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Booking San Francisco

Last week I spent a few days in San Francisco for a professional conference/company-paid boondoggle. Between all the scintillating discussions of corporate credit management, perfunctory glad-handing, superficial conversations with people I'll never talk to again, and ingesting far too much expensive food and drink, I didn't have much spare time to see the city.

However, I did find half an hour to have a drink with the inimitable Ed Champion, whom I had never previously met in person. I was pleased to discover that the smart, loquacious, affable persona he projects on his blog and podcasts is pretty much the same way he is in real life. We had a too-brief conversation about our shared love of literature, during which he politely prodded me towards finally finishing writing the two novels-in-hiatus I've allowed to languish, deftly countering the weak excuses I've come up with for doing so. I've taken his words to heart, and maybe they'll be the impetus I've been lacking. Let's hope.

Due to time constraints, I had to decline Ed's invitation to show me City Lights Bookstore. But earlier I did check out two other fine independents--Stacey's Bookstore, where I picked up Laila Lalami's Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (which I didn't think was out in paperback until October) and Shalom Auslander's Beware of God, and Alexander Book Company. Stacey's was particularly notable for its impressive range of literary journals--all the heavyweights, of course, but also three copies (!) of Court Green, the poetry journal of Columbia College Chicago, and Ballyhoo Stories. Quite impressive.

September 30, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Progression, Then Regression

From James Meek's marvelous The People's Act of Love:

For the first time I heard the sound of artillery in the distance. People always say it is like thunder but thunder stops. All night there was a coming and going of slow, heavy trains, full of men and shells and animals, I supposed: I could not see them, I heard their groaning and shrieking and hooting and the sound of hooves, wagon wheels and marching. And they were using aeroplanes! Remember, Anna, we went down to the flying field with Alyosha to watch the aeroplanes take off and disappear into the heavens. I thought they were marvellous things. I thought when I saw the sun reflect white off their wings so high up in the blue that man was getting somewhere, that a new kind of time was beginning. Now they are using them to drop bombs.

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

"Once Again I Fail to Read an Important Novel"

Well said, Mr. Bilgere. Sometimes we all have to set our books aside, and live the world instead of just reading about it.

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

This Drive Brought to You by Booze and Robert Frost

Another police blotter gem from the inimitable pen of Joe Hosey of the Joliet Herald-News:

Blazing his own trail

MONEE — No roads diverged in a yellow wood, so a man decided to make one less traveled by on Sept. 10.

Sheriff's deputies were called around 3:30 a.m. to the 3600 block of Pinewood Drive after a resident complained there was a car driving in the rear of his residence. A birdfeeder had been run over.

Deputies noticed headlights "about 250 feet behind the house in a wooded area where there are no roads or access."

But a driver had made access by running over several trees before his 1990 Chevy Celebrity station wagon became stuck in the mud. Deputies approached the driver and noticed several signs indicating he was intoxicated.

The driver, Jonathon W. Crouse, 23, of 26562 S. Windfield in Monee was arrested on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol, operating an uninsured motor vehicle and other traffic violations.

He was booked into the county jail. According to reports, the station wagon was not able to be towed immediately because of its location.

Let this be a lesson to all of us: A Chevy Celebrity station wagon may not be the best vehicle for off-roading.

September 21, 2006 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tournament of Tunes: The Lyrics

As a prelude to the championship of the Tournament of Tunes, here are the lyrics for the finalists.

Ted Leo - Loyal To 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

Camper Van Beethoven - Sweethearts

‘Cause he’s always living back in Dixon, circa 1949
And we’re all sitting at fountain at the five and dime
‘Cause he’s living in some B-movie
The lines they are so clearly drawn
In black and white, life is so easy
And we’re all coming along on this one

‘Cause he’s on a secret mission
Headquarters just radioed in
He left his baby at the dance hall
While the band plays on, some sweet song
And on a mission over China
The lady opens up her arms
The flowers bloom where you have placed them
And the lady smiles just like mom

Angels wings are icing over
McDonnell-Douglas olive drab
They bear the names of our sweethearts
And the captain smiles as we crash
‘Cause in the mind of Ronald Reagan
Wheels they turn and gears they grind
Buildings collapse in slow motion
And trains collide
Everything is fine
Everything is fine
Everything is fine

September 21, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Story to Film

Way cool: independent filmmaker Richard Skrip has created an 11-minute short film, "Blue Jeans and Black Leather", which is based on the short story of the same name by Steve McDermott (who published my first short story, at Storyglossia). Quietly riveting stuff--and the original story is even better.

Incidentally, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the film's opening scene was shot in my hometown of Joliet, just outside of the old Joliet Penitentiary. I ride past the old prison twice a day on the train to and from work. As far as prisons go, it's a beauty.

September 21, 2006 in Books, Film, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

Daniel Mendelsohn

At Nextbook, Sara Ivry has a very interesting podcast interview (mp3) with Daniel Mendelsohn, in which the author discusses the genesis of his new book, The Lost: A Search For Six of Six Million. The book traces Mendelsohn's hunt for the story behind six members of his family who died in the Holocaust. He ultimately learns how the six died, but more importantly he learns how earlier they lived. (Poets & Writers also had a fine article on Mendelsohn and his book in their October issue. The article's not online, but is very much worth hunting down in print.)

Not being a religious person, I don't believe in the traditional version of the afterlife. But after having read Studs Terkel's wonderful Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith a few years ago, I've been fascinated with the idea of "immortality through remembrance"--the idea that a person does indeed achieve life after death as long as people remember that person and the life he or she lead. And it appears that Mendelsohn has given his ancestors immortality, by the simple fact of unearthing their life stories. Though I generally shy away from 500+ page books, I'm very much interested in reading The Lost.

September 19, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Randy Albers, Columbia College

Bucking its general inclinations, the Tribune ran a nice profile yesterday of Randy Albers, chair of the fiction writing department at Columbia College Chicago.

"My job is to help people find their own voice...I love to see the moment when students realize they have a story to tell and a voice to tell it with. Teaching is an art -- a high-wire act, if it's done well -- and you have to remain open to surprises."

Besides training a new generation of young writers, Columbia is also to be commended for gainfully employing many excellent writers--including Joe Meno, Don DeGrazia, Sam Weller, Shawn Shiflett, Brian Costello and Megan Stielstra--as faculty, thus effectively underwriting good literature in this literary-averse society of ours.

(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.)

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

"Writing May Be Oldest in Western Hemisphere"

Big archaeological find in Mexico:

A stone slab bearing 3,000-year-old writing previously unknown to scholars has been found in the Mexican state of Veracruz, and archaeologists say it is an example of the oldest script ever discovered in the Western Hemisphere.

Not surprisingly, it's an addiction memoir involving a traumatic childhood and a dysfunctional middle-class family.

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

File Under: Least Competent Criminals

Behold this police blotter gem from the Joliet Herald-News. Absolutely, positively no comment is necessary.

One easy arrest

CREST HILL — Sometimes cops pursue criminals, other times they just present themselves for arrest. A deputy speaking with patrons in the parking lot of a tavern on Sept. 10 saw another man sitting in a car look in his direction. The man got out of the car, walked over to the deputy and gave him his drivers license.

The deputy asked why the man had given him his license and the man told him he thought the deputy had wanted to see it. The man also told the deputy he had no connection to the patrons the deputy had been speaking with.

The deputy took the license and saw a satchel on the front seat of the man's car that appeared to have a "large bag of cannabis" sticking out of it.

After placing the man in custody, the officer removed the satchel from the car and found two loaded handguns under it. The satchel also contained several rocks of cocaine, a mushroom-like substance, pills, pieces of paper wrapped in foil and a digital scale.

September 14, 2006 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

Words to Write By

Nelson Algren, from his 1955 interview in The Paris Review:

I do have the feeling that other writers can't help you with writing. I've gone to writers' conferences and writers' sessions and writers' clinics, and the more I see of them, the more I'm sure it's the wrong direction. It isn't the place where you learn to write. I've always felt strongly that a writer shouldn't be engaged with other writers, or with people who make books, or even with people who read them. I think the farther away you get from the literary traffic, the closer you are to sources. I mean, a writer doesn't really live, he observes.

It's a terrific interview, one which I highly recommend. Of particular interest is his telling how he fell into the morphine addiction aspect of Frankie Machine, the protagonist of The Man With the Golden Arm. Algren's first draft of the novel didn't have Frankie as an addict at all.

September 14, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hamlin Garland

Minnesota Public Radio's "Writer's Almanac" pulls a real obscurity out of the vault:

It's the birthday of novelist Hamlin Garland, born in West Salem, Wisconsin (1860). His parents were pioneers who had moved west to stake out some land for themselves. The family went through droughts and floods and plagues of locusts, and had to move around more than once. Garland thought he would support himself as a farmer in South Dakota, but after three of the harshest winters of his life, he decided to give up the farm and move east.

He wound up in Boston where he began to write for the newspapers, and eventually decided that he wanted to write fiction about the life of pioneers that he had left behind. At that time, almost no one had written authentically about pioneer life. People in the East believed that farmers lived in the beautiful countryside and that their lives were simple and noble. Hamlin Garland said, "There is no gilding of setting sun or glamour of poetry to light up the ferocious and endless toil of the farmer's [life]."

In 1891 he published his first collection of stories, Main Traveled Roads, and within a few years he was famous. He went on to become one of the most respected novelists of his generation, best known for his autobiographical trilogy, A Son of the Middle Border (1917), A Daughter of the Middle Border (1921), and Back-Trailers from the Middle Border (1928).

He's obscure now, that is--he was actually quite popular in his day. I picked up an old copy of A Daughter of the Middle Border at Printers Row Book Fair this summer and hope to get around to reading it soon. Maybe doing so will finally jump-start my work on my own pioneer epic novel.

September 14, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes:
The Pixies vs. Camper Van Beethoven

The second semifinal match of the Tournament of Tunes has finally been completed...

The Pixies - Debaser [RealAudio]
Camper Van Beethoven - Sweethearts [RealAudio]

Once again, two great songs. “Debaser” is a visceral thrill ride, with its brisk tempo, Frank Black’s near-hysterical singing, the shouts of “Chien!” in the chorus, the bouncing bass, the crisp drumming. “Sweethearts” is much more subtle (now there’s a rarity—CvB being called subtle!) with its moderate tempo, restrained vocals and vaguely allusive lyrics.

What separates the two is the degrees of emotional attachment each song, as well as the artist, has to me. While I can’t help but admire the Pixies’ greatness, I do so from a considerable distance. I’ve never felt compelled to buy any of their albums, being content to own just a cassette copy of Doolittle. Their public persona, particularly that of Frank Black, always felt somewhat staged to me; they seemed cartoonish, and never quite real. Not that being cartoonish is necessarily a bad thing—if the shtick is good enough, I can easily be won over. And I can’t deny being won over by “Debaser.” But still, the band never quite connected with me, for reasons I can’t really explain.

In contrast, I’ve loved Camper Van Beethoven from virtually the first time I ever heard them—which, if I recall correctly, was hearing “One Of These Days” on the radio. My attachment to the band is so strong that I can remember exactly where I was when I heard specific songs of theirs—“One Of These Days” playing over the loudspeaker in the men’s room of a bar during a wild office going-away party; “When I Win the Lottery” in a Radio Shack; “Take the Skinheads Bowling” covered by a solo acoustic dude in a club in Champaign, my recognizing of which amazed my non-indie buddies. The band and I have a long history—my ardor for CvB compelled me to hunt down the first two albums, on vinyl, at Reckless Records in Chicago and the third, eponymous album at Newbury Comics in Cambridge, Mass. And when I longed to upgrade the first album to CD but couldn’t justify the expenditure to myself, I managed to convince my now-wife (whom I had just started dating at the time) to buy the CD during our first visit to a record store, somehow knowing it would be ours to share for the long haul. (Blissfully, I was correct—and not just about the CD.) “Sweethearts”, with its gentle putdown of the Reagan worldview, came to me at a special moment in time, when I was just becoming aware that my initial youthful conservative leanings were not who I really was. During those early adult years, Reagan had me fooled, too—just, as the song implies, he had fooled himself.

“Debaser”, a great song that I admire from a distance. “Sweethearts”, a great song that says a lot about the person I’ve become. It’s Camper Van Beethoven—no contest.

Winner: Camper Van Beethoven - Sweethearts

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

September 12, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Egad, Another Year Already...

Photography goes from the sublime to the ridiculous, as the wife is kind enough to post this photo in honor of my birthday.

I was having a good sleep in my car
In the parking lot of the Showboat Casino hotel
I said, "I remember you, you drive like a PTA mother"
You brought me draft beer in a plastic cup

I'm feeling thankful for the small things today
I'm feeling thankful for the small things today

Happy, Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me and to you

I remember you, I crashed your wedding
With some orange crepe paper and some Halloween candy
Sometimes I wish I were Catholic, I don't know why
I guess I'm happy to see your face at a time like this

Happy, Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me and to you

--David Lowery, "Happy Birthday to Me"

September 12, 2006 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (6)

Century of Progress Photograph Sale

Whoa, baby--do I ever wish I had a few thousand bucks burning a hole in my pocket right now. The Museum of Science and Industry has de-accessioned thousands of art photographs, most of which were originally displayed at the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. And they're now up for sale, with prices ranging from $300 to $4,000. Although on first glance I don't see any big-name photographers, there are oodles of beautiful images throughout the collection. Lovely indeed.

(Image above is "Contact" by Robert A. Barrows.)

September 12, 2006 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

From this day forward...

See beyond differences.

Never hate.

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

Devil in the (Vanishing) City

Gapers Block has a very nice photo essay based on Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, by the always wonderful Alice Maggio and Brian Sobolak. Somehow, despite my fervent interest in all things Chicago, I still have not read the book, and am seemingly the last person in Chicago not to have done so. I'll have to rectify that one of these years.

September 8, 2006 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

"This Time"

My ultra-short story, "This Time", has been published by 55 Words where--you guessed it--all the stories are exactly 55 words in length. It was a fun little piece to write. I initially thought it might develop into something considerably longer, but I kind of prefer it just the way it is--it says what it has to say, and then shuts up.

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

OV Books Bash

Gina Frangello of Other Voices/OV Books announces the following shindig:

I want to make sure everyone knows about the second annual OV Books Bash this Sunday, September 10, at the Bad Dog in Lincoln Square, 4535 N. Lincoln, at 7pm. There will be food, drinks, 3 readers (Kate Milliken, Billy Lombardo and Mary Cross) and even two bands. All that and not even a mandatory cover (the suggested donation is 10 bucks, but if you're flat broke we still want you there!)

Kate Milliken is in from Los Angeles, so of course we want to show her that Chicagoans is really STILL the "second city," no matter what the population boom of LA may indicate. And this is the first OV event organized by our newish Associate Editor, Marina Lewis, whose huband Matt owns the Bad Dog--so if you have ANY affiliation with OV (read for us, send to us, publish in us, subscribe to us), Marina wants to meet the whole OV family and wants me to let you know that she expects to see you there.

Though I'm technically a member of the OV family, as a short-term subscriber and story rejectee, I'm kind of that third cousin who nobody knows ("No, he's Aunt Gert's youngest son, remember? The one who got kicked out of Stevens Point?") and only shows up at the family reunion to scam a free meal. However, I'm unable to attend this Sunday, but I encourage all of you other local litkids to do so.

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

Just a lazy holiday...

...browsing through the massive Encyclopedia of Chicago.

Did you know that Cracker Jack (love that photo!) and Playskool were Chicago companies, or that Palos Park originally had so many Northern Irish immigrants that its post office was named Orange, and was later an artists enclave for the likes of Lorado Taft, Pearl S. Buck and Sherwood Anderson?

Me neither.

September 4, 2006 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Micro Monday: "Easy As One-Two-Three"

Easy As One-Two-Three

"Accept nothing less than complete success," my father intoned, lapsing once again into the management by adage that won him so many admirers over the years, both in the firm and in town.

"Build it and they will come," he continued, trying another, one which was admittedly not his own. The sentimentality of that one, and the film where he first heard it, had long been favorites of his.

"Could it really be possible?" I asked, to no response. To him the question was small-minded, irrelevant. Of course it was possible, would be built, would be a complete success.

September 4, 2006 in Fiction, Micro | Permalink | Comments (0)

Window-shopping for Antiquities

Papermustache checks out the Midwest Antiquarian Booksellers Association Book Fair, experiences a serious case of sticker shock, and gets philosophical about a $75 copy of Ishmael Reed's Mumbo-Jumbo.

What would I do with such a book? Would I dare read it? Would it just sit on my bookshelf until I die and my grandkids sell it to buy their new fangled jet-packs? However, the real question, and perhaps more philosophical question, is 'What is the value of a book beyond its words?'

For me, unless it's a signed first edition of The Man With the Golden Arm with Algren's thumbprint embossed into a beer ring on the front cover from a bottle of Prager that he himself consumed: nothing.

September 1, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Winners Announced...

...in The Clarity of Night's Lonely Moon Short Fiction Contest. Writer does not see his own name; quickly proceeds through Denial, Anger, Despair and Acceptance; and decides that while still rather liking his own piece, it must be admitted that the winning story is pretty damned good.

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