Save Prentice...or at least build your own
The local architectural preservation community is quite astir with Northwestern University's planned demolition of Prentice Women's Hospital, a wonderful modernist structure designed by Bertrand Goldberg. Northwestern claims that the now-vacant building is functionally obsolete (the hospital has been relocated), especially given its intention to build a new medical research facility on the site. (Never mind that the university has given no timetable for when construction on the new facility would even start, or that it already owns a large vacant lot right across the street.) I'm siding with the preservationists - surely someone can figure out how to save and re-use Prentice - but I'm not optimistic, given how powerful an institution Northwestern is, and the fact that the ward alderman and mayor are both leaning toward allowing demolition.
You can show your support for Prentice by joining its supporters' Facebook page. And if all else fails and Prentice is doomed, at least you can remember it with your own free 1:1000 scale, cut-and-fold model from the great people at Build Your Own Chicago. BYOC also has a model of Goldberg's best-known Chicago work, Marina City, and I hope they'll someday create models of two other Goldberg favorites of mine, River City and Raymond Hilliard Homes.
(Via Gapers Block; photo via designslinger.)
Ian McEwan on novellasWise words.
I believe the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction. It is the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated ill-shaven giant (but a giant who’s a genius on his best days). And this child is the means by which many first know our greatest writers. Readers come to Thomas Mann by way of "Death in Venice," Henry James by "The Turn of the Screw," Kafka by "Metamorphosis," Joseph Conrad by "Heart of Darkness," Albert Camus by "L’Etranger." I could go on...I couldn't agree more. (And not just because my only fully-completed book, Wheatyard, is a novella, or that I don't think I'd ever have the perserverance and drive to write a full-length novel.) Some of my favorite reads of the past few years are novellas (Bohumil Hrabal's Too Loud a Solitude, Tom Williams' The Mimic's Own Voice, Peter Orner's Fall River Marriage, Ben Tanzer's My Father's House) and I find myself increasingly impatient with longer novels. And when McEwan writes, "How often one reads a contemporary full-length novel and thinks quietly, mutinously, that it would have worked out better at half or a third the length", I found myself nodding my head in agreement, with Native Son and Great Expectations being just two recent examples of overly-long, should-have-been-great novels that I've been disappointed by.
But it's interesting that McEwan expresses these sentiments, since of the five books he's published this century, only one (On Chesil Beach) is a novella. Almost as if he's damning himself.
"I think of him as a friend I never knew."Over at The Weeklings, Janet Steen writes a lovely tribute to Elliott Smith, who passed away nine years ago this week.
The odd thing about pregnancy and childbirth is how close they can feel to death at times. In that pregnant or postpartum condition, there is an almost mystical understanding of the fragility of life and of the spectacularly fine line between a heart beating and a heart stopped. There is such slippage between those two states and yet we go on most days not thinking about it at all. I was still in a slightly dreamlike awareness of this at the time that I heard about Smith.I feel the same way about Smith, as a friend I never knew. (Same with the late Mark Sandman.) But Smith's sudden death didn't devastate me as it did his older fans, since I wasn't very familiar with him at the time and didn't first get into his music until months later. But I've quickly been catching up ever since, and it's been a truly rewarding experience. There is a pervasive sadness to Smith's music, but also just enough hints of happiness and optimism to keep listening. I wish I knew about him sooner - though I'll always have his recorded music to savor, I would have loved to see him perform in person. The solo acoustic concert bootlegs I've heard are pretty wonderful in their intimacy.
"...he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again..."I know this paragraph from Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim has been excerpted many times before, but I can't resist repeating it here:
Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.I'm only a light drinker these days and it's been at least ten years since my last hangover, but I couldn't help laughing at the recollection. Especially since it's Jim Dixon and not me.
Marshall Field and Company, 1900
This is pretty terrific: a 1900 cross-section of the bowels of the Marshall Field flagship store on State Street. "Basement Salesroom" is the present-day lower level, which now includes housewares, the food court, candy store, etc. "The Subway" isn't the CTA, but the long-abandoned freight tunnels that weave throughout downtown. (The lower level does have access to the Red Line, via the Pedway, but the station didn't open until 1943 and thus doesn't appear here.) And it's interesting to see that the concrete caissons go down 110 feet below street level - essential to reach bedrock and support such a massive building, on what originally was marshland.
QuoteAttributed (by Kurt Vonnegut) to Joseph Heller:
"I’ve got something he (a billionaire) can never have...The knowledge that I’ve got enough."I read this terrific quote from Robin Bates (at Better Living Through Beowulf), who muses on how, despite ever-worsening income inequality, the wealthy are dissatisfied and feel they're both unappreciated and already paying more than their fair share.
I wonder if those wealthy Americans who believe they are not properly appreciated feel a sense of guilt at being so much more privileged than the rest of America. Or maybe, because they have more, they are more worried about losing it. Or maybe they are restless and dissatisfied because they are discovering that money isn’t providing the fulfillment they thought it would.And well-chosen excerpts from The Grapes Of Wrath and Paul Krugman bolster Bates' argument even further. Vonnegut, Heller, Steinbeck, Krugman...heroes all.
Boy's gotta have it.
Ooh, me want: The Tabard Inn Library revolving bookcase. What's a few grand where a gorgeous home for treasured books is concerned?
(Via Lew Jaffe.)
"...where the daytime pavement never gets a rest from the shuffle of feet..."For two years now, Writers No One Reads has been celebrating "forgotten, neglected, abandoned, forsaken, unrecognized, unacknowledged, overshadowed, out-of-fashion, under-translated writers." Yesterday they asked Chicago writer, artist and former cabdriver Dmitry Samarov (whose first book Hack: Stories From a Chicago Cab I've been meaning to read for a while now) for a recommendation, and he vouched for Willard Motley, a formerly bestselling but now mostly forgotten Chicago novelist. Here's a fine bit from Motley's 1939 piece "Pavement Portraits":
Here is where the daytime pavement never gets a rest from the shuffle of feet. Where the night-time street lamps lean drunkenly and are an easy target for the youngsters’ rocks. Where garbage cans are pressed full and running over. Where the weary buildings kneel to the street and the cats fight their fights under the tall, knock-kneed legs of the pushcarts. This is the down-to-earth world, the bread and beans world, the tenement-bleak world of poverty and hunger. The world of skipped meals; of skimp pocketbooks; of nonexistent security — shadowed by the miserable little houses that Jane Addams knew. Maxwell and Newberry...Sounds similar to Nelson Algren and Chicago: City on the Make, though less historically-detached and more first-hand than Algren. Looks like I'll start hunting for Knock On Any Door.
Life imitates artThis touching letter strikes me on two levels - first, that the (likely heartbroken) recipient could so casually cast it off inside a book (The Remains of the Day) that was sold to a used bookstore; and second, how easily the letter could have been written by Mr. Stevens to Miss Kenton (the two main characters of Ishiguro's great novel) had Stevens been able to communicate so openly. Though I suspect he would have destroyed such a letter before it was ever sent.
"...it is not our blood that is being shed..."The late George McGovern, in 1970:
"Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land — young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us."Sadly, our so-called leaders remain endlessly eager to declare damnable wars and ship out young men (and women) as cannon fodder.
Lapham Brothers Shoe Store
Wow. From this 1880 image, Lapham Brothers looks more like the Library of Congress than a shoe store. Their selection surely would have put even DSW to shame today.
Quote"Stumbling heroes linger longer."
- David Mitchell
"What if you visited the 18th century and never came back?"The Guardian has a fine profile of Hilary Mantel, who just won her second Booker Prize for Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall, which also won the Booker. She discusses the danger of immersing oneself in the distant past in order to create compelling historical fiction:
"You try to abandon your analytical self, your grounding in the everyday. I'm a very organised and rational and linear thinker and you have to stop all that to write a novel...I used to think when I set out that doing the research was enough, but then the gaps would emerge that could only be filled by imagination. And imagination only comes when you privilege the subconscious, when you make delay and procrastination work for you. For me – I'm a now, now kind of person – that was hard."This subject interests me greatly (and I wish the article had continued this thread, instead of moving into a more general profile), partly because I've experienced this myself. Though I haven't written much historical fiction, I'm often obsessed with history in general. And, unfortunately, the history I'm drawn to hasn't been heavily researched. Instead of, say, the Civil War or the Great Depression, I find myself delving into more arcane topics - early 20th Century river resorts in my hometown, a distant relative's long-gone mansion on Lake Geneva, my grandfather's vagabond business career - on which I can find only sketchy and fleeting information. Online I find the smallest scraps and vaguest hints, which instead of satisfying my curiosity merely compels me to seek out ever more obscure and fruitless sources. Then I finally have to snap myself out of my reverie and get back to my life. But with a writer like Mantel, that is her life - she has to stay in that past to make her historical fiction come alive. I can just safely walk away from the past. She can't walk away from it, at least not until the book is done. I'm not sure that I envy her.
"...Wrought the light from blighted rhyme, Warped the chord in common time..."This is really cool: Jeff Sypeck's Looking Up: Poems from the National Cathedral Gargoyles which is, as the title implies, 53 poems (with accompanying photographs) inspired by the gargoyle sculptures at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. The poems are traditional and formal in structure (the author is a medieval scholar, so the archaic tone of the poems seems quite fitting) and very interesting. And the author is donating 75% of the profits to the cathedral to repair damage from the 2011 earthquake, so it's even for a good cause. I really love these sort of object-inspired writing projects (and have indulged in several myself), and it's always great to see one get published.
"She carried a brief case, of course."Despite being an artist himself, in his short story "Go East, Young Man" Sinclair Lewis delights in skewering the artsy dilettantes who dominated the American expatriate scene in Paris during the 1920s. Here's one wonderfully wry passage:
Isadora was not a painter. She wrote. She carried a brief case, of course. Once it snapped open, and in it Whit saw a bottle of vermouth, some blank paper, lovely pencils all red and blue and green and purple, a handkerchief and a pair of silk stockings. Yet he was not shocked when, later in the evening, Isadora announced that she was carrying in that brief case the manuscript of her novel.Actually, Lewis wasn't really picking on artists in particular. During his career he skewered pretty much everybody - businessmen, preachers, urban socialites, small-town provincials. Artists were just one of the many groups on his list.
I really like John Sokol's word portraits - famous writers drawn with the words of their writings. That's Walt Whitman shown above. However, I wouldn't be in the market for any of these, since I would only hang a portrait of one of my biggest literary heroes on my wall, and none of the writers in this collection quite qualifies. Ibsen probably comes the closest.
(Via The Paris Review.)
ShockingMitt Romney, from last night's presidential debate:
And — important topic and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the — the chance to pull together a Cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. And I — and I went to my staff, and I said, how come all the people for these jobs are — are all men?For me, what's shocking isn't the already-infamous "binders full of women" comment. Instead, he enthusiastically says that although all of the initial applicants were men - qualified candidates, but all men - he made a "concerted effort" to find qualified women candidates, many of whom he ended up hiring instead. In other words, the Republican nominee for president has now publicly bragged about practicing affirmative action.
They said, well, these are the people that have the qualifications. And I said, well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?
And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, can you help us find folks? And I brought us whole binders full of — of women.
(This is normally the type of topical piece that I would put up on Facebook. But this also seemed to be more involved than a simple status update can handle. Plus, Facebook updates are just so ephemeral and fleeting, and blog posts seem more permanent.)
Fading Ad: Chicago Paper Company
Over the weekend I was very pleased to see this 1960 image of a Baltimore and Ohio train pulling into Chicago's old Grand Central Station. (The station's distinctive clock tower is in the center of the photo.) And the reason I was most pleased is that although the station is long gone, the "faded ad" on the right for the Chicago Paper Company still exists and is modestly visible. The bottom two photos were taken this morning, from my Rock Island District train just before pulling into LaSalle Street Station (Grand Central was two blocks to the west, at Harrison and Wells). I had to play with the contrast and brightness a little to bring out the lettering, but overall the photos are pretty faithful to what you can see with the naked eye. (The greenish tint is due to the tinting of the train window.) That building is a long walk from my office, so I figured that even though I'd get a better shot from the street, I might not do so anytime soon, so the train vantage point will have to do for now.
"...racing after thoughts that he could never quite catch..."Sinclair Lewis, from "The Willow Walk":
He paced into the living room and through the long still hours of the evening he read an ancient book, all footnotes and cross references, about The Numerology of the Prophetic Books, and the Number of the Beast. He tried to make notes for his own book on Revelation - that scant pile of sheets covered with writing in a small finicky hand. Thousands of other sheets he had covered; through whole nights he had written; but always he seemed with tardy pen to be racing after thoughts that he could never quite catch, and most of what he had written he had savagely burned.
Fictus InterruptusThough I'm really enjoying Sinclair Lewis' short story collection Go East, Young Man right now, on October 22nd I will be temporarily setting it aside to start Kingsley Amis' renowned comic novel, Lucky Jim. The book has been on my shelf for a few years now, and I recently learned that Amis died on October 22, 1995, so that seemed like the perfect day to start reading what is considered his masterpiece. (Perfect, even if I'm already reading another book at the time - and anyway, story collections are easy to set aside and return to later.) And if that goes well, my next Amis will probably be Everyday Drinking, a collection of his alcohol-related newspaper columns which Maud Newton admired recently.
Literary remixesAs I mentioned earlier, I am participating in Mediabistro/ Galleycat's latest literary remix project. Over the weekend I wrote the first draft of my contribution to the remix of Varney the Vampire. My assigned passage (the original of which was chock full of comically bad dialogue and melodrama) is now reimagined as a scene from a 1990s cult-favorite TV show. I had a lot of fun writing this piece, but that's all I'll say about it for now. Publication of the complete mix should be sometime in November.
The last remix project I worked on was the Horatio Alger novel Joe's Luck; I remixed my passage as a Sherlock Holmes story, which I have reproduced below.
"I caught dat boy standing outside," pointing to Joe.For non-Sherlockians, Reichenbach Falls was the site of the fateful fight (in "The Final Problem") between Holmes and his arch-nemesis Moriarty, which concluded with the two of them falling off the cliff and plummeting to their presumed deaths. Reportedly, Arthur Conan Doyle had grown tired of writing Holmes stories (despite their enormous popularity) and killed off the legendary detective so the writer could move on to other subjects. But the public outcry was so great that Doyle finally brought Holmes back (with a very dubious explanation of how Holmes had survived his fall from the cliff) and went on to write another 23 Holmes stories, including what is generally considered to be the greatest Holmes story, "The Hound of the Baskervilles."
"Ah, young blackguard, now I've caught you! I've been eyeing you for weeks!"
"Joe" found himself collared, wondering why he was thought to be young and worrying whether his true identity—Dr. John Watson—would be revealed.
"Weeks? But I've only been here for two days," he objected.
"Take him to jail!" exclaimed the German, who called himself Morgenthaler but whom Watson knew in fact to be the evil Moriarity.
Inspector Lestrade began to apprehend Watson when a commanding voice arose.
"Release that boy!" urged the sandy-haired man.
Watson barely suppressed a smile as he recognized his disguised old friend, Sherlock Holmes.
"If you interfere, I'll arrest you too."
"Release that boy!" Holmes repeated, "and arrest the German for assault."
Watson felt quite relieved, believing Holmes had at last neutralized his greatest nemesis.
"Who are you?" Lestrade demanded.
"My name is Dupin, one of the new commissioners." Watson marveled at the wit of the alias. "Your superior."
"I beg your pardon, sir," Lestrade fawned. "I didn't know who you were."
"Nor do you know your duty, Inspector..."
"Frankly, Lestrade, doing inspectors' work for them has me at wit's end. Oh, very well then—you have made a false arrest. The German is your man."
"So shall I arrest him, sir?" Lestrade asked.
Moriarty trembled in Lestrade's grip, anxious for his fate.
"No, you may release him. His conduct may be excused, given the breaking of his window."
Watson tensed again, anticipating Moriarty's escape from Holmes' unknowing grasp. He wondered if Holmes, in not recognizing Moriarty despite his renowned powers of observation, had finally become debilitated by his morphine habit.
"I will be relieved," Holmes sighed, "to escape next week on my tour of the Reichenbach Falls."
Watson saw Moriarty arouse upon hearing Holmes' destination, but could not reveal Moriarty to Holmes nor the looming danger lest he reveal Holmes as well.
"Incompetent inspectors simply exhaust me. Most should be demoted to mere officers. And as for you..."
Watson remained silent, sensing imminent doom.
"As for you, officer, unless you are more careful in the future, you will not long remain a member of the force."
"Damn you all to hell, Tom Hanks"Tom Hanks: actor, typewriter enthusiast, and quickly-yielding bribe recipient.
"It's hardly noisy."
Another South Side oddity - a small neighborhood (centered roughly at Princeton Avenue and 25th Place) that is a virtual island, hemmed in by expressways on the north and south, and train tracks on the east and west. Apparently there are many street underpasses below the expressways, so the area isn't completely isolated - but, oh, imagine the noise! Although one former resident quoted in Chicago Journal thinks otherwise:
"It’s peaceful," said Wong, "I got my friends here. And you can grab anything you want from Chinatown. It’s hardly noisy."I suppose it's quiet in the sense that there aren't many outsiders roaring through - if you're there, you live there. And I suppose you get used to the noise - my wife and I used to live in a Lincoln Park condo that backed up to the El, and after a few months we really didn't hear the trains any longer.
Sinclair Lewis, "The Willow Walk"I was delighted to read Sinclair Lewis' 1918 short story "The Willow Walk", in Go East Young Man: Sinclair Lewis on Class in America. Delighted, and quite surprised - the story is a major departure for Lewis, and has little of his trademark satire or social commentary. Instead, it reads almost like noir, and is even sort of Jim Thompson-esque in its deliberate narration of a crime from the perspective of the perpetrator. (But without any of Thompson's usual psychopathic killing sprees - the crime is embezzlement, not murder.) I didn't even figure out the purpose of the protagonist's very odd habits (which, it turns out, were painstakingly set up to cover the protagonist's tracks) until halfway through the story, since I never anticipated that there would be a crime involved. The ending even has a psychological thriller feel, as the protagonist becomes mentally unglued and longs to confess his crime. Great story, and well worth your time.
Lots for sale, 1860
So cool. The top image is an 1860 real estate company advertisement for industrial lots on the South Branch of the Chicago River. The six canals (Stetson's, Sampson's, Throop's, Allen's, Mason's and Joy's) were carved into the river bank to expand waterfront access and, of course, to boost the value of the lots. Looking at the current satellite image, four canals remain (the westernmost canal in the photo apparently post-dates the ad), with the others at some point having been filled back in, likely due to the subsequent decline in river freight traffic. The easternmost streets have been renamed, as has the east-west street at the top, which then was called South Street but is now Cermak Road (22nd Street). Also, the meandering street just north of the river (Lumber Street) no longer exists between Ashland and Halsted, other than a short diagonal portion that runs west from Halsted. Not surprisingly, given the name of that street, this area was once the center of Chicago's vast wholesale lumber industry.
"...to occupy an inch of dusty shelf..."Washington Irving, from his essay, "A Colloquy in Westminster Abbey":
How much, thought I, has each of these volumes, now thrust aside with such indifference, cost some aching head! how many weary days! how many sleepless nights! How have their authors buried themselves in the solitude of cells and cloisters; shut themselves up from the face of man, and the still more blessed face of nature; and devoted themselves to painful research and intense reflection! And all for what? to occupy an inch of dusty shelf—to have the title of their works read now and then in a future age, by some drowsy churchman or casual straggler like myself; and in another age to be lost, even to remembrance. Such is the amount of this boasted immortality. A mere temporary rumor, a local sound; like the tone of that bell which has just tolled among these towers, filling the ear for a moment—lingering transiently in echo—and then passing away like a thing that was not.Fascinating (and timeless) thoughts on the fleeting temporality of books. I would have loved to hear what Irving would have thought about self-published ebooks.
(Via Quid plura?, which has some fine reflections on Irving's estate, Sunnyside.)
221B Baker Street
Fascinating: Russ Stutler has drawn a rendition of Sherlock Holmes' fictional flat at 221B Baker Street, London, based on his meticulous study of the complete Holmes collection. That's mostly how I pictured the flat myself, though I never thought of Watson's room as being on the floor above. I had assumed Holmes' and Watson's rooms both opened off of the sitting room.
William Trevor for the Nobel?Sounds good to me. Though this is nothing more than a few Ladbrokes bettors chasing long odds, it's nice to know that others are pulling for him. He's one of my favorite writers, and the award would be very well-deserved.
"...so rooted and so sacred that to challenge them will be to commit blasphemy..."The Letters of Note blog recently posted Sinclair Lewis' terrific 1926 letter to the Pulitzer Prize Committee, in which he declined the fiction award for Arrowsmith.
If already the Pulitzer Prize is so important, it is not absurd to suggest that in another generation it may, with the actual terms of the award ignored, become the one thing for which any ambitious novelist will strive; and the administrators of the prize may become a supreme court, a college of cardinals, so rooted and so sacred that to challenge them will be to commit blasphemy...Only by regularly refusing the Pulitzer Prize can novelists keep such a power from being permanently set up over them.Reading this has prompted me to make my next book the story collection Go East, Young Man: Sinclair Lewis on Class in America. I've never read any of his short fiction, and it's been over twenty years since I've read anything of his for the first time (I was an avid fan back in college), so I'm looking forward to this one.
Leo Covers ParkerI finally updated the "Listening" section of my sidebar, with Ted Leo's solo cover of Graham Parker's "Passion Is No Ordinary Word." I was quite pleased to hear this song, since from the very first time I ever heard Leo, I've thought how remarkably similar his voice is to Parker's. The song is yet another example of Leo's impeccable taste in covers. I wonder what Parker is doing these days - haven't heard anything about him in a long time.
(Via Largehearted Boy.)