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Jonathan Lethem Talks Mysterious Chocolate Smells, The Upper East Side

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The BK gets no love in Jonathan Lethem's latest novel. Not even a paragraph. With the exception of two quick mentions, the born-and-bred Brooklyn author sets his sights on Manhattan in Chronic City.

"This is a book about Manhattan, and how it's sealed up inside its own self-concept," he tells us on a pit-stop of his reading tour at WORD in Greenpoint. At each venue, he's been reading about 40 to 60 pages from his book, signing copies and chatting it up with fans.

"I've spent my whole life visiting that part of the Upper East Side, and I'm very fond of it. [The book] is written out of kind of fascination and also affection for that area. So it's not as exotic as people have made it out to be -- that I'm writing about Manhattan."

It all takes place on East 84th Street. And the story centers around Chase Insteadman, a former child actor with a penchant for smoking weed and attending dinner parties.  While the character isn't directly relate to anyone on the big screen, Lethem says we could think of him as cross between Michael J. Fox and the "Doogie Howser guy."

"That's just to say it's the image of anyone who survives being a child star," says Lethem. "And neither goes on to become an important or famous actor nor self-destructs. But instead, finds that weird middle way or taking their former fame fairly lightly and moves through life as a minor celebrity."

Readers might recognize some Manhattan-centric references like Norma’s (and their famously over-priced omelet) and mysteriously sweet smells wafting over the city. He swaps in chocolate for the recent maple syrup phenomenon. He admits, "A lot of this stuff in this book is straight out of headlines. It was Bloomberg who said 'The sweet smell of success?'"

Hit up BookCourt on December 4 to catch Lethem's final marathon reading.

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