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SMACKDOWN!

NYT:

The Supreme Court's decision striking down the military tribunals set up to try the detainees being held in Guantánamo Bay is far more than a narrow ruling on the issue of military courts. It is an important and welcome reaffirmation that even in times of war, the law is what the Constitution, the statute books and the Geneva Conventions say it is — not what the president wants it to be.

I can't even describe how good it makes me feel to see Bush with this expression on his face.

June 30, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Booga Talk, Episode 4

Another week, another rambling discussion about books: what we're reading now (still Like a Fiery Elephant [which I just finished yesterday: excellent book] and Time's Eye), what we're reading next (me: Daniel Clowes' Ice Haven and Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie; Julie: Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), where we buy books, and some of our earliest reading memories.

June 29, 2006 in Audio, Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Call (to Someone Else) for Submissions

Just came across this notice for a new magazine, metro 31, which focuses on the Fox River towns of St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia, Illinois.

metro 31 is seeking submissions for a short story to be published in its inaugrual issue for Winter '06. While this opportunity is open to any and all writers, being knowledgeable about St. Charles, Geneva, and Batavia is a huge plus as we are seeking a story that can work an element of the character of the towns into the story for our first issue. All writers are welcome whether you have been published or not!

I grew up much further upriver, in Cary, and though my mom moved to Batavia last year, my knowledge of the area is only sketchy at best. Since I doubt that I could write a convincing story set in that area, I'll probably pass on this one. But any fellow writers who are more familiar with the area--or are better at faking it than I am--are encouraged to submit. It's even a paying gig.

(Via Practicing Writing.)

June 29, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie

Theodore Dreiser marvelously depicts Chicago in the late 19th Century in his landmark novel, Sister Carrie. In the following excerpt from the book's second chapter, the protagonist Carrie Meeber (a small-town girl who has just arrived in Chicago) has begun looking for work in the city's central business district:


In the central portion was the vast wholesale and shopping district, to which the uninformed seeker for work usually drifted. It was a characteristic of Chicago then, and one not generally shared by other cities, that individual firms of any pretension occupied individual buildings. The presence of ample ground made this possible. It gave an imposing appearance to most of the wholesale houses, whose offices were upon the ground floor and in plain view of the street. The large plates of window glass, now so common, were then rapidly coming into use, and gave to the ground floor offices a distinguished and prosperous look. The casual wanderer could see as he passed a polished array of office fixtures, much frosted glass, clerks hard at work, and genteel businessmen in "nobby" suits and clean linen lounging about or sitting in groups. Polished brass or nickel signs at the square stone entrances announced the firm and the nature of the business in rather neat and reserved terms. The entire metropolitan centre possessed a high and mighty air calculated to overawe and abash the common applicant, and to make the gulf between poverty and success seem both wide and deep.

Into this important commercial region the timid Carrie went. She walked east along Van Buren Street through a region of lessening importance, until it deteriorated into a mass of shanties and coal-yards, and finally verged upon the river. She walked bravely forward, led by an honest desire to find employment and delayed at every step by the interest of the unfolding scene, and a sense of helplessness amid so much evidence of power and force which she did not understand. These vast buildings, what were they? These strange energies and huge interests, for what purposes were they there? She could have understood the meaning of a little stone-cutter's yard at Columbia City, carving little pieces of marble for individual use, but when the yards of some huge stone corporation came into view, filled with spur tracks and flat cars, transpierced by docks from the river and traversed overhead by immense trundling cranes of wood and steel, it lost all significance in her little world.

It was so with the vast railroad yards, with the crowded array of vessels she saw at the river, and the huge factories over the way, lining the water's edge. Through the open windows she could see the figures of men and women in working aprons, moving busily about. The great streets were wall-lined mysteries to her; the vast offices, strange mazes which concerned far-off individuals of importance. She could only think of people connected with them as counting money, dressing magnificently, and riding in carriages. What they dealt in, how they laboured, to what end it all came, she had only the vaguest conception. It was all wonderful, all vast, all far removed, and she sank in spirit inwardly and fluttered feebly at the heart as she thought of entering any one of these mighty concerns and asking for something to do--something that she could do--anything.

(Transcription via Project Gutenberg.)

June 29, 2006 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Vonnegut Reads Slaughterhouse-Five

It's hard to improve on the writer, the reader or the book: Kurt Vonnegut reads from Slaughterhouse-Five (mp3) at Salon.

(Via Maud.)

June 29, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Film Trailer Archive Destroys Office Productivity Worldwide

Or at least it's doing so for me. This wonderfully exhaustive trove of film trailers old and new has most of my favorites:

Diner
Dr. Strangelove
Duck Soup
Local Hero
The Manchurian Candidate
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
On the Waterfront
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Ragtime
Rear Window
Rebel Without a Cause
To Kill a Mockingbird

Most, that is, but not all: not included is my favorite Clint Eastwood flick, High Plains Drifter.

(Via Coudal.)

June 27, 2006 in Film | Permalink | Comments (0)

Inside the Mind of a Creative Writing Instructor...

...specifically, Tod Goldberg. Funny stuff.

8. I have really perfected my ability to speak at great length about books and stories I've never read:

Student: Did you read Shalimar the Clown?

Me: Yes, yes, breath taking wasn't it? [I've never read a single novel by Rushdie. It's just one of those things, like not eating cole slau for no other reason than I just don't do it.]

I particularly like the ending disclaimer: "If you happen to be one of my students, I'm totally not talking about you. It's a person in my other class. Really. I swear."

June 27, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Quit These Hills"

My flash fiction piece "Quit These Hills" has been submitted to the litblog The Clarity of Night for its Midnight Road Short Fiction Contest. The story (which can be read here) was written in a flurry just yesterday, with a considerable nod to Darren Richard and Pinetop Seven for their memorable song of the same name.

The contest is open for submissions through midnight tomorrow, so crank up those pens!

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

100 Rejections

A milestone has soberly been reached. My various stories have now received a total of 100 (or more accurately, 101) rejections. Here are the top ten rejects:

1. "Mahalia" [17]
2. "The Fixer" (published by Gapers Block), "Hope Cafe" [9 each]
4. "Mercy Day" [8]
5. "The Way Business Is Done" [7]
6. "Immortality", "Freewheeling", "A Son Resists" [5 each]
9. "Ectoplasm" (published by Storyglossia), "A Loaf of Bread for the Family" [4 each]

The list is somewhat puzzling, since I feel (perhaps myopically) that "Mahalia", "Mercy Day" and "The Way Business Is Done" are probably the three best stories I've written. Then again, maybe thinking of them so highly has prompted me to aggressively submit them to as many journals as possible (usually several simultaneously) which inevitably leads to a higher number of rejections. Or maybe they're not actually as good as I've lead myself to believe.

I suppose it all comes down to the vagaries of an editor's tastes, or what mood an editor (or intern) happens to be at the very moment that my story arrives. Or, as the renowned philosopher Gordon Gano once observed, albeit in an entirely different context, I guess it's something to do with luck.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you--I'm quite pleased with the stories I've managed to publish so far, and I'm confident that these other orphans will find a home eventually. I'm fully aware of the considerable odds I face in trying to get published in literary journals. Comes with the territory.

June 26, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (6)

Jane Smiley on Sinclair Lewis

In The Guardian, Jane Smiley considers Sinclair Lewis' Main Street.

Lewis was a satirist, but his plots were realistic rather than fabulist, so an element of exuberance is missing in the novel and the tone sometimes seems unclear...Lewis was satiric without being overtly funny or comic, which means the signals the reader is supposed to pick up are easily missed.

Her claims of an impending Lewis revival are probably wishful thinking, though such a development would put me, for once in my life, at the forefront of a trend. Twenty years in front, to be exact--I was a huge Lewis fan back in college, though I must admit to not reading any of his stuff in at least ten years. Main Street and Babbitt are sorely in need of re-reading on my part.

(Via Campaign for the American Reader.)

June 26, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Micro Monday: "Still Golden"

Still Golden
(for N.A.)

Frankie didn’t want Molly hustling drinks like she did on Division Street. Too many of those guys had dirty ideas about what a hostess was expected to do.

She had gotten the monkey off his back, so keeping her away from the dives was the least he could do for her. Whatever she might have done to get by in Chicago was all in the past, all of it behind them. He wanted to only look ahead, to start new.

“Frankie,” he had answered the steerer at the door. “Frankie Ma-...Mankowski.”

He caught himself just in time.

June 26, 2006 in Fiction, Micro | Permalink | Comments (0)

Davy Rothbart

Davy Rothbart, founder and editor of Found (and writer of the very fine short story collection The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas) has a quick interview at The Onion.

I think a lot of the notes, it's just a fragment of the story. It's up to you to piece together what's really happening…

Even if you never buy a copy of the magazine or the two collections, do yourself a favor and subscribe to the feed for Find of the Day. Free, and always fascinating.

June 23, 2006 in Zines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Booga Talk Revamps

My wife and I have revamped our podcast, Booga Talk. Gone are the meandering, barely-informed critiques of Ann Coulter, musings on Quizno's and mocking of local TV weathermen. Arriving is some semblance of structured discourse; since we're both obsessive readers, we've decided talk about literature--what we're reading now, what we're reading next, what we've acquired recently that we might get around to reading sometime next year. Of course it's still meandering (no scripts for us, ever!) but hopefully a more focused form of meandering.

Check out Episode 3. B.S. Johnson, Arthur C. Clarke, the Backyardigans, my baffling continued failure to read Atonement...it's all there.

June 23, 2006 in Audio | Permalink | Comments (0)

George Has Left the Metropolis

Bookninja's George Murray departs Toronto for the clean, salty air of Newfoundland, and in typically witty form.

So long, Toronto! May your phallic tower never go limp and may your populace never suffocate on the exhaust of a million Woodbridge SUVs! I’ll miss you, but in the way one misses the really good sex of a really bad relationship.

Bon voyage! (Or whatever the French say before long car trips.)

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

Beloved Characters from Jewish Literature

Seemingly every publication, from the NYTBR to Snail Breeder Quarterly, publishes their recommended summer reading lists this time of year. Nextbook goes that idea one better, asking six writers to name the character from Jewish literature they'd most like to meet, and to presumably spend a summer with. Responding were Lynn Harris, Jackie Hoffman, Ann Marlowe, Jonathan Ames, Lara Vapnyar and Steve Almond, who expressed his preference for Saul Bellow's Humboldt von Fleischer, describing him as "learned, wise, gorgeous, troubled, crazy...overcome by emotion, ridiculously eloquent...like an intellectual or artistic rock-and-roll star—he's gonna die young and leave a beautiful corpse."

June 20, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Fixer"

I'm pleased to announce that my short story "The Fixer" has been published at Gapers Block. Special thanks to Andrew Huff and Brian Sobolak, as well as the entire GB staff, for publishing this story. This one has special meaning to me (for reasons having nothing to do with the narrative) and I've had a fair amount of trouble placing it (nine rejections), so it's great to see it in print, and especially at such a terrific website.

Addendum: I just found out that Andrew also created the wonderful graphic that appears on GB's main page (next to the story headline), which imagines the fictional "Izzy & Lola" cartoon from the story. Thanks, Andrew!

June 20, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (2)

Strange Doings at 3:30 A.M.

It's been a while since I republished one of Joe Hosey's hilarious police blotter stories for the Joliet Herald-News, but this one is definitely worth passing along. Yes, waking the neighbors and imploring them to stop the train--that oughta work. Plenty of typically fine Hosey touches here, including the Robert Frost reference and "residents were unable to comply with Flake's request."


On wrong track

JOLIET — A young man's car paid the price when he decided to take the railroad less traveled early Saturday.

According to police, Edward Flake, 21, of Smithon, Ill., drove his car onto the railroad track service road at McDonough Street and U.S. 6 around 3:30 a.m.

Flake reportedly drove north approximately a half mile along the gravel path that runs alongside the rails to allow access to maintenance crews. The drive ended upon reaching the Des Plaines River, since the railroad bridge was in the raised position. Police said Flake then attempted to turn around and got the car stuck on the rails before an oncoming train attracted his attention.

Flake left the car unoccupied and ran to a nearby house where he woke up residents telling them he heard the train coming, and they needed to go out and have it stopped. While residents were unable to comply with Flake's request, the train's engineer saw the vehicle on the tracks and attempted to stop the train but was unable to do so before pushing the car approximately 40 feet. There were no injuries in the collision.

Flake was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.


Though, I must admit, that final line was pretty much unnecessary.

June 19, 2006 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

Micro Monday: "Failure in Full View"

Failure in Full View

For most people, without a net is mere cliché, but for my family it’s everyday life. Grandpa Karl insisted on it, though Uncle Heinz—business manager and non-aerialist—quietly objected. Grandma, too, who might have been thrilled by it as a young woman but soon came to value their continued life together over bravery and daring. A shared life ended by a strong gust of wind and a wrong step.

Though the act went on, it was never the same after San Juan.

Years later, some rock band called themselves the Falling Wallendas. I never appreciated the humor.

June 19, 2006 in Fiction, Micro | Permalink | Comments (0)

Introducing Pete-Cast

The debut episode of my literary podcast, Pete-Cast, is now online, featuring discussion of and readings from Ben Hecht's A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago. Please stop over for a visit.

June 18, 2006 in Audio, Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

On Confessional Fiction

I'm partway through Jonathan Coe's excellent biography of the writer B.S. Johnson, Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson. Johnson believed unequivocally that novels should only be based on the writer's own life, and not consist of "invented" characters, plotlines, settings, etc. Johnson wrote the following passage in the reading notes to his second novel, Albert Angelo:

(O)n one level ALBERT ANGELO is a dramatisation of the problem of the near impossibility of conveying truth in a vehicle of fiction. The problem, and its solution or avoidance, are epitomised by the quotation from Beckett which forms the epigraph: why 'invent' characters when you know of yourself so much better.

Well, here's one reason: most people's lives, including those of writers, are so thoroughly ordinary that few would want to read fiction based on those lives. (While Johnson's fascinating life is an obvious exception, which justifies his own adherence to exclusively writing autobiographical or confessional fiction, he insisted that this applies to all writers.) Coe quotes Johnson's friend and neighbor Doug Davies, who elaborates on this idea:

He (Johnson) had this conviction that you could only write from personal experience: if you hadn't personally experienced it you couldn't write about it. And it seemed to me at the time that that would give any reasonable person at most a five-year writing career, because none of us is that interesting--you don't have time to live the life to get the experience to write about it. I think I said to him, then, that this was a cul-de-sac, and not a very long one, and to base your whole philosophy of writing on that was going to lead to heartaches.

And heartaches--even heartaches veiled by furious indignation--are where most of Johnson's writing efforts lead him.

I disagree entirely with Johnson's stance. I'm a writer myself and, as much as I'd like to believe otherwise, it's safe to assume that few people outside of my immediate family would want to read fiction based on my own thoroughly ordinary life. Not that I'd even want to write such fiction; one of the things I enjoy most about writing is being able to project myself into the life of a fictional character completely unlike myself (the corrupt politician of "The Way Business Is Done", the elderly woman gardener of "Mahalia", the hard-drinking cartoonist of "The Fixer", etc.) and seeing the world through their eyes. True, I may share many sympathies and opinions with my characters (Golden Rule Jones has told me that he thought my Mahalia character was "putatively (me)", which had never occurred to me before) but I try to keep them as distinct from myself as I can. No matter how much Johnson dressed up his novels in idiosyncratic language, off-kilter structure and inventive typography, he was still writing about his favorite subject. Himself.

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

Barack Obama Has Had Enough

Another typically moving speech from the junior Senator from Illinois. And quite witty as well.

"We all remember George Bush back in 2000, he said he didn't believe in nation-building; we didn't know he meant this nation...The problem is not that the philosophy of this Administration is not working the way it's supposed to work; the problem is that it is working the way it's supposed to work."

(Via Campaign for America's Future.)

June 15, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Northwestern Summer Writers' Conference

My enrollment has been confirmed for the Northwestern Summer Writers' Conference, and I'll be participating in the following next month:

Telling Stories: A Writer's Journey
Alex Kotlowitz

Image as Story
Peggy Shinner

What drives a story? Moves it forward? In this class, we will examine the possibilities inherent in imagery to energize and unify a work of fiction. We'll discuss the relationship between description on the one hand and imagery on the other; generate and share some images that have unifying potential; and explore how imagery can become the architecture of a story-that is, imagery as a vehicle for shape and structure.

The Short-Short Story
Deb Olin Unferth

This intensive workshop will focus on writing the short-short story, that playful, provocative form that exploded during the twentieth century and continues to be a vehicle for unique approaches to narrative, form, and style. The short-short is often treated merely as a shorter short story or as poetry without line breaks when, in fact, it attempts something altogether different and so could be considered its own form. In this generative workshop, we will look at and practice techniques such as use of innovative structures, ways to build conflict and tension in a small space, repetition, deletion of excess, and more. Students will emerge with first drafts of their own and new and stimulating ideas about short-shorts.

The two workshops may not be taught by the big names from last year (Joe Meno and Barry Silesky), but I think both will be much more focused and beneficial to my writing. I've gotten much more interested in the short-short story lately, and think that workshop will be particularly rewarding. And, of course, hearing Kotlowitz speak will be quite a treat.

June 15, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Booga Talk, Episode 2

Episode 2 of Booga Talk--the podcast which convincingly answers the question, "What happens if you record an over-tired married couple's attempt at topical witty banter?"--is now ripe for the plucking. My apologies in advance to Michael Schaub, Kinky Friedman, Willie Nelson and every other rational, levelheaded, compassionate, non-fratboy-voting Texan.

June 14, 2006 in Audio, Personal | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #9

I haven't reported on the Tournament of Tunes in a while, so here's an update. We're now halfway through the regional semifinals, with semis completed for the Elvis Regional and Jerry Lee Regional. As I mention in my disclaimer on the play-by-play page, having commented on each of these songs twice thus far, I've all but exhausted my supply of adjectives, and thus the assessments from here on out will be much more subjective and the narrative much more free-ranging. As for the latter, I've already espoused on the allure of the solo electric guitar, my preference for obscurities, the fickleness of mortality and the relative in-concert merits of Sebadoh and Built to Spill.

In short, advancing onward are Built to Spill, Ted Leo, Morphine and--in what will be a shocker only to people who don't know me personally--Scruffy the Cat. Read all about it here. I'll be posting new results every other day from now on.

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

June 14, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Ralph's Last Call"

My short story "Ralph's Last Call" has been published in the latest edition of The Angler. As if publishing this story wasn't kind enough, Donavan Hall wants to take it one step further, and use this story as "seed text" for other writers to continue the story. (Guidelines to follow.) So, writers, please sharpen those pencils and send a story!

This story is very open-ended, the inevitable result of my salvaging it from a novel that I started and abandoned years ago (the story was that novel's first chapter). The novel was my first attempt at becoming a serious fiction writer, and while it failed to become a concrete, finished work, at least it got me going in the right direction. I think the story works pretty well on its own, and hope you enjoy it as well.

Incidentally, Donavan has promoted me from Reviews Editor to Associate Editor of The Angler. (Along with a 50% pay raise--let's see, zero plus 50% comes to...Hey! Wait a minute!) So in addition to editing short story reviews from online journals, I'll also be the "first reader" for story submissions. And lest you think my story publication represents some sort of quasi-nepotism, bear in mind that Donavan first accepted the story before I signed on for editor duties.

June 14, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (2)

Story Immortality



(Image by Austin Kleon)

How cool is this? Matt Bell's microfiction story, "Rationalization/Apology", artistically interpreted by comic artist/writer Austin Kleon. (View full-sized image here.) Austin, you're welcome to take a crack at any one of my stories if you wish. I'd be humbly honored.

June 13, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

New Grayson Story

FoPL Richard Grayson has a oddly compelling new story, "My First Day in Fun City", in the latest NOÖ Journal. I rather envy the relentlessly prolific nature of Richard's writing habits. He makes me feel like a veritable slacker in comparison.

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

Product Placement Invades Literature

Or, should I say, "literature."

But in the final edition of the book, that reference has been changed to "a killer coat of Lipslicks in 'Daring.'" As it turns out, Lipslicks is a line of lip gloss made by Cover Girl, which has signed an unusual marketing partnership with Running Press, the unit of Perseus Books Group that is publishing the novel.

Shameful, simply shameful. In other news, my coming-of-age novel, "Coca Cola, the Pause That Refreshes, Cures Cancer and Transforms You Into a Boudoir Stallion" will be published this fall by Random House.

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

Big Day

Then...



Now...



And getting better all the time.

June 12, 2006 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (2)

Micro Monday: "Twisters South of Chicago"

Twisters South of Chicago

The words scrolled across the bottom of the screen, barely noticed below the stock tickers and baseball scores. The TV was mere background as Mary tensely pored over last-minute arrangements--the caterer changing the appetizers again, the photographer wanting to start an hour earlier with her family, her cousin saying that now she wasn’t sure if she could sing her solo.

She sighed, leaning back into the well-worn couch and pushing her glasses back up the bridge of her nose. And, now fully aware, it occurred to her.

My family lives south of Chicago.

June 12, 2006 in Fiction, Micro | Permalink | Comments (0)

Butchering the Classics

Here's a priceless bit of nostalgia (priceless as in: a, irreplaceable; and b, not worth any money): Me and my dad, singing "New York, New York," in a Cincinnati hotel bar in 1994. After a family funeral, I should add--if you knew my family you'd understand.

"New York, New York"

Mr. Sinatra, we are truly and deeply sorry.

June 11, 2006 in Music, Personal | Permalink | Comments (3)

Fast Forwarding to 2056


Ladies and gentlemen, introducing me, in fifty years, hectoring the great grandkids.

"Aw, come on, Jimmy, let's go outside and toss the ol' football around."

"Sorry, Great-Gramps, I was just about to step into the teleporter. I'm going to a Deadhead Convention on Venus."

"Hmmph. Never did like the Dead."

(Via Bighappyfunhouse.)

June 10, 2006 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saunders on Dybek

Over at Coudal, another batch of Field-Tested Books is up, including George Saunders' fond recollection of reading Stuart Dybek's short story "Hot Ice" way back in 1985.

I kept putting the book down, going: This can't be this good this can't be this good. But it was, and to my credit, I saw it, and didn't deny it.

The story escapes me at the moment. I'll be sure to look it up when I get home tonight.

June 9, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Introducing...

Somehow Julie and I got this crazy idea in our heads that our late-night, bleary-eyed, drifting-off-to-sleep conversations would be enjoyable not just for ourselves to hear, but also for the rest of the world. Whether that's actually the case remains to be seen.

Introducing: Booga Talk.

Long story short, we bought an iRiver MP3 recorder/player, pressed "record" and had one of our mildly amusing chats, with the results refined into finished product via Julie's podcast-editing talents. The first episode covers Ann Coulter, Christian-devouring lions, Brant Miller's thunderstorm survival techniques, and Quizno's, along with musical selections from D+ and Beat Happening.

We enjoyed doing this, and hope you enjoy it as well. We'll keep recording episodes as long as it still amuses us.

June 8, 2006 in Audio, Personal | Permalink | Comments (0)

Arnold Newman, 1918-2006


Arnold Newman, one of the greatest portrait photographers, has passed away at age 88. He perfected the art of "environmental portraiture," photographing his subjects in their own element (homes, workplaces, etc.), in sharp contrast to his contemporaries Avedon and Penn who stuck to their own coldly austere studios. An artist who fully engages with his subjects and the outside world--I can't tell you how much I admire that.

Check out an indescribably beautiful gallery of his portraits here. The Picasso and Stravinsky portraits are justifiably famous, but I particularly love the warmth of the portrait of theater critic Brooks Atkinson.

June 7, 2006 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Field-Tested Books

Coudal has published their first batch of Field-Tested Books, those read recently and not-so-recently by the reviewers while on vacation. FoPL Kevin Guilfoile once read Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, that quintessential "non-beach book" about impoverished Alabama sharecroppers. On South Padre Island. On spring break.

Assigned reading or otherwise, this makes him an even bigger geek in college than I was, and that's saying something.

June 6, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thank goodness for Levi Asher

Levi Asher of LitKicks is spending this week taking an ax to several literary giants, or purported literary giants. Yesterday, it was Philip Roth being hacked down to size, and today it's Joan Didion, with three more to come. Deliciously refreshing. With targets like these, Levi presumably harbors no illusions of ever working for the NYTBR.

June 6, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Micro Monday: "Open Mic"

Open Mic

Who the hell is this guy, she says to herself.

She always studies here, in the basement of the Chandler Foundation, because usually it’s a quiet place to get work done. Yet I’m here, she thinks, two days away from my sociology midterm, and there’s a guy up there singing—if you can even call it singing—and playing a guitar, badly, like he doesn’t know any chords. Mumbling something about his childhood, which itself wouldn’t bother my studying, but also banging away on that guitar, disrupting my thoughts.

She finally looks up at him.

My god, he looks terrified.

June 5, 2006 in Fiction, Micro | Permalink | Comments (0)

Noteworthy...

Intriguing settings for two novels which were reviewed in yesterday's Tribune: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, set in a Depression-era circus, and Red Weather by Pauls Toutonghi, set in a working-class neighborhood in Milwaukee, an underappreciated city that I've thoroughly enjoyed during every visit. At the moment I can't think of another novel set in Milwaukee, though I'd welcome your enlightening of my ignorance.

(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.)

June 5, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Mighty Casey" Now Online

My short story "Mighty Casey" is now accessible online at Zisk. It previously appeared in the print edition of Zisk #12, under the erroneous title "Casey's Real Turn at Bat." The error wasn't caught until after the edition had gone to press; now that it's online, its original title has been restored.

June 5, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Printers Row Book Fair

Yesterday we spent a lovely afternoon at the Printers Row Book Fair. The weather was perfect (sweltering temperatures have kept us away in recent years), the atmosphere was lively and, of course, hours of literary goodness were enjoyed. Unlike my list visit to the Fair, this time I was drawn much less to the booksellers and more to the booths of the independent and university presses, including University of Chicago Press, University of Illinois Press, Northwestern University Press, Graywolf Press/Milkweed Editions/Coffee House Press (loads of Sorrentino!) and Agate. Somehow I missed the Lake Claremont Press and Spuyten Duyvil booths, and was surprised that Ivan R. Dee wasn't participating. Oh, well.

The highlights...

1. Here's our haul...


Clockwise from top: The Christmas Alphabet by popup book master Robert Sabuda (a gift to Maddie from Allan Steinberg, a rare book dealer from Champaign whose son Fred is my best friend from college); The Chicago Tribune Tower Competition: Skyscraper Design and Cultural Change in the 1920s by Katherine Solomonson (who happens to be my second cousin--our dads grew up like brothers; what a gorgeous and fascinating book!); Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (one of our favorite authors); A Daughter of the Middle Border by Hamlin Garland (memoirs of early 20th Century Chicago writer); and The Journal of Ordinary Thought, periodical of the Neighborhood Writing Alliance (the Tony Fitzpatrick cover first caught my eye, and then I was doubly pleased to see it was JOT, which I've been meaning to read for quite some time).

2. The Fair was very kid-friendly--in fact, almost as soon as we walked in we came across the Target booth, which was giving away these way-cool backpacks (or "jetpacks") to every kid:


As if that jetpack wasn't cool enough, it included a book and a ton of stickers, which kept Maddie occupied while...

3. We listened to a terrific conversation between Kevin Guilfoile (Cast of Shadows), James McManus (Positively Fifth Street, Physical) and Rick Kogan of the Tribune. Guilfoile and McManus were both very engaging, telling the backstory of how their books got published, and how they were able to successfully change genres (Cast of Shadows was Guilfoile's first book of fiction, and Positively Fifth Street was McManus' first non-fiction). Afterward I finally got a chance to say hello to Kevin, after having corresponding reguarly via email during the past six months, and he's as gracious and unassuming in person as he online. Early in the discussion, Kogan noted that Maddie was the only child in the room, and later apologized several times for dropping the s-word in her presence. (The Target goodies and bakesale cookies rendered her oblivous, fortunately.) We chatted with Kogan briefly afterward and he told us that Northwestern is soon anthologizing his excellent "Sidewalks" column that has run in the Chicago Tribune Magazine on Sundays for the past six years. We recorded the Kogan-Guilfoile-McManus discussion, and hope to have it uploaded sometime this week.

4. We briefly saw an extremely well-known writer (and a Chicago-area native) sitting in a signing booth before a surprisingly short line of autograph seekers. For the sake of the writer's ego, I'll decline to mention the name here. But drop me an email if you're curious about the identity.

All in all, a very nice day.

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

Introducing Micro Monday

This coming Monday, I will be launching a new writing project: Micro Monday. Duly inspired by Matt Bell and Josh Maday of Dancing on Fly Ash, every Monday I will publish a new piece of micro fiction (100 words or less). This should be a good exercise to keep the creative juices flowing, and hopefully will be enjoyable for the reader as well.

(As far as writing projects go, it can't turn out much worse than my ill-fated story-in-installments "Arrival", which stalled after just two episodes.)

June 1, 2006 in Fiction, Micro | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #8

The second round of the Tournament of Tunes is complete. The latest round of the Carl Perkins Regional wrapped up yesterday, with punk heavyweights Bad Religion and Mudhoney dominating pleasant but overmatched foes, Camper Van Beethoven holding off the resilient Replacements and little Saturnine surprising once again, slipping past the Feelies.

Now we're on to the Sweet Sixteen, when things get serious. Most if not all of the pretenders have faded away, leaving some major powerhouses: Sebadoh, Built to Spill, Ted Leo, Archers of Loaf, Morphine, Elliott Smith, Scruffy the Cat, R.E.M., The Jesus Lizard, Joel R.L. Phelps, The Pixies, Mission of Burma, Camper Van Beethoven, Mudhoney and Bad Religion. (Plus Saturnine, whom even the band's mothers would have to admit could hardly be considered a powerhouse.) These are pretty much the very finest artists in my record collection, and the decisionmaking will undoubtedly become excruciatingly difficult from here on out.

The competitors will take some time to rest and regroup, with the proceedings continuing on Monday. Stay tuned.

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

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