Only 13 were left — and certainly not standing — when the all-out war between Jonathan Lethem and his new novel ended at 4:11 am on Saturday.
It might never have come to this — a nine-hour marathon reading — had the Bard of Boerum Hill not failed so dismally in his promise to read the entirety of his new 467-page book, “Chronic City,” on eight successive nights between Oct. 16 and Dec. 4 at BookCourt — his home turf.
Even after adding an extra session last week at Word bookshop in Greenpoint, Lethem still had roughly half of the doorstopper to go.
Still, he started promptly at 7 pm, gleam in his eye and a few jokes up his sleeve. He said he timed the reading himself — though he was smart enough to not reveal the estimated time of completion.
By 7:40 pm, he was already pouring sweat like Jerry Lewis on Labor Day — and he was losing fans fast.
“After a certain amount of time, you kinda just feel like a groupie,” said Kingman Brewster who had been to only one of the prior “Lethem vs. ‘Chronic City’” readings.
Brewster left at 8 pm; Lethem pressed on.
“I’ll make it,” he said, as the blazer came off.
Another hour passed. Wine cups came out, bread was broken, and Lethem lost the top button of his shirt.
But he wasn’t the only person in the bookstore who was enduring. Brent Shearer attended a whopping six of the “Chronic City” readings. As a result, Lethem promised him the book that the Bard was reading from — if he made it to the end.
“I’m kinda getting sick of the book, really,” Shearer said, falling deeper into his chair. But at this point, Lethem’s little war was fodder for Shearer’s own creative project: He’s writing a book about attending book readings while on unemployment. It’s called, “In the Front Row on the Dole.”
“Every now and then, I get a woman out of it, but I’d come here anyway,” he said.
By 11 pm, though, Shearer wasn’t so sure. Lethem had already gone through three pinch-readers, a dinner and coffee. The sweat was gone, and his enunciation was flawless. But Shearer was done, his head hanging low. He left not knowing that Lethem actually will send him the book, anyway.
Two more hours went by, and there was still no sign of fatigue as Lethem kept on turning pages in this Manhattan-bashing page-turner about a former child star living off residuals and marijuana.
He paused every once in a while to let another person read for a few minutes or to extend an offer for those remaining to leave, but hopped back on with no apparent effort.
At 3 am, there were 13 fans left, still chuckling at every pot joke. Another hour went by — along with a dozen wine cups — when Lethem finally uttered the emotional words, “Only five more pages, you guys.”
Cheers rang out among the living.
When he put the book down at 4:11, his remaining friends and family stood in applause. Lethem was still smiling but running on fumes, and said he felt “relief and disbelief” after the record-long reading was complete.
“I wasn’t sure he would be able to pull it off, but here we are,” said Lethem’s brother Blake.
Hugs were exchanged and the final autographs were given. Lethem didn’t say much, but he did give a hint of his next venture:
“Well, I got this book to write.”
Here we go again.