The Italian American Reader has been seven decades in the making. It could simply and accurately be described as a dazzlingly smart and lively collection of superb works by some of America's most gifted writers. All their surnames happen to end in vowels, true, but that need not affect your enjoyment of this volume one way or the other. America, too, is an Italian name ending in a vowel.
Inside, there are nearly seventy excellent things for you to read -- excerpts from novels and memoirs, short stories, essays, and poems -- by the living and the dead, the famous and the obscure. Some date back to the 1930s; others were freshly hatched in the twenty-first century. They are variously moving, funny, poignant, lusty, biting, reverent, witty, loving, angry, and wise. They deal in the most profound aspects of our lives no matter who we are: home, love, sex, family, food, work, God, death. Many feature familiar Italian American characters, settings, and themes, but not all.
No matter what they are about, they are all in the end about who and what we are, the essence of history and memory and blood. There are gangsters in here, but there are grandmas too, along side lovers and fighters, thinkers and doers, cops and robbers, poets and grocers, sinners and saints. There are plenty of moms and pops and aunts and uncles and cousins. Frank Sinatra and the Virgin Mary make appearances.
This anthology is a genuine landmark -- the first general-reader hardcover collection of writing by Italian American authors. It is part manifesto, part Sunday dinner -- a gathering of voices old and new, some speaking in the accents of another age, some completely contemporary and assured, 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 lifethe past, present, and future, which is also America's future.
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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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