Akashic Scores Again
To me, Akashic Books is really at the forefront of delivering quality literary fiction with gorgeous and innovative presentation. So far everything I've read from them (Chicago Noir, Aaron Petrovich's The Session, Chris Abani's Song For Night and Paul Fattaruso's Bicycle) has been top-notch writing besides being beautiful physical objects. Two new Akashic projects look like they continue this trend:
Joe Meno's latest story collection, Demons In the Spring, is now out. I paged through it at the bookstore the other day, and it's a real beauty - cloth-bound with an imprinted cover (no dust jacket), heavy paper stock inside, with each story illustrated with original artwork by a variety of artists. The book has real heft to it, and in hand feels a bit like an old college textbook. I haven't kept up with Meno's books as much as I should have, and this might be the one that has me renewing acquaintances. The hardcover comes in a limited edition of just 4,000, so you might want to grab this one quickly, as I probably will.
Correspondences provides a bittersweet glimpse at the lost art of letter-writing, and the manner and means by which emotions are conveyed in that form. The collection contains seven stories, all of which, in one way or another, speak to the disintegrating relationship between people--men and women, parents and children, authors and readers.
But the literal subject of the work is only the beginning of the discussion: Each hand-crafted, signed copy is composed of an unfolding chip-board casing built by letter-press maven Brandon Mise, which contains pockets for three accordion books bearing two stories each. The seventh story, which is written by Mr. Greenman with intentional gaps in the narrative, is printed on the casing and does something unprecedented: It invites the reader to contribute to the collection.The fourth pocket in the casing contains a postcard that the reader can use to fill in the gaps in Greenman's narrative and send to Hotel St. George Press for possible publication in future online and paperback editions of the book. This experiment, code-named "The Postcard Project," will incorporate work by authors and non-authors alike, resulting in an ever-shifting, community-created story.
The book looks fascinating and rather beautiful, but the list price of $50 (even including shipping) is frankly much too steep for me to add another inch to my to-read pile. However, I'm definitely considering writing something for a postcard submission. If you're as intrigued as I am, check out the instructions.
This, my friends, is the future and the hope of literary fiction.
Across the aisle
Watching John McCain in Friday night's debate, I didn't see an open-minded, cooperative bipartisan, but instead an arrogant, condescending, grudge-bearing man who is so convinced of the righteousness of his beliefs that he bristles at and refuses to hear conflicting views. (Hmmm, why does that sound so familiar?) He rarely addressed Obama directly, never looked him in the eye, and refused to acknowledge their points of agreement despite Obama's repeated willingness to do so. I find it very hard to believe that a President McCain would courteously smile, show respect to and compromise with the likes of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to get any meaningful legislation enacted.
Reach across the aisle? Hell, the guy won't even look across the aisle.
This just in...
The sun rose on the western horizon this morning...howler monkeys just flew out of my ass while signing arias from Don Giovanni...and the perpetually conservative Chicago Tribune, which has endorsed the Republican candidate in every presidential election of the past 150 years, is calling John McCain on his bullshit.
To play up her management skills, Sarah Palin regularly boasts of the six years she spent as mayor of Alaska's fastest-growing city. What the Republican vice presidential candidate doesn't mention is that spending during her tenure grew nearly three times faster than the population did.
The operating budgets crafted by Palin for the city of Wasilla rose 70 percent during her two terms as mayor from 1996 to 2002, according to city records. Over the same time, the town grew by about 25 percent.
John McCain's presidential campaign is packaging his running mate as a seasoned and frugal government administrator who reduced the property tax and several other local levies.
But city records demonstrate that Palin's years in Wasilla were far from a portrait of conservative fiscal management. She bankrolled a wave of spending—as well as those tax cuts—with revenues from a new sales tax pushed by her predecessor and from federal earmarks paid for by U.S. taxpayers.
Of course, calling bullshit on anything about Sarah Palin is shooting fish in barrel. But for the Tribune to be doing the shooting, even such easy shooting, is quite remarkable. The paper has been traditionally so deferential to the GOP that had George Bush announced, four years ago, that he is Jesus Christ the Savior returned to redeem a fallen world, the most the Tribune would have said against it was that they were respectfully withholding judgment.
Here's my favorite bit of that article:
Palin had served on Wasilla's six-member City Council for four years before ousting Stein as mayor. At the time, she dismissed concerns about her experience in an interview with the Frontiersman, Wasilla's local newspaper. "It's not rocket science," Palin said in 1996. "It's $6 million and 53 employees."
Back then it was just $6 million and 53 employees. But now it's somehow critically important "experience." Hardly.
(Admittedly, the sun is moving in its usual east-west direction, and I haven't actually seen any of those monkeys. But I'll keep you posted.)
One of the true giants of acting has passed on. Others can and will do a much better job of expounding on Paul Newman's career than I'm capable of, so I'll just pass along this personal tidbit of my own. I used to play quite a bit of pool (more formally, "pocket billiards"), so much so that my first date with Julie took place at the Cue Club, an upscale but now-closed pool hall in Chicago. Whenever I played pool and found myself in one of those effortless grooves where it seems like you can't miss a shot, I would glide around the table after each made shot, sizing up the next one. And whenever I did so, I always thought of Newman's lines from The Hustler, as his character Eddie Felson watches in awe and marvels at the legendary Minnesota Fats (played by the equally incomparable Jackie Gleason):
Jeez, that old fat man. Look at the way he moves. Like a dancer...And them fingers, them chubby fingers. And that stroke. It's like he's, uh, like he's playing a violin or something.
And though nobody will ever call me Minnesota Fats - I've weighed around 155 pounds for twenty years now, so at best I'd be Illinois Slim - I've always thought of those lines when I'm shooting pool in one of those rare grooves.
Farewell, Mr. Newman.
While scrubbing and scouring the kitchen of our house four years ago when we first moved in, we found these two soap coupons behind a drawer. Looks like they're from the 1960s. Of particular note is that back then Dial was manufactured by Armour and Co. of Chicago. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Armour used to operate the biggest meatpacking and slaughterhouse operations in the world, so the ingredients for that soap came from...you guessed it, pigs and cows. It's enough to make a committed vegan swear off bathing, ever again.
One of the estate auction lots we brought home last weekend included a set of kitchen canisters, the coffee one of which included several single-serving Sanka packets like this one. This packet is from the mid-1970s or later, because the address on the back includes a zipcode, but came from far enough back in time that the now-obsolete spelling "caffein" was used. And this didn't even come from a grocery store - the packaging reads "General Foods Corporation, Institutional Food Service Division", so apparently someone swiped a bunch of these from a cafeteria or diner somewhere but never got around to using them. The "coffee" (because let's face it - nobody is really sure what Sanka is actually made of) is still in there, just daring to be consumed. But though I'm fascinated by the promise of those "Fresh 'Flavor Buds'®", I'm not nearly devoted enough to food science to subject my insides to the onslaught of thirty-year-old fake coffee.
Several years ago, my brother-in-law Al passed along a large collection of books that had belonged to his parents. The idea at the time is that I would sell them on eBay on his behalf, and take a commission for my efforts. Well, I quickly discovered that most of the books - a lot of popular fiction from the 1950s and 1960s - have little market value these days, so the books have mostly languished in the basement of our former and current houses. I hauled some of them out yesterday to try to sell at our garage sale, with no takers, and our local charity thrift store wouldn't take them either. So while I try to figure out their next possible destination (which very well might be our alley), I've been enjoying digging into some of these old relics.
The books themselves are fascinating in themselves, in a kind of time capsule sort of way, but inside one of them I was pleasantly surprised to find a Literary Guild book club circular ("Wings") from September 1960. It's been great fun to page through this, not just for the throwback illustrations, but also to read the promotional flack that the Literary Guild used back then.
The feature title for that month was Diana, by R.F. Delderfield. That image shown above is presumably the fair Diana herself. Here's the first paragraph of hype on the book: "This is a love story in the old-fashioned style. It is sentimental and it is simple - a poor boy meets a rich girl, they fall in love. Will they marry? Compared to all the sordid stories that have been published lately, Diana is refreshing and very touching." I'll say one thing about Literary Guild: they sure knew their audience - suburban housewives like my brother-in-law's sweet but extremely straight-laced mom.
There's a short profile of the author, who is quoted as saying: "My real aim in writing Diana was to protest against the cheapening and exploitation of young love in current fiction and entertainment. I wrote it in the spirit of the Pre-Raphaelites in the mid-nineteenth century - a plea for the return of the Romantic Age - or reaction, if you like, against the squalor of our Angry Young Men's approach to Romance - and that of your Beatniks." Ah yes, those sordid and squalid Angry Young Men and Beatniks. How our society ever survived such tawdry, non-Romantic filth is simply beyond me.
And here's a photo of the author, looking quite starched, erudite and thoughtful, in a manner you simply don't see in author photos these days of anyone other than Tom Wolfe:
One other book of note is The View From the Fortieth Floor, by Theodore H. White, "The Dramatic Story of the Collapse of a Great Magazine Empire!" The image below is presumably that of the protagonist, John Warren, and his estranged wife whom he's trying to win back while simultaneously struggling to "rebuild Trumpet and Gentlewoman, national magazines which had once helped to shape America's dreams and thoughts."
Given the mindset of Delderfield (to whom Literary Guild presumably was sympathetic enough to make him their featured writer for the month) that was cited above, I'm guessing the dashing Mr. Warren saved both the magazines and his marriage, and the story didn't end with Warren as a bitter and solitary alcoholic suicide candidate, both magazines in bankruptcy, hundreds of employees out of work and, most importantly, America's dreams and thoughts hopelessly adrift.
I've uploaded pdf files of the pages for each of these books, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
Famous Men, Famous Man
I'm three-fourths finished with Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and what a frustrating and exhausting ride it's been. For twenty pages Agee will meticulously and obsessively describe the tenant families' clothes, then he'll veer off on a comma- and colon-infested polemic, but then he'll craft a passage of exquisite lyrical beauty. Consistency was clearly not one of his strengths. Nor discretion: at one point he implausibly states "There will be no time in this volume to tell much of personalities..." when he's already taken plenty of time to describe the grain of the wallboards, an inventory of a dresser drawer or his bitter thoughts on the American educational system - and when it's precisely the personalities of the families I most want to know about.
I've enjoyed this book here and there, but I'm really looking forward to finishing it and moving on to some concise narrative fiction whose authors' presence don't saturate every page.
You can still make a living writing. You just can't make a living writing what you want.
- J. Robert Lennon
How to sell the unwritten
Tod Goldberg passes along several side-splitting book-signing anecdotes, including this one which is so great I won't even excerpt but instead reproduce in its entirety.
A man walks up. He has the look of a man about to ask me to read his novel, which is in his trunk this very moment.
Man: You wrote these books?
Me: I did.
Man: I'm looking for some advice on writing books. Your brother says you're a professor. Are you a professor?
Me [glaring at Lee as he slinks away like the vile homophobic twat that he clearly is]: I am.
Man: What do you teach?
Man: Well, see, here's the thing. I don't know how to finish my book or get it sold.
Me: What's it about?
Man: It's set in present day and it's about a Holocaust survivor who is chasing down his Nazi captor.
Me: He must be chasing him down very slowly.
Man: What do you mean?
Me: Well, even if both of them were newborns at the time, they'd be in their sixties now.
Me: My point being that you might want to rethink that present day angle.
Man: I've done a ton of research. I know all the things there are to know. I know [goes on for about 30 minutes detailing what he knows]. So how do I sell it?
Me: Wait, wait, wait. Have you actually written any of it yet?
Me: Not a word?
Me: That might be your next move before trying to sell it.
I'm starting to think that if dealing with idiots (or, more bluntly, the f-derivative that Tod has coined) like these are the price of being a published author, maybe it's not so bad being unpublished.
A reasoned response
Barack Obama has released a "Statement of Principles" which outlines provisions which must be part of the Wall Street mortgage bailout. While I encourage you to read the entire statement, here are the core principles.
• No blank check.
• Rescue requires mutual responsibility.
• Taxpayers should be protected.
• Help homeowners stay in their homes.
• A global response.
• Main Street, not just Wall Street.
• Build a regulatory structure for the 21st Century.
Although these principles are specific to the bailout, I think they pretty well reflect Obama's general mindset regarding the relationship between government, business and U.S. citizens. It's also the calm, deliberate, reasoned response I think we could expect from Obama when facing any situation as President.
And just yesterday, the Illinois State Senate voted 55-0 to overturn Governor Blagojevich's veto of an ethics reform bill. Going forward, all businesses which have or are seeking contracts in excess of $50,000 with the state are banned from making campaign contributions to the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and comptroller. This legislation is a great first step toward cleaning up the "pay to play" cesspool that is Illinois state politics. Senate President Emil Jones, an ally of Blagojevich, had been dragging his heels on calling for a vote on the veto override, indicating it would take place in November at the earliest. But a prodding phone call from none other than Barack Obama finally pushed Jones into calling for an immediate roll call vote. And based on the unanimous vote, it's clear that the Senate was fully in favor of this ethics reform, with Jones being the only obstacle.
In an overwhelming rebuke of scandal-tarred Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Illinois lawmakers on Monday approved the state's first ban on campaign donations from supporters seeking lucrative state contracts.
The 55-0 vote in the Senate came only days after Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama—stung by his own connections to Illinois' infamous culture of influence peddling—prodded Senate President Emil Jones (D- Chicago) into allowing an immediate roll call.
Blagojevich tried to force lawmakers to accept changes to the measure that he said would strengthen it. But advocates said he was really trying to kill their efforts to rein in his habit of raising money from people who get state business—a practice derided by many as "pay-to-play."
"Finally getting [the ban on] pay-to-play enacted is a huge victory for the people of Illinois who want honest and accountable government," said Cynthia Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. She said the victory came even though Blagojevich "has gone out of his way on this bill to give it a body block every time you turn around."
See that? Obama makes good things happen.
Wall Street bailout: Just say no
Wall Street, commercial banks and mortage companies have gotten themselves into an enormous mess, either by willfully (and in the short-term, profitably) making mortgage loans to unqualified borrowers or by buying up securities secured by those bad loans, not because the underlying collateral was anything less than toxic, but because they believed a "greater fool" was available to buy those securities from them. Now that those loans and securities have been exposed as being worth far less than face value, the financial titans find themselves sitting on a pile of overpriced assets for which no buyer is stepping forward.
Until now. The Bush Administration, which has long preached the virtues of a laissez faire free market and railed against government regulation of and intervention into the financial markets, has proposed a $700 billion bailout of the feckless financial industry in which the Treasury Department would buy up many of these bad loans. In one sense this bailout is indeed needed - with these mortgage assets no longer representing a viable source of liquidity, the financial companies have severely tightened up their extension of credit, thus imperiling what is already a fragile economy. But apparently, as proposed by the Bush Administration, this bailout comes with no strings attached - no protections for taxpayers whose hard-earned money will be used to pay for the bailout, no provision for protecting homeowners from losing their houses to foreclosure by the very financial institutions which never should have made the loans in the first place and, most critically, no new regulation or oversight of the financial industry to prevent this fiasco from ever happening again.
And, not surprisingly from an administration which has shown a remarkably cavalier attitude towards the Constitution and the separation of powers among federal government branches, the Bush proposal would free the Treasury Secretary from any oversight of the judicial system. All that would be required is a periodic report to Congress on the status of the bailout program. As anyone who has watched any of Bush's largely ceremonial State of the Union Addresses ("Here's what I'm going to do and quite frankly I don't give a rat's ass what you think about it") has a pretty good idea how meaningful these reports will be. The Treasury Secretary will do absolutely whatever he wants, and there's nothing we can do to stop him.
For this bailout to take place, three things have to happen: first, Congress must reserve the right to terminate the bailout program at any time, and the program must be subject to legal challenge in the courts; second, there has to be a one-year moratorium on all home foreclosures, with banks waiving all principal and interest on troubled mortgages they would have received during that time; third, major regulatory measures must be put in place to ensure that the banks don't simply repeat the same reckless lending practices that got them into the mess they - and all of us - are in right now.
$700 billion is an enormous amount to pay for a short-term fix if the underlying causes of the mortgage fiasco aren't addressed and corrected.
Update: An excellent proposal being floated by Congressional Democrats: limit the executive compensation paid by financial companies who take bailout money. After all, if these companies are really so stricken that they have no alternative but to turn to the government for help, then taxpayer money should not be used to pay for exorbitant compensation of executives whose boneheaded decisions got us into this mess in the first place.
Strong comment from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "We will simply not hand over a $700 billion blank check to Wall Street and hope for a better outcome...Democrats believe a responsible solution should include independent oversight, protections for homeowners and constraints on excessive compensation."
This week in punk derivatives
Since I can't download or access streaming media at the office, I've accumulated these links throughout the week for Saturday morning listening/viewing, without realizing until just now that they're all punk-related:
+ An excerpt from the infamous hardcore punk episode of Quincy, in which the title character memorably and clumsily ponders "Why would you listen to music that makes you hate, when you can listen to music that makes you love?" (Via Boing Boing.)
Save the Castle Car Wash!
Castle Car Wash was built in 1925 and is the last remaining historic gas station structure on Route 66 (Ogden Avenue) in the city limits. Chicago was the eastern terminus of Route 66. Originally Murphy's Filling Station, the building stopped functioning as a filling station in 1966 and later became a car wash. The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program of the National Park Service recognizes this building, with its unique castle design, as one-of-a-kind along the roadway and in April of 2005, the building was determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Joliet area has a few quirky Route 66 relics of its own, but nothing close to this gem. If this was located in Joliet, I'd buy it myself and turn it into a hotdog stand. I'm not sure what a new owner would do with this at its current location at 38th & Ogden, but surely somebody can think of something better than tearing it down for a bland new strip mall.
During the past week I've been listening to the Mekons' Original Sin (their legendary Fear and Whiskey plus EP tracks from the same period) in the car, driving to and from the train station. When I got home on Monday I thought about taking the CD inside and switching it for something else for my brief drivetime, but decided against it. On my drive home last night I suddenly obsessed on the Mekons' cover of Hank Williams' "Lost Highway", listening to it three or four times and deciding it might be the genesis of a new short story for me, and before bed I paged through Peter Guralnick's chapter (in the aptly-titled Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians) on Hank Jr., looking for some insight into Hank's life and hopefully some writerly inspiration.
And just moments ago I blissfully discovered that today would have been Hank's 85th birthday.
Weird, huh? Though I have no idea what form it might take, it's almost as if this story is simply meant to be.
Literature, indeed, goes on
In the sad wake of David Foster Wallace's passing, it's comforting to read the feel-good story of 67-year-old Selden Edwards and his debut novel, The Little Book, whose first draft was written in 1974 but wasn't fully finished until 2006 and was finally published last month. Good for him.
The latest new baby
Over the weekend the three of us went to an estate sale in Naperville. Going through the house - a rickety 19th Century relic that's been in the same family for three generations - was interesting in its own right, but it's always nice to take a little something away. And I did just that, picking up the Beacon camera pictured above. It's a lovely little thing, with Art Deco touches and made (I believe) of Bakelite, which fits comfortably in the palm of the hand. It was made by Whitehouse Products, Inc. of Brooklyn, sometime during the early 1950s, and is admittedly more of a snapshot camera than anything a serious photographer would use - the lens is fixed focus and the aperture appears to be a little balky, so I doubt I'll ever actually photograph anything with it. (It also uses 127 film, which I don't even think is made anymore.) But it looks quite sharp on our bedroom mantel, right next to its new big brother. And it was only eight bucks, so I really couldn't resist.
I now officially have a collection on my hands.
Political sight gag
Yesterday's book exchange brought a good laugh, when I came across the two books shown above. In case you can't see clearly from the photo, the two books at the center are See, I Told You So by Rush Limbaugh, followed by Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations by Al Franken. At first I thought it was wonderful bit of coincidental serendipity - perhaps the gods commenting on the proper political order of things - and had just as commented as such to Julie when one of the event's volunteers overheard me and said he set those two books up that way intentionally, saying something about wanting idiocy (Limbaugh) to be followed and countered by rational thought (Franken). Finding that the books' arrangement wasn't accidental didn't bother me, though - it was comforting just to know that even in conservative-leaning Will County, a liberal like me could find another kindred spirit.
I just wish I could have found one of Bill Bennett's pompous and self-righteous tomes, and inserted it after Franken's book, so Bennett (that virtuous scold who lectured society on all of its wrongs for decades before finally admitting to a gambling addiction) could be followed by the next book in the photo - something called Super Casino.
Sailors on Shore Leave, Part 2*
The Andersons are a family of obsessed book lovers. Our shelves are filled to overflowing, and both the attic and basement of our house are filled with boxes of books which we don't have shelf space for but which we can't quite part with. But today we did some parting. The Will County Land Use Department is holding its annual Book Reuse & Recycling Event - you just bring in your unwanted books and take away as many as you like, with any books left over after the weekend being properly recycled by the county. I had a large bin of books that were unshelved during home renovations last fall and which didn't make the cut when it came time to reshelve. So we hauled along the bin and spent a delightful few hours at the Pilcher Park Nature Center going around the tables again and again, looking both for books we might have missed the first time around as well as fresh new arrivals. If you live in the Joliet area I highly recommend checking out next year's event.
Our culling mission was fairly successful, as we only came home with two-thirds as many books as we donated. Though I showed considerable constraint, and though my to-read pile hardly needed bulking up, I couldn't avoid coming home with nine books, which are part of the right-hand stack shown above. They are: Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own; Leonard Michaels, The Men's Club; The Dimensions of the Short Story: A Critical Anthology; Ring Lardner Jr., The Ecstasy of Owen Muir; Franz Kafka, The Trial (the original Willa & Edwin Muir translation; I previously owned this exact edition but misplaced it somewhere); Studs Terkel, Working (Julie found this - I thought I already owned it, which turned out not to be the case), Michael Harrington, The Other America: Poverty in the United States ("The book that sparked the War on Poverty"); Short Story Masterpieces (this copy is pretty banged up and I almost put it back before seeing that it included Nelson Algren's "A Bottle of Milk for Mother" - any book that properly puts the literary outsider Algren alongside the canon-ites Hemingway, Lawrence and Faulkner just had to come home with me); and Jack London, Stories of the North.
And, incidentally, the entire left-hand stack in the photo are Maddie's books. Clearly, Julie and I have indoctrinated her quite well.
(*That subject line references our previous bulk book acquisition, in February 2006. I'm pleased to report that of the sixteen books mentioned there, I've read nine - D'Ambrosio, Caldwell, Joyce, Melville, Trillin, Forster, Commodify Your Dissent, John Brown and the novellas collection. Nine of sixteen might not sound like much, but for me it's a huge accomplishment.)
Sarah Palin's interviews with Charles Gibson demonstrated, quite conclusively, that she's inexperienced, uninformed, unwilling to stand by her past remarks and, in parroting McCain's standard talking points, far from the independent voice that is critical for being a good vice president. Now it's even more clear that her selection as VP nominee was nothing more than a cynical ploy by John McCain to put a jolt into his moribund campaign and to woo disaffected female supporters of Hillary Clinton. McCain undoubtedly got that jolt he was looking for, as the conservative base appears to love her, though I doubt he'll draw very many who supported Clinton and truly believed in her liberal cause.
Case closed. Palin isn't qualified to be VP, which casts even further doubt on whether John McCain represents the best candidate to lead this country. Now the Obama campaign needs to return its full focus on drawing distinctions between Obama and McCain, and make Palin the afterthought she deserves to be. Every time the Obama campaign focuses on Palin, they play right into McCain's hands. Every time they emphasize Palin they keep her in the public eye, drawing the limelight away from McCain's considerable deficiencies. Every time they obsess over her lack of qualifications, as if that hasn't already been proven already, they help make her a star and fire up the Republican faithful who weren't exactly in love with McCain before he picked his VP nominee.
Memo to Obama: Sarah Palin isn't running for president. John McCain is, and from here on out he has to be the target.
Bob Mould, Author? Yes, Author!
I once pondered the possibility of a book by one of my biggest rock heroes, Bob Mould. Looks like my wishes will come true:
And he couldn't have picked a better collaborator than Michael Azerrad. Looking forward to October 2010.
Palin: She was for pork barrel spending before she was against it.
Mike Luckovich nails it, as usual.
What I'm writing
"Hope Café" is one of my older stories which I wrote back in 2004, after being inspired by a Tribune article about a young black woman who opened a coffeehouse on South State Street in Chicago, across from the being-demolished Robert Taylor Homes public housing project. The story has been submitted to and promptly declined by a dozen literary journals, and I've let it completely languish for the last few years. Though I knew it was far from perfect, I never got around to revising it. But after having not written much new fiction over the past year, lately I've decided to instead revisit some of my older stories that remain unpublished and are in need of some work, which got me thinking about "Hope Café" again.
The story is written in three parts which, as I've realized all along, were a bit disjointed and didn't flow together as smoothly as they should have. Over the past week I've taken pen to paper and made additions to each section that better echo/foreshadow the others. Adding to an existing draft is certainly not my usual practice - instead I usually pare things down as much as I can - but this is one instance where more elaboration was needed. At the same time, I cut out numerous expository asides which now, four years after I first wrote them, seem almost laughably obvious (most memorably an allusion to a friend's visit to the shop being "an emotional pick-me-up as jarring as the strongest espresso" - really!). I have also deleted several perspective errors - the story is written in third person limited, and a few secondary characters' thoughts and motivations had been revealed which were inconsistent with the limited perspective.
I think the story is much better now than it was before. I've always really liked the message of the story, and now I hope the presentation is stronger, enough so that it will finally find a publisher. Stay tuned.
One Sentence Movie Reviews: There Will Be Blood (2007)
There Will Be Blood (2007): Trust no one, for no one is exactly who they seem to be.
Notes: This was a very impressive and thought-provoking (not to mention dark and quite grim) film that explores ambition, greed, family bonds and isolation. Gorgeous cinematography, a haunting musical score and a riveting performance by Daniel Day-Lewis make this one of the better films I've seen in quite some time. Julie and I are both looking forward to reading Oil!, the Upton Sinclair novel on which the film was based, although I realize that the novel has much more of an epic sweep with a broad cast of characters than just the film, which focused squarely on Daniel Plainview.
(Thanks to Kevin Smokler for the "one sentence movie review" concept.)
A great way to survive a baby shower...
I usually only skim over the entries at Six Sentences in my RSS reader without giving any of them the close read they undoubtedly deserve, but this one by Christy Effinger really caught my eye: "The Shower". Julie was kind enough to excuse from me from having to endure our only baby shower, so I've never experienced one. But if I had, I might very well have gotten through it the same way that Effinger's protagonist does. Hee hee.
Republicans hear dissent, don't like it one bit
Apparently not all the TV networks showed the protesters who interrupted McCain's speech. But I was watching on CNN, which did show them, and in case you were wondering, the banners read "You Can't Win an Occupation" and "McCain Votes Against Vets." Later, a woman tried shouting McCain down.
McCain's response? "Please don't be diverted by the ground noise and the static."
No, McCain, that's neither ground noise nor static. That's good old-fashioned dissent, Constitutionally-guaranteed free speech. I know you abhor hearing opinions that conflict with your own, but if you truly believe in ending the "partisan rancor", you'd better get used to it. And if you're truly interested in bipartisan cooperation, you might take a few moments to condemn the bitter and divisive comments of Palin and Giuliani from the night before. But I'm counting on neither.
McCain and Palin
I really don't care about the teen pregnancy in Sarah Palin's family. It happens to families all the time, and in no way disqualifies her for the Vice Presidency - nor qualifies her either, despite all I've been hearing about her brave and principled response to the situation. But here are three things about Governor Palin that deeply concern me:
+ "Troopergate", in which she tried to force the firing of her ex-brother-in-law, an Alaska State Trooper, who went through a messy divorce with Palin's sister. When Palin's underling refused, she fired the underling instead. This looks like a clear case of exploiting government power for personal means, and another instance of political business as usual.
+ Palin's membership in the Alaska Independence Party, whose goal is for Alaska to secede from the United States. Palin was a member during the 1990s and has remained close enough to the extremist party to address their annual convention earlier this year. (And please, RNC and McCain Campaign, please don't even try to spin her relationship with the AIP as some sort of bipartisan outreach.) It's hard to comprehend how the Republican Party can claim the motto "Country First" while embracing a politician who is sympathetic to this secession movement.
+ Palin's hiring, while mayor of Wasilla, of a lobbyist who helped secure more than $27 million of federal earmarks for the town, or roughly $4,000 per citizen. (This, in a state which maintains a trust fund from its vast oil revenues which not only eliminates the need for any state income tax but also pays each Alaskan an annual royalty from the fund.) Some might say she was simply doing her job as mayor and playing the system for Wasilla's benefit, which ignores the fact that McCain, who presumes to be deathly opposed to lobbyists and earmarks, is now partnering with an individual who claims to be a reformer while having been deeply immersed in the corrupt system itself.
And bear in mind that these are just the issues that have surfaced during the past several days. Stay tuned for what I expect will be even more fascinating disclosures.
Oh, and about McCain. While making his VP decision he reportedly held out until the last minute, hoping he could convince his old pal Joe Lieberman to accept the job. Once Lieberman (who happens to be pro-choice and somewhat of a political moderate) formally declined, McCain went to the extreme and selected the right-wing Palin in order to appease the GOP's conservative base. Caving it to the party establishment - is that really maverick?
Another attempt to tackle Agee
Having just finished Erskine Caldwell's grim but invigorating Tobacco Road (a very good book, despite being perhaps the only book I've ever read which lacks even a single sympathetic or redeeming character), I thought the obvious natural progression in my Summer of Classics would be to tackle James Agee and Walker Evans' Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. I've started and abandoned the book several times during the fifteen-odd years I've owned it, during which time I've largely limited myself to marveling at Evans' impeccable photographs. But with Caldwell's novel still vivid in my mind, and with the two books having comparable subject matter - impoverished Southern tenant farmers during the lean 1930s - I've decided to give Agee's knotty prose another try.
This morning I made it through the prologue, in which Agee declaims rather long-windedly (while simultaneously taking himself to task for that very same long-windedness) on the genesis, meaning and likely impact of the book. With that section blessedly behind me, I'm eager to move on to Agee's narrative itself and his description of the desperate lives of the three sharecropper families.