Ilan Mochari
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BlogApril, 2008
Russell Banks, meet Stephen Vincent Benét; Chris Paul is not the MVP

Search my name at, and eight books emerge. But I didn't write them. The authors used my Inc articles as source material.

I believe one day my own books will be on Amazon. For now I'm content with a pair of postings: My reviews of The Golden Bowl and John Brown's Body, published Christmas Eve, 1998.

Of course, a lot has changed since then. The Golden Bowl became a Merchant Ivory movie in 2000. John Brown's Body became a reggae outfit with five albums to its credit. Search "John Brown's Body" on Amazon and notice: The book gets subordinated to the band.

Despite a hip band borrowing its title, John Brown's Body has hardly resurged. The book boasts only eight customer reviews on Amazon, including mine. I've always wondered why there were so few. It's not as if Brown is a forgotten man. Russell Banks' 1999 novel about Brown, Cloudspitter, has a whopping 88 customer reviews. David Reynolds' 2004 biography of Brown has 26 customer reviews. Between them came John Stauffer's The Black Hearts of Men (2002), Franny Nudelman's John Brown's Body (2004), and a New Yorker article from April, 2005. There was also a PBS film about Brown released in 2000. All of them attest to Brown's 21st-century appeal.

Yet the original John Brown's Body (1929) by Stephen Vincent Benét has slipped into obscurity, even though it won the Pulitzer. The New Yorker article doesn't mention Benét's book. And most English majors – I state this anecdotally but with confidence – have never heard of it. So I have always wondered: Does Banks himself respect Benét's position in the canon? And does Benét's vanishing rep bother Banks as much as it bothers me?

My hunch is – yes, Banks admires Benét's epic poem and wants it to endure. I base this on a recent blurb in Newsweek. Banks lists his five most important books, in order:The Odyssey, Don Quixote, Tristram Shandy, Moby-Dick, and Huckleberry Finn . If Banks cherishes The Odyssey , chances are he appreciates John Brown's Body too. It's that whole epic poem thing: Hundreds of characters, war and patriotism, moral ambiguity, metaphors stretching for the stars, a faux-historical narrative more amusing than the real thing.

Want a taste? Try Benét's opening lines:

American muse, whose strong and diverse heart
So many men have tried to understand
But only made it smaller with their art,
Because you are as various as your land...

* * *

Who is the Most Valuable Player of the National Basketball Association? Not Chris Paul, awesome as he is. Paul's Hornets (52-22) reign in the Western Conference, but five teams are within three games: the Spurs, Lakers, Jazz, Suns, and Rockets. Though Paul is the alpha dog on a terrific squad, his MVP claim, as such, is no stronger than that of Tim Duncan/Manu Ginobili (Spurs), Kobe Bryant (Lakers), Deron Williams/Carlos Boozer (Jazz), Steve Nash/Amare Stoudemire (Suns), or Tracy McGrady (Rockets).

Paul's teammates are better than the mainstream media believes. It's easy to forget David West averages 20 points per game and Peja Stojakovic has averaged 20 points per game four times in his career. In fact, the West-Stojakovic-Tyson Chandler front line has been the best one in the Western Conference.

So who is the MVP? A more logical choice is Bryant, who buoyed the Lakers (51-24) without Pau Gasol (left ankle) and Andrew Bynum (left knee). Another option is McGrady, who regulated the Rockets (50-25) without Yao Ming (left foot). My own vote belongs to Kevin Garnett. The Western candidates can only claim to be stars on good teams; Garnett can claim ace status on the best team. Plus, the Celtics (60-15) have gone 25-5 against the Western Conference, proving there's no inflation in their record.

Now, I believed the Celtics could dominate before they got Garnett. I devoted my July, 2007 column in INsite Boston to the notion. In retrospect, Garnett has been more instrumental than I imagined. He's shooting a career best .536 and his 2.0 turnovers per game are a career low. Furthermore, the Celtics lead the NBA in opponent field-goal percentage (.418), three-point field-goal percentage (.316), and points allowed (90.4). These numbers demonstrate Garnett's value to the team as a whole. If he's not the MVP, he's indisputably worthy of First Team All-NBA honors. Here, for the record, are my choices:

Point Guard: Chris Paul
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant
Small Forward: LeBron James
Power Forward: Kevin Garnett
Center: Dwight Howard

Point Guard: Baron Davis
Shooting Guard: Tracy McGrady
Small Forward: Paul Pierce
Power Forward: Carlos Boozer
Center: Amare Stoudemire

Point Guard: Steve Nash
Shooting Guard: Manu Ginobili
Small Forward: Hedo Turkoglu
Power Forward: Tim Duncan
Center: Marcus Camby

Point Guard: Deron Williams
Shooting Guard: Richard Hamilton
Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony
Power Forward: Antawn Jamison
Center: Tyson Chandler

Point Guard: Rafer Alston, Chauncey Billups, Andre Miller
Shooting Guard: Allen Iverson, Monta Ellis, Brandon Roy
Small Forward: Peja Stojakovic, Stephen Jackson, Andre Iguodala
Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki, David West, Chris Bosh
Center: Rasheed Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Samuel Dalembert

Ilan Mochari is a novelist and journalist living in the Boston area. His fiction has been honored by
Glimmer Train. He is a former staff writer for Inc magazine, and he has also written for Fortune Small Business and CFO magazine. He has a B.A. in English from Yale University.

    © 2008 Ilan Mochari  
Ilan Mochari