Saturday, October 11, 2008

Michael J. Agovino

Claire Zulkey interviewed Michael J. Agovino, author of The Bookmaker: A Memoir of Money, Luck, and Family From the Utopian Outskirts of New York City. From her introduction, and their first exchanges:

[Agovino] writes about growing up the son of a buttoned-up union man who moonlighted as a gentleman bookmaker and gambler in the Bronx's Co-op City, the largest and most ambitious state-sponsored housing development in U.S. history. When the winnings were good, the Agovinos were taken on exotic vacations: when they weren't, well, they lived in Co-op City. When he's not working on his next project, Agovino contributes to such publications as the New York Times, Esquire, GQ, Salon, Elle, and The New York Observer.

Since when did you know that you wanted to write a memoir?

Probably since the mid-1990s. There was a former colleague of mine--from smalltown, Texas, a brilliant, well-read guy, who I felt very comfortable with--and I told him about my background and upbringing, and about my father's gambling, which I'd never told anyone. He said, 'Wow, that would make for a wonderful book.' But it seemed impossible to write a book. And frankly, I was afraid. Afraid of what people might say, about what they might think, and afraid I might write a bad book. And fear can paralyzing--especially for writers. I wish I wrote it ten years ago, but I probably wasn't ready, psychologically and intellectually. It's a rigorous pursuit, writing a book.

Why did your father bet so much on sports, as opposed to at the casinos or something?

My father was a smart guy--smarter than me--but when he didn't go to college and needed to supplement his income on top of his day job, he fell back on what he knew, which, in his neighborhood, East Harlem, was sports gambling. Casinos weren't that accessible to him and never a big deal in his world. And when he married and had kids, it was a good way to be at home. He never boozed or womanized. Being a bookmaker and sports gambler, he was always home. And that's what he wanted: to be close to his family, to be a present father....[read on]
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue