower half of the ball to give it English, and so on up and down the river.

"The thing about these games," Bronzini said. "They mean so much while you're playing. All your inventive skills. All your energies. But when you get a little older and stop playing, the games escape the mind completely."

In fact he'd played only sporadically as a child, being bedridden at times, that awful word, and treated for asthma, for recurring colds and sore throats and whooping cough.

"How we used to scavenge. We turned junk into games. Gouging cork out of bottle caps. I don't even remember what we used it for. Cork, rubber bands, tin cans, half a skate, old linoleum that we cut up and used in carpet guns. Carpet guns were dangerous." ...

The Italian American Reader. Copyright © by Bill Tonelli. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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