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What’s with Lethem? The Bard can’t finish new book!

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Some authors have trouble finishing their novels. Jonathan Lethem is having trouble finishing reading his novel.

The famed Bard of Boerum Hill has falling far behind in his quest to read the entirety of his Manhattan-bashing new novel, “Chronic City,” during eight appearances between Oct. 16 and Dec. 4 at BookCourt in Cobble Hill.

At last Tuesday’s seventh round in the “Lethem vs. ‘Chronic City” Marathon at Spoonbill and Sugartown in Williamsburg, the author made it barely past the midway point of his 480-page doorstopper of a novel — a story about a former child star living off residuals and his friend, a cultural critic right out of Saul Bellow or Philip Roth’s universe.

That leaves far to go with just one appearance left.

“I’m a little surprised because he’s such a pro,” said David Shenk, the author of six books, including the forthcoming, “The Genius in All of Us” (Doubleday).

“He may have been timing himself at home, but there is a big difference when you get in front of an audience. You feed off the energy,” Shenk added. “A reading is a live organism and you just can’t predict how it’s going to go. On some nights, it probably felt better to slow it down and let everything play out.”

Of course, Lethem, best known for beloved bildungsroman “The Fortress of Solitude,” remains committed to completing the task. On the author’s Web site, the Dec. 4 reading is now billed as “the astounding read-till-you-drop closing party.” It also promises “back-up readers” and “prizes, surprises and absurdities guaranteed.”

That’s a little vague, but one thing is certain, if you’re planning on attending the final reading, bring dinner and a midnight snack, suggested legendary author Pete Hamill.

“Even if you talked like a basketball announcer, it might take three minutes a page,” said Hamill, the author of non-fiction and fiction tomes. “But it could be over five hours without dinner and still not be done. People may start throwing things. What he should just do is have a clock, set it for 40 minutes, stop and say, ‘Now buy the book to find out what happens.”

For his part, Hamill always tries to leave the audience wanting more.

“I try to keep the reading part of my readings fairly short,” he said. “If you end up reading for 50 minutes, everyone ends up needing to take a piss.”

Jonathan Lethem at BookCourt [163 Court St. between Pacific and Dean streets, (718) 875-3677], 7 pm–???, Dec. 4.

Updated 10:28 pm, November 24, 2009: Story was updated to include a vital quote from David Shenk.
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