Besides the anachronistic Gay Nineties imagery of this 1957 Schlitz ad, I have to admire the sheer chutzpah behind all of the Schlitz neologisms: Schlitzfest, Schlitzfellows, Schlitzchums, Schlitzlight ("Sits light because it's Schlitzlight"), Schlitzfestive, Schlitzkept, Schlitzness and Schlitzer. Interestingly, in the company's mania to propogate a catchphrase, they push the hard-earned Schlitz brand name dangerously close to meaninglessness.
(Via Today's Inspiration.)
I agree with most of this list ("10 of the Best Books Set in the Midwest"), with two exceptions having nothing to do with quality, but location: Pollock's book is set in Appalachia (West Virginia and southern Ohio) and Erdrich's in the Great Plains (North Dakota). Of this list, I've read Winesburg, Ohio and The Jungle, and still want to read Stoner, Gilead and (maybe) Middlesex. (Julie was pleasantly surprised when she read Freedom earlier this year, but I have no interest in it.)
Pneumatic for the people
Oh my, this is just so wonderful: the New York Public Library still uses its hundred-year-old pneumatic tube system. In fact, the NYPL even installed a new system in its Science, Industry and Business Library...in 1998!
The literary site LitReactor recently asked readers to share photos of their reading environments. But since leaving a comment there would have required me to download an app that I'll never use again, or register at the site, I'll just skip all of that and post it here instead. The photo above shows where most of my serious literary reading gets done - car 7288, Metra Heritage Corridor line, departing at 7:05 a.m. from Joliet. (I read on the evening train, too.) It's an officially-designated "quiet car", which means no cellphone conversations and no chatting between riders - just a nice dull hum that's very conducive to focused reading. And the view outside the window has become so familiar after ten years of riding Metra that it's no longer the major distraction it was early on.
Welcome to the machine
Interesting piece at NPR: Four Books To Help You Master Chicago Politics. Mike Royko's classic Boss is one of them, of course, but the real surprise is Alex Kotlowitz's brilliant There Are No Children Here, which is one of the best Chicgo books I've ever read. Boss and the other two books deal heavily in the familiar territory of clout and corruption, but Kotlowitz shows what life is like for those who are unfortunate enough to fall outside of that privileged realm - which, sadly, is the majority of the city's population.
"In the terraces of two-up two-downs, people could talk over the garden fence but in the towers they became strangers to each other."
At Spitalfields Life, there's a striking set of images (from 1962-82) by John Claridge which show the old slums of London's East End, and the tower blocks (high-rises) which slowly replaced them. These images are eerily similar to ones I've seen of Chicago's South Side in the fifties and sixties, where a similar effort at urban renewal turned out to be an utter failure. Today, few of the CHA high-rises remain, having been demolished over the past fifteen years and mostly replaced with low-rise townhouses. You might think that the failed American experiment in high-rise public housing would have been a cautionary tale for today's urban planners, but as Spitalfields Life indicates, new tower blocks are still being planned for London. Those who ignore history...
Absolutely lovely: David Stone Martin's illustrations for the Reader's Digest Condensed Books edition of To Kill A Mockingbird. The film adaptation has long been one of my favorites, but for some reason I didn't first read the book until just a few years ago, but I loved that as well. Maddie read the book for her homeschooling earlier this year, and loved it, which prompted the three of us watched the restored version of the film on USA, which was really great. What a wonderful family moment.
At Tablet, Sarah Lazarovic presents a nice graphic tribute to author and illustrator Syd Hoff, whose centenary is being celebrated this year. I only remember Hoff's Danny and the Dinosaur from my own childhood, but Maddie loved his books when she first started reading, regularly bringing them home from the library and later picking up quite a few at garage sales. His artwork has a wonderfully simple quality (as Lazarovic references in the panel above), and is quite distinctive - I can now easily pick out his books on sight, before even reading his name.
"F is poor Fannie caught in the rain."
Love, love, love this: an odd nineteenth-century toy consisting of a linen strip printed with alphabet rhymes, all coiled on a spool inside a wooden barrel for easy viewing and putting-away. Who needs Nintendo?
So Different Now...yet so familiar...
I am very pleased to host the latest stop on Ben Tanzer's blog tour for his recent story collections The New York Stories and So Different Now (both from CCLaP Publishing). To recap, So Different Now is Ben's second fine collection of stories set in his hometown of Binghamton, New York, which has been combined with his first Binghamton collection, Repetition Patterns, into The New York Stories, a deluxe handmade edition which includes exclusive illustrations by Laura Szumowski. The bound edition of The New York Stories is now available at the reduced price of $50, or in pdf format for free, while the ebook of So Different Now remains available under CCLaP's standard "pay what you wish" basis - so go buy either, or both, already.
For the blog tour, last month I chatted with Ben (after lunch at the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago) about the origin, inspiration and creation of So Different Now, and whether or not it's actually possible to go home again. Our conversation (4 MB mp3, 35 minutes) is presented below in all of its ambient, Billy-Goat-chatter glory. Enjoy.
Wiliams will dare
Tom Williams, whose debut The Mimic's Own Voice I read and loved earlier this year, has a sharp new story up at Smalldoggies, "On Playing for the First Time the Replacements’ 'I Will Dare' Without Any Mistakes; Russell, 42."
Even on days off, I was always watching the clock, knowing I had to do something quickly or be somewhere and was running late as it was. And besides, I’d rationalize, I like to play by myself, knowing I had as much chance to find some guys to play with as I did to resurrect Bob from the dead or get Paul to quit acting so damn grumpy.
Ah yes, the trials and tribulations of Aspiring Artist Dad.
Sometimes I have to improvise in my reading. Over breakfast at home on weekdays, I always scan the New York Times online and when I see interesting headlines I click through to the article, which I later read on the train. This morning I got immersed in several articles on several subjects, including Game 3 of the Heat-Thunder series, President Obama's sudden reversal on immigration policy and the death of Rodney King, but especially one about the dubious (but - go figure - politically well-connected) Bo Robinson halfway house in Trenton, New Jersey. The Bo Robinson story was rather lengthy, and by the time I finished the train was already past Blue Island, giving me too little time to dive back into Crime and Punishment after a five-day hiatus.
Instead, for the last ten minutes of my ride, I pulled up George Ade's In Pastures New on my iPhone. I've been reading the book (a semi-fictional and very funny 1906 travelogue of Europe and Egypt) off and on for the past several months. That ten minutes was just enough time to get through a full chapter, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Thus far the only use I've had for ebooks is just this sort of short-duration convenience reading - I always have my phone with me, but sometimes I either don't have a book on hand (like at lunch on Fridays, when I usually go out instead of brown-bagging at my desk) or don't have the time to read something at length. Last summer I read the second half of Great Expectations on Julie's Kindle, but didn't at all enjoy the experience - which was only partly due to Dickens' windy digressions, but mostly to the mechanics (screen glare, navigation buttons, etc.) of the Kindle.
So while I like being able to carry a small library around in my pocket, I've read very few of the books I've downloaded so far - just books like Ade's, or short story collections, that I can read in small doses whenever I have a few spare minutes. I really don't see myself ever devoting the bulk of my long-form reading to ebooks.
Happy Father's Day!
2002: my dad, John Anderson; Maddie, then a few months short of 2, and me, with much more hair. This morning I was looking for a photo of Maddie and me, and was very pleased to find this one, which I don't remember seeing before. We have very few photos of just the three of us, so this one is extra special.
My dad and I didn't always see eye to eye, but he was a great dad and I was lucky to be his son. I hope I'm as good a dad - though a quite different dad - to Maddie.
"...almost all had blackened eyes..."
Now he walked along, thinking of nothing. At that point there is a great block of buildings, entirely let out in dram shops and eating-houses; women were continually running in and out, bare-headed and in their indoor clothes. Here and there they gathered in groups, on the pavement, especially about the entrances to various festive establishments in the lower storeys. From one of these a loud din, sounds of singing, the tinkling of a guitar and shouts of merriment, floated into the street. A crowd of women were thronging round the door; some were sitting on the steps, others on the pavement, others were standing talking. A drunken soldier, smoking a cigarette, was walking near them in the road, swearing; he seemed to be trying to find his way somewhere, but had forgotten where. One beggar was quarrelling with another, and a man dead drunk was lying right across the road. Raskolnikov joined the throng of women, who were talking in husky voices. They were bare-headed and wore cotton dresses and goatskin shoes. There were women of forty and some not more than seventeen; almost all had blackened eyes.
He felt strangely attracted by the singing and all the noise and uproar in the saloon below...someone could be heard within dancing frantically, marking time with his heels to the sounds of the guitar and of a thin falsetto voice singing a jaunty air.
It's interesting to note that his wandering has taken him from the relative safety of his squalid cocoon, and into the path of the police clerk Zametov, at which point Raskolnikov comes perilously close - deliriously, insanely - to confessing his crime. As it is, he does reveal several peripheral details about how he (theoretically, he insists) would have covered his tracks. Though it's unclear at the moment whether Zametov believes him.
"It is the modern city in extremis."
At The New Yorker, David Denby has an interesting piece on Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground. Though I haven't read that book, for my annual Summer of Classics I'm currently reading Crime and Punishment, and Denby draws this parallel between the two books:
"Notes from Underground" feels like a warmup for the colossus that came next, "Crime and Punishment," though, in certain key ways, it’s a more uncompromising book. What the two fictions share is a solitary, restless, irritable hero and a feeling for the feverish, crowded streets and dives of St. Petersburg - an atmosphere of careless improvidence, neglect, self-neglect, cruelty, even sordidness. It is the modern city in extremis.
I'm a quarter of the way through C&P, but still haven't gotten a strong feel for Dostoevsky's St. Petersburg. Many of the scenes have been indoors, and dominated by lengthy dialogue. Now that Raskolnikov has committed his crime, perhaps he will take to the streets in a frenzy of guilt and remorse, and put more of the city on display. But the rest of Denby's assessment is spot-on: Raskolnikov is certainly solitary, restless and irritable, and the book is definitely a colossus.
Thirteen years ago today, I married my best friend in the world, and the best friend I could ever hope to have. Julie amazes me every single day, and I can't begin to describe how lucky I am that we found each other. I can't imagine being without her - I can't quite say "lost", because I would be fully aware of where I was. I just wouldn't like that place very much. I'm very grateful to be right where we are.
I admire this painting by J. Theodore Johnson (1902-63). But I have to disagree with this commentary:
Outside, a gray sky provides a backdrop for snow-dusted buildings. But Johnson's wife wears a short-sleeve top, suggesting that the artist painted this scene from memory, in a warmer season.Anyone who's ever lived with radiator heat (and especially in a small hotel room, as depicted in the painting) would know that short sleeves can comfortably be worn all winter long. My last rental apartment had a total of five radiators, but I only had to open the valve on two or three of them to make the entire apartment downright balmy. A cursory search also reveals that the Oak Park post office is adorned with Johnson's WPA murals, which I'll definitely check out next time I'm in the area.
(Via Calumet 412.)
"...as stark as Aristophanes for the moment..."
"It is as perfect an epitome of our national game today as it was when every player drank his coffee from a mustache cup. There are one or more Caseys in every league, bush or big, and there is no day in the playing season that this same supreme tragedy, as stark as Aristophanes for the moment, does not befall on some field. It is unique in all verse in that it is not only funny and ironic, but excitingly dramatic, with the suspense built up to a perfect climax. There is no lame line among the fifty-two."
-De Wolf Hopper, quoted in The Annotated Casey at the Bat, edited by Martin Gardner.
Left: De Wolf Hopper, stage actor best known for popularizing "Casey at the Bat."
Right: His son, William Hopper (born De Wolf Hopper, Jr.), best known as Paul Drake on the Perry Mason TV series.
Being a longtime fan of both "Casey" and Perry Mason, learning this today was a very pleasant surprise.
Book recycling success
The quantity of available books was down this year, but the Will County Book Recycling was still a success. I disposed of six books that I'll never read or re-read, and came home with five, refreshing my library and even freeing up a few inches of shelf space. Here's my haul, moving clockwise from upper left: Joseph O'Neill, Netherland (people really rave about this, and though I never really thought about reading it, it's short and free, so I took a chance); the Winter 1997 issue of Story (including stories by Nathan Englander, Chris Adrian, Brady Udall and Joyce Carol Oates); The Annotated Casey at the Bat (the poem is an old favorite, and this edition includes homages written to it, including several by Grantland Rice); John Steinbeck, A Russian Journal (with photos by the great Robert Capa); and John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me (1960s bestseller by a white author who disguised himself as a black man, then immersed himself into the American South). Other than the O'Neill, I kept to my rule about only taking books that I already wanted to read, or were unique and not easy to find elsewhere.
"It was the perfect way to be creative; that's what the library does."
Ray Bradbury passed away today, at age 91. In a 2006 letter republished at Letters of Note, Bradbury reflects on the creation of The Fireman, the novella which later became Fahrenheit 451.
I moved into the typing room along with a bunch of students and my bag of dimes, which totaled $9.80, which I spent and created the 25,000 word version of "The Fireman" in nine days. How could I have written so many words so quickly? It was because of the library. All of my friends, all of my loved ones, were on the shelves above and shouted, yelled and shrieked at me to be creative.
If I get too bogged down with Dostoevsky and Gogol during this year's Summer of Classics, I might abandon either or both, and read Fahrenheit 451 instead. Julie still thinks I'm a fool for not having read it yet.
Farewell, noble stallion
That photo is our beloved '95 Honda Civic, nicknamed Zyx, which we finally sold today after seventeen years, 109,000 miles (most of those during its first five years), and a few too many years of neglect on my part. It was Julie's car before we first got together, and sort of became mine after she started a new job in the city that was walking distance from our house (and thus she no longer needed the car for work) and she worried that my decrepit Ford Probe was no longer safe to drive to Oak Brook every day. I had never even driven stick-shift before Zyx, but Julie patiently taught me how - and I must have been a good learner, because the car still has the original clutch.
When we moved to Joliet and I worked from home for two years, the car mostly just sat in the garage, and then when I started working downtown and took the train, I only drove it to and from the train station, just a few miles each day - so during the past twelve years it's only been driven a few thousand miles. Reliable as it was, though, Zyx became superfluous when we bought Julie's Fit three years ago, and kept the Civic sedan that I now drive to the train. Since then Zyx has sat, undriven and rather ignominiously, first in the driveway and most recently in the street.
We finally decided Zyx's time had come, and sold it to the father of a girl from Maddie's gymnastics class. Soon it will be fixed up and driven by the family's teenage son when he starts driving. I hope it's now in good hands, and will give him years of reliable driving, as reliable as it was for us. Hondas are truly great cars, of which Zyx is just one example. We never had any major problems with the car, which never required anything more than regular maintenance and occasional replacement of basic parts like brake pads and such.
Though we knew it was time, we're still going to miss Zyx, which has been part of our lives for so long. The other night Maddie and I took one last spin around the block, and it was as fun to drive as ever. Loud - it needs a new muffler - but fun. So long, Zyx.
At The Millions, Greg Walkin has unexpected praise for the long-forgotten Hamlin Garland, once one of the glimmering stars of the Midwest literary firmament. (I apologize for the hackneyed metaphor.) Though Garland's short stories sound a bit too polemical for my tastes (a story written for "the express purpose of persuading voters to enact a land value tax"? egad!), this does remind me that I should dust off my retired library copy of the Pulitzer-winning A Daughter of the Middle Border, which I picked up about five or six years ago but still haven't read - and which, with the Will County Book Recycling coming up this weekend, promises to soon be buried even deeper in my TBR pile.
I have a new piece, "Pursuit", published in the June 2012 issue ("Real Dreams") of Skive Magazine. Here are the opening sentences:
The cattle are coming down the chute and I’m standing there watching with another guy, and we’re inside a chain link fence. One of the cattle manages to slip through the chute and there he is, a mean looking bull, standing twenty feet in front of us, his red eyes glaring and steam undoubtedly pumping out of his nostrils, just like all those bulls in the cartoons used to be.
And it gets even weirder from there. I'm not sure whether to call this fiction or non-fiction. It's a faithful transcription of a dream I had while in college, which was so striking and vivid that I wrote it all down immediately upon waking. On the one hand, it's fiction in that it only happened in my mind, but it's also sort of like non-fiction in that I didn't actively create it. Maybe this is yet another genre within creative writing, perhaps called "dreamtion" or something like that.
This is a big issue of Skive, with 58 writers telling their dream stories over 165 pages. If you're interested, you can purchase the print issue for $11.96 (a temporary discount of 20% from the cover price) here at Lulu.com. (I haven't ordered mine yet, but assume there's a standard shipping charge, too.) Skive is a fine Australia-based journal that published one of my earliest stories way back in 2006, and from my proof copy I can attest that this latest issue is a beautifully crafted edition.
My very special thanks to editor/publisher Matt Ward, not only for taking on this weird piece, but also for giving a huge ego boost to my fledgling-writer self by publishing that earlier story.
Lill's Ales, 1868
I like this photo for many reasons - the dapper proprietor Tierney, the ales, the connection to William Lill (Julie lived on Lill Street - named in his honor - when we first got together), and how dramatically the corner of State and Monroe has changed since 1868.
"...and so to bed."
At Jacket Copy, Carolyn Kellogg notes the final posting at Pepys' Diary, which corresponds to the final entry in the diary of Samuel Pepys, on May 31, 1669, thus ending a nine-year run for the blog. Here are Pepys' final words:
...I must endeavour to keep a margin in my book open, to add, here and there, a note in short-hand with my own hand.
And so I betake myself to that course, which is almost as much as to see myself go into my grave: for which, and all the discomforts that will accompany my being blind, the good God prepare me!
Despite the ominous tone, Pepys would live for another 34 years, passing away in 1703 at age 70. I must admit that I didn't continue to follow the online diary as avidly as I did at first, nor did I ever learn the fate of Sir Minnes. Still, it was a fascinating project.
Time for more economic stimulus
Another bad jobs report today - only 69,000 jobs created in May. And investor money is pouring into the safe haven of U.S. Treasury bonds, driving the 10-year yield down to 1.45%. The government's response should be a simple one, as Felix Salmon notes:
The government can borrow at 1.45%: it should do so, in vast quantities, and invest that money back into the economy itself. Take a few hundred billion dollars and use it to fix our broken infrastructure, to re-hire all those laid-off teachers and firefighters, to provide some kind of safety net for the millions of Americans who have been out of work for more than a year.
The last stimulus plan, enacted by President Obama shortly after his election, stabilized the economy in the wake of the financial crisis and helped us avoid a depression. We need more stimulus - borrow cheap, spend, put people back to work and get money flowing to revive the sluggish economy. And never mind the Republican hysteria over the country going deeper into debt - their only economic plan is to cut taxes, a strategy which generated only meager growth during the Bush Administration and would now increase the national debt even more than Salmon's "few hundred billion dollars" of stimulus. Do it now, President Obama, regardless of election year concerns. Voters would surely look more favorably on doing something, anything, to boost the economy, instead of doing nothing. Do it now.