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Tournament Champion Crowned!

It's a good thing I'm not a betting man, since my pick at The Morning News' Tournament of Books, Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, lost out in the finals to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, by the decisive margin of 10-5. The judges were laudatory on both sides of the fence, which I'll attempt to communicate in class book jacket blurb style:

For Roth
Mark Sarvas: "In Roth, we have the elder statesman at the height of his gifts."
Maud Newton: "Roth’s disquieting alternate history of fascism’s rise in America is a story of the first order."
Margaret Mason: "I cared about the characters and it was an interesting read."
Tobias Seamon: "For possessing such a chilling familiarity, The Plot Against America gets the nod."
Rosecrans Baldwin: "Goes much deeper into its characters’ lives, where they almost (but never) seem too human, too rich."

For Mitchell
Danny Gregory: "Challenged, stretched, thrilled, and kept me hanging on to the end."
Kate Schlegel: "Mitchell’s attention to plotlines and his six vibrant characters and writing styles make Cloud Atlas the better book."
Claire Miccio: "It had me cooing 'Oooo, what happens next?'"
Pitchaya Sudbanthad: "Mitchell’s sextet of linked stories crosses space and time to explore universal themes of exploitation, deceit, and cruelty."
Andrew Womack: "It’s a beautiful, stunning thing that’s at once moving, hilarious, and chilling."
Kevin Guilfoile: "Mitchell’s beautiful prose gets the edge from me."
Choire Sicha: "Among the two that have ended up here, I’m absolutely going with Cloud Atlas."
Jessa Crispin: "Don’t ask why or else I might change my mind yet again."
John Warner: "Every page, every line, every word is electrified, and reading it was simply a great joy."
Jim Coudal: "I make him a lock to cover and I’d even parlay a money-line bet ($100/$115) with The Over (4+) for the number of times the word 'serious' appears in the final reviews."

I happened to like this whole tourney a lot...But Ron, who lives in NYC, sure did NOT!"

(Humblest apologies to Dr. Seuss.)

February 28, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ben Hecht

From the Writer's Almanac at Minnesota Public Radio:

It's the birthday of playwright and novelist Ben Hecht, born in New York City (1893). He was a child prodigy on the violin and gave his first concert performance when he was 10 years old. He also trained as an acrobat and performed with a small circus until he was 16, when he ran away to Chicago and became a journalist. Of his first few years in Chicago he said, "I ran everywhere in the city like a fly buzzing in the works of a clock, tasted more than any fly belly could hold, learned not to sleep... and buried myself in a tick-tock of whirling hours that still echo in me."

Hecht got involved in the Chicago literary renaissance, along with writers like Sherwood Anderson and Theodore Dreiser. He published his first novel in 1921—Erik Dorn, about a jaded journalist who can only speak in newspaper headlines. He also began writing and collaborating on plays. He didn't have any success until he and a newspaper reporter named Charles MacArthur decided to write a play about the newspaper industry called The Front Page (1928). It was a big success on Broadway, and it was later made into the movie His Girl Friday (1940).

Ben Hecht said, "Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock."

I read Erik Dorn a while back, and though I enjoyed it at the time, the book really hasn't stuck with me. On the other hand, I read his A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago, a wonderful collection of his newspaper columns, even longer ago, and many of the pieces remain lodged within my consciousness--which for me is always a sign of a great book. I highly recommend the latter.

February 28, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

One Serious Family

This is priceless. During the weekend of my dad's funeral, one of my cousins gave me a copy of this photo, which was taken at a family wedding in Boone, Iowa in 1963. My mom is the third woman from the left, my dad the third man from the right, and my sister Kathy is sitting in front; all the rest are various aunts and uncles. Technically, there's only one actual aunt and uncle in the photo, with the others being my mom's cousins and cousins-in-law. My parents are of that era when it was considered proper, as a sign of respect, to address family members of the older generation as Aunt or Uncle, even if they weren't your parents' siblings.

The gag is that all of them agreed beforehand to assume a mock-serious pose--I'm not sure what the Napoleonic hand-in-jacket pose of the men was supposed to signify--but several of the women smiled anyway. My mom's family is an extremely friendly bunch, and can't help smiling even when they're trying not to.

February 26, 2005 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rah, Heartland, Rah!

Despite the NYTBR's strongly professed preference for non-fiction titles under Sam Tannenhaus, it's interesting to note that the tastemaking colossus didn't get around to reviewing Tom Reiss' The Orientalist until this week, or a full two weeks after those literary bushleaguers, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, reviewed it.

At first I was quite intrigued by the book from the Chicago reviews, and thought up the slightest fragment of a short story concept based on Nussimbaum. But the story idea has already faded almost entirely from my memory, replaced by several others that may or may not ever come to fruition, and only just now does the NYTBR deign to review the book.

For once, critical influence flows eastward. Rah!

February 26, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

No Home Cooking Here

You might have thought Ward Just had the home-court advantage at TMN's Tournament of Books, but Chicago's very own Jessa Crispin (of Bookslut.com) opted for Cloud Atlas over Just's An Unfinished Season which, incidentally, I'll start reading tomorrow morning, having just finished the first book of James T. Farrell's Studs Lonigan trilogy.

With my sentimental favorite having been eliminated from the tournament, I'm now pulling for Philip Roth.

February 22, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Brent Books

From "From the Precincts" ("Local booksellers tell us what Chicago is buying") in Sunday's Chicago Tribune:

Brent Books, 309 W. Washington St., 312-364-0126

1. Collapse, By Jared Diamond (Viking, $29.95)
Discusses why civilizations fail.

2. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, By Stephen Greenblatt (Norton, $26.95)
An in-depth look at William Shakespeare's life and writing.

3. Hatless Jack: The President, the Fedora, and the History of American Style, By Neil Steinberg (Penguin, $14 paper)
Looks at men's headwear.

4. The Encyclopedia of Chicago, Edited by James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin Keating and Janice L. Reiff (University of Chicago Press, $65)
A comprehensive collection of facts about Chicago people, places and events.

5. America (The Book), By Jon Stewart, Ben Karlin and David Javerbaum (Warner, $24.95)
The creators of "The Daily Show" write about American politics.

This is why I love Brent Books, besides the fact that it's only two blocks from my office and offers an easy escape from corporate mundanity. Its top five consists of two scholarly books, an offbeat look at men's headwear, a pricey and hefty reference tome and, for good measure, a sharp political satire which is one of the few non- self-help or diet titles on the non-fiction bestseller lists. Despite its downtown location, the store is refreshingly and decidedly non-mainstream. Readers of Danielle Steel and Sue Grafton are well-advised to look elsewhere; in fact, I actually was looking for Danielle Steel books there just before Christmas, as a present to Julie's grandmother--not for myself, I swear!--and was quite pleased to not find a single volume of her oeuvre.

February 22, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ibsen in Abbreviation

Intriguing theater preview from yesterday's Chicago Tribune:


Greg Allen's latest, sweetly ridiculous and admirably complete Neo-Futurists show delivers 26 playlets in 26 different styles, all inspired by the dramatic climaxes of the Norwegian dramatist. These range from the familiar, "Hedda Gabler" and "A Doll's House" among them, to such early obscure-os such as "The Vikings of Helgeland." Allen shrewdly varies the game, and when he chooses to play Ibsen's codas seriously, as in "Hedda" or "Peer Gynt," it works. Yet the best bits belong to Steve Walker and Merrie Greenfield, especially funny in dead-serious mode, or when rolling around the floor in agony in "Cataline"; through March 5 at Neo-Futurists, 5153 N. Ashland Ave.; $10-$15; 773-275-5255.

I took an Ibsen class as an undergrad, and still remember with delight my professor's retelling of Ibsen's last words. The playwright was on his deathbed, and after examining him, his doctor said something along the lines of "I think he's improving," to which Ibsen curtly replied, "On the contrary," settled back in the bed and died.

February 21, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

We Love You, Patty Bouvier!

All of us here in Tolerant America wish nothing but the best for you and your betrothed, and hope that you two are treated with the dignity and respect that all human beings deserve.

February 21, 2005 in Current Affairs, Television | Permalink | Comments (1)

Poetic Fuel for the Fire, Literally

Although Chicago's literature has long been great, it has also enjoyed less than overwhelming popular acceptance. Under "Literary Cultures" in The Encyclopedia of Chicago, Timothy B. Spears writes:

After poet Harriet Monroe pressed for and received the commission to write the dedicatory poem at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, she discovered that belles lettres ranked low on the list of artistic forms that Chicago's elite were willing to support financially. At the high point in the city's cultural uplift, Monroe's "Columbian Ode" barely sold, and the poet used the unsold copies to fuel the stove in her bedroom.

February 21, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Chicago Literature

The Encyclopedia of Chicago is a masterful piece of scholarship which presents a comprehensive and sometimes dizzying compendium of seemingly every aspect of Chicago's history. This massive tome--1,117 oversized pages and weighing in at nearly five pounds--was expertly edited by James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin Keating and Janice L. Reiff, and developed by The Newberry Library with the cooperation of The Chicago Historical Society.

The book is utterly fascinating. I've found myself bouncing from section to section--from "Icelanders" to "Haymarket and May Day" to "Film"--with no apparent rhyme or reason to my wandering. I might be tempted to toss of the standard book-jacket blurb "I couldn't put it down!" were it not for the fact that, due to its sheer mass, it sometimes becomes a physical imperative to put it down occasionally. But given Chicago's rich history, a book of anything less than this size would fail to do the subject justice.

While I would highly recommend it to any Chicagoan or Chicagophile out there, the Encyclopedia has several sections of interest to fans of Chicago literature.

Northwestern University lecturer Bill Savage presents a fine overview of the history of Chicago fiction. After briefly touching on the earliest attempts at Chicago fiction--including quasi-fictional historical narratives, dime novels and man-on-the-street journalism from the likes of Finley Peter Dunne and George Ade--Savage perfectly encapsulates the unique physical and social characteristics of the city which ultimately shaped the Chicago school of fiction:

But when discussing Chicago and fiction, most of the focus belongs on serious attempts in prose narrative--novels and short stories--to capture the essence of the city, its spaces and its people. As Carl S. Smith has demonstrated, this project was from the beginning fraught with both aesthetic and ideological challenges, as the booming Chicago of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries seemed to belong to some new world, a world not particularly amenable to the rules of narrative prose fiction as then practiced. Neither high-flown romance nor genteel realism could grasp a place grown from a frontier outpost to world city in the course of two generations. Chicago has challenged fiction writers to contemplate new industrial methods and urban spaces like the skyscraper; observe violent conflict between capital and labor; think about the moral drama of immigration from the Midwestern hinterland, the far reaches of Europe, and the world; and face the irreducible conflict between an urban culture centered on making money and traditional values placed on high art, civic service and family virtue.

Savage goes on to discuss several of the giants of Chicago fiction--Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser, James T. Farrell, Richard Wright, Nelson Algren and Saul Bellow. A fascinating essay.

Several other fiction-based sections appear throughout the Encyclopedia, including the "Chicago Literary Renaissance" of the early 20th Century (Dreiser, Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, Sherwood Anderson, Ben Hecht, Ring Lardner); "Literary Careers"; "Literary Cultures"; and, most vividly, "Literary Images of Chicago."

In this last section, Boston College's Carlo Rotella expertly presents three differing physical descriptions of the city, that of Dreiser (from Sister Carrie), Gwendolyn Brooks (from the poem "Of De Witt Williams on His Way to Lincoln Cemetary") and Stuart Dybek (from the story "Blight"). In conclusion, Rotella writes:

The images offered by Dreiser, Brooks and Dybek were chosen for their literary significance and representativeness, but also because rail lines run through all of them. Chicago's literature, like the city itself, took shape around railroads; trains run through its cities of feeling, carrying loads of meaning, just as trains still carry goods and flesh-and-blood passengers through the city of fact. Those connecting trains suggest a web of literary influences and linkages extending back from the present well into the nineteenth century; they also suggest a distinctive engagement with the city of fact that binds Chicago's literature to what Nelson Algren called "the thousand-girded El" and all the hard realities it represents.

Other literary-related sections of the Encyclopedia--or at least those that I've discovered so far; it will take most of this year for me just to skim its entirety--are devoted to poetry, playwriting, journalism and publishing.

February 20, 2005 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rattawut Lapcharoensap

In the current issue of Poets & Writers, Amy Rosenberg profiles debut author Rattawut Lapcharoensap, who's been getting plaudits for his story collection Sightseeing. (Story is not available online.) Lapcharoensap relates a wry anecdote on the life of poets:

When he lived in Chicago, his parents frequently took in political dissidents and foreign refugees. One day, an old, scraggly man, a dishwasher at a local restaurant, showed up and took over the family's couch. Lapcharoensap asked his mother who the man was and what kind of work he did. "He's a poet," his mother replied. "After that," Lapcharoensap says, "writing became for me something that you had to be really lucky to be able to do." (And he adds, a little cheekily, "Ever since then, all of the poets I've known tend to sleep on people's couches.")

February 19, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Attention New Yorkers!

Tops on my list of "favorite people I've never met" is Frank Jump, highly talented photographer and all-around good guy. His Fading Ad Gallery in Brooklyn is presenting "LIFE MADE STRANGE: OTHERNESS", described as "an HIV+ artists' response to a post-mandate Bush America" which features the work of Michael Berube, Niccolo Cataldi, Joe De Hoyos, William Donovan, Steed Taylor, and Benjamin Trimmier.

Here's the curator's statement:

OTHERNESS/LIFE MADE STRANGE: a "post-Bush mandate era" will generate a response of activist art that may rival the AIDS activism and performance/street art inspired by Reagan Years. Inspired by Dr. Andrew Irving's doctoral thesis in Anthropology Life Made Strange: How Experiences of HIV/AIDS Affect Perception of Time, Existence and Otherness- this exhibition will reflect the current climate amongst HIV/AIDS visual artists in response to an American mandated election and the months leading up to it.

The exhibition runs from March 2nd through April 5th at Fading Ad Gallery (679 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-254-9300), with an opening reception on Saturday, March 5th from 3-6 P.M.) More information here. My Midwestern-ness and familial responsibilities will prevent me from attending, but I strongly encourage any NYC-area readers to check this out.

Frank and I have been corresponding over the Internet for about five or six years now, after I discovered his wonderful Fading Ad Campaign site and immediately became obsessed with hunting for similar ads-painted-on-walls here in Chicago. My finds pale in comparison to his beautys, though I'm rather proud of my images here, here and here.

February 18, 2005 in Current Affairs, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Iraq Conflict Increases Terror Threat? No!!!

Hmmm...so much for the argument that invading Iraq was crucial to fighting the war against terrorism.

Iraq Conflict Feeds International
Terror Threat - CIA
By David Morgan, Reuters

WASHINGTON - Islamic militants waging a deadly insurgency against U.S.-led forces in Iraq pose an emerging international terrorism threat, CIA Director Porter Goss said on Wednesday.

In his first public appearance as U.S. spymaster, Goss described Iraqi insurgents, including al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as part of a Sunni militant movement inspired by Osama bin Laden and intent on attacking Americans.

"The Iraq conflict, while not a cause of extremism, has become a cause for extremists," Goss told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

"Those jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in and focused on acts of urban terrorism. They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries," he said.

President Bush, who portrays U.S.-led actions in Iraq as the leading edge of democratic reform in the Middle East, cited Iraqi backing for international terrorism as a reason for the 2003 invasion.

(Full article)

Um, Mr. Goss, the President expects your resignation letter to be on his desk today, before his afternoon nap.

February 17, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Root Root Root for the Home Team

Ward Just's An Unfinished Season--currently on the top of my to-read shortlist--pulls off a first round upset over Edwidge Danticat's The Dew Breaker at the in the Tournament of Books at The Morning News.

Next up for Waukegan's favorite son (living son, that is; they can also claim Jack Benny) is another tough battle, against David Mitchell's critically lauded Cloud Atlas.

February 15, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Young Lion, Never


Nominees for the New York Public Library's 2005 Young Lions Award include Stephen Elliott's Happy Baby, Andrew Sean Greer's The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum's Madeline is Sleeping, Marc Bojanowski's The Dog Fighter, and Aaron Gwyn's Dog on the Cross.

The library awards the $10,000 prize each spring to a writer age 35 or younger for a novel or short story collection.

I'm still unpublished and bearing down rapidly on 40. Sadly, I'll never be a Young Lion. (Or a tyro, an upstart, or precocious.) And "Middle-Aged Lion Who Still Gets Around Moderately Well And Chews His Own Food" just doesn't have that same ring to it.

(Via Maud.)

February 15, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Coolest. Things. Ever.

Or at least the coolest paper-based objects involving Chicago architecture: build-it-yourself paper models of iconic Chicago buildings and other landmarks. (Interestingly, none of them are owned by my boss, everyone's favorite elfin, motorcycle- riding, billionaire real estate mogul.) As if the bargain price of $1.50 each wasn't good enough, check out the free models, particularly the wonderfully anachronistic Ohio House Motel.

(Link via Gapers Block.)

February 12, 2005 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Romance Fiction

This American Life recently had an entertaining piece by Robin Epstein in which she attends the annual convention of the Romance Writers of America. (Listen here; the piece starts at roughly the 5:50 mark.) I particularly love the editor who says "I was put on the planet to reject books."

Also interesting was the RWA's romance novel guidelines: a) at the beginning of the book there should be a conflict that keeps the prospective lovers apart; b) by the last page of the book there's a happy ending. Says Epstein: "This is what the RWA guidelines call Emotional Justice: Good is rewarded, evil is punished, everyone gets what they deserve."

It's precisely this sort of formulaic adherence that drives me far away from genre fiction, whether it's romance, sci-fi, detective or whatever. Give me literary fiction and its unpredictability and occasional sad endings, any day.

February 11, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)

Stuart Dybek, I Sailed With Magellan

Stuart Dybek's I Sailed With Magellan is a fine collection of interconnected short stories which beautifully evokes the denizens and physicality of Little Village, a Southwest Side Chicago neighborhood which was the home of both Poles and Mexicans during the 1960s. The stories revolve around Perry Katzek, a third-generation Polish-American. His given name seems odd, particularly when paired with his Old World family name, but it perfectly reflects his family's attempts to assimilate into American society. (As his younger brother Mick says, "Yeah, and don't you think it's a little weird that you, the first-born, get Anglicized to Perry like you're some f'ing admiral, and I get named after our crazy DP grandfather who they left to rot in the state madhouse.")

Dybek presents a fascinating bunch of characters, from Perry and Mick to their junk-scavenging father, to their relatively invisible mother, to Perry's friends Stosh (a pill-popping clerk at Rexall looking ahead unenthusiastically to a career as a pharmacist) and Angel Falcone (a sensitive painter bound for the School of the Art Institute), and various relatives--most notably Uncle Lefty--and other neighborhood creatures.

For me, the best story is "Blue Boy" which tells of Ralphie, born a "blue baby" and not expected to live long, who confounds that prognosis by making it to age eight and thus becomes the neighborhood's miracle. The fact that Ralphie is revered for merely surviving speaks volumes for the locals' modestly humble aspirations:

    When he made it to his eighth birthday, it was a big deal in our neighborhood, Little Village; it meant he'd get his wish, which was to make it to his First Holy Communion later that year, and whether Ralphie realized it or not, a lot of people celebrated with him. At corner taverns, like Juanita's and the Zip Inn, men still wearing their factory steel-toes hoisted boilermakers to the Blue Boy. At St. Roman Church, women said an extra rosary or lit a vigil candle and prayed in English or Polish or Spanish to St. Jude, Patron of Impossible Causes.
    And why not hope for the miracle to continue? In a way, Ralphie was what our parish had instead of a plaster statue of the Madonna that wept real tears or a crucified Christ that dripped blood on Good Friday.

After starting out with three strong stories, the book momentarily loses focus with an overly long story, "Breasts", which focuses primarily on a two-bit mob hit man who lives on the other side of the physical barrier of Western Avenue. "Blue Boy" then follows as a strong return to form, but then as Perry grows up and drifts away from the neighborhood and its wonderfully earthy Poles, the book starts to lose its bearings, as does Perry himself.

But the book rights itself at the end, revolving back to two stories about Perry's Uncle Lefty (including "A Minor Mood", which I have excerpted here). Lefty is a marvelously intriguing character, and quite Algren-esque: a shellshocked Korea veteran, saxophone player, losing horseplayer, former boxer. And ultimately doomed. His name, Lefty Antic, even invokes Algren characters--Lefty Bicek, the protagonist of Never Come Morning, and Antek, the bar owner in The Man With the Golden Arm. I'd love to see Dybek write a novel, or even a novella, which concentrates primarily on Lefty.

February 11, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stuart Dybek, "A Minor Mood"

Lovely passage from Dybek's "A Minor Mood", which appears in his latest collection I Sailed With Magellan:

    He'd sip his medicinal drink until it was cool enough, then belt it down as if drinking a toast: Na zdrowie, germs, take this! When the shot glass was empty, his gran would bring a refill on the theory that he needed fluids. She'd have a couple belts herself on the theory that she needed fluids, too.
    "Na zdrowie," she'd say--bottoms up!
    Na zdrowie," he'd answer--down the hatch!

    On such white winter mornings--white steam on one side of the pane, white snow on the other--propped on a throne of pillows with the babushka like a raja's turban wound around his swollen glands; with menthol, eucalyptus, camphor, lemon, and through the steam, his gran materializing with a mug in one hand and a bottle of Beam in the other--on white mornings like that, how could a boy not conclude that being sick might almost be worth the joy of getting well? Those were the mornings to be tucked away at the heart of life, so that later, whenever one needed to draw upon a recollection of joy in order to get through troubled times, it would be there, an assurance that once one was happy and one could be happy again.
    Sometimes, on those mornings, Lefty would wonder how his room, its window clouded as if the atmosphere of Venus was pressed against the pane, must have looked from the street. He wondered how it sounded to strangers passing by. Could they hear the vaporizer hissing like a reed instrument missing a reed? Could they hear his gran, who was now sipping Beam straight from the bottle, singing "You Are My Sunshine" in her Polish patois? She loved that song. "Not to be morbid," she'd say, "but sing 'Sunshine' at my funeral."
    Not to be morbid, but when that time came, Lefty played it on the sax, his breath Beamy, played it to heaven, his back braced against the steeple of St. Pius.

February 10, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Help Fight Childhood Cancer!

It's that time of year again. I'm having my head shaved to raise money for the fight against childhood cancer. I'm raising donations for St. Baldrick's, which was established in 2000 as a fundraising group for CureSearch National Childhood Cancer Foundation. CureSearch NCCF supports the work of CureSearch Children’s Oncology Group, a network of physicians, nurses and scientists who conduct clinical trials in childhood cancer and perform cutting-edge research at more than 200 member institutions, representing every pediatric cancer program in North America, treating over 90 percent of children with cancer in North America.

Cancer continues to be the leading cause of death by disease in children, but today 77 percent of children with cancer can now be cured. As a result of CureSearch COG’s collaborative research effort, the cancer death rate has dropped more dramatically for children than for any other age group and has
directly led to significant increases in cure rates for childhood cancer.

The fight against cancer has particular resonance for me this year, as my dad recently passed away from liver and colon cancer after a three year fight. And my older brother, Chuck, died of brain cancer in 1977 at the age of 22. Although St. Baldrick's and CureSearch NCCF specifically target childhood cancer, every shred of information we can learn about this terrible disease gets us one step closer to a cure that will benefit all of us.

St. Baldrick's was founded in 2000 and has raised almost $7 million so far, with $3.5 million of that coming in last year and $2 million the year before that. The process is simple--I gather donations from generous people such as yourselves, and then I will have my head shaved in public, at Fado Irish Pub (100 W. Grand Avenue, Chicago) on Friday, March 11, 2005. I had a great experience with St. Baldrick's last year, and consider myself fortunate to have raised $1,200 for the cause, versus a goal of only $500. This year I'm doubling my goal, to $1,000, and hope to far surpass that as well. The headshaving is a symbolic show of solidarity with child cancer patients, many of whom lose their hair with chemotherapy.

If you would like to sponsor me with an online donation, you can do so with a credit card at my St. Baldrick's page, where you can also track my fundraising progress. My page is located here.

That's my "Before" picture up there right now, and after the big day there will be a gruesome "After" photo for your amusement. (Here's last year's photo--one of my coworkers said I looked like Michael Stipe, which I'm hoping he meant as a compliment.)

If you would like to sponsor me with a check or cash, please contact me and we'll make the necessary arrangements. Also, if you'd like to witness my shearing in person on March 11, you're welcome to do so, whether it's for moral support or just a good laugh. Once we get closer to the date I'll have a better idea of the specific time I'll be shaved--it will probably be early afternoon.

More info:
St. Baldrick's Foundation
CureSearch National Childhood Cancer Foundation

Thank you so much, in advance!

February 8, 2005 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (1)

Roark Johnson: Stranger a Day 2004

(Photo is copyrighted by Roark Johnson.)

This is a simply fascinating photo project. For every day of 2004, the photographer Roark Johnson photographed a complete stranger, using a massive 8X10 Deardorff, and compiled them at Stranger a Day 2004. The photos are simply stunning, and a testament to both photographer and camera. Johnson's images present a wonderful cross-section of people, almost exclusively from the Midwest. Highly recommended.

February 8, 2005 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Mighty Casey"

I just finished writing a new story, "Mighty Casey", and am submitting it today to Elysian Fields Quarterly, "the literary baseball journal that is short on hype and long on content." The story is based on the classic old baseball poem "Casey at the Bat" and is told primarily from the perspective of the Mudville team's justifiably frustrated owner.

Though my days of intense fanaticism of the game are long since passed, "Casey at the Bat" will always have a place in my heart--I was able to recite it from memory at age eight, and used to recite it to Maddie at her bedtime. Finishing the story has been a long time in coming, as I first conceived the idea during the Cubs' ill-fated playoff run in 2003, finished the first draft in early 2004 but didn't finally wrap it up until this past weekend.

This one's obviously a special purpose piece, and I really can't think of anyone who would publish it other than EFQ. So if they turn it down I'll probably post it to my Writings page. Which might be a long way off, since EFQ says they take up to nine months to evaluate fiction pieces.

February 7, 2005 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Micro Graphic Novel

This was an entertaining project...while cleaning out his grandfather's shed, a gentleman named Johannes Grenzfurthner discovered four striking black and white drawings printed on a chain saw box. Rather than hoard the drawings to himself, he posted them to his website and invited writers to contribute narrative to create a "micro graphic novel."

My effort, "The Retreat", is posted here. You're welcome to try writing your own.

(Link via Ron at Beatrice, whose own Howard Dean-inspired contribution, "woodshedding" is quite good.)

February 6, 2005 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)


No new postings for the rest of this week, to both pay my respects to my dad and attempt to finally defeat a particularly nasty head cold. Check back this Monday for new writing developments and my first of many pitches for St. Baldricks. Thanks for your patience.

February 2, 2005 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (0)