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Jamming Econo

Check out this intriguing film trailer for We Jam Econo, a new documentary on the legendary Minutemen, a band which I'm sorry to admit I haven't explored nearly enough. Plenty of familiar faces popping up in there.

(Via Pitchfork.)

May 31, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (2)

Richard Grayson, And To Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street

And To Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street is a fine collection of stories from the prolific Richard Grayson. Grayson tells these twenty-nine stories exclusively from a first-person perspective, making them come off as at least partially autobiographical. The back cover copy admits as much, calling the book "part fictional memoir, part memorish fiction," and I've read just enough about Grayson's personal life to know that many of the narratives mirror his own life. This is a bit of a bold move in the post-Frey literary world, where questions over what is fact and what is fiction often distract the reader from the writer's main point--the telling of the story itself. Personally, I don't particularly care how much of these narratives came directly from Grayson's life, and how much he invented. The important thing is that the stories are compellingly readable; Grayson is a natural storyteller, tireless and inventive, and the Lorimer Street stories are of course him telling of his own life but, more importantly, of the world around him.

For me, three stories from the collection stand out. "Conselyea Street" tells of a middle-aged contractor who has lived his entire life in one Brooklyn brownstone, with several generations of his family living there during his youth. The brownstone--owned by his family for decades--is located in what has become a very trendy neighborhood, and the narrator faces the dilemma of choosing, for a tenant, between his young niece and his nearly-as-young lover (the latter, he suspects, is only interested in him for the apartment). He soberly faces a critical decision between keeping family tradition and satisfying fleetingly sensual needs.

"Bottom, New York Times, Front Page, Tiny Print" is a quietly heartbreaking story of a young man who has abandoned his family, which desperately tries contacting him via classified ads in the New York Times. As time goes on, their ads run less and less frequently as they slowly abandon hope of finding him again, and adjust to no longer having him in their lives.

Perhaps the strongest story, "The Lost Movie Theaters of Southeastern Brooklyn and Rockaway Beach," is told through Grayson's recurring device of a lengthy list of places and people from his life, with added commentary. In this story, he catalogs an extensive list of defunct movie theaters, each with its own distinct section and headings, mentioning where they were located, what movies he saw there and whom he saw them with, what became of the theater buildings and, indirectly, what each theater meant to his life. In one particularly poignant scene, he tries to convince his grandmother, implausibly, to see Boyz N the Hood with him.

"Richard," she said, "my movie-going days are over." Then she wanted to know why I didn't just go two doors down from the theater and bring back a movie from the video store.

"It's not the same thing," I said. I saw Boys N the Hood alone.

The Surfside closed three years later, a few months after my grandmother died.

Driving by on Rockaway Beach Boulevard last summer, I couldn't tell it had once been a movie theater.

This unexpected generational twist--his grandmother wanting to rent a movie, while he longs for the old-fashioned theater experience--was quite a nice touch. And the book is filled with similarly nice touches like this one. A very satisfying effort overall.

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

The Old Guard Moves On

Henry Kisor, book editor of the Chicago Sun-Times and previously of the late, lamented Chicago Daily News, is retiring.

In 1973, we still lived in a world of text on paper. Book publishing was a gentleman's occupation that held intellectual integrity to be as important as the balance sheet; publishers sought to bring readers literary excellence while turning a reasonable profit.

Now most publishers have become subsidiaries of soulless corporations that wallow in downmarket pop culture for the sake of maximizing stockholder returns. Megaselling blockbusters have elbowed out much of the slower-moving literary midlist, but there are still pockets of quality, especially among independent publishers.

Update: Hedy Weiss writes a nice tribute to Kisor here.

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

Rejecting a Rejection

Spurned writer gets revenge. Thousands of unpublished and underpublished writers cheer heartily. "Niminy-piminy" is duly added to my vocabulary.

(Via No rules. Just write.)

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

Sunday Night Literary Fights



So I'm sitting in the bar on Sunday night, enjoying a sweating bottle of Pabst in the middle of a holiday weekend, just minding my own business. Suddenly a ragged voice cuts through the din, its query clearly directed at me.
    "Who's the greatest American writer of the twentieth century?" the voice demanded.
    "Nelson Algren," I replied, almost automatically.
    "Algren? Bah! He couldn't carry Hemingway's jockstrap."
    That's just the way Hemingway's followers are in this town, always picking fights in bars, as if they're upholding Papa's honor or something. Especially at Garnsey III. The Fitzgerald and Steinbeck fans seem to favor the downtown Joliet bars, where the discussions observe a considerable degree of decorum. But out here in the neighborhood bars matters aren't nearly as polite. I was just glad I wasn't at the Moran AC, where all-out brawls would regularly break out over the subject of Raymond Chandler.
    Fortunately I was able to immediately dismiss the mental image of Hemingway in a jockstrap, and focused on the matter immediately at hand, namely the menacing drunk who dared impugn Algren's reputation.
    "Sure, Hemingway wrote a few good stories," I said calmly, "but Algren wrote an entire book of great ones--ever read The Neon Wilderness? Great stuff, even an illiterate like you might enjoy them."
    He stepped out of the shadows, clenching a beer bottle by its neck in his fat fist. He was a burly man, bearded, salt-and-pepper hair. Looked a bit like Hemingway himself, probably intentionally so. He was obviously a man of action, not prone to deep reflection, and it was clear he didn't want to settle the argument with words. He smashed the base of the bottle against a bar stool, shattering the glass into a weapon whose jagged teeth gleamed ominously in the neon light.
    "Son Also Rises. Old Man and the Sea," he raged.
    "Decent, but I'll take The Man With the Golden Arm over both of them. Probably Never Come Morning, too. By the way, don't you think it's kind of gutless for a Hemingway fan to use something as crude as a broken beer bottle?"
    He stopped momentarily in his tracks, peering quizically at me.
    "I doubt if your hero ever used anything but his bare fists. A broken bottle seems kind of prissy."
    Enraged, he flew at me, slashing the bottle at my head. I ducked and stepped clear.
    "Besides, before you're so quick to cut down Algren, do you know how much Hemingway admired his writing? 'Boy you are good,' Hemingway said about Algren once, and called him the second-greatest living writer."
    The drunk lunged again, but he was at least a half-dozen drinks ahead of me, and his coordination wasn't at all sharp. I easily dodged him again.
    "Sure, Hemingway considered himself to be the greatest living writer, but you can't just ignore the fact that he thought of Algren so highly," I added.
    I baited him like this for a while, exchanging rational arguments for his poorly-aimed swipes at my throat. Looking back, I could have easily escaped this encounter with my dignity and physical well-being intact, but unfortunately I got a bit carried away in eloquence and, distracted by trying to quote a convincing passage from Chicago: City on the Make, I must have stood still just long enought for him to get a bead on me.
    He lunged again, slicing open my chin with the bottle. At that moment I was jarred back to my senses, and knowing that even Algren enjoyed a bare-knuckled brawl every now and then and would undoubtedly have condoned a physical response from me, I coiled up and went after him.
    Long and short of it is, the melee went on for quite some time, the police were called in but I finally talked my way out of the jam, emerging with Algren's honor remaining intact, at the cost of only seven stitches and a tetanus shot for myself. Which sounds bad until you consider that the other guy is still in the hospital.
    By the way, you might have heard the rumors that my injury didn't happen in a bar, but in a coffeehouse, and it didn't result from a literary brawl, but from fainting, falling and cutting myself open on a display shelf. Vicious lies, all of them, probably started by the other guy himself, that coward, mumbling through his head bandages. Ask me sometime, and I'll show you the police report to prove it to you.

May 30, 2006 in Fiction, Joliet, Personal | Permalink | Comments (7)

Adam Langer's Writerly Advice

Author Adam Langer (Crossing California, The Washington Story), in the latest Make:

(A)void taking writing classes, avoid participating in writing programs, and try to experience was much life as you can before setting anything down on paper. At the same time, read books that truly inspire you because I don't think there's such thing as a great writer who isn't also a great reader.

Amen, brother.

May 29, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Printers Row Book Fair Wishlist

The author list for the Printers Row Book Fair is now out, and I'd be thrilled to see any or all of the following:

Brian Costello, E.L. Doctorow, Stuart Dybek, Dave Eggers, Tony Fitzpatrick, Gina Frangello, Kevin Guilfoile, Aleksandar Hemon, Wendy McClure, Joe Meno, Peter Orner, Donna Seaman, Studs Terkel, Scott Turow, John Updike, Luis Alberto Urrea.

Though I'd gladly settle for Meno, Guilfoile and Orner signing my copy of Chicago Noir, to which they all contributed excellent stories.

(Note to the Trib: Have you ever considered uploading a schedule in .pdf that is actually legible? Just wondering.)

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

"Through the Window of Maury's Uptown Diner"

Quirky Nomads has graciously podcasted my audio short story, "Through the Window of Maury's Uptown Diner," narrated by yours truly. The story had to begin with "There are two things I can't stand," had to be based on this photo, and be no more than three minutes long. There are two more stories on the podcast that are quite good and worth your listen as well. I really enjoyed doing this, and I'm very pleased with the results--it kind of makes me feel like I'm on "This American Life."

Special thanks to QN proprietress Sage, both for running my story and adding the background sound. I was thinking of doing the latter myself to help set the scene of two people sitting in a diner, but it was beyond my technical capabilities--and though Julie could easily have done it for me, she was out of town during the weekend that I recorded the piece.

May 25, 2006 in Audio, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #7

The second round of the Johnny Cash Regional is now complete. In the marquee bout, the Pixies knocked off longtime faves Yo La Tengo, and in other matches the protean Jesus Lizard lumbered onward while the comparatively low-key Joel Phelps rocked past the Verlaines, and Mission of Burma vanquished a valiant Victor Krummenacher.

Next up is the second round of the Carl Perkins Regional, featuring:

The Feelies, "What She Said" vs. Saturnine, "Peace and Rest"
The Replacements, "The Ledge" vs. Camper Van Beethoven, "Sweethearts"
Mudhoney, "No One Has" vs. Portastatic, "Noisy Night"
Bad Religion, "21st Century Digital Boy" vs. Sarah Dougher, "Hold the Bar"

Some intriguing matchups there, but it's the regional semifinals that are going to be a real doozy.

As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here.

May 24, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Happy Birthday, Mr. Trevor

One of my favorite discoveries of the last few years, William Trevor, turns 78 today. From Minnesota Public Radio:

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer William Trevor, born in Mitchelstown, Ireland (1928). His collections of short stories include The Day We Got Drunk on Cake and Other Stories (1967) and Beyond the Pale (1981); and his novels include Felicia's Journey (1994) and The Story of Lucy Gault (2002).

He started out as a sculptor, but he wanted to create works of art that dealt more directly with human beings, and so he started writing. His first major novel came out in 1964—The Old Boys, about eight men over eighty years old who meet at a reunion at their old public school.

Trevor has gone on to write many more novels and short stories. He said, "All my writing is about noncommunication—which is very sad and very funny."

Trevor's story "Mrs Acland's Ghosts" begins: "Mr Mockler was a tailor. He carried on his business in a house that after twenty-five years of mortgage arrangements had finally become his: 22 Juniper Street, SW 17. He had never married and since he was now sixty-three it seemed likely that he never would. In an old public house, the Charles the First, he had a drink every evening with his friends Mr Uprichard and Mr Tile, who were tailors also. He lived in his house in Juniper Street with his cat Sam, and did his own cooking and washing and cleaning: he was not unhappy."

Here's to your health, Mr. Trevor, and many more years of great writing.

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

Tournament of Tunes resumes...

The tourney has resumed after a one-day layoff, with the big Yo La Tengo-Pixies battle. (Follow link at upper right.) Things were busy at work yesterday, and this strong of a matchup deserved more consideration than I could have afforded at that time. We're now back on our one-match-every-weekday schedule.

May 23, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Future of Bookstores

Paul Collins (proprietor of the excellent Weekend Stubble and writer of "121 Years of Solitude", my favorite piece in Bookmark Now) has an excellent essay in the Village Voice about bookselling's future. The 1930 quote from the Carnegie Corporation is particularly priceless, and suggests that the plight of old-fashioned bookstores is hardly a recent phenomenon.

Despite the current dominance of the Killer B's (who shall further remain nameless), those chains' executives should be sobered by the litany of past bookselling giants who have fallen by the wayside, as well as the promising potential of print-on-demand. In fact, right now I'm reading my first Lulu-published title (Richard Grayson's very nice And To Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street), and have another on the way. This may very well be the future of publishing. As an aspiring writer with admittedly limited commercial potential, I certainly hope so.

May 23, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope

Senator Barack Obama has a new book coming out this fall, titled The Audacity of Hope: Reclaiming the American Dream. You can download a 20-page excerpt here. And in case you've somehow forgotten one of the greatest political speeches of the past several decades, watch this, and swoon all over again.

(Via Gapers Block.)

May 23, 2006 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Kindness of Strangers and...

Today's Quirky Nomads podcast includes my retelling of an old anecdote about "the kindness of strangers and the non-kindness of strangers." (Listen here.) The incident really happened, and taught me a few things about the world.

May 23, 2006 in Audio, Memoir, Personal | Permalink | Comments (0)

I'm Famous!

Er, sort of. Marginally acknowledged, perhaps. Check out the eleventh item under "More Submissions From Readers." Though I did like that one, Coudal rejected what I thought was my best effort: There Are No Poster Children Here.

May 22, 2006 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Upton Sinclair

Yesterday's Chicago Tribune Magazine was devoted almost entirely to Upton Sinclair's groundbreaking novel The Jungle, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year and has been reissued by Penguin Classics. Greg Burns writes about the global resurgence of meat consumption, James O'Shea pens a tribute to Sinclair as one of the progenitors of muckracking journalism, and David Greising tells of Chicago's dominant industries and place in the global economy now that the once-mighty meatpacking and steel industries have departed.

Most interestingly, the magazine reprints the reissue's preface, written by Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation). Schlosser sharply points out the incredible progress made in the meatpacking industry in the decades following publication of The Jungle: by 1970, thanks to labor union victories and trust-busting government intervention, the four largest meatpacking firms controlled only 20% of the market, and industry workers had incomes which were 20% above that of the average factory worker. But these hard-earned gains were quickly reversed with the waning of unions as well as industry deregulation and lax anti-trust enforcement starting during the Reagan era. As a result, today the four largest beef companies control 80% of the market, and workers' wages are 24% below the average factory worker.

We've come full circle, as Schlosser soberly notes:

The United States in the first decade of the 21st Century bears an unfortunate resemblance to that of a century ago. Once again free-market rhetoric cloaks an absence of free markets, a handful of companies control the leading sectors of the economy, the political system is corrupted by money, and the gulf between rich and poor is widening. Once again the meatpacking industry serves as an excellent symbol of all these larger social trends.

Which raises a few questions: Where is today's Upton Sinclair, its populist champion? And if someone were to write a modern version of The Jungle, could it even get published in today's pro-corporate environment?

(Trib site requires registration...if not already registered, use "double@mailinator.com" to log on, with "123456" as the password. Thanks to bugmenot.com, as always.)

May 22, 2006 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Intelligentsia Coffee

Chicago's best coffeehouse (and our personal favorite) Intelligentsia Coffee is profiled on WBEZ's 848 program. Their concept of fair trade and dealing directly with coffee growers in developing countries is a very worthy arrangement that benefits everyone involved--the growers, the company and coffee drinkers.

Also, if you're a coffee fanatic and live anywhere near the city, their roasting works tour is fascinating and not to be missed.

May 18, 2006 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Butch McGuire, 1930-2006

Butch McGuire, founder and long-time proprietor of the eponymous Chicago saloon (one of the very first singles bars) has passed away.

At such a reflective moment, I can't help but recall the old Saturday Night Live fake commercial for "Hey You," a perfume "for that special someone you never expect to see again."

May 18, 2006 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Short Story

Who wrote the first modern short story? Who is the undisputed godfather of the form? In Prospect Magazine, William Boyd (a judge of Britain's National Short Story Prize) presents a compelling overview of the short story.

(Via Golden Rule Jones, whose breadth of literary knowledge never ceases to amaze me.)

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

Tournament of Tunes - Update #6

The second round of the Jerry Lee Regional wrapped up today, with R.E.M. trouncing a valiant but overmatched Pinetop Seven. Earlier, crowd favorites Scruffy the Cat dismissed the Long Ryders, Elliott Smith ravaged Liz Phair (now, there's a visual for you) and, in the closest battle, Morphine edged Pavement at the buzzer, with Stephen Malkmus complaining he was fouled.

The next round of the Johnny Cash regional commences tomorrow. The region's matchups are:

Guided by Voices, "Everywhere with Helicopter" vs. The Jesus Lizard, "Fly on the Wall"

The Verlaines, "Black Wings" vs. Joel R.L. Phelps, "God Bless the Little Pigs"

Yo La Tengo, "Tom Courtenay" vs. The Pixies, "Debaser"

Victor Krummenacher, "Rocket Fuel" vs. Mission of Burma, "Fame and Fortune"

As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here.

May 17, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Guilfoile Explains Cricket.

Sort of.

May 17, 2006 in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

What's Going On (Inside My Head)

A few writerly developments worth mentioning...

I recently completed a short story, "The Last Final Copy," which imagines the last night of Chicago's legendary but recently-shuttered City News Bureau, depicting the tensions between the bureau's old-school editors and reporters and their profit-driven corporate overlords. (Believe me, it's not as much of a screed as it sounds.) I submitted it to the intriguing Hourglass Books for consideration for their upcoming story anthology Occupational Hazards: Stories From the World of Work.

I also finished another story, "Alleys Are the Footnotes of the Avenues," a short-short (497 words) which attempted to cram two characters, two physical settings and a big theme into a very tiny package. It had to be this short, since I wrote it specifically for the 2006 Fineline Competition at Mid-American Review, which imposed a 500-word limit. It was quite a challenge whittling down my first draft (650 words) without losing the narrative or theme I wanted, but I think I learned a few things about crafting lean prose in the process. I've been having a bit of publication success this year with shorter pieces, so I might explore that terrain for a while. (Attention Silver Jews fans: the story was inspired by the lyrics of "Smith and Jones Forever," from American Water.)

Lastly, moving in a completely different direction, my audio short story "Through the Window of Maury's Uptown Diner" will probably be aired in a few weeks on the Quirky Nomads podcast. The QN podcast is quite entertaining, consisting largely of people sending in their personal experiences, kind of an abbreviated "This American Life." For this project, I had to use the opening line "There are two things I can't stand" and the story had to be based on this photo. If QN uses my story, you'll get the added enjoyment of hearing my sonorous voice reading the story. James Earl Jones will not feel threatened.

May 16, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tony Fitzpatrick's Offbeat Influences

The Bright One has a lovely profile of local artist and writer Tony Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick argues that the works in The Wonder are written as much as they're painted. "If you ask me who my biggest influences are as an artist, I'll tell you," Fitzpatrick says. "Carl Sandburg, Studs Terkel, and Mike Royko. I don't think any of them ever painted a picture. Octavio Paz, Anne Sexton, Pablo Neruda -- those are the voices I hear."

One of these days I'll finally stop messing around and read Bum Town.

May 15, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Skive in Print!



More shameless marketing by yours truly...the May 2006 edition of Skive Magazine, which includes my short story "Can't Be Happy Today, But Tomorrow" and 31 other fine stories, is now available in a lovely 108-page perfect-bound edition. Makes the perfect Mother's Day gift...assuming, of course, that Mom doesn't mind getting her gift a week or two late. The $6.69 price is at cost, meaning zero profit to both the publisher and contributors. But it'll still be nice to see the story in print.

(Caveat: If you do want to buy, first: thank you; second: go with the "US Postal Regular Media" which will only set you back $2.48.)

Update: The publisher has nudged the price up to $9.95, which is roughly in line with regular print journals. So if you buy now, you'll be sending along a few shekels to me and 31 other cash-poor writers. We thank you.

Update #2: Per the publisher's comment below, the price is now back down to $7.00. Must be a lot of short-selling going on.

May 12, 2006 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (2)

Ask Not For Whom the Jingle Bell Tolls...

My first place of employment, the venerable Santa's Village in East Dundee, may not have its traditional Mother's Day opening this year. And might never re-open.

Over the decades, as tourists began flocking to bigger attractions like Gurnee's Six Flags Great America, attendance declined. Scores of other small parks in the Chicago area and around the country shut their doors. Santa's Village hung on.

Now with a lien on the property and $83,000 in debt to East Dundee, Santa's Village is closed. For the first time in its history, on the traditional opening weekend no children will crowd around the "North Pole" or clamor for a pony ride.

Up for sale, the park on a recent day looked as forlorn as an abandoned child. The snowball ride sat silent; the treehouse slide was empty; even the ponies had left for greener pastures.


During the summer of 1983 I worked in a food stand, the Pixie Pantry, which served the most basic fare--the entire menu was hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, chili dogs and fries. Yet we were always swamped, with a continuous line of customers for 4+ hours every weekend day, and maybe 2-3 hours on weekdays. The allure was probably due to the sign outside that said the building was air-conditioned, a claim refuted by my perpetually-sweat-soaked workshirt. My guess is that by the time people realized there wasn't any air conditioning, they had already been in line for ten minutes and figured they just might as well stay. It certainly wasn't the quality of the food that drew such huge crowds.

Working at Santa's Village was one of those physically punishing, demoralizing, criminally-low-paying ($3/hour at the time) jobs that every teenager should be required to endure. It rather starkly showed me what my life could be like if I didn't knuckle down and get good grades in college, which I was starting that following fall. I definitely learned from the experience.

(Trib site requires registration...if not already registered, use "double@mailinator.com" to log on, with "123456" as the password. Thanks to bugmenot.com, as always.)

May 12, 2006 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (3)

Zisk #12 Now Available!

Issue #12 of Zisk, which contains my short story "Casey's Real Turn at Bat," is now available online from both Quimby's and Razorcake. Quimby's has the issue up for sale on their website. Razorcake doesn't have it up on their site yet, but for now you can buy it from them for $2 postage paid (U.S. only) through their PayPal account (payments [AT] razorcake [DOT] com)--just make sure you specify "Zisk #12" when placing your order.

This issue of Zisk is quite good--there's one other short story, "Rain on Tin" by Jackson Ellis, plus plenty of enjoyable non-fiction, including Jake Austen's two pieces on the White Sox, Throm Sturmond's look back at the lunatics on the '84 Padres (who so famously knocked the Cubs out of the playoffs), and a thougtful tribute to Kirby Puckett.

May 12, 2006 in Fiction, Zines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #5

The second round of the Elvis Regional is now complete, with Ted Leo fending off a scrappy Tommy Stinson and Built to Spill overcoming a poignant Pogues ballad, while the other two contests weren't even close. The regional semifinal matchups look excellent:

Sebadoh - Got It
vs.
Built to Spill - Untrustable Part 2

Ted Leo - Loyal to My Sorrowful Country
vs.
Archers of Loaf - Greatest of All Time

As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here. And as Letterman used to say: Remember, no wagering!

May 11, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

How Many Times Was Roth Allowed to Vote, Anyway?

NYTBR editor Sam Tanenhaus queried several hundred writers, critics and editors, asking them to name "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years." The results:

THE WINNER:
Beloved, Toni Morrison

THE RUNNERS-UP:
Underworld, Don DeLillo
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels, John Updike
American Pastoral, Philip Roth

ALSO RECEIVING MULTIPLE VOTES:
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
Winter's Tale, Mark Helprin
White Noise, Don DeLillo
The Counterlife, Philip Roth
Libra, Don DeLillo
Where I'm Calling From, Raymond Carver
The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
Mating, Norman Rush
Jesus' Son, Denis Johnson
Operation Shylock, Philip Roth
Independence Day, Richard Ford
Sabbath's Theater, Philip Roth
The Border Trilogy, Cormac McCarthy
The Human Stain, Philip Roth
The Known World, Edward P. Jones
The Plot Against America, Philip Roth

The Manhattan literary cocktail parties will undoubtedly be positively atitter.

May 11, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

Conservative Priorities

Well, the House of Representatives has done the unconscionable, extending Bush's bargain tax rate of 15% on capital gains and dividends, a deal which overwhelmingly favors the upper class (which derives a significantly higher share of its total income from investment income than the middle or working classes). Per the New York Times:

"Americans at the center of the income distribution -- the middle fifth of taxpayers, who will earn an average of $36,000 this year -- could expect a 0.4 percent reduction in their tax bill, or about $20. Those who make less than $75,000 -- which includes about 75 percent of all taxpayers -- would save, at most, $110 each. Those making more than $1 million would save, on average, almost $42,000."

The tax rate extension saps our already depleted tax coffers to the tune of $70 billion over five years. But, contrary to the White House's tax-cutting cheerleaders, lower tax rates on dividends have not boosted the stock market, according to no less of an authority than the Federal Reserve. And the lower tax rate on capital gains probably depresses stock prices, with investors facing no disincentive to cash out their gains, thus driving down the market.

So we have a tax policy that costs $70 billion, increases our already huge budget deficit, does not boost the stock market, and increases inequality of personal income and wealth. As bad as all that is, what's even worse than that is what it says about conservative priorities: with employment income taxed at a significantly higher rate than capital gains or dividends, the conservatives are saying that a hard day's work is less important than passive income earned by people who sit around on their asses all day.

The Senate is voting on the extension today. If you're unfortunate enough to live in a state with Republican senators, do the country a favor and badger them--by phone, email, camping out in their front lawn, whatever--into doing what's right for the entire country. Forcefully remind them that they're supposed to be serving all of the constituents in their home states, and not just their wealthiest campaign contributors.

May 11, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Archie FlorCruz


One of my favorite photobloggers, Archie FlorCruz (Whateverland), has an upcoming exhibition at Mode Realty in Pilsen, opening this Friday. If you happen to be in the area I strongly encourage you to attend. Should be a good one.

May 10, 2006 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Angler's Review

Donovan Hall, publisher of the online literary journal The Angler, has been kind enough to appoint me the Reviews Editor of a new literary venture, The Angler's Review. The intent of the Review is to promote and support online short fiction; online journals generally don't get the exposure and respect that longer-established print journals enjoy, even though the two venues generally publish fiction of equal quality and merit. The Angler's Review will serve as a critical forum for online short fiction, to include reviews of individual stories (not entire journals) published online. It's comparable to what Steve McDermott does so well at his Storyglossia blog, where he reviews a short story every day. (Lest one should think we're trespassing on Steve's territory, please note that he's already on board with this, and is signed up as a contributor to the Review. There are infinitely more short stories out there than the Review and the Storyglossia blog could ever possibly cover.)

As Reviews Editor, I will be responsible for evaluating and editing story reviews received from volunteer reviewers, as well as contributing my own reviews. My review of Katrina Denza's fine short story, "What She Gave to the Sea" (from SmokeLong Quarterly) is now online.

If you are a writer and/or literary enthusiast and would like to review a short story, we would love to see your work. Feel free to sign up as a new user, which will allow you to submit a review for approval. Or if you have questions but aren't ready to sign up yet, please email me (pete_anderson AT comcast DOT net).

May 8, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (7)

Noteworthy (!) in the Tribune

It's been a while since I've read anything truly interesting in the Sunday book section of the Tribune, but today I was struck by several intriguing items...

Michael Winter's The Big Why (reviewed by Donna Seaman) is a fictional account of the great artist Rockwell Kent and his residence in the fishing village of Brigus, Newfoundland in 1914, at the height of his career. Kent was an endlessly restless intinerant, constantly fleeing polite civilization for cold and forbidding outposts where he felt infinitely closer to the elemental nature of life. I first discovered Kent on my honeymoon in Alaska; we stayed overnight on Fox Island in Resurrection Bay (opposite the town of Seward), where Kent had happened to live for one terrifying winter, accompanied only by his young son and an irascible fox breeder. Kent's account of that winter, Wilderness, is a riveting read; his Greenland journal, N by E, is quite good as well. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on The Big Why--the real-life Kent was such a fascinating character than I'm very interested to see how Winter treats him from a fictional perspective.

Peter Orner's The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo (reviewed by Alan Cheuse) is a "quirky, lyrical, comical" novel set in Namibia in the early 1990s. Orner tells his 309-page story over the course of 154 (!) chapters, "some as brief as a few lines, most no longer than two pages." Sounds like the perfect antidote for my short attention span. Orner, a Chicago native, first caught my attention last year, when his story "Dear Mr. Klezcka" was one of the highlights of the anthology Chicago Noir.

And "New In Paperback" announces a new edition of William Trevor's Fools of Fortune, "the classic novel about a 1920s Irish family targeted by British troops sent to help put down disturbances by Irish nationalists." 2005 was my year for discovering Trevor, who has rapidly become one of my favorite authors. (I've since hooked my mom on Trevor, too.)

On the negative side...and there's always a negative side...reviewer Claire Dederer repeatedly lauds A.M. Homes' This Book Will Save Your Life as a seminal Los Angeles novel. But then near the end of the review she notes that the book offers little explanation for how the protagonist Richard Novak became the loathsome hermit he was at the beginning of the narrative, saying "maybe...Homes simply failed to come up with a decent backstory for the guy." How, exactly, can one write a 372-page novel about an isolated and self-obsessed protagonist without finding time for a decent backstory on him? Huh?

(Trib site requires registration...if not already registered, use "double@mailinator.com" to log on, with "123456" as the password. Thanks to bugmenot.com, as always.)

May 7, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #4

The first round of the Tournament of Tunes is now complete (wow, that was fast!) with the initial matches of the Carl Perkins Regional concluding yesterday. No major surprises in this regional--nary a George Mason in sight--as Camper Van Beethoven, the Replacements, Bad Religion and Mudhoney all prevail.

Now is when things really get interesting, in Round Two, which starts Monday. The first round matchups were largely driven by the randomness of the iPod's song selections. Had it been up to me, the likes of Parish School, Angie Heaton, and Bedhead would never have been amongst my choices for a Top 64 of artists--especially when such great artists like Hüsker Dü, Billy Bragg and Seam, among many others, were excluded.

But in Round Two, we're getting closer to the artists I really and truly admire and care about. Cream rises to the top, as it were, with the pretenders being weeded out. (No apology for the mixed metaphor.) There are several huge battles looming, particularly Pavement-Morphine, Yo La Tengo-Pixies, Pogues-Built to Spill and Replacements-Camper Van Beethoven. Those four matches in particular will sorely strain my heartstrings, with many beloved bands being sent packing. But this is a competition, after all (albeit a completely subjective one), and there have to be 63 losers in order for one winner to rise to the top. Believe it or not, I have absolutely no idea whom that winner might be. I've been resisting the temptation to look that far ahead.

Stay tuned!

Updated tourney bracket is here, with play-by-play here. Recap commentary on the blog itself are collected here.

May 5, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sheer Unadulterated Brilliance


Thank you, Mr. Colbert. Thank you.

Video Link (Quicktime)
Transcript Link

(Above image by Shawn Stricklin.)

May 5, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kerouac On Film

Interesting time capsule...Jack Kerouac interviewed by Steve Allen (including a reading by Kerouac, backed by Allen's jazz combo) and William F. Buckley, plus Walter Cronkite's report of the writer's death.

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

Pacyga on the Immigration Rally

Author and Columbia College Chicago history professor Dominic Pacyga had some interesting insights on Monday's immigration rally in Chicago, on WBEZ's Eight Forty-Eight program.

Pacyga is the author of Polish Immigrants and Industrial Chicago: Workers on the South Side, 1880-1922, among many other books.

May 3, 2006 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Angry Kittens Play the Vines, Once More

Why? Why again? Because it's my blog, because I haven't linked to it in over two years, and because it never fails to give me some serious giggles. Ladies and gentlemen, Angry Kittens Play the Vines. That's indeed one angry kitten.

May 3, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Tasty New Banner?


I'm sorely tempted to use this as my new banner logo...then again, I haven't eaten in a while, so that just might be my stomach talking. Anyway, this is a fun image generator--try it yourself!

(Via the always essential Boing Boing.)

May 3, 2006 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (0)

Steven McDermott, "Crane Man"

FoPL Steve McDermott (who published my first story at his journal Storyglossia) has a funny new story, "Crane Man", at scarecrow. A victim of a voyeur (a voyeuree?) turns the tables on said voyeur, with wickedly delightful results. Check it out. And, for goodness sake, close your curtains already.

May 3, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Photo of the Day


Because somebody, bless them, still wants to do the dirty work.

(Via Boing Boing.)

May 2, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

May is Reading The World month...

The indefatigable Dan Wickett at Emerging Writers Network points out that this month is the second annual edition of Reading The World, a collaboration between booksellers and publishers to promote works from outside the United States. This year, ten publishers and 150 booksellers are participating. Sounds like a great idea. In fact, it's inspired me to move Osamu Dazai's Blue Bamboo to the very top of my To Read Pile.

May 2, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Captions Without Photos" Redux

The good folks at Gapers Block have been kind enough to re-run my nonfiction piece "Captions Without Photos" which they first published last year. Andrew, Naz and the rest of you, my thanks as always.

May 2, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #3

The Johnny Cash Regional of the Tournament of Tunes has concluded its first round. Again, no major surprises, with several heavyweights (Yo La Tengo, Mission of Burma, Guided by Voices, the Pixies) scoring easy victories. The really interesting matchups won't come until Round Two, particularly the Yo La Tengo-Pixies donnybrook. If you're looking for a darkhorse, though, keep an eye on Joel R.L. Phelps, who has a decent chance of reaching the Elite Eight.

The Carl Perkins Regional is already underway, with two low-key matchups: John Doe vs. The Feelies, and Big Dipper vs. Saturnine. With only twelve new contestants left, I'm getting a bit desperate that several of my favorite bands (Replacements, Camper Van Beethoven, Seam) might never be selected. And if the wife doesn't see Bad Religion or Ben Folds pop up soon, she just might boycott the whole shebang.

As always, bracket is here, play-by-play here.

May 1, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Skive Magazine, May 2006

The May 2006 issue of Skive Magazine is now online, and includes my short story "Can't Be Happy Today, But Tomorrow." The free version of the magazine is available here. The free version can be read on your computer monitor but can't be printed out--the full printable version is available here for the nominal price of $2 (payable via PayPal). Skive editor Matt Ward is doing whatever he can to pay his writers a little something, so please consider buying the printable version as a show of support for independent publishing. Rest assured that neither Skive nor any of the 32 writers in this month's issue will be getting rich off of this venture.

Either way, I hope you enjoy the story. It was originally conceived as an entry to The First Line which failed to make the cut at that journal. After it didn't get published there, I let it languish for well over a year before reviving it recently. It's a paean to young artists who find themselves caught between two worlds, between adolescent family life and independent adulthood. The narrator will get to the latter someday, but she's obviously not quite there yet.

May 1, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)