“Rank socialism was and is rampant.”

Shagpoke Whipple, former U.S. President, disgraced banker and ex-convict:

"When I left jail, it was my intention to run for office again. But I discovered to my great amazement and utter horror that my party, the Democratic Party, carried not a single plank in its platform that I could honestly endorse. Rank socialism was and is rampant. How could I, Shagpoke Whipple, ever bring myself to accept a program which promised to take from American citizens their inalienable birthright; the right to sell their labor and their children's labor without restrictions as to either price or hours?"

This passage, from Nathanael West's A Cool Million (1934), could easily have been spoken today (albeit with the vocabulary and grammar of the average fifth-grader) by a certain president who shall remain nameless.

And, wow, was West ever dark. He made Sinclair Lewis look like a giddy optimist.

May 14, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"It comes in lumps..."

In a 1952 letter, Nelson Algren reflected on his writing, and re-writing, process.

No, it didn’t pour. It comes in lumps, and each lump has to be smoothed and grained down and then, when it’s just so shining and smooth that you read it over aloud to your self and love the sound of every perfect word, you find you can’t use it, it doesn’t tie in, it’s fine in itself but it diverts the whole story. So you gulp and put it away assuring yourself you’ll make use of it another day and sometimes you do, if you remember what drawer you put it away in. Sometimes it’s like a squirrel looking for the acorns he hid the fall before last - he knows he’s somewhere in the neighborhood, and digs up the whole plot and when he finds it, it’s gone to seed in those two years.

The letter is included in an appendix to the critical edition of The Man With the Golden Arm, which I just finished reading, for the fourth or fifth time (and was as astounding as ever). The letter is reproduced as an original facsimile, with typos, x-outs and handwritten edits. The editor’s decision to include this in its original form, instead of in pristine, typeset perfection, is curious but perfectly fitting. Algren was a brilliant but deeply flawed man whose writing never shied away from portraying the imperfect and often ugly side of human nature, and this letter (which he apparently mailed as-is, instead of drafting a clean copy) neatly encapsulates his essence.

May 6, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...rocking and drinking...”

Colin Asher applies the Page 99 Test to his new Algren biography, Never a Lovely So Real. I browsed the book at City Lit the other night, and am looking forward to reading the book, though I’ll wait for the paperback. 

April 27, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“Ah, a disciplined man. We don’t get many of those out here.”

With the misfits and outcasts of Richardson Bay, off of Sausalito, California.

Known as anchor-outs, they make their homes a quarter mile from the shore, on abandoned and unseaworthy vessels, doing their best, with little or no money, to survive. Life is not easy. There is always a storm on the way, one that might capsize their boats and consign their belongings to the bottom of the bay. But when the water is calm and the harbormaster is away, the anchor-outs call their world Shangri-lito.

Straight out of Cannery Row (which, admittedly, was Monterey and not Sausalito).

April 17, 2019 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

The captain has bad dreams

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The opening paragraphs of Nelson Algren’s The Man With the Golden Arm. Merely presenting the first sentence wouldn’t have been anywhere near sufficient. 

April 15, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Quote

“One day, while reading in my room, I heard a shriek from the hairdressers directly across from our house. ‘The pope’s been shot!’ Soon there was a gabble of increasingly hysterical voices outside the window. I shrugged, The Fantastic Four were fighting Dragon Man. The pope and reality could wait.” - Padraig Kenny

April 14, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“Everyday People”

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I’ve been very tardy in passing this along, but Ben Tanzer and I recently had a great conversation about Where the Marshland Came To Flower, writing in general, and Chicago, and our talk can be heard on his venerated This Podcast Will Change Your Life. Enjoy.

April 1, 2019 in Books, Chicago Observations, Fiction, Marshland | Permalink | Comments (1)

“...yesterday is a wind gone down...”

The final lines from Carl Sandburg's "Prairie":

I speak of new cities and new people.
I tell you the past is a bucket of ashes.
I tell you yesterday is a wind gone down,
  a sun dropped in the west.
I tell you there is nothing in the world
  only an ocean of to-morrows,
  a sky of to-morrows.

I am a brother of the cornhuskers who say
  at sundown:
        To-morrow is a day.


I'm somewhat obsessed with the third and fourth lines ("I tell you yesterday..."), so much so that I repeat them, as a calming mantra, if I happen to wake up in the middle of the night.

The poem is the first in the collection Cornhuskers, which won him the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, in 1919.

March 28, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Badass

In Orkney, Sally Walker is one seriously devoted - and obviously badass - librarian.

Today (the causeway to Burray is) open but as I approach in my van, the sea is crashing over the barrier. I stop at one end, watch the waves and try to time my drive to cross between them. It’s exciting and frightening all at once. Halfway across, I misjudge it and a wave covers the van.

March 27, 2019 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Quote

“Fiction and lies are the opposite of each other. Lies go out of the way to distort and turn you away from the truth. But fiction is one of our ways of telling the truth.” - Ali Smith

I think I might delve into Smith’s seasonal quartet. 

March 24, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)