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Lego artist Nathan Sawaya building a replica of the Iwo Jima flag raising.
Lego artist Nathan Sawaya building a replica of the Iwo Jima flag raising.Nathan Sawaya/Nathan Sawaya
Sawaya’s Lego Conan O’Brien.
Sawaya’s Lego Conan O’Brien.Nathan Sawaya/Nathan Sawaya

Brick by brick

Lego artist Nathan Sawaya has made a career out of a childhood obsession, a story he tells in his illustrated memoir, “The Art of the Brick: A Life in Lego” (No Starch).

When Sawaya, who now has homes in New York and Los Angeles, was growing up in a small town in Oregon, the nearest neighbor lived more than a mile away. To entertain himself, he built a 36-square-foot Lego city. When his parents wouldn’t let him get a dog, he built one. That experience opened Sawaya’s mind to the possibilities of Legos.

He attended New York University and became a corporate lawyer. At night he returned to his childhood hobby of building WITH THE PLASTIC BLOCKS. Creating art helped him manage his depression. All the while, his creations were getting bigger and more complex.

In 2004, he quit his job to devote himself full time to Lego art. His parents helped him pay his bills until his new career took off. In 2005 he was invited on David Letterman’s show to create a Lego sculpture. The following year, he was commissioned to recreate out of Legos the famous image of the flag raising at Iwo Jima.

In 2007, when the Lancaster Museum of Art in Pennsylvania hosted his first solo show, people lined up around the block for the opening. A few years later he was commissioned to create replicas of the two lions carved out of marble that flank the steps to the New York City Public Library.

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A handful of the sculptures featured in the book are in a traveling exhibition, also called “The Art of the Brick,” on view at Faneuil Hall Marketplace through Jan. 11. Ticket prices for the exhibit, featuring MORE THAN 100 Lego sculptures, start at $15.50. Details at www.bostonbricks.com.

Man of letters

Over the course of about 60 years, Norman Mailer, in addition to more than 30 books, wrote some 45,000 letters. About 700 pieces of his correspondence have been published in “Selected Letters of Norman Mailer” (Random House), edited by J. Michael Lennon. Mailer, who died in 2007 at age 84, wrote to Henry Kissinger, the Clintons, Monica Lewinsky, Truman Capote, James Baldwin, Lillian Hellman, and many other public figures.

He corresponded with unknowns, too. In the case of Jack Henry Abbott, it was Mailer who made him famous — he pressed for Abbott’s parole from prison and helped him land a book contract. Mailer’s mission of mercy turned bad when Abbott stabbed a waiter to death shortly after his release in 1981.

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For 30 years, Mailer corresponded with another unknown, Edward McAlice, an unpublished novelist from Providence. Mailer read his manuscripts, encouraged him, and lobbied unsuccessfully for McAlice to get a book contract. Lennon, Mailer’s friend and authorized biographer, told me that McAlice, whom he described as having “Joycean gifts,” once took the bus to Provincetown to visit Mailer. In one letter, Mailer advised McAlice, “It’s out of the middle of oneself that the best writing comes, when one’s working day after day like a dentist or any other kind of driller.”

Coming out

■  “Robert B. Parker’s The Bridge” by Robert Knott (Putnam)

■  “No Fortunate Son” by Brad Taylor (Dutton)

■  “Die Again” by Tess Gerritsen (Ballantine)

Pick of the Week

Emma Page of Wellesley Books in Wellesley recommends “Inappropriate Behavior” by Murray Farish (Milkweed): “In these stories featuring conspiracy theorists, perverts, psychopaths, and out-of-control adolescents, Farish plays with a stream-of-consciousness narration, sliding in and out of his characters’ deranged psyches. For all its darkness, this is a funny book. Farish sets out to prove that you don’t have to be an optimist to be happy, nor do you have to be successful to be interesting.”


Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com