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Happy Mother's Day from Mr. T

Oh my. Oh my.

(Via the faithful cultural stewards at Barrelhouse.)

April 28, 2005 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm

I'm currently re-reading one of my very favorite books, The Man With the Golden Arm. What an absolutely amazing piece of writing it is. In the excerpt below, the protagonist Frankie Machine (a card dealer and morphine addict) has just gotten his latest fix from his pusher, Nifty Louie. "Monkey" refers to the phrase "monkey on your back", a euphemism for being addicted. Although Algren is widely credited for coining the phrase, in reality he merely popularized it with this novel, having picked up the phrase from the Chicago junkies he befriended.

Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm (excerpt)

   Louie was the best fixer of them all because he knew what it was to need to get well. Louie had had a big habit--he was one man who could tell you you lied if you said no junkie could kick the habit once he was hooked. For Louie was the one junkie in ten thousand who'd kicked it and kicked it for keeps.
   He'd taken the sweat cure in a little Milwaukee Avenue hotel room cutting himself down, as he put it, "from monkey to zero." From three full grains a day to one, then half of that and half of that straight down to zero, though he'd been half out of his mind with the pain two nights running and was so weak, for days after, that he could hardly tie his own shoelaces.

   Back on the street at last, he'd gotten the chuck horrors: for two full days he'd eaten candy bars, sweet rolls and strawberry malteds. It had seemed that there would be no end to his hunger for sweets.
   Louie never had the sweet-roll horrors any more. Yet sometimes himself sensed that something had twisted in his brain in those nights when he'd gotten the monkey off his back on Milwaukee Avenue.
   "Habit? Man," he liked to remember, "I had a great big habit. One time I knocked out one of my own teet' to get the gold for a fix. You call that bein' hooked or not? Hooked? Man, I wasn't hooked, I was crucified. The monkey got so big he was carryin' me. "Cause the way it starts is like this, students: you let the habit feed you first 'n one mornin' you wake up 'n you're feedin' the habit.
   "But don't tell me you can't kick it if you want to. When I hear a junkie tell me he wants to kick the habit but he just can't I know he lies even if he don't know he does. He wants to carry the monkey, he's punishin' himself for somethin' 'n don't even know it. It's what I was doin' for six years, punishin' myself for things I'd done 'n thought I'd forgot. So I told myself hwo I wasn't to blame for what I done in the first place, I was only tryin' to live like everyone else 'n doin' them things was the only way I had of livin'. Then I got forty grains 'n went up to the room 'n went from monkey to nothin' in twenny-eight days 'n that's nineteen years ago 'n the monkey's dead."
   "The monkey's never dead, Fixer," Frankie told him knowingly.
   Louie glanced at Frankie slyly. "You know that awready, Dealer? You know how he don't die? It's what they say awright, the monkey never dies. When you kick him off he just hops onto someone else's back." Behind the film of glaze that always veiled Louie's eyes Frankie saw the twisted look. "You got my monkey, Dealer? You take my nice old monkey away from me? Is that my monkey ridin' your back these days, Dealer?"

(Copyright 1949 by Nelson Algren, renewed 1976 and 2003.)

April 27, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Another Literary Stumble

My story "Mahalia" has once again been declined for publication, this time by Other Voices. However, I was quite pleased to read the very kind words of contributing editor Stacy Bierlein, who clearly enjoyed the story and strongly encouraged me to submit more stories to them in the future. It's nice getting that kind of personal feedback, which gives me reassurance that I'm at least a decent writer who's capable of creating works of actual merit.

Onward and upward. Today I submitted "Mahalia" to three more literary journals, once again going the simulataneous submission route. Since I will now be doing simulataneous subs as standard practice, from now on I'm going to refrain from identifying specific journals until I get a response from them. The three publications I submitted the story to today consisted of two smaller but fairly well-regarded university-affiliated journals--one on each coast--as well as one of the more prominent Chicago-area journals. ("Prominent" only in the lit journal sphere, of course, and completely unknown to at least 99% of the popluation.)

Yes, it's a limited audience I'm seeking--people who truly enjoy short stories. I'm not planning on ever getting rich off of my writing, which is fine with me. The intrinsic rewards will be enough.

April 26, 2005 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

So Much More Attractive Inside the Moral Kiosk

Paul Krugman has an excellent column today on the Bush Administration's continuing willful ignorance of the mainstream.

   By large margins, Americans say that the country is headed in the wrong direction, and Mr. Bush is the least popular second-term president on record.
   What's going on? Actually, it's quite simple: Mr. Bush and his party talk only to their base - corporate interests and the religious right - and are oblivious to everyone else's concerns.
   The administration's upbeat view of the economy is a case in point. Corporate interests are doing very well. As a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, over the last three years profits grew at an annual rate of 14.5 percent after inflation, the fastest growth since World War II.
   The story is very different for the great majority of Americans, who live off their wages, not dividends or capital gains, and aren't doing well at all. Over the past three years, wage and salary income grew less than in any other postwar recovery - less than a tenth as fast as profits. But wage-earning Americans aren't part of the base.

Krugman confirms what I've been saying all along about Bush--he legitimately represents only a very narrow and highly priviliged sliver of the American population, even as he pretends to be the affable everyman. 5% of the country benefits from his policies, but he managed to convince 51% to vote for him.

Shame on all of us.

April 25, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hail to the Bright One

Tom McNamee wrote a wonderful profile on the state of Chicago fiction in yesterday's Sun-Times.

American fiction has moved on in its purposes, ratcheting down from the grand social critiques of an earlier day (such as Dreiser's An American Tragedy and Wright's Native Son) to themes of personal identity and relationships (almost anything on the Oprah's Book Club reading list). And Chicago itself has moved on -- either up or down, depending on your depths of nostalgia for the colorfully bleak. A hard town that forged hard writers has grown a bit soft, which is nice, and a bit generic, which is not.

McNamee's piece is accompanied by nice profiles of leading lights Aleksandar Hemon, Stuart Dybek, Elizabeth Crane, David Mamet and, of course, Saul Bellow. But what really struck me is McNamee taking the time to discuss the lower-profile but no less essential The Dollar Store, THE2NDHAND and Other Voices.

Meanwhile, across town, while I have to applaud the Tribune for reviewing Gary Stochl's street photography monograph On City Streets: Chicago, 1964-2004, once again the Trib's timing is no less than baffling. Stochl is a major, recently-discovered talent, who has been doing exemplary street photography for forty years but didn't have his first major exhibition until this year, when the Chicago Cultural Center staged an excellent retrospective which I had the pleasure of viewing last week.

The trouble is that the exhibition closed yesterday, the same day that the Trib's review of Stochl's book appeared. You'd think that the Trib could publish their review a few weeks before the exhibition closed, to give people who first discovered Stochl through the book review a decent chance of seeing his work in the gallery setting it deserves. Looking back at the Trib's archives, I do see that art critic Alan Artner did give the exhibition a brief review earlier this month, but the two reviews really should have been run concurrently to give Stochl an appropriate level of exposure.

Another wrist-slap to you, Trib.

April 25, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Happy Birthday, O.E.

From Minnesota Public Radio:

It is the birthday of Norwegian-American novelist Ole Edvart Rölvaag, born in a fishing village on Donna Island, Helgeland, Norway (1876). He was a very good fisherman, but he immigrated to South Dakota. He learned English, enrolled in St. Olaf College in Minnesota, and later became a professor there. He wrote about Norwegian settlers on the Dakota prairies in his huge novel, Giants in the Earth (1927).

I pass this along in tribute to my Norwegian grandfather, Ernest Bratlie, Sr., whose favorite book was Giants in the Earth. My mom remembers him having a leather-bound edition, one which we have regretfully never located. I've got a paperback copy at home which is eventually due for a re-read as background for rewriting the farming scenes in my novel-in-hiatus, Eden.

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

Wandering Manuscripts

More comings and goings on the publication front:

"Hope Café" was declined by Orchid. I appreciate their prompt response, along with the handwritten feedback (a first, for me) which they provided. While I don't particularly agree with their assessment, it's nice to see a journal's rationale for non-acceptance. I thanked them, and immediately submitted the story to Glimmer Train. GT is pretty widely distributed (the generic chain bookstore in the building across the street from my office even carries it) and while I've already twice sent them stories with no success, those submissions were for writing contests which inevitably attract a higher level of entries than the general submission I'm pursuing now. And unlike the contests, general submissions also require no reading fee, which is also a big plus.

I'm trying a new tactic with "Ectoplasm," simultaneously submitting it to both Ballyhoo Stories and Barrelhouse. Both journals say they're okay with simultaneous subs, as long as you notify them immediately if a story is accepted elsewhere (thus avoiding the embarrassment of publishing a story that another journal already published first). We'll see how that goes.

I turn forty in September, and I've set myself the goal of becoming a published writer before hitting that milestone. Given that it's less than five months away, I'll be cutting it pretty close.

April 20, 2005 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Excerpt from "Ectoplasm"

I apologize for not publishing any of my full-fledged stories online. I've refrained from doing so out of respect for the various literary journals that I've sent my stories to for possible publication; for obvious reasons they want only previously unpublished stories, and I don't want to risk a story getting turned down just because I happened to post it online.

That being said, publishing excerpts shouldn't be a problem, nor any threat to a story's eventual journal publication. So below is a short excerpt from my most recent story, "Ectoplasm." Barton and Maude are siblings, and Bert is Maude's lowbrow husband whom Barton has never gotten along with. To Barton, Bert is emblematic of the small-mindedness of their hometown, a fading working-class city that Barton was never able to escape.


Ectoplasm (an excerpt)

   Barton shrank from her piercing glare as she continued.
   “Okay, so this isn’t a big old house in the Heights. So driving for Hostess isn’t owning the biggest store in town, and the VFW isn’t the Founders. None of that matters to me. I’m happy with Bert. Understand?”
   “Okay, okay,” Barton objected weakly, still in retreat. “I was just talking. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
   “Are you sure about that?” she accused, raising an eyebrow. “You didn’t mean anything?”
   “No, no, of course not. Hey, let’s just forget the whole thing, okay? Let’s go watch some TV.”
   He had pushed too far, too fast. Though he never came right out and asked the question—“Maude, why in the hell did you ever marry Bert?”—he knew she suspected where he was going, and what he wanted to ask.
   Despite his suggestion, watching TV was the last thing he wanted to do at that moment. Or actually the second-to-last. A mindless hour of Falcon Crest was infinitely preferable to continuing that conversation. Thanksgiving and Christmas were still coming up, after all.
   He spent the next hour sitting in a worn easy chair, nursing a Manhattan that he normally would have declined on a weeknight but now gladly welcomed. The bourbon was gently soothing, quietly warming and calming him, and helped him through an hour of the accusations, schemes, backstabbing and teasings of adultery which were played out by the attractive actors on the screen.

April 20, 2005 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mike Royko, Slats Grobnik and Some Other Friends

I just finished reading Mike Royko's Slats Grobnik and Some Other Friends, and enjoyed it immensely. I had at least one laugh-out-loud moment for each piece I read, which undoubtedly perplexed my dour fellow train commuters. Among Royko's numerous collections, this one is particularly notable for his extended series of Slats Grobnik pieces, as well as his dispatches from Europe while on assignment for the 1972 Munich Olympics (the most hilarious of the latter being his "ugly American" dining experience at Maxim's in Paris).

While it's impossible to present just one passage that perfectly encapsulates Royko, this 1972 lament for the pitiful state of the American beer industry got a particularly big guffaw out of me.

When Chicago's only brewery--Meister Brau--closed down last year, there was some sentimental wringing of bar rags. And when new owners recently announced that they would reopen it, a few toasts were raised.

But I don't see what difference it makes, except to the brewery employees who will get their old jobs back, whether a beer is made in Chicago or the land of sky blue water or in the beer capital of the world.

I have tried them all. I've popped the top and twisted the cap. I've grabbed for all the gusto I can get. I've said it all when I've said Bud. I've joined the big beer brotherhood. I've not messed around when I'm the one who's got to get the beer.

And regardless of what label or slogan you choose, it all tastes as if the secret brewing process involves running it through a horse.


The book is long out of print, but as Jim so helpfully pointed out, numerous copies are to be had online at Abebooks.com.

April 19, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monkeys Writing Shakespeare

I'm sure you've heard the old theory about setting a hundred monkeys in front of typewriters, letting them peck away indefinitely, and eventually getting the complete works of Shakespeare. Well, somebody is finally doing something about it, and from the much-maligned "Old Europe," no less.

Searching for Signs of Shakespeare
By Kevin Canfield
Poets & Writers, May/June 2005


Most writers have heard the old saying about the Bard and the chimps: Gather 100 monkeys (or similarly hirsute primates) in a room, give them typewriters, and sooner or (more likely) later, they’ll deliver the complete works of Shakespeare. Nick Hoggard, a British computer programmer living in Sweden, has decided to put the theory—often attributed to Thomas Huxley, a 19th-century disciple of Charles Darwin—to the test.

Hoggard designed “The Monkey Shakespeare Simulator,” which can be found online at www.aardasnails.com, to find out how many lines of Shakespeare a group of hypothetical simians could come up with if given a limitless amount of time.

“I got the idea from the SETI@home software, which examines radio waves for signs of extraterrestrial life,” Hoggard says. “I thought I would apply the same idea to examine random rubbish that monkeys type for signs of Shakespeare.”

Hoggard explains on the Web site that the simulation “is based on a random number generator to generate random keystrokes.” In other words, it’s a computer program based entirely on chance.

So, how much Shakespeare can monkeys write? The answer, it turns out, is not much. Over the course of billions of cyber-years—the simulator runs at a highly accelerated rate in the hopes that it “creates interesting results in our lifetimes”—the cyber-monkeys’ best showing is a match of 23 words from Timon of Athens.

Yes, but if you use a particularly literate set of monkeys, they'll eventually produce Pamela Anderson's Star.

April 18, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Ectoplasm"

I just finished writing a new story, "Ectoplasm," whose genesis came entirely from the following email conversation.

Pete: I'm doing NaNoWriMo again this year, but I'll be writing a series of short stories instead of a novel.

Fred: Super! Here's a topic for you: a story featuring a fellow who cannot say the word "ectoplasm" without giggling. No need for thanks, really!

Pete: Let's see...is his name Bert, and does he live in Ashtabula, Ohio?

Fred: No, Bert is his brother-in-law; his name is actually 'Bart'. Which I guess does lead to confusion.

Pete:

Ectoplasm, by Peter Anderson
Bart, not be confused (but often confused) with his brother-in-law Bert, lived in Ashtabula, Ohio and was unable to say the word "ectoplasm" without giggling.

Fred: Excellent. Already I want to know more about Bart and whether his peculiar vocabularian quirks are what caused the ever-widening rift between him and Maude and Bert (the latter of which he is easily confused with), a frequent source of unease in the somewhat confining Astabulan country club circles.

Pete: Ashtabula is blue-collar, steel mill country, so I may have to substitute "VFW Hall" for "country club." Poetic license…I'm also relieved to know that Bart is frequently mistaken for Bert, and not for Maude. I'll bet Maude is relieved, as well.

Fred: The only thing I know about Ashtabula is that it's referred to in a Bob Dylan song. "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go", I think. Well dammit, now I have to make sure...correct… Hmm, whodathunk it rhymes with "Honolulu"? And yet it does, assuming you pronounce it as the Dylan-esque "Honolulah".

Pete: I can tell you right now that Bart just wandered away from his pipefitter job at the foundry one day, and now works as a jobber, delivering and restocking local groceries and convenience stores with Hostess snack cakes…Hmmm, this is already starting to sound like James Thurber.

Fred: Mmmmmmmmm....Hostess snack cakes..........I could go for a Suzy-Q about now, or even a couple Ho-Hos, wrapped in the thinnest tin-foil you'll ever find.

Pete: And I'll work in the Dylan incongruity as well. (Ashtabula residents amused/dumbfounded that Mr. Z would reference their fair city in song.)

I'm sure that many literary masterpieces, such as Ulysses and The Sound and the Fury, arose from similarly brilliant intellectual conversations.

April 15, 2005 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Prolific Authors

Damn, I love that George Murray.

George Murray, a poet and co-editor of the literary blog Bookninja.com, sees the near-annual release of a new Stephen King novel as "the literary equivalent of watching a skinny Japanese dude scarf down 100 hot dogs in an eating contest; you are kind of grossed out, but gotta hand it to him." Murray harbors a unique theory about what distinguishes a genre writer like King from a so-called serious artist like Joyce Carol Oates. "It seems with Oates the hotdog eater is a performance artist commenting on the nature of consumption and American hegemony," Murray avers. "With King it's just a guy eating 100 hot dogs, then looking like he's going to die of nitrate poisoning."

Full article here.

April 14, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Silly Idea of the Month

An administrator at the U of I is proposing that the State of Illinois change its name to the State of Abraham Lincoln. Seriously.

Few in the world know what or where Illinois is. Some have heard of Chicago. Yet the world knows Abraham Lincoln--the Great Emancipator; the rock who kept our Union of diverse peoples from fragmenting; the homespun, virtuous, self-educated man of the heartland; a hero, indeed, to all in the world who yearn to be free.

In contrast, our citizens have never really resonated to "Illinois," the name of a feckless confederation of tribes of so-called superior men, who in fact fled time and again--and indeed out of our state--before smaller bands of raiding Iroquois.

My, that's culturally sensitive--oh, those feckless savages. And presumptuous--who says we've never resonated to the name of our state? And who says we even have to? I was proud to live in Chicago for many years, despite the city being named after wild onions, a rather smelly vegetable. Most of all, let's go easy on the Lincoln adulation--he was a great President, indeed, by as I've noted previously he was motivated more by keeping the Union intact than any great love of emancipation or racial equality.

Somebody in Urbana needs to assign this guy to a few more committees. He obviously has too much time on his hands.

(Via Gapers Block.)

April 12, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Photography of Brian Palm

Lovely images of Chicago's endangered and disappearing houses and buildings are displayed here, by the photographer Brian Palm. The city's historical amnesia never seems to relent. In many cases, all we'll have left of our glorious past is archival photos like his. Enjoy it while you can.

The Tribune had a nice profile of Palm today.

April 12, 2005 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

Another Royko for the Collection

In the presence of a collection of Mike Royko's columns, particularly a newly-acquired one I've never read before, I'm like Homer Simpson staring down a butter-drenched Krusty Burger, Imelda Marcos at DSW Shoe Warehouse, or Tom DeLay finding another opportunity to commit a personally enriching but morally bankrupt act. My brain shuts down, all common sense and personal responsibilities ignored, all other books shoved aside, as I wallow in Royko's genius.

Saturday's mail brought a blessed package from Powell's which contained Royko's 1973 collection Slats Grobnik and Some Other Friends. This one has been out of print for decades, and I've had it on my Powell's watch list for about two years now, and even with the high volume they do in used books this is the first time this book has turned up. Figuring I may not get this chance again soon, I bought it on the spot.

Slats is vintage Royko, drawn from his Chicago Daily News columns between 1966 and 1973. Just a few pages in, and I was already laughing myself silly at yet another Slats Grobnik tale, this one relating the mythical Slats' short career as a bowling alley pinboy.

    Slats' pinboy career ended, though, because of an ape. That is what we called the big goons who couldn't bowl well but zinged the ball as hard as they could. It made the pins fly and an ape was happiest when a pin boy got hit.
    Slats was hit in the head and it improved his IQ so much that be became the foul line spotter. Before the electric eye, this was a good job. You sat in the roost and watched the foul line. When a toe crossed it, you pushed the button for that alley and the foul light went on.
    It was more power than Slats ever had in his life and he was ruthless. He'd sit up there banging on the foul buttons like he was Cornel Wilde playing Chopin.
    He held the job until one night he called two straight fouls on a bowler from the transformer department of a factory league.
    The bowler called Slats a filthy name but Slats came back with a better one.
    When the bowler charged at Slats' roost, Slats, no coward, jumped down, fists ready.
    She flattened him with one punch and Slats never got over it. He never went back to the foul line even though we kept telling him that she was a lot bigger so he shouldn't feel bad.

By my reckoning, the only Royko collection published during his lifetime that I have yet to own is the aptly titled I May Be Wrong, But I Doubt It. I haven't read either of the posthumous collections, For the Love of Mike or One More Time, which I assume are merely distillations of the books I already own.

April 11, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Frank Conroy

Stephen G. Bloom, author of Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America, wrote a nice tribute to Frank Conroy in yesterday's Chicago Tribune.

Frank distrusted most academics, a healthy instinct for any writer. Many are long-winded and imprecise with language (a cardinal sin for Frank); they study memorable writing but seldom create writing that's memorable.

(The Trib published Bloom's piece in the Perspective section, not in Books. Apparently the latter section was already booked up with the moss-backed formality of the annual baseball special to include a sendoff to this fine writer and mentor. Bellow did get a fitting elegy in Books, but that's probably due to his Chicago roots more than anything else.)

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

The Adventure Continues

I finally finished writing my latest story, "Hope Cafe", and submitted it for possible publication to Orchid, another fine literary journal I discovered recently. As a mentioned earlier, the impetus for finishing the story came in no small part from reading Alex Kotlowitz's There Are No Children Here. (Alex, if by some chance you're out there reading this, if the story gets published I'll buy you a beer a sometime. Hell, I'll buy you one regardless.)

I'd also be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the ongoing encouragement of fellow writer (and informal mentor) Christine Sneed, who plans to submit one of her own stories to Orchid.

In other writing news, an online publisher--which shall remain nameless for now--has expressed a strong interest in one of my non-fiction pieces, "Captions Without Photos." It's a series of vaguely related vignettes inspired by my Metra train ride to work and the short walk from the station to my office. The piece needs a lot of reworking right now, but I'm making progress.

April 8, 2005 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

A Giant Passes


I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, free style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man's character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn't any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles.

--Opening passage of The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (1953)

I'm mildly embarrassed to admit that I've never read Bellow, other than the great passage above and a few pages of Herzog back in high school...another personal literary wrong that I intend to rectify. I particularly like Bellow's thoughts on the modern novel, which he described as "a latter-day lean-to, a hovel in which the spirit takes shelter."

April 6, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (5)

Alex Kotlowitz, There Are No Children Here

Alex Kotlowitz's There Are No Children Here is a justly renowned work of journalism. The New York Public Library, most notably, named it one of the 150 most important books of the 20th Century, and that's not mere hyperbole. Kotlowitz deftly and sensitively details and explores the difficult lives of Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers, two kids who live in the crime- and drug-plagued Henry Horner Homes public housing project on Chicago's tough West Side. It's an uplifting story of one family's fight to survive against overwhelming odds, and two kids' struggle to enjoy some semblance of childhood.

Given the book's age (1991) and nearly unanimous accolades, I doubt if this posting will introduce anyone to this great book for the first time or bestow any accolades more significant than the previous ones. Instead, this is more of a gentle reminder to re-read the book, or check it out if you somehow (like me) inexplicably missed it the first time around.

Here's just a taste of some of the critical raves:

San Francisco Chronicle: "This meticulous portrait of two boys in a Chicago housing project shows how much heroism is required to survive, let alone escape. Kotlowitz's story informs the heart."

The New Republic: "[This] book transcends the journalist's professional distance to capture, with extraordinary empathy, the struggle toward adulthood--without reliable, competent male role models--of Pharoah and Lafeyette Rivers..."

The Times Literary Supplement: "Kotlowitz's depiction of one family's misery is graphic and movingly personal...There is genuine humanity as well as highly skilful journalism to be found in the book."

Chicago Sun-Times: "An extraordinary glimpse into the lives of those struggling for survival and dignity in inner-city America."

Chicago Tribune: "Alex Kotlowitz joins the ranks of the important few writers on the subject of urban poverty."

April 5, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Illini Post-Mortem

My Illini fought hard, and played harder than Carolina, but didn't play smarter. When you build your entire offense around the three-pointer, and have three quick guards who refuse to drive the lane and take the ball to the hole, then you had better hit at least fifty percent of your threes or you don't stand a chance. No matter how hard you play.

It's a real testament to the Illini's tenaciousness and effort--they outrebounded the much taller and stronger Tar Heels, 39-34--to be tied with two-and-a-half minutes left, and end up losing only by five points, despite shooting 39% from the field and going only 12-for-40 from three-point range. (One three-point attempt per minute. Think about that for a moment.) But the Illini lived this entire season by the three, and last night they died by the three. I, for one, will be glad to never again see Luther Head drive into the lane for the sole purpose of throwing a long kickout pass for yet another three attempt, with not a single thought of shooting the short running jumper that was available to him. And the 3-on-1 break in the first half, with Dee Brown kicking the ball back to Head for another missed three instead of attacking the basket, perfectly encapsulated the fallacy of the Illini offensive mindset.

The Illini are to be commended for a great season. They played the game the way it should be played--tenacious on defense, relentless on the boards, and always making the extra pass to get a little bit better shot attempt. It has to be one of the greatest seasons ever by a team that failed to win the championship. The fact that they failed to do so in no way diminishes the greatness of their season. The Illini faced a more talented team, and missed the clutch shots when they needed them the most. 37-2 is an absolutely tremendous season, no matter how the final game turned out.

April 5, 2005 in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Alex Kotlowitz Interview

I recommend this fine interview with Alex Kotlowitz at zulkey.com, the appearance of which dovetails rather neatly with my finishing up There Are No Children Here.

If you're in line at the coffee shop, do you ever try to get to the head of the line by saying, "Hey, according to the New York Public Library, I wrote one of the 150 most important books of the century! Outta my way!"?
Try that in Chicago, and they'll just say, "That's New York's public library. Get to the back of the line, ass--"

(Via Bookslut.)

April 4, 2005 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (3)

Way to Go, Blago!

Some say he follows political calculations, I say he follows his conscience in doing what's right. Thank you once again, Gov. Blagojevich.

"Our regulation says that if a woman goes to a pharmacy with a prescription for birth control, the pharmacy is not allowed to discriminate who they sell it to and who they don't," Blagojevich said. "No delays. No hassles. No lectures. Just fill the prescription."

(Sun-Times story here.)

April 2, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)