Karl Wolff reviews WheatyardBelated thanks to Karl Wolff for his fine review of Wheatyard at CCLaP.
Despite this rather bare-bones summary, Wheatyard is a wonderful little book. If one is inclined, one could read it in an afternoon. The novel also explores the challenges and ever-present despair involved with those aspiring to get into the writing business. Publishing has just as many dreamers and wannabes as Hollywood and major league sports.Count me as one of those wannabes.
I just can't get enough Randolph Street photos from the fifties and sixties, and only partly because my dad used to work in the block shown above, between State and Dearborn. The signage (including, just on the north side of the street, Eitel's Old Heidelberg, the Oriental Theatre and the Woods Theatre) is so gaudy that it's almost beautiful. Plus I love that there was a bowling alley right in the middle of downtown; its unlit sign is in the left-center of the photo, above the bus.
Meet me at the drive-in
Having not driven the north end of Illinois Route 47 for many, many years, I was quite pleased this past weekend to discover that the towns of Huntley and Hebron still have their old-fashioned ice cream stands: Huntley Dairy Mart and The Dari, respectively. The Dairy Mart even still appears to offer car-side service. Both places were packed on Sunday afternoon (not evidenced by these photos, which are from Google Street View). Nice to see that some old traditions still endure.
"...her arms did gleam..."
In this stanza from Skírnismál (or The Lay of Skírnir, from The Poetic Edda), the Norse fertility god Frey waxes eloquent about a giant maiden he has become smitten with.
From on high I beheld in the halls of GymirThe Norse gods seem somewhat odd. This is just one of many references to the beauty of maidens' arms, a body part which isn't usually cited as a favorite of lusty males. These gods are also often less than all-powerful and seem to have particular difficulty hooking up with desirable women - in this case, Frey has to send his valet Skírnir to the land of the giants as some sort of emissary/pimp. Zeus rarely had that problem.
a maiden to my mind;
her arms did gleam, their glamor filled
all the sea and air.
Book Recycling finds
This year's Will County Book Recycling was a letdown - first, because Julie wasn't feeling well and decided not to go, and second, because the quantity of available books seemed lower than earlier years. I only came home with three books - Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach (which I've been wanting to read for some time), Jack London's Call of the Wild (for bedtime reading with Maddie - my boyhood copy somehow disappeared) and the intriguing book shown above.
The book is a 1963 profile of one of my favorite writers, Sinclair Lewis, by his biographer Mark Schorer. Schorer's bio of Lewis is a massive 900-page doorstop which, despite my interest in Lewis, I have no inclination to read. But this volume is basically a hardcover-bound pamphlet (just 44 pages) that briefly surveys Lewis' life and writing career and which I find much more appealing. The book came from the library at Joliet Central High School and still has the little pocket in the front where the checkout card used to be. Not surprisingly, the book wasn't terribly popular - it was only checked out 30 times between 1965 and 1988. And based on how many of the checkout dates are clustered, it looks like many of those checkouts were renewals (probably by students whose Lewis term papers were taking too long to finish), so I'd guess that no more than 20 students read the book during the 23-year period.
The book is from a series of author profiles published by University of Minnesota Press. I'd love to find more volumes from the series, including those on Nathanael West, Herman Melville and T.S. Eliot. (Eliot is a kindred spirit - he was a Midwest native and misplaced banker, working as a clerk at Lloyd's of London for eight years.) The image below is of the back cover, which lists the 28 volumes in the series as of the publication date.
Lake Street, looking east from the Chicago & North Western viaduct. Yesterday afternoon.
What I'm writing
Now that the Wheatyard hubbub is starting to subside a little, I'm finally starting in on a new book. It's a novella with the working title Junker, which is actually the first of a planned trio of novellas set in a small town in northern Illinois. The town isn't based on any specific municipality, but instead is a composite of several towns that I've known, including my hometown.
I prefer the term "trio" instead of trilogy, because the latter implies a series that proceeds linearally from book to book. So I'm calling it a trio, since I hope to write the books in such a way that they can be read in any order. They go together, as sort of equals, and not one after the other. The writing is very tentative and slow-going so far; I have a pretty good idea of the protagonist's story, but haven't figured out yet the best way to tell it.
Wheatyard at The Page 69 TestMarshal Zeringue's Campaign for the American Reader blog empire is a longtime favorite of mine. Today he was generous enough to publish the short essay I wrote about Wheatyard for his Page 69 Test blog. The concept behind "the page 69 test" is simple: when you come across a new book, open it to page 69 and read that page, and if you find that sample intriguing, the book might be worth exploring at length. By page 69, the author should be well past the introductory formalities and be fully into the narrative, so that page probably gives a good flavor to what the book is like. I picked up this habit from Marshal and now apply it, almost subconciously, to almost every book I find. My sincere thanks to Marshal for running this piece.
"...yet be sparing withal..."I'm starting off this year's Summer of Classics with The Poetic Edda, a medieval verse compilation of Old Norse myths and legends; this edition is Lee Hollander's translation, from 1962. I'm particularly enjoying Hávamál (or The Sayings of Hár), which poetically dispenses advice on living, including how to conduct oneself as a guest in someone else's home. I admire this bit:
The cup spurn not, yet be sparing withal:The general gist of this hospitality section so far seems to be "don't drink too much, and keep your mouth shut." Timeless advice indeed.
Say what is needful, or naught.
For ill breeding upbraids thee no man
If soon thou goest to sleep.