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What's All This Then?

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Tuesday Edition

Michael Bierut, Jason Santa Maria, David Pasquesi, and many more
review literary experiences at Field-Tested Books.

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Ironweed
by William Kennedy

Field-Tested by Steven Heller

in Perugia, Italy

Over twenty years ago, when it was cheap to visit to Europe, I found myself outside of Perugia, Italy, in a mini-hilltop castle called Santa Juliana, which had been transformed into condos (I called it the Condo Castle). Included were five or six oddly shaped buildings, built into the massive stone walls, situated on different levels, connected by tiny bridges and narrow pathways. On two sides of the enclosure were vegetable gardens, which the six families in residence took turns tending. They were glorious places with gorgeous views, so that’s exactly where I planted my canvas beach chair, and read William Kennedy’s Ironweed, his depression-era novel about Albany, New York. Everyone was reading Kennedy in those days because he captured the grit of a town usually ignored in literature, and developed characters who were so real that you could touch them with hand and heart.


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Reading in that Italian summer garden was about as great a non-carnal pleasure as I ever had. I enjoyed the book as much as the solitude. And then it happened...

At a certain point, I looked up and walking nearby was a man who resembled Roy Scheider, the actor from The French Connection, Fosse, and Jaws. I thought, “Hmmmmm,” as I sometimes have a habit of doing, but then quickly returned to my book and forgot the entire sighting until I met up with my hosts a couple of hours later. They told me that it couldn’t be Scheider, but it probably was a Swiss gent who rented the building across from the garden. Again, I forgot the incident until...

The next day we drove three hours to a mountaintop convent-turned-restaurant near Sienna. I was told to allow five hours for lunch, as that was the custom. Two hours into the meal (and only the second of six courses), I noticed a man who resembled Roy Scheider. I blinked a few times and he was gone. When an hour later I went to the restroom, there was the same man. It was Roy Scheider and in his hand he was holding a copy of Ironweed.

“Good book,” I said.

“Yes, good book,” he replied.

Steven Heller is the co-chair (with Lita Talarico) of the School of Visual Arts MFA Designer As Author and co-founder (with Alice Twemlow) of the MFA in Design Criticism programs. He is the author, editor, or co-author/editor of over 120 books on graphic design and popular culture, the most recent is Iron Fists: Branding the 20th-Century Totalitarian State (Phaidon Press). He writes the “Visuals” column for the New York Times Book Review and is editor of AIGA VOICE. His work can be found at his website.

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