Ringolevio: A Life Played for Keeps

From street-smart New York punk to West Coast hippie prankster: that?s how Emmett Grogan, who died in 1978, would like readers of his self-aggrandizing autobiography to remember him. But in the age of James Frey, we?re more likely to wonder how much of this wild tale is actually true. The first half of Grogan?s fantastic account -- the childhood tale of Kenny Wisdom -- beggars belief. Born in postwar Brooklyn in a tough neighborhood, he becomes a heroin addict at age 11, a Park Avenue burglar at 13, a runaway to Europe at 14, a murderer at 15, and, to cap it off, an IRA terrorist at 16. Women everywhere fall for his freckle-faced good looks, and jail time simply strengthens his will to get over. A scholarship to an elite Manhattan school helps him sharpen his wits, hone his basketball skills, and once again prove what a tough customer he can be. Along the way, Kenny picks up a stack of hip paperbacks and evolves into the legendary Emmett Grogan, best known among cultural historians as a co-founder of the Diggers, a quasi-anarchistic group who tried to undermine the System by giving stuff away for free-food, clothing, and lots of drugs. They accompanied this with disruptive of street theater, and often to the live soundtrack of the emerging San Francisco sound: the Dead, Janis, and Jefferson Airplane. This half of Grogan?s romp includes appearances by a full cast of '60s characters, some celebrated (Dylan, Brautigan, leftover Beats), others mocked (Abbie Hoffman, Leary and Ram Dass, Jerry Rubin). In true post-Salinger fashion, Grogan reserves his harshest criticism for ?the phonies,? all those who exploit the scene for commercial gain. Whatever you feel about Grogan or the '60s, his semi-apocryphal account is an unforgettable portrait of a strange time, an essential document of a tumultuous era.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.