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Algren in the Telegraph

The Telegraph has a profile of Nelson Algren, focusing on his novel A Walk on the Wild Side--its origins, its commercial and critical failure, and its devastating impact on the rest of his life. I only read the book once and apparently it didn't make much of an impression on me, other than that I didn't enjoy it anywhere near as much as his Chicago novels The Man With The Golden Arm and Never Come Morning, the brilliant story collection The Neon Wilderness or the book-length essay Chicago: City On The Make. (Possibly my Chicago bias at work, as Wild Side is set primarily in New Orleans.) Very interesting article, regardless of the book's merits.

Consistently overlooked in the Algren canon is Nonconformity of which the Telegraph article relates:

In September 1953 Algren's publisher Doubleday refused to publish a short non-fiction book he had written that in part attacked McCarthyism, an extraordinary act given Algren was one of the best known and most popular writers in America at the time.

That book - not published until more than a quarter of a century later, as Noncomformity - is an indictment of the American project from a position inescapably American in its humour, references and language. It is both the final manifestation of the lost voices of a different America - the America of Whitman, Twain and Fitzgerald - and a text that speaks to the future by reminding readers of an indigenous tradition of American radicalism founded in the experience of the dispossessed.

(Hmmm...there's that confounded Doubleday again, taking another brave stand.) Coincidentally, I'm giving Nonconformity a casual re-reading at the moment. I'll post more impressions of it here if any particularly good ones come to mind.

As an aside, I'm comforted by this thought from the article:

"A writer who knows what he is doing," he once said, "isn't doing very much."

As a writer, I really have no idea what the hell I'm doing. So I hope that means I'm doing a lot.

January 31, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thank You, Senators...

...Akaka (D-HI), Baucus (D-MT), Bayh (D-IN), Biden (D-DE), Bingaman (D-NM), Boxer (D-CA), Cantwell (D-WA), Carper (D-DE), Chafee (R-RI), Clinton (D-NY), Dayton (D-MN), Dodd (D-CT), Dorgan (D-ND), Durbin (D-IL), Feingold (D-WI), Feinstein (D-CA), Harkin (D-IA), Inouye (D-HI), Jeffords (I-VT), Kennedy (D-MA), Kerry (D-MA), Kohl (D-WI), Landrieu (D-LA), Lautenberg (D-NJ), Leahy (D-VT), Levin (D-MI), Lieberman (D-CT), Lincoln (D-AR), Menendez (D-NJ), Mikulski (D-MD), Murray (D-WA), Nelson (D-FL), Obama (D-IL), Pryor (D-AR), Reed (D-RI), Reid (D-NV), Rockefeller (D-WV), Salazar (D-CO), Sarbanes (D-MD), Schumer (D-NY), Stabenow (D-MI) and Wyden (D-OR).

You did what you could. Thank you for standing on principle. Now, Dems, get out there and win the damned Senate back this year before any more democracy slips away.

January 31, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reconfiguring Congress Street

Interesting discussion on this week's edition of Hello Beautiful! about new architectural developments on State Street. On a related note, this comment is from architect Larry Booth regarding Congress Street:

I think Congress has to be closed, has to be returned to a regular street. It’s not a highway, and it splits the city in two, and if we’re going to balance the city north to south, let’s let the Eisenhower complete itself at Desplaines or somewhere else, and return Congress to a major street.

Booth is absolutely right. With the South Loop redeveloping so quickly, it’s insanity to have what is essentially a highway separating it from downtown. Any pedestrian who’s ever attempted to navigate their way across Congress knows what a harrowing experience it can be. As an added bonus, as host Edward Lifson points out on his blog, narrowing Congress back to its original state would also enable the restoration of the legendary "long bar" in the Auditorium Building, which had to be sacrificed for the relocated sidewalk when Congress was widened in the 1950s, thus robbing Chicago of one of its great interior spaces.

January 31, 2006 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

...my sorrowful country...

No more shall I be
Loyal to my sorrowful country

Well, I've walked from coast to coast
And I've seen, yes I've seen
No one's business but my own
Where I've been, where I've been

No more shall I be
Loyal to my sorrowful country

In the days when we were young
We were free, we were free
Now that Georgie's reign's begun
We won't be, we can't be

No more shall I be
Loyal to my sorrowful country

Though my name of bygone years
Is in the land, in the land
I'll uproot it without tears
And I'll change it if I can

No more shall I be
Loyal to my sorrowful country

--Ted Leo

January 31, 2006 in Current Affairs, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

1946? Or 2006?

Here's a surprisingly relevant 1946 film on despotic governments. The film grabbed me from the very first phrase of the "despotism expert":

"Avoid the comfortable idea that the mere form of government can, of itself, safeguard a nation against despotism."

A form of government such as, say, democracy. The film pointedly singles out Germany and France of the past, but the ideas reverberate quite familiarly in present-day America. Lack of respect for political dissent, lack of equal opportunity, high concentrations of wealth and political power, regressive tax policies, self-censoring media oligopolies. I wish I could say, "How times have changed," but unfortunately I can't really do so.

(Via Boing Boing.)

January 30, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Uh, Oh...

Stop me before I browse (and binge)!

"Bargain Basement Blowout"
$5.00 a Bag Book Sale

Hundreds of books, magazines, audio and visual items will be available at a bargain price of $5.00 a bag at Friends of the Joliet Public Library book sale February 11, 2006 at the Main Library, 150 N. Ottawa St., Joliet, IL.

Doors open at 8:00am to Friends members and 9:00am to the general public. Shoppers may purchase Friends membership at the door for early admittance. We'll supply the bags for this 'everything must go' "Bargain Basement Blowout" sale. Customers may purchase as many bags as they wish.

Friends of the Joliet Public Library raise funds to support library services and events. New members, new ideas and donations of items in good condition are always welcome. For more information please contact John Mozga, 815/740-2669 or check us out online at www.joliet.lib.il.us.

I'm hoping that bookshelf carpenters and credit counselors will also be on hand. In all seriousness, the JPL is truly a great library, one which I'm proud to frequent on a regular basis.

January 28, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

5 Minute Writing: Flying a Kite

Another "5 minute writing exercise" from C.M. Mayo--an easy one this time; or is it?--with my results further down:

Describe a person flying a kite.

Damon stood, feet spread in a firm stance, leaning less than perpendicular to the ground. Maybe 70 degrees, maybe 80, if I remember my geometry at all. His arms were bent, sinewy muscles taut, the kite string emerging from his tightly clasped fists. His lean frame fought the stiff wind even more than the multicolored kite did, high overhead, which flipped and flopped to and fro in the gusts, like a fish unmercifully pulled out of the surf and dropped onto the beach. Damon’s eyes peered upward, ever anticipating each of the kite’s sudden movements, tweaking the string just enough to make it go where he wanted, a genuine marionettist of the sky.

January 27, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Viva Sacramento!

Here's a fascinating series of photos of old signs in Sacramento and vicinity. ("Tony Baloney's Delicatessen" was particularly amusing.) I could probably come up with something comparable here by driving around Cicero and Berwyn for a few hours, but this saves me all that trouble.

(Via BoingBoing.)

January 26, 2006 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Next Batch of 33 1/3 Books...

...unfortunately does not include my proposed novel based on Morphine's The Night. Or "fortunately", since almost as soon as I sent the proposal I became rather overwhelmed by the prospect of starting and finishing a novel by the end of 2006.

Per editor David Barker at Continuum:

If you're interested, the 33 1/3 books we eventually decided to sign up are:

"If You're Feeling Sinister" by Scott Plagenhoef
"Aja" by Don Breithaupt
"Shoot Out the Lights" by Hayden Childs
"Pretty Hate Machine" by Daphne Carr
"Use Your Illusion" by Eric Weisbard
"Horses" by Phil Shaw
"Double Nickels on the Dime" by Mike Fournier
"Pink Moon" by Amanda Petrusich
"People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm" by Shawn Taylor
"Achtung Baby" by Stephen Catanzarite
"20 Jazz Funk Greats" by Drew Daniel
"The Dreaming" by Ann Powers
"Rid of Me" by Kate Schatz
"Another Green World" by Geeta Dayal
"Songs in the Key of Life" by Zeth Lundy
"Trout Mask Replica" by Kevin Courrier
"Let's Talk About Love" by Carl Wilson
"Lucinda Williams" by Anders Smith Lindall
"69 Love Songs" by LD Beghtol
“Marquee Moon” by Peter Blauner
“Swordfishtrombones” by David Smay

Lots of heavyweight albums there, obviously. Morphine and its relatively limited audience didn't stand a chance. And the author-to-be being virtually unpublished probably didn't help the cause, either.

January 26, 2006 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Celebrate the Carpetbagger

I couldn't help noticing this comment from literary editor Elizabeth Taylor on the new-look Chicago Tribune Books section:

"We're also putting a new spotlight on Chicago's dynamic literary scene..."

Oooh, sounds good. Does this mean hiring full-time writers to highlight local mainstays and rising stars like the Bookslut Reading Series, Danny's, Myopic, The Dollar Store, Ivan R. Dee, Agate, Featherproof, THE2NDHAND, dozens of talented local authors, etc.? Er, no.

"...each week we will feature one of the many wonderful authors coming to town."

Oh, terrific. Yes indeed, it's the writers who stop in town overnight on a 30-city book tour that best represent our literary scene. And who do I see on the cover of the Books section? Dave Barry. That's right, whenever I think "Chicago's dynamic literary scene", the first thing that comes to mind is always "Dave Barry."

Prediction: Within the next twelve months, the Trib's Books section will be relegated to three pages deep inside the Arts section, thus reducing the number of American newspapers with stand-alone book sections to four. Which will save the Trib a bundle on that naggingly expensive nuisance called "newsprint", and thereby fulfill one of the paper's top journalistic goals: cost containment.

(For an assessment of the book section redesign that is considerably more calm, rational and levelheaded, please see Golden Rule Jones.)

January 25, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jazzing Up Pavement

In what has to be one the most unlikely genre-crossing exercises ever (other than the long-anticipated "John Williams & The Boston Pops Play The Jesus Lizard"), several "jazz heavyweights" have released a collection of Pavement covers. Yes, Pavement...everyone's favorite 1990s indie rock slackers. Courtesy of The Onion:

James Carter, Cyrus Chesnut, Ali Jackson, Reginald Veal
Gold Sounds
Brown Brothers Recordings

Not the first band one might think to translate to jazz, Pavement made its name with indie-rock presented as sloppy and laconic even when it wasn't. Moving melodies, rickety song structures, abundant changes in mood—these are the elements of Pavement picked up by a group of jazz heavyweights made up of James Carter, Cyrus Chestnut, Reginald Veal, and Ali Jackson. The quartet's reappropriation works far better than might be expected, as the group takes an alternately playful and peaceful approach to its material.

- Christopher Bahn

Don't believe it either? Listen up:

Summer Babe
Trigger Cut

January 25, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lit Journal Love

At MoorishGirl.com, Katrina Denza debuts a quarterly column which covers her recent literary journal faves. First up: the heavyweights Kenyon Review (which is soon to get a story submission from me, by the way) and AGNI.

Readers who wish to scout out the latest lit journal offerings would also be well-advised to peruse NewPages.com's long-running "Literary Magazine Reviews"; current list is here; full archive here. I've found it to be an indispensible resource, as both a reader and writer.

January 25, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

"When will someone in Washington stand up for me?"

Whether you're an Illinois resident or not, I urge you to listen to Senator Barack Obama's podcast on "Honest Leadership and Open Government" (4.7MB MP3, 8:06). (Transcript can be read here.)

The recent scandals have shaken the very foundation of the American people's faith in a government that will look out for their interests and uphold their values.

Because they don't just lead to morally offensive conduct on the part of politicians. They lead to morally offensive legislation that hurts hardworking Americans.

When big oil companies are invited into the White House for secret energy meetings, it's no wonder they end up with billions in tax breaks while Americans still struggle to fill up their gas tanks and heat their homes.

When the halls of Congress are filled with high-priced lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry - some who used to be members of Congress - it's hardly a surprise that they get taxpayer-funded giveaways in the same Medicare bill that forbids seniors from banding together to negotiate for better drug prices.

When the people running Washington are accountable only to the special interests that fund their campaigns, of course they'll spend your tax dollars with reckless abandon; of course they'll load up bills with pet projects and driving us into deficit with the hope that no one will notice.

At this point, the well-connected CEOs and hired guns on K Street who've helped write our laws have gotten what they paid for. They got all the tax breaks and loopholes and access they could ever want. But outside this city, the people who can't afford the high-priced lobbyists and don't want to break the law are wondering, "When is it our turn? When will someone in Washington stand up for me?"

Damn, I love this guy.

January 24, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Chicago Sez, "We're #4!"

Chicago might not be a hotbed for publishing--yet--but authors apparently love setting their novels here.

New York and London Are Most Popular Settings for Novels, According to Newly Released Fiction Statistics Analysis from Bowker

NEW PROVIDENCE, N.J.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jan. 23, 2006--According to publishing statistics regarding U.S. fiction titles compiled by Bowker, the world's leading provider of bibliographic information, Americans like their mysteries and romances set in the misty bogs of Scotland and London's Trafalgar Square.

Deconstructing more than 13,000 works of adult fiction published in the U.S., Bowker found that 1,550 of those with an identifiable location were set in England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland. New York topped the list of cities, followed by London, Los Angeles (including Hollywood), Chicago, San Francisco and Washington D.C.

In addition to London, the other non-U.S. city to make the top 10 fictional settings was Rome. California was the setting for more novels than any other state, followed by Texas, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina.

Thanks are clearly in order to the prolific likes of Sara Paretsky and Harry Mark Petrakis, among others.

January 24, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Drovers

In what is either an act of extreme generosity or career surrender, 90s Chicago mainstays the Drovers have MP3'd their great debut album, World of Monsters, and put it up on their website. I've loved this album non-stop ever since I first heard it, back in 1992, and I strongly encourage you to check it out. I've always thought of the Drovers as what the Pogues would have sounded like had the latter grown up in the jangle-pop 80s instead of the punk 70s.

World of Monsters played a major role in one of those transcendent experiences that make life worth living. Back in 1995, I was working at IBM in a thankless, heavy-workload, deadline-obsessed operations job. On one particularly frenzied day, I was leaving the office at 8:30 PM in a daze, the last person out the door, and dragged myself to my car, dreading the hour-plus drive home.

My radio station of choice back then was WCBR ("The Bear") which was a wonderfully eclectic commercial station, now sadly defunct. In today's homogeneous, Clear Channel/Infinity era, it's hard to imagine that a station like WCBR ever existed, and so recently. The night DJ was an oddball named Psycho Nicely, who came across like your goofy bachelor uncle, the one with the great and bafflingly diverse record collection who offers you a beer when you visit, even though you're well underage. The one who laughs at your stories about what idiots your parents are--and readily agrees they're idiots, while quietly encouraging you to get along with them as best you can. And if all else fails, you can always crash on his couch.

So I climbed behind the wheel, still wired with stress, and started the car. And almost immediately, from the radio I heard the opening strains of the Drovers' "The Boys and the Babies". My spirits immediately lifted, and I was almost in tears in relief. I started driving home, but about three or four minutes into the song I pulled off the road and idled next to a payphone. I dropped in some coins and dialed the 'CBR studio--I had the phone number memorized back then--and Psycho himself answered. I told him my story, how I had a horrible day at work and how the first thing I heard in the car was that great Drovers song and how he had totally rescued my psyche and how I couldn't thank him profusely enough. He laughed and said no problem, glad to have helped, all in a day's work. I drove home in a dramatically improved mood.

Such is the redemptive power of radio, or at least radio as it used to exist.

January 24, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Re-indulging a Past Addiction

Today I suddenly remembered something which, upon discovery a few years ago, ended up consuming a good portion of my otherwise productive capacity. The McCoy Library at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale has amassed a online bibliography, Illinois! Illinois!, of over 2,000 works of fiction about or set in Illinois. The database is indexed by author, title and subject. It doesn't look like the database is totally up-to-date (for example, Stuart Dybek's I Sailed With Magellan, which is set entirely within Illinois, isn't listed) but appears to be pretty comprehensive for older titles.

Browsing the lists today, I'm rather intrigued by Jessica Nelson North's Arden Acres (1935) and Wilson Tucker's The Year of the Quiet Sun (1970), both of which are set in the Joliet area. (Sadly, no books are listed for my hometown, Cary.)

January 22, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Ectoplasm", in Storyglossia

The new issue of Storyglossia is now online, and includes my story "Ectoplasm". This is my very first story publication. My sincerest gratitude goes to editor Steve McDermott for seeing merit in my work and, even more importantly, for his editorial expertise and infinite patience. Special thanks to Fred Steinberg, for inspiring the story in the first place. And, as always, thanks to Julie and Maddie for inspiring and tolerating me, with a smile.

January 21, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Proud To Be Liberal

Interesting item from Ig Publishing:

Next month we will be releasing Proud To Be Liberal, an anthology celebrating the past, present and yes, future, of the liberal tradition in America! Contributors include Steve Almond, Eric Alterman, David Rees, Neal Pollack, Mark Green, Ted Rall, Maud Newton, Laila Lalami, Tom Tomorrow, and other leading lights of the liberal/progressive movement. If you wish, the book is already available for pre-order on Amazon (sorry that the product info is a little messed up, but that is what you get with Amazon). The book will also be available at all the usual places--Barnes and Noble, indie stores, everywhere!

But wait, there's more...for those of you in NYC and Boston, you can get up close and personal with some of the contributors from PTBL. Go to http://www.igpub.com/PTBLevents.html to see all the pertinent info, including a NYC event with Mark Green, David Rees and Ted Rall.

Ig published Kirby Gann's Our Napoleon in Rags, so in my ledger they'll always be good folks.

January 20, 2006 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Chicago by the Numbers"

At Gapers Block, Alice Maggio celebrates her 100th GB column with a fascinating list, "Chicago by the Numbers". My favorite is the final one:

55: Age of Studs Terkel when he published his first oral history collection, Division Street: America.

Hey, I'm only 40. Maybe there's hope yet for my dream of becoming a best-selling author, witty raconteur and beloved civic icon.

January 19, 2006 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)

5 Minute Writing: God No

Another "5 minute writing exercise" from C.M. Mayo, with my results further down:

One character asks another a question, and he (or she) answers, "God no." What was the question? Describe the two characters. Where are they sitting/ standing? What are their tones of voice? Any body language (e.g., hand rakes hair; hand covers mouth; crosses leg; folds arms)? Continue writing this scene.

Question to Take Back

“God no.”
    I was startled by the words of her response, even more so by her reaction. She stared at me bitterly, as if offended I would dare to imply otherwise, sitting with her arms tightly crossed, protecting herself from someone as insensitive and thoughtless as me.
    It had been such a pleasant day up until that moment, a stroll through Regents Park, warm sun shining, light breeze wafting lovely scents from the lavender blossoms, Margot and I engaged in witty conversation about any number of meaningful topics. Then the sit-down on the bench, the conversation continuing as before, so effortless and easy and wonderful, until the unfortunate moment when I flippantly asked my fateful question.
    “Are you a believer?”
    After her terse two-word response, she never spoke to me again.

January 18, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (2)

Illinois Arts Council Fellowships

Hats off to the 2006 recipients of Fellowship Awards and Finalist Awards, from the Illinois Arts Council. Here are the winners in the Prose category (which I applied for and failed to win, but that's neither here nor there):

Fellowship Awards
Heidi Bell, Aurora
Barbara Croft, Oak Park
Mary C. Dalton, Park Ridge
Tayari Jones, Urbana
Stephen J. Lyons, Monticello
Carol Manley, Springfield
Mary Anne Mohanraj, Chicago
Michele Morano, Chicago
Chad Simpson, Galesburg
Sandra Leah Wisenberg, Chicago
G.K. Wuori, Sycamore

Finalist Awards
Garnett Kilberg Cohen, Chicago
Ricardo Cortez Cruz, Bloomington
Susan Dickman, Evanston
Amy C. Hassinger, Urbana
Robert Hellenga, Galesburg
Jennifer Cullerton Johnson, Chicago
Daniel S. Libman, Oregon
Kathleen Vyn, Chicago

Press Release

January 18, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

George Ade

At Mr. Ron's Basement, Ron Evry reads the thoroughly enjoyable "The Fable of the Man Who Didn't Care for Story Books" (5.6MB MP3, 4:48) by George Ade, in which Ade hilariously surveys the various categories of novels, circa 1899.

What's the use? Why continue? The dyspeptic said that when he wanted something really fresh and original in the line of fiction, he read the prospectus of a mining corporation.

Mining companies then, VoIP providers today. Names change, schemes stay the same.

January 18, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

What to Do? What to Do?

A dilemma...I'm sitting on credit of $70 Powell's and $50 at B&N, but my to-read pile is already at 30+ titles and growing, not counting literary journals. Sure, there's plenty of books on my wish list that I want to read, but do I really want to read them any more urgently than books I already own and haven't read yet? Is burying myself even deeper in unread literature really going to give me any more satisfaction? Not necessarily. So I've done absolutely nothing, just sitting on all that enviable credit.

Finally, though, over the weekend I had a eureka moment. I've always been fascinated by photo monographs, checking out numerous volumes from the library but rarely buying any due to the cost. I'm an amateur photographer myself (read: "unpaid"), and browsing monographs has always brought me enjoyment and inspiration. So, suddenly the name hit me: Gary Stochl. And I realized that a good solution to my readerly dilemma is finally buying some monographs that I wouldn't have ever purchased without store credit. I can enjoy them at my leisure, even with a TV blaring in the background.

Problem solved. Stochl's On City Streets: Chicago, 1964-2004 (a simply gorgeous book that I browsed through at the Chicago Cultural Center gift shop last year after seeing his exhibition) and In Focus: Eugene Atget: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (another beaut) are now en route from Powell's.

January 18, 2006 in Books, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Now, That's Customer Service

I'm passing this item along, simply because it's one of the funniest things I've read in months.

Lady: Excuse me, but I’m looking for a book.
Store chick: And?
Lady: I don’t remember the title or author, but the cover is purple.
Store chick: Our purple books are downstairs.
Lady: They sent me up here.
Store chick: We’re sold out of purple books. You want something in a yellow?

--Barnes & Noble, Brooklyn Heights

Civility is usually the best way to go, but sometimes witty rudeness is entirely appropriate.

(Via Bookish and Maud.)

January 17, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Common Sense at 230

At the progressive website TomPaine.com, Harvey J. Kaye pays tribute to the site's namesake and his landmark work, Common Sense, which is celebrating its 230th anniversary. Kaye draws some sharp parallels between conditions in Paine's times and those of today.

Clearly our own “times that try men’s souls” differ profoundly from those Paine confronted. Yet we, too, find ourselves subject to a regime that ignores the needs of working people, promotes aristocratic power and wealth, pursues imperial policies, makes religion a test for public office and places itself above the law.

The complete text of Common Sense is available here. We would all be well advised to read up on it.

January 16, 2006 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Attention, Writers!

Have a novel in progress? If so, don't worry about minor concerns such as plot, structure, character, theme, dialogue or any other trivialities. What your book really needs is a bang-up, attention-grabbing, tried-and-true title. To aid your title development, I direct your attention to Lulu Titlescorer.

Want to know if you've got a killer title for your novel? Now, for the first time in literary history, you can put your title to the scientific test and find out whether it has what it takes for bestseller success.

Intrigued and, quite frankly, tired of working for a living, I ran the model on my two novels-in-hiatus:

Novel-in-Hiatus #1
Working Title: Eden (72.5% chance of being a bestseller)
Prospective Title #1: Furrows Through the Earth (35.9%)
Prospective Title #2: Midst the Green Fields (20.1%)

Novel-in-Hiatus #2
Working Title: The Wheatyard Chronicles (35.9%)
Prospective Title #1: Scribe (45.6%)

For comparison, The Da Vinci Code only scored at 35.9%. The obvious conclusion is that I should quit my job right now, so I can devote my full energies to finishing off my twin goldmines, Eden and Scribe. I'm cleaning out my cubicle as we speak.

(Via Bookslut. Michael, best of luck with Hold Me Closer, Tony Danza.)

January 13, 2006 in Books, Fiction, Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (0)

Etgar Keret, "My Lamented Sister"

At Nextbook, Etgar Keret (The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God) has a wonderful essay about his relationship with his born-again sister.

Me, when it comes to religion, I have no God. When I'm cool I don't need anyone, and when I'm feeling shitty and this big empty hole opens up inside me, I just know there's never been a god that could fill it and there never will be.

(Via The Elegant Variation.)

January 13, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hip, Hip...


Maryland Sets a Health Cost for Wal-Mart
by Michael Barbaro, New York Times

ANNAPOLIS, Md., Jan. 12 - The Maryland legislature passed a law Thursday that would require Wal-Mart Stores to increase spending on employee health insurance, a measure that is expected to be a model for other states.

The legislature's move, which overrode a veto by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, was a response to growing criticism that Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, has skimped on benefits and shifted health costs to state governments.

The vote came after a furious lobbying battle by Wal-Mart and by labor and liberal groups, and is likely to encourage lawmakers in dozens of other states who are considering similar legislation.

Many state legislatures have looked to Maryland as a test case, as they face fast-rising Medicaid costs, and Wal-Mart's critics say that too many of its employees have been forced to turn to Medicaid.

Maybe, just maybe, the days of the Bentonville Beast's laissez-faire free ride are finally coming to an end, and the company will start making at least a tiny effort to become a responsible corporate citizen. We can hope.

January 13, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jack London

Happy birthday to one of my first literary heroes, Jack London. Despite the enduring fame of his novels, it's his short story "To Build a Fire" that will forever haunt me. From Minnesota Public Radio:

It's the birthday of writer John Griffith (Jack) London, born in San Francisco (1876). By the age of 14, he was supporting his family by raiding oyster beds and selling the stolen oysters to markets in San Francisco. As a teenager, he went to sea on a seal-hunting vessel, and, in 1897, he set out for Alaska in search of gold. Instead, he found a range of experiences which he crafted into stories. His first big success came in 1903, with the publication of The Call of the Wild. It was followed by The Sea Wolf (1904), White Fang (1906) and the autobiographical novel Martin Eden (1909). He wrote fast and drank hard and managed to spend most of the money he earned as the highest-paid writer in the United States as quickly as he got it. He bought a ranch in California and built a huge mansion on the property. Late in his life, London said: "I write for no other purpose than to add to the beauty that now belongs to me. I write a book for no other reason than to add three of four hundred acres to my magnificent estate." Nonetheless, he considered himself a socialist.

"Write fast, drink hard, spend lavishly." That, for better or worse, could be the epitaph of any number of successful writers.

January 12, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"You musn't confuse a hotel with its brochure."

I direct your attention to this fine installment of Ben Katchor's "Hotel & Farm." Although this strip of his is sadly devoid of the inimitable Julius Knipl, of "Real Estate Photographer" fame, it's quite enjoyable none the less. If you like what you see, check out Katchor's Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: Stories, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District and The Jew of New York. Thoroughly wonderful stuff.

January 11, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Trailing Spiegelman

On the occasion of the second installment of Art Spiegelman's memoir-in-progress being published at Virginia Quarterly Review, Levi Asher at LitKicks retraces some of Spiegelman's steps in Rego Park, Brooklyn, the setting for much of his landmark Maus, with a few nice photos of sites drawn by Spiegelman.

January 10, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

"So Much On My Mind"

With This is Grand apparently on hiatus, I've decided to publish a piece here that I submitted to them back in August. True story...and not nearly as surly as last time.

So Much On My Mind

I parked my car on a Joliet side street, as I do every morning to avoid the one dollar fee the city charges for its commuter lots. I sat in the car for a few minutes, listening to the end of a Mekons song, during which time a guy got out of the car immediately ahead of me and started walking toward the station. I hadn’t seen him before, a fact I took little notice of since I’m not in the habit of getting to know my fellow Metra riders.

After getting out of my car, I couldn’t help noticing the sound of an engine running. That occurrence itself isn’t unusual, as people often sit in their cars when they have a few minutes to spare, listening to the radio and basking in the a/c, especially on hot mornings like this one. But I quickly realized that it was the car right in front of me that was still running, and the guy that I had seen get out was now far down the street. I thought of calling after him, but shouting on the marginal streets of downtown Joliet usually provokes only fear and a flight impulse. I took note of the car--a beat-up, dark blue Chevy Corsica--and hurried after him.

Stepping onto the platform, I saw him getting onto my train, and I hoped he would find a seat quickly so I could tell him about the car. But he continued walking the length of the train. I finally found him several cars back, sitting in the upper level. I approached him, standing on the aisle on the lower level, and said, “Hey, do you drive a blue Chevy Corsica?”

He acted surprised, coming rapidly up from deep in thought, and said yes.

“You left your engine running,” I said. “And I assume the keys are still in it, too.”

He immediately jumped up, rushing down the aisle toward the exit. He clambered down the stairs, and in the otherwise empty car I heard him wearily say, “I’ve got so much on my mind.”

He and I entered the vestibule at the same time, but the doors had already closed and the train began pulling away from the station. He exhaled in exasperation, and I paused to say, “You’ll have to get off at New Lenox and take the next one back.” He grunted in agreement as I passed into the next compartment, working my way to the front of the train to find myself a seat.

I had done my good deed for the day, acting as a Good Citizen, but there was nothing more I could do for him. I left him alone with his problem and the "so much" he had on his mind.

Copyright © 2006 Peter Anderson

January 9, 2006 in Chicago Observations, Fiction, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (1)

Osamu Dazai

A return trip to the bookstore at Mitsuwa this weekend did not bring on nearly as much readerly impotence as our first visit did. This time, I kept my focus on the small section of books in translation, and even though I already have 30+ books in my to-read pile, I splurged on a book of short stories, Blue Bamboo, by an author I've never heard of, Osamu Dazai. Considering that Booklist calls Dazai "a wonderful storyteller" and the Philadelphia Inquirer called him "a great modern writer", and it was only eleven bucks--cheaper than most American trade paperbacks--I probably wasn't taking much of a risk. It's a beautiful volume, too--even though it's a paperback, it actually has a dust jacket which is much more substantial than those found on American hardcovers. Really looking forward to this one.

January 9, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Esteemed Professor Trout

Thought I'd direct your attention to the thoroughly entertaining The Brown Trout's Next Book, which eloquently details the life, loves and career of a pompous, dissolute and lusty creative writing professor. Fictional, I'm assuming.

After the briefest of flings, Shirleen Tomasetti has left me. "God, Prof. Trout," she said as she pecked my cheek on the front stoop, "You've opened my eyes." She's not coming back to finish her MFA writing degree. Ordinarily I'd say "good for her" if I wasn't so fond of sleeping with her.

All of this is simply too delicious to be true. I've never emailed the good professor, and probably never will--I don't think I even want to know the reality of the writer behind this. The mystery is rather pleasant.

January 6, 2006 in Books, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thanks Again, Blago!

As the Bush Adminstration drags its heels so as not to anger big corporate polluters, Governor Blagojevich once again takes a stand and does the right thing.

Gov to Propose Cutting Plant Mercury Emissions 90%
Gary Wisby, Environment Reporter
Chicago Sun-Times, January 5, 2006

Gov. Blagojevich will propose today that coal-fired power plants be ordered to cut mercury emissions 90 percent over the next three years, sources said Wednesday.

That represents a victory for health and environmental groups, who have been demanding such a reduction since May 2004. But an industry spokesman said meeting the 90 percent target is likely to make electricity more expensive for consumers.

Blagojevich's proposal will be announced at 12:30 p.m. today at Navy Pier, a source said. No one from the governor's office or the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency would confirm that.

The source said a company's power plants could average their emissions to meet the 90 percent cut, but only until 2012. Then every plant must comply.

"This is a very significant win for public health," said Rebecca Stanfield of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group. "Our hope is that the governor's framework becomes law in Illinois as quickly as possible to avoid any further delay in protecting our children from mercury exposure."

Only Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey have adopted regulations at the level Blagojevich wants. "And Illinois plants emit more mercury than all those states put together," Stanfield said.

In February 2004, the Bush administration proposed reductions of 69 percent by 2018.

Blago will reportedly be making this announcement in Chicago today, the same day that Bush is in town on his latest propoganda mission. The timing is exquisite.

January 6, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Knut Hamsun, Hunger

The new issue of Boldtype has a greatly welcomed review of my favorite novel, Hunger by Knut Hamsun. Stephen Dougherty covers Hunger pretty effectively, other than this comment:

To live, he must write. Write what? Nearly anything — a short story, a philosophical treatise, a play — so long as it is salable.

The biggest reason for the narrator's destitution and near-starvation is that his writings are almost willfully unsalable--an assessment of his writing which is made to him by at least one newspaper editor he's submitted work to. The narrator has such a lofty and high-minded view of art that he repeatedly refuses to debase himself by writing works which pander to popular tastes, even if it means he'll starve as a result.

There's been a bit of revival of interest in Hamsun lately, notably this Boldtype review and the recent New Yorker profile of the author. If you've never read Hunger, do yourself a favor and read it as soon as you can. One of the greatest works in Western literature, in my humble estimation.

January 5, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Hate To See You Go"

In a typically interesting and obsessive essay, Mountain Goats honcho John Darnielle muses about "Hate to See You Go", by one of my old favorites, Little Walter.

But this one line had originally arrived in my brain as a cipher, one to which I lacked the key, and the song then took power from this one moment of received obscurity: this one moment which, and this is the kicker for me, repeats itself some five times before vanishing into the distance. Part of the mystery of the song's feel for me would die if I learned what Little Walter was saying.

Agreed. Life is a hell of a lot more interesting if you don't understand everything.

January 5, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)


Jinxes be damned...tempting fate, I'm going to go right ahead and announce that I'll soon be published by not one, but two journals. Zisk ("The Baseball Magazine for People Who Hate Baseball Magazines") will be publishing my short story "Mighty Casey" in their upcoming print issue, due out during the first week in April. And just this morning I learned that Storyglossia will be publishing my short story "Ectoplasm" (excerpt) later this month. Although Zisk accepted "Casey" before Storyglossia accepted "Ectoplasm", the latter story will be my first fiction publication.

Stay tuned for further details.

January 4, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (8)

Yet Another Literary Meme

Since a blogger can never experience enough self-indulgence...

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.

So here's mine:

Her lively memoir, Music at Midnight, published two years earlier, had covered the pre-World War I years when she and her husband, the tenor Paul Draper, ran a noted musical salon in Edith Grove in London.

Like Bud, I'll refrain from revealing what book this came from. (And unlike Bud, my passage is pretty dry.) I'd be absolutely dumbfounded if anyone was able to guess. I highly doubt if Google Book Search has gotten anywhere near this one, or if they ever will. I'm guessing it's pretty far down on their priority list.

(Via Chekhov's Mistress.)

January 4, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

There's Lots of Room For You on the Bandwagon

Poets & Writers joins the podcast parade, with Sigrid Nunez reading from her latest, The Last of Her Kind (8.6MB mp3, 18:16). I hadn't heard of Nunez before reading the latest issue of P&W, but I'm intrigued by her melding of the autobiographical and the fictional. My NaNoWriMo novel, The Wheatyard Chronicles, is the first time I've explored this terrain, so I might read some Nunez for pointers.

January 3, 2006 in Books, Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (0)

Attention West Coasters!

Specifically you, Sarvas, Champion and Esposito! The great Jay Ryan (whose wonderful first collection, 100 Posters, 134 Squirrels: A Decade of Hot Dogs, Large Mammals, and Independent Rock: The Handcrafted Art of Jay Ryan, I've been enjoying immensely) passes along the following notice to his mailing list:

hope all's well with you.

i want to let you know that i'll be on the west coast doing book signings and poster shows from jan 12 - 21.

if you know anyone in these cities who might be interested in witnessing my mumbly slideshow lecture, or making fun of me to my face, please let them know about these dates, below.

stay warm -

- jay

jan 12 bellingham, wa. - village books
jan 13 seattle - olivodoce art space
jan 15 san francisco - the luggage store
jan 16 berkeley - d.king gallery
jan 19 LA - GR2 ('giant robot two')
jan 20 LA - foundation projects / gallery revisited
jan 21 san diego - ducky waddles (encinitas)

I assume he's joking about staying warm. It's frigging 50 degrees and rainy today. January 2nd in Chicago! Anybody who says global warming is a myth and who isn't a major shareholder in a public utility or automaker has to be completely out of their gourd.

January 2, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)