Monday, May 05, 2008

You Want I Should Read This Book To Youse?

Since Chicken Soup for the Soul came out (followed immediately by dozens more books), I’ve been intrigued by the various topics and phases of life you could give chicken soup for. I’ve been likewise intrigued why it always has to be chicken soup. But the self-help and motivational industry has been sparked into establishing a whole new wing (chicken, anyone?) of publishing.

I’ve watched these books roll out with regularity and fading interest. It seems that chicken soup can cure any ailment and passage of life. Who knew? Not to knock those books because they’re filled with wonderful stories.

However, there appeared to be nothing new under the sun. Until now.

Writer/editor Brian M. Thomsen throws the whole Chicken Soup franchise a hanging curve ball that catches the outside corner of the plate with an eagle-eyed umpire in attendance. Pasta Fazool for the Wiseguy’s Soul is an irreverent send up of the Godfather, home cooking, and the whole give-me-guidance fad. But Thomsen delivers his delightful concoction with tongue firmly planted in cheek and in a narrative that is just as believable as it is hilarious.

According to Thomsen, he met an elderly Italian gentleman in a small restaurant on a slow night and ended up sharing a table and a meal. During the quiet evening, the old man – call him Don Minestrone – served up a delectable cornucopia of tales, wisdom, colorful characters, street justice, and irony.

I loved the set-up and didn’t know if the author could pull off what he’d promised. I suspected that the entries might be heavy on the cheese (another specialty of Italian cooking). Instead, the stories sound just like they’d come from the Old Neighborhood where everyone knew what the Mafia was but no one ever mentioned it.

I settled in, expecting to read a few stories to relax for a bit after dinner, then ended up blazing through the whole book. I had to laugh out loud when Thomsen lampooned the Mafia and current crime TV when he relayed “Minestrone’s” thoughts on wives, mistresses, and girlfriends, and took shots (what else can you expect from a book about Mafia types?) at Mafia guys in the news. One of my favorite stories was about the movie script that got sold over and over again to New York Publishers. The punch line came out of left field and made perfect sense.

Other stories include how a long-time waiter at a favorite restaurant was given a retirement plan that worked out for everybody, how boosters (professional thieves) cut out middle man (fence), and started selling things on eBay, and how Mrs. Santini got a trip to the “old country.” Thomsen is a natural storyteller, the old don not withstanding, and the tales tumble off the page and into the reader’s mind with grace and guffaws.

I loved how Thomsen and Minestrone introduced characters, then pulled them back into other stories. They weren’t just throwaways. I got the feeling that all of these stories happened (incredibly!) at one time or another.

Pasta Fazool for the Wiseguy’s Soul is a perfect book for the airport, the beach, or while waiting in doctor’s offices. And with a title like that, you’re sure to attract the attention of people around you. Be warned, though. You might not put this one down until you finish it. However, this is definitely a book you’ll want to re-read and share.

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