Krugman on Marketplace
Heaven, I'm in heaven...NYT columnist Paul Krugman (still a big hero of mine, long after the Times entombed him behind their paid-content Berlin Wall) talks (RealAudio, 4:06) to Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal about the economic impact of immigration. Krugman thoughtfully admits that the solution is by no means cut-and-dried, calling immigration "a mixed picture with some shadows in it."
The Boston Globe has a nice backstory on Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, my favorite book from my childhood. My daughter Maddie has a single-volume collection of four Virginia Lee Burton books, but unfortunately tends to opt for Katy and the Big Snow at bedtime instead of Mike Mulligan. Clearly, she still needs to work on her "humoring the old man" skills.
(Via Big A little a.)
Biff!!! Bang! Pow!!
From the department of too-much-time-on-hands, two diligent gentlemen (John and Scott) have done screen captures of "batsigns" used during fight scenes on "Batman." I wish more of them were superimposed on the filmed images of the scenes, but assuming the Google translator is working correctly it appears that the show stopped doing so during its second season due to cost considerations.
(Thanks to Fred for the link.)
Greg Ames, "Five Dollar Donut"
Greg Ames has a hysterically funny noir piece, "Five Dollar Donut: A Kurt Fitzroy Mystery", at Thieves Jargon.
Stalling, I sipped the slush of last night’s whiskey smash. It had been two days since I’d eaten anything solid. My gut rumbled like six Crips and Bloods in an L.A. car pool.
A hapless private eye with a drinking problem, a murder case he's only moderately interested in pursuing, an arm-y femme fatale and a dream of opening a suburban doughnut boutique. What's not to love?
(Via Maud, who admiringly calls the story "hilarious and overblown, but somehow still touching.")
Confessional Line Forms to the Right...
At Bookninja, readers fess up to library thefts of the distant past. Yours truly included.
Gentlemen, Prepare to Cringe
George Murray for President. And Prime Minister.
This is so nuts it just might work…
Testes vs disease. Hey Moe! Com’ere! I wanna cure Cancer! Woop woop woop!
German scientists say cells from the testes of mice can behave like embryonic stem cells. If the same holds true in humans, it could provide a controversy-free source of versatile cells for use in treating disease.And by “controversy-free” they don’t mean, you know, on the scale of someone coming at your boys with a scapel and collection dish, but in the GRANDER scheme…
I simply had to re-publish this post in its entirety, because excerpting fails to provide a full appreciation of George's peculiar genius.
This is a good first step...
Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee took a bold step and approved the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act -- a responsible plan to help undocumented workers find a path to citizenship -- proposed by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ). Four Republican senators joined the eight Democrats to approve the legislation. The committee also voted for Sen. Dick Durbin's (D-IL) amendment to give immunity to churches, charitable groups, and individuals who provide assistance to undocumented immigrants. In spite of the Judiciary Committee's compromise, heated exchanges are expected today as the Senate begins debate on immigration reform, an issue that has already exposed fissures amongst conservatives.
Now, Senators, do the right thing and pass this legislation. Building 700-mile-long walls and deporting 12 million undocumented immigrants won't solve the problem, nor will making being undocumented a felony or being a Good Samaritan a felony.
"People ask me why I don't write about nature or the suburbs. If a writer could write the truth about one Chicago street, that would be a good life's work." --Nelson Algren
It's Algren's birthday. Do yourself a favor, and honor his life today by not eating at a place called Mom's, not playing cards with a man named Doc, and--most importantly--not going to bed with a woman whose troubles are greater than your own.
Starting tomorrow, you'll again be free to do any or all of the above. But don't say you haven't been warned.
Nextbook of Note
Two interesting new items from Nextbook: first, Sara Ivry interviews Silver Jews mastermind David Berman, who relates his late conversion to Judaism and sings a rendition of Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!", and also reads his own poem "Now II." (MP3s are 10.4MB and 1.2MB respectively.)
Second, Nextbook columnist Etgar Keret has a NYT op-ed piece in which he amusingly relates the election day foibles of his father.
The parties my father votes for never get into Parliament...The one thing these candidates have in common is a genuine desire for fundamental change. That and the naiveté to believe such change is possible.Mr. Keret's solution for Mideast peace? Electing a candidate who will bore the Israelis and Palestinians into a peace-like stupor: "What this region needs is a peace of the tired, and Olmert's the man to put us all to sleep."
+ Percentage of the 4,000+ students who play Division 1 men’s basketball who will go on to professional sports careers: 0.8
+ Percentage of NCAA men’s basketball players who entered college in 1997 and had graduated by 2003: 44
+ Number of the teams in last year’s March Madness, out of 65, that would not have qualified to play for the national championship if a 50-percent graduation rate was required for players: 43
+ Approximate number of colleges that last year “asked the NCAA for leniency” when it began handing out penalties to teams that had not met the Academic Progress Rate standards: 400
+ Average salary of a worker with a bachelor’s degree in 2004, according the U.S. Census Bureau: $51,206, versus $27,915 for a high school graduate
+ Average revenues for a Division 1-A athletic program in 2003: $29.4 million, up 17.2 percent from 2001
Graduation Madness, indeed.
The Debut of Stitch-CastThe missus has launched a brand-new podcast, Stitch-Cast, which focuses primarily on fiber arts (knitting, quilting, etc.). Head over and check it out--whether or not you're into fiber arts, I'm sure you'll find it enjoyable.
Next up in the literary journal queue is Euphony, a six-year old biannual journal produced by undergraduates at the University of Chicago. The Summer 2005 issue is a slim, tidy little volume of poetry and short fiction which reads easily and quickly--no small consideration for someone whose reading backlog is as daunting as mine.
Charles Reed's "A Useful Distance" is an unsettling story of a man's disconnection from humanity and the appalling act of omission it causes him to commit, Jonathan Ullyot's "Shorts" is an interesting series of short-shorts told in an array of styles, and Rachel Bentley's "The Director" is a parenting tale with an odd twist at the end, one which again underscores how relieved I am that my daughter is homeschooled.
On the poetry side, I quite liked Laura Freedgood's image-laden "Country Time":
by Laura Freedgood
Wreathing the horizon
starlings thicken the telephone wire,
their wings urged by that low rustle,
the whisper of Southern trees.
a thick rope of scarlet chokes
the day in its prime.
My house sits on a plain
stretching two miles
to the ocean.
From my bedroom
I watch the weather
ride in on the sea spray.
Outside, the row of dark birds
fattens on the wires,
months of calendars
yellowing in the attic.
This issue also included notable poetry from John Wall Barger, Dan Beachy-Quick, and Hannah Craig, plus an insightful review of Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore by Julianne Werlin.
"Energy Security is National Security"
I strongly encourage you to listen to Senator Barack Obama's recent podcast, "Energy Security is National Security" (4.5MB MP3, 7:52).
"Our enemies are fully aware that they can use oil as a weapon against America. And if we don't take this threat as seriously as the bombs they build or the guns they buy, we will be fighting the War on Terror for a long long time."
Makes a hell of a lot more sense than giving tax breaks to big oil companies who are already earning profits in the mega-billions.
Guilfoile: The Second Coming of John Madden?
As much as I enjoy the annual Tournament of Books at The Morning News, this year I'm enjoying even more the addition of Kevin Guilfoile's hilarious commentary from the peanut gallery. Here, for example, he takes judge Kate Schlegel to task for re-reading books, saying that such a deplorable practice is "killing the book publishing industry":
Rereading Midnight’s Children, for instance, is no different from breaking into Salman Rushdie’s luxurious Manhattan apartment and stealing a wheel of imported cheese.
He's already got us drooling over what he might have to say about the Round Two matchup between Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer, who are married to each other. ("Remember last year when everyone got their hair in knots because the finalists for the National Book Award all lived in New York? Just think how pissed America would have been if all five of them slept in the same bed?") Can't wait.
Laila Lalami, "A Nice Young Man"
MoorishGirl Laila Lalami announces that her story "A Nice Young Man" (originally published in Pindeldyboz) has been translated into Italian and published as "Un Raggazo Gentile" in El Ghibli. It occurs to me that an even greater honor than being published in your own language is to be translated and published in a foreign language publication--the fact that someone thinks your story is worth the effort of translating speaks volumes about its merit.
Lovely little story. My guess is that the narrator suffers from Alzheimer's or some similar neurological disease--much of the story echoes the experiences I had with my late grandmother in the late 1970s and early '80s.
Ravenswood Used Books
The fiction collection can be especially difficult to navigate if you are looking for a specific title, but if you just enjoy browsing and getting “lost in the stacks” this is hardly a bother. If you are looking for something in particular, Jim is very friendly and knowledgeable and as a keen recollection of what he has in stock.
For me, getting lost in the stacks is the best reason to go to a used bookstore. You never know what you'll find, which is the fun part. If I'm looking for a specific title, I'm more likely to go to one of the big chains whose selection is more predictable. (Yes, I admit it--I patronize the chains. Call it the curse of suburbia. I'd prefer an independent if there was a good one near my home, which there isn't.)
From Your Algren Headquarters
Since I presumably can't say enough about the great man, two more Algren items of note...first, from The Bright One:
18TH ANNUAL NELSON ALGREN BIRTHDAY PARTY
8 p.m. Saturday, Acme Art Works, 1714 N. Western. $7; seniors, $5; less if you're broke
The late Nelson Algren, author of such classics as The Man with the Golden Arm and Chicago: City on the Make, would have celebrated his 97th birthday this year. In his honor the Nelson Algren Committee, dedicated to keeping alive interest in a timeless writer, is sponsoring an evening of dramatic readings, poetry, music, photographs, birthday cupcakes and a drawing for Algren books and memorabilia.
Richard Henzel will read from Algren's stories, and the Nelson Algren Committee Awards will be presented to writer-activists Glenda Daniel and Carl Davidson, and HotHouse executive director Marguerite Herberg. Photographers Dan Zamudio, Ellen Bunch, Jon Rosenblatt and others from the Acme-based Circle of Confusion photographic co-op will mount "Algren's Chicago," exploring the visual side of the writger's legacy.
For further information, visit www.nelsonalgren.org.
And check out this lovely video, by Warren Leming (Algren Committee head honcho) and Carmine Cervi: Nelson Algren's Last Night.
John McNally's Coming to Town
Just received this email from John McNally (The Book of Ralph):
Dear Various and Assorted People Who've Signed Up On This Mailing List:
First, thanks for signing up on this mailing list. As you've no doubt noticed, you receive updates, on average, once every twelve to eighteen months. Well, it's time for yet another of those all-too-infrequent updates.
I'm writing today to let you know that I have a new novel, AMERICA'S REPORT CARD, coming out in July, to be published by the same folks who brought you RALPH. If you click on the link above, you'll notice that my Amazon Sales Rank is a whopping ZERO. NONE yesterday, NONE today! Well, that's okay. There's no photo of the book yet, no reviews posted, nothing. That's why I'm sharing with you the first two blurbs below. I'll send more info about my BOOK TOUR as it comes available, but it appears that I'll be spending time in Chicago, Iowa City, Milwaukee, Bellingham (WA), Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and L.A., as well as several North Carolina signings (Asheville, Winston-Salem, and so on). If you want me to visit your neighborhood, go to your bookstore every day for the next month and talk loudly about me and my new book, and what a crying shame it is that I'm not visiting your city. Who knows. Maybe they'll call my publisher and book me.
Okay, enough ridiculousness. Thanks for your past support of RALPH, and I hope you like the new book. If I'm in your neighborhood this summer, stop by and say hello. I'll send another email before I hit the road.
Cheers, John McNally
ADVANCED PRAISE FOR AMERICA'S REPORT CARD
“It has been a long time since I’ve been so excited, provoked and haunted by a novel as I have been by America’s Report Card. I want to run out and buy multiple copies--for my kids’ teachers, my co-workers...even my stupid senator. I flat-out can't wait to talk about this book, which is a brilliant, laugh-out loud satire of contemporary American life with a tender, angry heart and enormous compassion for the little guy. You’ve got to read it. John McNally is emerging as one of the best American writers of the new century.”
--Dan Chaon, author of You Remind Me of Me and Among the Missing
“In America's Report Card, John McNally takes on domestic espionage, the American school system, and the mutative nature of love. Brilliantly written, McNally's unblinking novel is an earnest and hilarious portrayal of the American psyche at its worst and its best.”
-- Erika Krouse, author of Come Up and See Me Sometime
I thoroughly enjoyed Ralph, and it looks like this new one moves well beyond the coming-of-age realm. Really looking forward to it.
The Podcast is Coming!
Since all the cool kids are podcasting these days and I've never been above blaming something on peer pressure when it's particularly convenient for me, I'll be launching my own literary podcast soon. The machinery is almost completely in place; now all I have to is get the product up to my exacting standards. Stay tuned!
Farewell, Coach Ray
Ray Meyer joyfully devoted his life to his family, his players, DePaul University and the city of Chicago for over ninety years. He was one of a kind, and will be sorely missed. Current DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright put it very nicely:
"He was as vibrant a man as when I first met him. You can add up all his wins, but they pale in comparison to the lives he touched. He left a little bit of himself with everyone he met.''
The Sun-Times has an article of lovely remembrances from those whose lives he touched.
Shouts for Algren
I would be partial to Nelson Algren--The Man With the Golden Arm or Never Come Morning--as the Great Illinois novelist because he manages to examine power from the perspective of the powerless better than any other writer from here that I know.
That said, I would go a step further in nominating the essayistic City on the Make as the great Illinois novel, because it isn't a novel per se, but a form that draws heavily on the non-fiction reality of the way this state works, while still being a wholly literary work of the imagination.
Words Fail Me
Gents, if this doesn't put a damper on your St. Pat's festivities, nothing will.
Man severs own penis, throws it at officers
by Eric Herman, Chicago Sun-Times
March 17, 2006
Before cops threw the book at him, Jakub Fik threw something unusual at them -- his penis.
Fik, 33, cut off his own penis during a Northwest Side rampage Wednesday morning. When confronted by police, Fik hurled several knives and his severed organ at the officers, police said. Officers stunned him with a Taser and took him into custody.
"We took him out without any serious injury, with the exception of his own," said Chicago Police Sgt. Edward Dolan of the 16th District.
Doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital reattached Fik's penis Wednesday, sources said. He was listed in good condition Thursday, according to hospital spokesman Andrew Buchanan, who declined to comment further.
Fik, who lives in the 5400 block of W. Berenice, is charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count of criminal damage to property, said Officer Laura Kubiak. He told paramedics he was distraught over problems with his girlfriend in Poland, Dolan said.
Police arrived on Fik's block at 8:20 a.m. Wednesday after receiving reports he was smashing car windows, Dolan said. Fik then broke into a house down the block. A group of six or seven officers assembled in front of the house, Dolan said.
The occupants were not home, he added.
Fik was bleeding when the officers arrived and may have already cut off his organ, Dolan said.
"At that point, this guy came running out, naked, with a handful of knives . . . and started throwing knives at the police officers that were 10, 20, 30 feet away," Dolan said.
Fik threw his penis during the confrontation, too, Dolan said. He then went back into the house and re-emerged with "another handful of knives," Dolan said.
Dolan sneaked to the side of the bungalow's front steps and stunned Fik with the Taser. Fik fought back when officers went to restrain him, Dolan said.
"About 10 feet from the front porch, right on the sidewalk, was his penis," Dolan said.
Dr. Greg Bales, associate professor of urology at the University of Chicago, said severed penises are uncommon but surgery usually works.
"As long as the penis is placed on ice and reattached within a few hours, the success is usually pretty good," Bales said.
It's stories like these that always remind me: my life may not be perfect, but it could be a lot worse.
(Thanks to my sister-in-law Amanda for the link.)
"I'll have a pint with you, Sir!"
What will ya have?!
I'll have a pint!
I'll have a pint with you, Sir!
And if one of ya' doesn't order soon
We'll be chucked out of the boozer! 
This evening I will be raising a pint to all of you, in the spirit of peace, good will and great cheer. Slainte!
 For the record, I've never been chucked out of a boozer on St. Patrick's Day. My expulsion from the Hidden Shamrock was in a January, if I recall correctly. And the culprit wasn't pints but, I suspect, one too many Long Island Iced Teas.
Facing the Truth of History
The esteemed Howard Zinn has an excellent essay, "America's Blinders", in the upcoming issue of The Progressive.
In the history of secrets withheld from the American people, this is the biggest secret: that there are classes with different interests in this country. To ignore that—not to know that the history of our country is a history of slaveowner against slave, landlord against tenant, corporation against worker, rich against poor—is to render us helpless before all the lesser lies told to us by people in power.
If we as citizens start out with an understanding that these people up there—the President, the Congress, the Supreme Court, all those institutions pretending to be “checks and balances”—do not have our interests at heart, we are on a course towards the truth. Not to know that is to make us helpless before determined liars.
Zinn is absolutely right. Class warfare does exist, with the conservatives wielding most of the heavy artillery. We are a country of competing interests, not the class-indifferent, color-blind happy society that the politicians are so fond of invoking. Those in power (both Republican or Democrat, with the exception of the rare populist likes of Bernie Sanders or Dennis Kucinich) inevitably act in the narrow interests of themselves and those like them--corporate executives, Wall Street titans, drooling lobbyists--at the expense of everyday people, whose interests are at best ignored and at worst obliterated.
The next time the President--this President, any President--says we're invading a foreign country to bring peace and democracy (two things in such historically short supply in America that we really shouldn't be depleting our reserves) to long-suffering people a hemisphere away, think about what they really mean. Think about whose interests are truly being served.
"Mini South Chicago"
Thank You, Senator Feingold...
...for taking a brave stand, politically-motivated or otherwise.
"The president violated the law, ignored the Constitution and the other two branches of government and disregarded the rights and freedoms upon which our country was founded," said Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat.
Meanwhile, your spineless Democratic colleagues scurry for cover like cockroaches from an overhead light. Leadership, indeed.
And huzzahs for Richard Grayson
I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Richard Grayson's "Three Scenes from My Life (With Special Guest Star Truman Capote)" has also been long-listed for the Million Writers Award. Richard is a faithful reader of this blog, and even donated to St. Baldrick's on my behalf. Good guy.
Huzzahs for Kirby Gann
Personal fave Kirby Gann's short story "Tether" (which appeared in the October 2005 issue of Storyglossia) has been announced as a long-list finalist for storySouth's Million Writers Award. The ten short-list finalists will be announced April 1, with public voting commencing thereafter.
The honor comes as no surprise to me, most of all because it's a great story, but also because I nominated it myself.
Terkel and Dybek
Shaz Rasul, whose Murmurings to the Masses was one of the first blogs I ever read, attended the Studs Terkel/Stuart Dybek conversation last night at the Harold Washington Library (as part of Columbia College's Story Week), and was wowed.
What I took from Terkel, what I always take from Terkel, is the notion that the big ideas that I want to confront, lay claim to, best...they must connect to the little actions that constitute life.
Terkel and Dybek are two of my very favorites, which shouldn't come as news to anyone who's been reading my blog for more than a week or two. Sorry I missed the event; sounds like it was quite riveting.
Gordon Parks: An Appreciation
In another Farm Security Administration-related item--because I can apparently never get enough FSA material--the Tribune has a nice appreciation of Gordon Parks, film director, author and (previously unbeknownst to me) FSA photographer. Mary Panzer's piece relates the Northerner Parks' first exposure to Southern segregation, as prompted by FSA director Roy Stryker:
"I came back roaring mad," determined to expose this shocking corruption. So Stryker asked me, `How you gonna do it?' `Well, with my camera.'"
And he appears to have done just that, with particularly memorable photos of Ali and Malcolm X, among many others. Yet Parks also felt he was in a somewhat of a no man's land between the white and black worlds, not fully accepted by either.
"In one world I was a social oddity. In the other I was almost a stranger. ... Many times I wondered whether my achievement was worth [it] but now I realize the price was small. This same experience has taught me that there is nothing ignoble about a black man climbing from the troubled darkness on a white man's ladder, providing he doesn't forsake the others who subsequently must escape that same darkness."
Also news to my unenlightened self is that Parks was the first black photographer at Life. Quite the Renaissance Man.
(Trib site requires registration...if not already registered, use "email@example.com" to log on, with "123456" as the password. Thanks to bugmenot.com, as always.)
Dust Bowl Days
The Tribune has a strongly positive review of Timothy Egan's survey of the Dust Bowl era, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Reviewer Sandra Scofield calls the book "a riveting epic story of three-quarter-million hard-working people caught up in a great tangle of greed, lies, ignorance, desperation and the inexorable forces of nature." Looks like a good one--definitely one to add to The List.
Which reminds me that I really need to resume working on my story collection Great Land (explained further here) which is based on photographs from the legendary Farm Security Administration collection, many of which are Dust Bowl-related. My pile of unfinished projects seems to be steadily piling up.
(Trib site requires registration...if not already registered, use "firstname.lastname@example.org" to log on, with "123456" as the password. Thanks to bugmenot.com, as always.)
St. Baldrick's 2006 - Success!
St. Baldrick's was once again a great experience. Thanks to a few late donations, I moved well past my fundraising goal of $1,000, raising a total of $1,212. That's my "after" photo above, which bears a faintly disturbing resemblance to Uncle Fester. What made it even better than past years was that I took the day off from work, and Julie and Maddie came along with me to the event. (Here's another photo, of the shearing in-progress, with Maddie looking on amusedly.) And we were joined by our friends Theresa and John; after the shearing we headed downstairs for an excellent lunch of bangers and mash, accompanied of course by a fine pint of Guinness.
I'd like to thank everyone who donated on my behalf, or even just offered an encouraging word. It's truly wonderful to see this annual outpouring of support--partly for what it does for my self-esteem, of course, but mostly for what it means to every kid out there who has cancer or who might someday face having cancer. One of St. Baldrick's Chicago leaders, Tom Leonhardt, introduced himself at Fado, pointed at Maddie--who is blessed with excellent health--and said "That's the reason we do all of this." I thought he expressed it perfectly.
If you'd still like to donate, my donor page remains open for online donations--cash and checks are still welcomed as well.
St. Baldrick's - One Last Appeal!
Tomorrow I'm having my head shaved to fight children's cancer (12:45 PM at Fado Irish Pub, Grand Avenue and Clark Street) for St. Baldrick's Foundation. At $972 in donations, I'm still a bit short of my $1,000 goal, so if you want to donate on my behalf, there's still time! You can donate online at my St. Baldrick's webpage, or if you prefer cash or check just contact me and we'll make the necessary arrangements. This is a great cause that I really believe in, and I am genuinely grateful for any and all support I receive.
"A Little Circle of Kindred Minds"
James Joyce, from "A Little Cloud" (in Dubliners):
He tried to weigh his soul to see if it was a poet’s soul. Melancholy was the dominant note of his temperament, he thought, but it was a melancholy tempered by recurrences of faith and resignation and simple joy. If he could give expression to it in a book of poems perhaps men would listen. He would never be popular: he saw that. He could not sway the crowd but he might appeal to a little circle of kindred minds.
The scope of the protagonist's intended audience mirrors my own...I'm enjoying this book quite a bit, so much so that I'm actually considering braving Ulysses one of these years. Yes, I'm already aware that Dubliners is Joyce's "easy" book.
"All of us have rights, but our rights are limited by our responsibilities to our fellow human beings."
--Billy Bragg, musician and enduring social conscience, from an interview in this month's Utne.
It has been brought to my attention that my use of the phrase "perfunctorily unjoyous" in my story "Prodigal" puts me at the top of the Google search results for that phrase. It's always nice to get recognition, even from an algorithm.
Just Because We Care
Gov. Mike Rounds, who is male and has never been pregnant, either planned or unplanned, looks up as he prepares to sign a bill March 6, 2006, in Pierre, S.D., that bans nearly all abortions in South Dakota Monday. The measure is designed to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court 1973 Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion, as well as allowing small-government conservatives to intrude on women's personal lives. Under the new law, to take effect July 1, doctors in South Dakota will face up to five years in prison if they perform an abortion unless they can show the procedure is necessary to save the woman's life, but not to preserve the woman's health--because if she's not going to die anyway, a cluster of cells is of infinitely greater value to society. Further, victims of rape and incest should have just been more careful...and they probably brought it on themselves anyway.
Tribune Odds and Sods
The Tribune's literary coverage didn't have much of interest in terms of reviews this week, though there were a few other interesting items to point out...the audiobooks section had a seasonal Irish theme, including a recommendation for James Joyce's Dubliners ("Ulysses feels like homework; Dubliners, comparatively, feels like tales told around a bar. Go with the bar.")...a nice new column, "Chicago Connections", debuted, highlighting titles by locals Steve Bogira, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Sam Weller, Andrew Greeley and (cough!) Michael Flatley...Ron Grossman has a remembrance of Chicago prizefighter Barney Ross, focusing on Douglas Century's new biography; I've been hearing a lot of good things about this book lately, and have added it to The List...and lastly, way over in the Arts section, Julia Keller has a lovely profile of the late Octavia Butler, who once described herself as "an oil and water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty and drive." (Wow...that describes me pretty accurately, too.)
(Trib site requires registration...if not already registered, use "email@example.com" to log on, with "123456" as the password. Thanks to bugmenot.com, as always.)
The Banana King
I'm finally getting caught up with the literary journals I've been accumulating for the past year or two...first up is the relative newcomer The Banana King, published in Chicago by writer A.B. Drea. What grabbed me first about this issue (Vol. 1, No. 2) was the typically wonderful cover art of Jay Ryan, but I really enjoyed the stories as well.
Christopher Jobson's "The Levee" is a mildly harrowing story about two reckless young brothers, a flooded stream and a dangerously enticing culvert, while Emerson Dameron's "The Hot Spot for Valentines" relates the story (possibly true, definitely "truthy") of a thankless night-shift job at a convenience store in North Carolina and its oddball customers. Brian Costello's "Plan B" continues in the same enjoyable vein as his debut novel The Enchanters Vs. Sprawlburg Springs, showing what happens to failed rockers who never managed to escape their dead-end hometown--one who clings to the past and works in a guitar shop, and one who gets a sales job and starts a family.
The issue's highlight was Jonathan Messinger's "Rob the Quiet Becomes a Local Colorful Character", a hilarious tale of two guys visiting a dumpy karaoke bar in River North, during which the title character does karaoke for the first time, a performance which ultimately transforms his life. Amusingly, Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper makes a key cameo appearance.
Also included are interesting pieces by Chicago stalwarts Joe Meno, Jeb Gleason-Allured and Megan Stielstra, among several others. Very nice effort overall--and now I see that issue #3 is already available. Check it out.
New Ben Katchor Series!
This week's Chicago Reader also debuted a new comics series, "Shoehorn Technique", by the great Ben Katchor, of whom I've waxed enthusiastically here numerous times. I'm hoping this "Floym" person turns out to be a regular character. The one thing that kept me from fully embracing Katchor's previous strip "Hotel & Farm" was the lack of a central character to focus on, like his wonderful Julius Knipl creation. Katchor is my favorite comics artist, the best I've seen at combining artistic and narrative skill. His storylines are always oddly compelling, and his drawing beautifully evokes a world which is both bygone and never-existed.
Big Breasts and Meat Loaf
(Seeley) thinks there’s something about the relatively solitary lifestyle of a comicbook artist that results in the preponderance of big-breasted female characters: “That happens to me, and I have people around me. Every once in a while I’m like, ‘Whoa! Get the eraser out. I got a little crazy there.’ It’s this weird lonely job where they start to vent their romantic and sexual frustrations. I think if more comic-book artists were starving there’d be more comic books about meat loaf. Fortunately most of them are well fed. They’re just undersexed.”
Secret Toy Surprises
Back when I still bought mail-order CDs (and LPs, even further back) from independent record labels, I always looked forward to the arrival of my shipment in the mail. And not just for the music I had ordered, but also for the little extra goodies tossed into the mailer. These goodies--which I always called secret toy surprises, in a nod to the Cracker Jack boxes of my youth--might be as little as a business card or a photocopied catalog sheet, but I always enjoyed them.
So recently I was quite pleasantly surprised to open the mailer from Featherproof Books, which carried the copy of Brian Costello's The Enchanters Vs. Sprawlburg Springs which I had ordered. The book was there, of course, but also included was a sampler CD from Flameshovel Records (Chin Up Chin Up and The End of the World being the highlights for me), an excerpt from Kevin Fanning's Twelve Times Lost in booklet form (comparable, to this obsessive reader, to a record label sending me a free 7-inch single), plus stickers for The Enchanters as well as David Barringer's Terminally Curious.
It's obvious that the guys at Featherproof are inspired by the great indie record labels. Me too. Keep those secret toy surprises coming!
Kafka in Life and Death
Franz Kafka had a tormented relationship with his family, particularly with his overbearing father. No one in his family approved of the way he lead his life, nor did they ever give him any recognition as the great artist he was. He died in 1924 of tuberculosis, at the age of only forty, with most of his greatest works still unpublished. In the excellent Kafka in 90 Minutes, Paul Strathern expresses Kafka's familial plight quite poignantly:
Kafka's body was buried in the New Jewish Cemetary in the eastern suburbs of Prague. The simple tombstone was inscribed with the name Dr. Franz Kafka. His parents evidently felt it appropriate only to mention his legal doctorate: no reference was made to the fact that he was a writer. In 1931 his father died and was buried beside him. Three years later his mother died and was also buried in the family plot. All three names were inscribed on the same tombstone. Even in death, Kafka did not escape his family or their lack of recognition of his achievement.