Eclectic, long-winded and occasionally diverting portraits by New Yorker staff writer Singer (Somewhere in America, 2004, etc.).
The quirkier the subject the better in this reporter’s book, although Singer is clearly not interested in his subjects per se but rather in what he unearths about them that will give him insider cachet. In the case of his tediously detailed study of the family-run vegetable farm in Del Mar, Calif., that supplies Wolfgang Puck’s Spago restaurant, Singer’s well-connected attentions win him an invitation from the owners to attend their matriarch’s funeral back in Japan. “Secrets of the Magus,” a rather cloying profile of famous sleight-of-hand artist Ricky Jay, merits reading for his in-the-know look at the craft and its historic practitioners. “Trump Solo,” written in 1997, ensures that the real-estate mogul comes off as a self-absorbed blowhard by nailing his “gaseous blather.” Singer likes Martin Scorsese a lot better, recording in “The Man Who Forgets Nothing” how “convincingly” the director repudiates his most graphically bloody depictions by declaring, “I’m not interested in violence that way anymore.” The most worthwhile pieces here are the portraits of less famous people involved in compelling pursuits, such as Richard Seiverling, organizer of the Tom Mix Festival, and international book collector Michael Zinman. “Mom Overboard!” offers 1996 cameos that now seem largely clichéd of overtaxed professional women on the mommy track. Occasionally, Singer’s recondite searches take him where few readers care to tread, as in “La Cabeza de Villa,” which recounts the Skull and Bones Society’s claim to have Pancho Villa’s skull in its Yale home. “Joe Mitchell’s Secret” delightfully treats a subject closer to home: deceased fellow New Yorker reporter Mitchell, author of Joe Gould’s Secret, whose “urban peregrinations . . . delineated a romantic quest, the trajectory of a polite but persistent intimate affection.”
Peregrinations of a curious, harmless sort that time has rendered largely irrelevant.