What It Is: 8/11/08

What I’m reading: Finished The Good Rat, by Jimmy Breslin, continuing Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, by Blake Bell, and getting back to reading Montaigne’s essays.

What I’m listening to: my iPod, endlessly shuffling among 13,000 or so songs.

What I’m watching: Fourth season of The Wire, and The Dark Knight, over at the Imax at the Palisades Center.

What I’m drinking: a rosé that my wife picked up on Saturday, and Stella Artois. Not at the same time.

What Rufus is up to: Around 6 hours on his own upstairs when I’m out! I’m still hesitant to leave him out of his crate for my full 9-hour workday, and I keep him upstairs so he doesn’t meander around down in the library, where he’s less familiar. But he seems to have figured out that he shouldn’t drink a lot of water when he’s alone in the house.

Where I’m going: Nowhere special

What I’m happy about: I’m not sure, but I’m generally elated at present. I feel a little bad that I’ve neglected friends I need to write to, but maybe I’ll have time and motivation to fix that this week.

What I’m sad about: The deaths of Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes.

What I’m pondering: The irony that the Yankees’ healthiest and most productive pitchers this season are 38 and 36 years old.

“The Good Rat”? Try “The Totally Freakin’ Awesome Rat”

I enjoy the heck out of Ron Rosenbaum’s essays and columns, but my track record with his book, movie, music recommendations isn’t great. Sure, he turned me — and a generation of readers — on to Charles Portis, and he also lightened my heart with Rosanne Cash.

But then there’s the Rosenbaum who contends that Domino “captures, purely with its look, the way we look” and “will be a cultural referent longer than many movies that make more money.” In fact, Domino is a terrible movie, the acid-green-iness isn’t very innovative, and it still doesn’t answer the question of whether Keira Knightley is hot.

And don’t get me started with the number of months my wife & I were sucked into the hypersaturated void of CSI:Miami on Ron’s recommendation. Sure, it was stupidly entertaining, especially with the Caruso-isms. But, dude . . . Zoroastrian undertones?

What I’m saying is, some of Ron’s suggestions are good, some are bad. And I’m telling you that he hit a home run with his recent praise for Jimmy Breslin’s new book, The Good Rat.

I downloaded the book shortly after reading Ron’s article, and I could barely put it down. I’ve gone back to reread chapters this weekend. It’s a fantastic non-fiction book about a career mobster who testifies against a pair of crooked (now retired) cops. Much of the book consists of the man’s testimony, balanced by Breslin’s wonderful interjections, his anecdotes about criminal New York’s past and dissolving present, character sketches, and his own past as a newspaperman, chronicling the city’s underworld.

The book is a sort of elegy for those early days, exploring the contradictions of the glamor, mundanity and evil of the mafia. The mobsters commit evil acts — the center of the book involves a heartbreaking story of murder-by-mistaken-identity — but they lead common lives, and Breslin is adept at drawing out these tensions. These men aspire to some sort of greatness, but they can never amount to anything more than elderly men trying to stay ahead of the feds. This may seem passe, post-Sopranos, but Breslin makes it a joy to explore this world.

Go get The Good Rat. It’s the best book I’ve read this year. (I count The Heart of Darkness as a novella, not a book.)

[As an aside, I should point out that the biggest tragedy in the death-of-the-newspaper phenomenon may be the loss of great city & political columnists like Breslin, Mike Royko and Murray Kempton (another Rosenbaum recommendation). I only read a few papers nowadays, but I can’t think of any newspaper writers working now who could reach their heights.]