Saturday, November 1, 2008

Michael J. Agovino's "The Bookmaker"

Michael J. Agovino has written for a wide range of publications and online sites, including The New York Times, Esquire, GQ, Salon, Elle, and The New York Observer.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Bookmaker: A Memoir of Money, Family, and Luck From the Utopian Outskirts of New York City, and reported the following:
Any time I hear rules about writing—or god help us, tests, especially tests—I tend to ignore them or do the opposite, all due respect to FMF. In fact, I was hoping that page 99 would be a photograph. This would have given me an opportunity to talk about my use of photography, which is quite different from most other memoirs I’d say. That will have to wait for another day.

Instead, page 99 in my book is only a half-page of text being it’s the last page of the chapter entitled “Westchester County, 1972.” But it does illustrate an important theme throughout the book: the dream of home ownership. That and dreams unfulfilled.

Two years before, my family moved into a socialist housing experiment on the periphery of New York City. Co-op City, it was called, the idea of the famous/infamous builder Robert Moses, one of his last, or as I call it, his last big mistake. It was made up of 35 skyscrapers, almost identical, and housed up to 60,000 people. It was the largest housing complex in America. It had been an American-history themed park called Freedomland, which was even larger than Disneyland.

My mother never wanted to move there. She thought, as many early critics did, that it was not only a visually depressing place but that its left-wing ideology was overbearing. My father, on the other hand, was a union man who earned a modest income for the New York City Department of Welfare, and it was he who controlled the purse strings. The price, of course, was ridiculously right. He told my mother at the time, “If we don’t like it we’ll move.” He worked a second job, my dad, as a bookie, and on top of that gambled on sports. He won money, and then he would lose money. Win, lose; win, lose. Money in, money out. So maybe there would be a lucky streak, a windfall, and we would be able to afford to move.

After two years of my mother hounding my father, telling him how much she hated this monstrosity of towers, he got fed up and said to her: “Then go find a house.” And sure enough she did, an English country house, not even that far away, in Mt. Vernon, Westchester County, my mother’s dream suburb.

But my father never wanted suburbia; it wasn’t his dream. This was part of their ongoing ideological battle throughout the book, and their lives: owning vs. renting, suburbia vs. city.

At the end of this chapter, on page 99, my mother gives up, at least temporarily, on this dream of the house. “Well,” she said, “at least let’s go to Italy.” And so on we went, from Eero Saarinen’s TWA Building, to the land of our roots.
Read an excerpt from The Bookmaker and watch Matt Lauer's interview with Michael J. Agovino.

Learn more about The Bookmaker at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue