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Getting Inside Carl Capotorto's 'Twisted Head'

Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

Carl Capotorto's family name translates as "twisted head," which makes perfect sense to the writer and actor. "Capo" means "head" in the leadership sense, as in "head of state." That would explain, Capotorto says, his family history of wacky village chiefs and freakishly domineering heads of households. One prime example? His father, a pocket dictator who turned anti-pornography crusades into a family hobby and forced his son to help him remodel a nearly condemned house — by themselves.

Capotorto's funny, rueful new book, Twisted Head: An Italian American Memoir, recalls a particularly pungent Bronx boyhood. The author's father, when not flamboyantly acting out the family name, ran a local pizzeria, Cappi's Pizza & Sangweech Shoppe. (Motto: "We Don't Spel Good, Just Cook Nice.") The joint was notorious for its endless rules. No running. No jumping. No shouting. No sharing. No extra cheese. No slices at the table. And so forth. And so on. Capotorto's father was a draconian enforcer who often kicked customers out before they'd even ordered.

Coming of age in the Bronx during the 1960s and '70s gave Capotorto an abundance of anecdotes specific to the era: the birth of disco, losing friends to the Son of Sam and coming out as gay among macho, working-class, New York Italians. (The neighborhood is "very real," Capotorto dryly notes.)

The memoir is based on Capotorto's one-man show. The actor and playwright is best known for playing Little Paulie on the HBO series The Sopranos and appearing in such independent films as Spike Lee's Jungle Fever. Entertainment Weekly called Twisted Head "a delightfully zany memoir." Liesl Schillinger of the New York Times describes it simply as "a feast." She says it's "alive with memory, forgiving, but not protective of the author's own or others' misdeeds."

This reading of Twisted Head took place in November 2008 at the McNally Jackson bookstore in New York.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.