Where I write
The Next Best Book Club has just run my short essay about my writing space, also known as "the little eating room" just off our kitchen. My sincere thanks to Lori Hettler at TNBBC for this.
Wheatyard reviewed in American Book Review
Matt Baker writes a great review of Wheatyard in the latest issue (September/October 2013) of American Book Review. (It's just a coincidence that this issue's focus in on "Sex Writing." Nary a hint of sex in Wheatyard, alas.) Here's an excerpt:
What makes Anderson’s straightforward novel so refreshing is the way he portrays the student-mentor relationship; we’d expect the student (the narrator) to fill his role enthusiastically, a pleasing kind of subservience, but rather, the narrator is intrigued by Wheatyard’s nudges to write, and introduction to storytelling, but it isn’t until the end that the narrator unearths, on his own and at the right moment for him, this urge to write.
The full review is here. I've heard great things about ABR but haven't read it yet, so of course I'll be buying a copy. I encourage you to do likewise.
Poe and Verne
At The Guardian, Robert McCrum writes an intriguing overview of Edgar Allan Poe's only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. As McCrum notes, despite its many eccentricities the novel was highly influential, and even inspired a sequel by Jules Verne. That novel, The Sphinx of the Ice Realm, was published in its first complete English translation last year by SUNY Press, whose Verne edition even includes the full text of Pym. My college friend James Peltz is co-director at SUNY Press, and was kind enough to send me a copy a few months ago. My appetite for Poe has really been whetted by my recent re-reading of his stories (I just started "The Pit and the Pendulum" last night), and I'm now eager to read Pym and then Verne's sequel, probably early next year.
Two views of 1950s Chicago
Rush Street, looking south from Delaware Street, in 1954. Love that tawdry, gaudy neon. The area is now informally known as the Viagra Triangle (for the middle-aged divorced guys haunting the steakhouses and trying to get lucky), but there's no way it has the hustle and throb it enjoyed well into the 1970s.
Doorway by Harry Callahan, 1955. Probably far from the glare of Rush Street, and likely in a working class neighborhood. Just in this tight frame, I see advertisements for three beers (Sieben's - painted directly onto the window at the upper right - Schlitz and Budweiser) and two whiskeys (Hiram Walker Imperial and Echo Springs). I like a place that gives you a hint of what's inside before you even step off the street.
"...enough Mormons and mesquite between him and that old stump-armed man..."
Another great paragraph from Kent Haruf's The Tie That Binds:
Lyman was forty-two when he left on that west-bound train, and as I recall his plan involved joining the U.S. Army. The train stopped in Denver, but he didn't get off there and he didn't get off in Cheyenne either, nor in Salt Lake, nor in any other place, until the train had finally stopped for good in Los Angeles to turn around and come back east. I suppose he wanted to be sure there were enough mountain ranges and enough Mormons and mesquite between him and that old stump-armed man to prevent himself from being dragged back and put to work again. Because once he had actually managed to escape he sure as hell wasn't going to take any chances; he wasn't ever going to sweat his overalls plowing sand again, not if he could help it, not if it was just a matter of putting enough miles between himself and that sand. And in the confusion of December 1941, he had that ready excuse: he was going to join the army to fight the Nips and the Huns - never mind that he had never fought a thing before in his life.
Damn, that man can write. Hard to believe this was his very first novel.
I love the rusted decay of this door on the Harrison Street side of the old Chicago Main Post Office, which has been abandoned since 1997. Sixty hulking, empty acres of floorspace - 2.5 million square feet - just a short walk from downtown. The place still amazes me, in both its gargantuan size and its emptiness.
"Remember, Never Forget"
My short story "Remember, Never Forget" has been published in the final, "Farewell" issue of Skive Magazine, which is now available for purchase at Lulu.com. You can also hear me read the story here at SoundCloud.
Skive and publisher/editor Matt Ward have been very good to me over the years, publishing my early story "Can't Be Happy Today, But Tomorrow" in 2006 and my nonfiction piece "Pursuit" last year. It's truly been an honor to be associated with the journal, and I wish Matt the best of luck in his future endeavors.
"...beside that damn foul-smelling lamp, reading and planning and shivering in his long sag-butt underwear..."
I love this wonderful, remarkable paragraph from the early chapters of Kent Haruf's The Tie That Binds. The narrator is imagining the early life of his longtime neighbor Roy Goodnough, who at the time of the scene is newly married and living with his parents in Iowa, but dreaming of a homestead of his own in eastern Colorado.
On those cold wet Iowa nights then in that first winter of their marriage, with his brothers and sisters sleeping in their bedrooms next door and his folks snoring from another room down the hall, I picture him standing by a kerosene lamp. I picture him reading those flyers and notices and government brochures till he had them by heart, while in the room with him Ada would have been lying thin and straight in their bed under some thick homemade quilts, lying there waiting for him with her hair already combed out and braided, trying to stay awake for him because she no doubt believed a new wife would do that or should at least try to. And still - because I know that's the way he was - he must have gone on night after night the same. Gone on standing there beside that damn foul-smelling lamp, reading and planning and shivering in his long sag-butt underwear, with his red feet itching from the cold and his stringy arms and legs all gone to goose bumps and pig's bristle by the time he finally blew out the lamp and crawled into bed beside Ada - not to sleep yet, you understand, or even to raise Ada's flannel nightgown so he could rub his calloused hands over her thin hips and little breasts - but just to wake her again, wake her so he could tell her one more time how, by God, he had it all figured.I can totally see that scene in my mind - Roy fretting over brochures in the frigid bedroom, Ada waiting nervously in bed, Roy finally crawling under the covers not for sex but to again tell Ada (possibly to her relief) of his grand homesteading plan. Obviously, I'm already enjoying this book quite a bit. Haruf is the best.
"Think of how many monumental things in our lives are decided in the silence of a kitchen table."Nice interview with Peter Orner at Fiction Writers Review. The thoughts he encapsulates in the above quote come at a timely moment for me, because right now I'm struggling with my novel in progress, trying to figure out how to get the narrative out of the protagonist's head and really have something happen. Orner might say that's really not necessary, and that a story can just take place at "the kitchen table." More for me to ponder.
It's very nice to see that in his new book Orner has revived the character Walt Kaplan from his early novella Fall River Marriage, which I really enjoyed reading last year.
This is pretty wonderful. A Swedish urban explorer went through Stockholm's old Public Records Building, and took a bunch of great photographs. The photo above is of a "bokstörten", or book slide:
The Book Slide or "bokstörten" as it is called in Swedish. This invention was added to the stair case in the days of the second world war. The idea being that should Sweden become attacked by an aggressor in the war, then the archives and books here could be loaded onto ships fast using this book slide to slide them down to the water front and then they could be sailed off to some secure location.Books have all the fun. The rest of us have to take the stairs. That building looks marvelous - I strongly encourage you to check out all of the photos.
Fading Ad: Casey's Liquors
This fading ad for Casey's Liquors (1444 W. Chicago Avenue) is one of the more difficult ad photos I've taken. It was in a narrow, fenced alley that made it impossible to photograph in any manner other than from this extreme angle. I really like the now-defunct store's slogan: "Chances are we got it."
"...persistence, a congruence of lives..."Seamus Heaney's poems in North are very much about the permanence of the past. In "Belderg", the narrator talks to a farmer who has unearthed neolithic remnants in his fields. An excerpt:
A landscape fossilized,The book is lovely throughout, and especially during the first section.
Its stone-wall patternings
Repeated before our eyes
In the stone walls of Mayo.
Before I turned to go
He talked about persistence,
A congruence of lives,
How, stubbed and cleared of stones
His home accrued growth rings
Of iron, flint and bronze.
The end of two baseball erasCubs leaving WGN-TV and Astrodome headed for likely demolition.
The Cubs have been on WGN since 1948, and their afternoon game broadcasts have been a daily staple for generations of Chicagoans, myself included. The Astrodome news is somewhat bittersweet for me. I always hated when the Cubs played there, because given Wrigley Field's small confines, Cub teams have almost always been built around slow-moving sluggers, and thus they lost most of their games in the spacious expanse of the 'Dome. Small-ball was always the name of the game there, and of course the Cubs have never been able to draw walks, steal bases or bunt to save their lives. Still, it will be sad to see such a revolutionary structure meet its demise.
QuoteI cannot be weaned
Off the earth's long contour, her river-veins.
- Seamus Heaney, "Antaeus"
Lou ReedMy story collection Where the Marshland Came To Flower wouldn't exist without Lou Reed.
The genesis of the collection came to me on my morning train ride into work, sometime during 2007. As the Rock Island District train slowed for one of its stops on the far South Side, the canned intercom voiced intoned, "Next stop, Washington Heights." Though I had ridden that train and heard that announcement many times, that morning it immediately reminded me of Reed's song "Halloween Parade", and its offhand reference to "a crack team from Washington Heights." For years, though, I misheard "crack team" as "crack tune", which I assumed was some street name for a crack addict. (Tune as in Loony Tunes, or someone who's loony on crack.) It wasn't until I later checked the lyric sheet that I discovered my error, but by then I had already begun writing a story about a (presumed) crackhead on a late-evening train who disrupts a conversation between two suburb-bound businessmen.
As that story (which ultimately came to be called "Disappearing Into the Night") developed, I began to contemplate a bigger project: a collection of stories, each set in a different Chicago neighborhood and each inspired by the fourteen songs on New York, Reed's great 1989 album on which "Halloween Parade" appeared. Although my subject matter was entirely different from Reed's subjects (nary a transvestite or drug addict in sight), at first each of my stories included a specific line or two of Reed's lyrics. During subsequent editing I relaxed the use of explicit quotes, and instead merely paraphrased most of the inspiration lyrics. The one notable exception to this is the final story, "The Bells Will Ring For You", the title of which is a direct quote from "Dime Store Mystery", Reed's elegy to Andy Warhol that concludes New York. Besides that quote (the full line of which was "At the funeral tomorrow, at St. Patrick's, the bells will ring for you"), I also kept the Catholic church reference, though I translated the New York St. Patrick's to Old St. Pat's on Chicago's West Side, where my protagonist, the devout Ed Cullen, made daily confession for decades. Despite the removal of most of the explicit lyrical references, my Marshland stories are still very much responses to Reed's songs on New York - sometimes confirming his ideas, but sometimes refuting.
Beyond being the inspiration for my book, I'm grateful to Lou Reed simply for the decades of great music: bold, daring, compassionate, perceptive and brutally honest lyrics, delivered in his unmistakeable sing-speak voice and usually backed by that most basic of rock and roll instrumentation: two guitars, bass, drums. Though I deeply admire his work, I am far from a Reed completist - I own just three of his solo albums and one Velvet Underground album, and am only casually familiar with half a dozen others; the one upside to his passing is that it has driven me to seek out more of his work, and there's plenty there with him having been so productive for so long. But most of his music that I've experienced endlessly amazes me: New York, the angry portrait of his hometown; Magic and Loss, his ponderous reflections on dying and grief; Legendary Hearts, the unappreciated 1983 gem ("Betrayed" still gives me shivers, twenty years after I first heard it); The Velvet Underground and Nico, the audacious VU debut. Incomparable songs from scattered albums: "Sweet Jane, "Rock and Roll", "Turn to Me", "New Sensations", "Set the Twilight Reeling", "Caroline Says." And his 1996 concert at the Rosemont Theater remains one of the best I've ever seen.
For me, Lou Reed is a constant reminder to be fearless, original, non-complacent. To accept people for who they are instead of who you want them to be. To refuse to accept the status quo or anything less than the best from yourself. For those reminders, and that thrilling, thought-provoking and vital music, I will forever be indebted to him. Rest well, sir.