My friend and fellow malcontent Richard Grayson has proposed a solemn and dignified salute to the Bush Administration's upcoming departure, on Inauguration Day: a simultaneous, nationwide flushing of toilets. I can't think of a more appropriate farewell. In fact, I'll flush twice.
Lady Liberty on Lockdown
"It has always interested me that the word 'credit' comes from the word 'credere,' which means 'to believe.' It only works if people believe in it."
- Tom Wolfe
The white-suited one just might be smarter than half of the geniuses on Wall Street.
Boy's gotta have it.
Historic Joliet in postcards. Small gallery here - surprisingly, four of the five buildings depicted there are still standing. Spend any time on eBay with the search term "Joliet" and you will have already seen most of these images, but it will be nice to have them all in one place. Hint hint.
Paul Fattaruso, Bicycle
A few quick words about Bicycle, the "novella" by Paul Fattaruso which I read a few weeks ago. My brevity isn't due to any lack of appreciation for the book - in fact, I liked it quite a bit - but because its structure makes a formal critique somewhat difficult. Although billed as a novella, the book is a collection of 77 micro-fiction pieces, none more than one or two sentences each, on the subject of bicycles. Although consistent in tone, the pieces don't follow any particular narrative thread, instead presenting various impressions of bicycles - and especially the narrator/rider - which I found charming, whimsical (especially when bicycles are imagined as living, breathing creatures), often beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable overall.
With pieces this brief and concise, it's easier to just let Fattaruso's words speak for themselves, so I'll do so and pass along a few of my favorites:
Twice a year the air carries that faint whir of migrating bicycles.
Consider the bicycle of paradise, its meerschaum frame, its wheels of feathers.
The carpenter lingers in his workshop long after sundown, working on his bicycle. Even the bell is wooden, crafted from old apple wood, and warm to the touch.
When there is no moon, I ride by instinct, the instinct that quivers in my elbows.
I adjust my tie, straighten my lapels. Today I will ride by bicycle down the great spiral staircase.
I'm not completely sure what Fattaruso is saying here, but I'm very glad I was able to listen in. Bicycle is another winner from Hotel St. George Press, the offbeat imprint of Akashic Books.
Just say no to offshore drilling
There is no doubt that a lot of people have been discomfited and genuinely hurt by $4-a-gallon gas. But their suffering will not be relieved by drilling in restricted areas off the coasts of New Jersey or Virginia or California. The Energy Information Administration says that even if both coasts were opened, prices would not begin to drop until 2030. The only real beneficiaries will be the oil companies that are trying to lock up every last acre of public land before their friends in power — Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney — exit the political stage.
Conservation - reducing demand - is the key to stabilizing fuel prices, not an infinitesimal increase in supply twenty years from now.
This land was made for some other publisher
Good news: The bidding war now begins! Publishers, start your checkbooks!
(In all seriousness, my heartfelt congratulations to winner Marc McKee and top finalists Chloë Joan López and Jennifer Moss, all of whose books will be published by NMP.)
One Sentence Movie Reviews: Atonement (2007)
Atonement (2007): Sometimes even the smallest of misunderstandings create consequences that can never be fixed.
Notes: Excellent film adaption of Ian McEwan's masterful novel, with characters and settings gorgeously depicted almost exactly as I imagined them from the book. McEwan's multi-layered first section, which showed the same events from multiple points of view (which was critical for showing Briony's youthful misinterpretation of things she saw), is faithfully recreated, with its repetition revelatory rather than cumbersome. Although financial constraints forced the filmmakers to omit McEwan's harrowing scene of soldiers retreating along the single road to Dunkirk, the film's vision of the encampment at Dunkirk itself is sufficiently horrific to get McEwan's point across. And the conclusion imparts Briony's guilt and final atonement just beautifully. A top-notch film.
(Thanks to Kevin Smokler for the "one sentence movie review" concept.)
He continued on, past Franklin and an aging garage which he bemusedly noticed had been gussied up with out-of-place evergreens on the corners at each level, then to Wells where he paused at the Dont Walk light. As he waited for the light to change an El train clattered overhead, its roar drowning out every other sound on the street. He peered up, beyond the elevated tracks to the marble building just beyond. It was here, at the Driscoll Building, that his father had operated a passenger elevator for forty-four years. Henry remembered visiting him at work now and then, curiously entering the compartment which was his father's home for ten hours a day, his only comfort a narrow cushionless stool. His father would greet him warmly, not as his son but play-acting as if young Henry was a tenant of the building, with all of the Good morning, sirs and Fine weather we're havings and What floor will it bes that the job required. Henry's father showed up there and worked every day for forty-four years, missing only a rare day from serious illness, enduring the back pain from ten hour stretches on the stool and resisting all suggestions of retirement until automation of the elevator made the decision for him.
"Every father goes through an experience when he’s a hero today and an old man the next."
-William Delaney, 1960 Chicago Father of the Year
Preach it, brother.
Another day, another instance of dueling editions of a single work. Barely had the debate over Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love simmered down when word arrives of a new edition of James Agee's A Death in the Family. It's a bit more complicated than Carver, which involved a heavy-handed editor and a writer who agreed to heavy revisions, only to regret it later, and after he passed away his widow insisted on publishing his original manuscript of the book. In other words, Carver had every opportunity to publish his original vision of the book, but failed to do so.
In Agee's case, he died before the book was even completely finished, and it fell to his literary executor to stitch the pieces together into a finished book. (Shades of Kafka's The Trial and especially Ralph Ellison's Juneteenth, two stitched-together, posthumously-published novels that left me greatly dissatisfied.)
In the piece I've linked to above, Will Blythe claims the new version trumps the original. Which puts me in a quandry: I had been considering reading the book as part of my Summer of Classics, but now I wonder if I should hold off until I can get my hands on the new edition. Or just put off reading either edition for a few more years, which I strongly suspect will be the result.
Gitmo prisoners will finally get their day in court...
Yesterday the Supreme Court handed down a greatly welcomed and long overdue decision which guarantees habeas corpus protections to Guantanamo detainees. Here are a few choice quotes from Antonin Scalia's dissenting opinion.
"America is at war with radical Islamists. … Our Armed Forces are now in the field against the enemy, in Afghanistan and Iraq."
"The game of bait-and-switch that today’s opinion plays upon the Nation’s Commander in Chief will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed."
"Today the Court warps our Constitution."
"The Nation will live to regret what the Court has done today."
What a bitter, sad, fear-plagued world it is that Scalia lives in. I almost feel sorry for the guy. Maybe he'll do us all a favor, by taking early retirement and spending the rest of his living hiding in a cave.
Julie and I sealed the deal nine years ago today - June 12, 1999, one of the two or three nicest days of my life.
(Man, get a load of that photo. I practically looked like a kid back then. That certainly was quite a few follicles ago.)
Eliot Asinof has passed away. His most famous book, Eight Men Out, about the 1919 Black Sox scandal (in which eight White Sox players, all but one of whom Nelson Algren once famously called "seven of the finest athletes who ever hit into a double play", were permanently banned from baseball) is definitely worth your time, as is the John Sayles film of the same name which the book inspired. Intriguing cast - John Cusack, David Strathairn, Charlie Sheen, John Mahoney and D.B. Sweeney, plus a cameo by Studs Terkel! - and of course a compelling story. Check them both out.
As I mentioned recently, the start of my Summer of Classics will be delayed (as it was last year) due to last-minute reading of some contemporary fiction that I don't want to put off until September. But I've hit upon a nifty solution, one directly inspired by my wife Julie. She and I are always going back and forth about when summer actually takes place - she's a traditionalist who insists summer occurs between the summer solstice and fall equinox (this year, June 20 through September 22), while my considerably less scientific self defers to the old school year calendar which says summer basically runs from June through August.
Ergo, since I've already missed June 1 as a starting date, this year my Summer of Classics will follow the astronomical calendar, and run from June 20 through September 22. If you can't make your goal, then simply move the goalposts.
On this day he did notice the building, looking past the white-shirted workers streaming through the revolving doors into the soaring atrium and toward the white-clothed restaurant. As thoughts of Smitty drifted from his mind, his thoughts returned to the busboys, catching one last glimpse of them busying themselves inside before they disappeared from sight as he moved past. The tower going up meant Smitty was out of work, Henry thought, but at least it meant jobs for these other guys. And who could even say Smitty was out of work? It was a big parking company he worked for, and there were still plenty of surface lots around that needed attendants like him. So maybe Smitty was still all right.
Wanted: Local Literary Coverage
Just finished reading the Spring Books Issue of The Chicago Reader, and can't begin to describe how disappointed I am. (And I used to be a big fan, not to mention a paid contributor just last year.) A few author profiles, a few pages of reviews, and that's it. If this is any indication of the paper's content under their new ownership, I probably won't bother reading it any longer. Time for some other paper (say, Newcity Chicago, who just published their latest Lit 50 list) to step into the literary journalism void that the Reader appears to have vacated.
Wheatyard - Small Edits and Big Edits
I'm working my way through the third draft of Wheatyard. As of this morning, I'm finished with what I call the "small edits" - tweaking words and phrases, adding a sentence here and there, fixing minor inconsistencies and streamlining the narrative.
Now it's on to the "big edits" - major revisions and additions that didn't occur to me until this most recent re-reading of the manuscript. One of these is the narrator's attitude toward the small town in which Wheatyard, the protagonist, lives. The narrator is a grad student in his final days of college town life, soon to return to the big city of Chicago. While he admires the simplicity of Wheatyard's town, he also sees its shortcomings - notably the small-mindedness and insularity of its inhabitants. But re-reading the manuscript, I was struck by how much my narrator, while considering small-town life, veered from admiration to condescension and back again. One day he was seeing something he really liked, while another day he was bitterly critical. The narrator's attitude is one aspect of the book that is in need of significant refinement.
Another thing I need to develop further is Wheatyard's relationship with his older sister, which was once close but by the time of the story has become completely non-existent. As it stands right now, the story doesn't at all address why the sister suddenly disappeared from Wheatyard's life. Julie was kind enough to point this out after she read the second draft, and it's something I definitely need to fix.
But the work is progressing very nicely, and I expect to have the third draft finished by the end of June. I've already lined up one writer friend, one whose judgment I greatly respect, to read the manuscript, and I'm soliciting a few others. If all goes to plan I'll have the final draft done by the end of this year and ready to send out to publishers. I hope.
YES WE CAN!
Bo Diddley (Was) a Gunslinger
Sad news: rock and roll legend Bo Diddley has passed away, at age 79. He's the only person I can think of who has a rythym named after him: "the Bo Diddley beat" (roughly similar to "shave and a haircut, two bits") that has been shamelessly borrowed by countless other musicians during the past fifty years. I saw him perform during the late 1980s at Biddy Mulligan's, the eclectic but now-shuttered music club on Chicago's far north side, and he put on a great show. So long Bo, you will be missed.
Summer of Classics, Part 2
Diligent readers of this space may recall last year's Summer of Classics, when I endeavored to read as many classic novels in June, July and August as I could. I would have managed to read more than eight books, but the classics portion of my summer didn't get underway until I finished The Road and Atonement - both of will deservedly be considered classics someday, so maybe delaying my start to read them was appropriate after all. (This year's reading will be similarly delayed, as I'm halfway through Plainsong and also want to read Harry, Revised now rather than putting it off until September.) So about two weeks from now I'll launch into the classics. I've only just now started compiling my long list of books to choose from, and here's what I've come up with so far:
John Steinbeck, East of Eden
I absolutely loved The Grapes of Wrath, the only Steinbeck I've ever read, and still can't figure out why I haven't read this one yet.
Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim
I started reading this half a dozen times during my early adult years, but never came close to finishing. This time, he vows.
Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
Not a novel, but reportedly has enough fictional touches to qualify more as creative writing than journalism.
Erskine Caldwell, Tobacco Road
Jack Conroy, The Disinherited
Neither is a classic of literature in general, but both are unquestionably classics of proletarian literature, so that's good enough for me. Both should dovetail nicely with Steinbeck. And both writers were contemporaries of my hero Nelson Algren (Conroy, in fact, was Algren's mentor) so I really can't resist.
Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts
Thoroughly enjoyed The Day of the Locust last year, and have heard this one (in a handy two-fer with Locust) is even better.
James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men or A Death in the Family
The former has been sitting on my shelf for fifteen years, all but unread other than browsing through it for Walker Evans' incomparable photos. Not a novel either, so maybe I'll leave it shelved a little longer and read the latter, the only novel Agee ever wrote. Or maybe I won't get to either one by the end of August - those first three books listed above should occupy most of my summer as it is.
The last time Henry had stopped was just a few days before the bulldozers moved in. How's it hangin', Mr. Henry, Smitty had greeted him. Hanging low like always, Henry laughed in reply. Business good this mornin'? Eighteen and change, Henry said, shaking his head. Low even for this time of year, Henry had thought without speaking. Early spring was even worse than winter, wind and cold rain sending commuters rushing past without stopping. 'Bout what I made here since six, Smitty said, before tax of course. Least you get to keep all of yours. What little there is of it, yeah, Henry said. The conversation was similar to most of the others they had in the mornings, on Henry's way to the hotel, and though their talks were plain and ordinary he now found himself missing them, Smitty gone after the bulldozers suddenly appeared one day, levelled the cashier shack and tore up the asphalt. As the office tower later rose Henry barely noticed it as he shuffled past.