Pop Culture Advisory: James Gandolfini

For Maurice Sendak’s 80th birthday, actor James Gandolfini read In the Night Kitchen at an event at New York’s 92nd Street Y. See below for a clip that’s well worth watching.

Memories of Gandolfini, who passed away this week at the age of 51, are inevitably tangled up with people’s thoughts and feelings about Tony Soprano, the mob boss he played to perfection on HBO’s The Sopranos. Matt Zoller Seitz has an extraordinary piece about the real man here.

The Godfather—both the novel by Mario Puzo and the film starring Marlon Brando, directed by Francis Ford Coppola—is a natural recommendation for Sopranos fans, but for more about the Mafia, see:

  • Goodfellas. Martin Scorsese’s film follows real-life gangster Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta) from his teen years in New York to his anonymous life in the Witness Protection Program. Bonus: Both Lorraine “Dr. Melfi” Bracco and Tony “Paulie Walnuts” Sirico appear in the film, which was based on Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy, which is also well worth checking out.
  • Sarah Vowell’s essay about her obsession with The Godfather, “Take the Cannoli,” suggests that the strict code of behavior to which the characters in the film adhere is one reason that stories about the mob appeal to people coping with ambiguity-heavy modern life.
  • For the perspective of a model who married into the mob, then eventually extricated herself and used her getaway driving skills to become a Hollywood stunt driver, check out The Company She Keeps by Georgia Durante. High literature it’s not, but what a story!

Tony Soprano’s complicated relationship with his therapist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, gave viewers additional insight into the character and offered numerous opportunities for plot development. For those who were especially intrigued by their dynamic:

  • Each of Chevy Steven’s three books features a different protagonist, two of whom are patients of Dr. Nadine Lavoie. Still Missing‘s Annie O’Sullivan is a woman against whom acts of horrific violence have been perpetrated, and Never Knowing‘s Sara Gallagher learns that her biological father is the man who committed those acts. Always Watching is Dr. Lavoie’s own story of recovering her repressed memories of a commune where she lived for several months when she was a child.

Many a Sopranos scene plays out at Nuovo Vesuvio, the restaurant owned by Tony’s childhood friend Artie Bucco, played by John Ventimiglia. His big dreams and inevitable failures call to mind Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub gambling their restaurant’s future on a single Big Night.

New Jersey itself often seemed like a character on the show; Mark Sceurman and Marc Moran’s Weird NJ: Your Travel Guide to New Jersey’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets is your guide to all things offbeat in the Garden State.

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Stephanie Klose About Stephanie Klose

Stephanie Klose (sklose@mediasourceinc.com, @sklose on Twitter) is Media Editor, Library Journal.


  1. Kristina says:

    Don’t quite know how I got to this clip but love it. Think I thanked person who shared it via tweet on tweeter but very new at this would love to see this clip used to motivate kids and parents what joy reading together can be … It can also be used in public education classrooms to show how cool reading is….. Thanks for sharing what an amazing gentle Giant a true blessing who lived his talent out loud and clear ..