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Reading @ MoJoes - Update!

The RAGAD reading is still on for July 14 at MoJoe's Hothouse (come one! come all!), with an added bonus. The previously announced readers (myself included) will now be joined by local gent Ben Tanzer, author of the debut novel Lucky Man. RAGAD honcho Nick Ostdick speaks highly of Mr. Tanzer, whom I'm very much looking forward to meeting.

June 27, 2007 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morrissey, Browning and Algren

Check that title line again. An impossible connection, right? Wrong.

Reading Joe Pernice's 33 1/3 series ode to the Smiths' Meat Is Murder prompted me to look up the Smiths entry in the venerable Trouser Press Record Guide, circa 1988. I've delved into that wonderful book so many times over the years that the spine is cracked in multiple places, the corners are lovingly dog-eared and the back cover bulges out from where I once kept numerous rock-related stickers. The book even enjoyed permanent residence atop the side table next to my recliner for several years during my long-past bachelor days. In short, I've been through Trouser Press so many times that there's scarely an entry therein that I haven't read at least once.

Which made it quite pleasantly shocking to look up the Smiths and see this biting reference, as if for the very first time:

The Smiths' ability to turn shameless solipsism into incalculable stardom was their entirely unique accomplishment. With remarkable consistency and integrity, Manchester singer/lyricist (Stephen) Morrissey and company proudly represent the traditional values of selfishness, self-pity and the unbearable anguish of love. His melancholy romantic sensibility makes Elizabeth Barrett Browning sound like Nelson Algren.

Bam! Now that's some great music writing, even though the Algren analogy was probably lost on at least 98% of Trouser Press' readers.

June 25, 2007 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

No Country for Indie Publications

Punk Planet's impending demise has been getting plenty of mention, but just this week I received a letter from Other Voices which announced that the journal's next issue will be its last, after 23 years in print. The editors didn't cite any specific reasons, though it's safe to assume it's the usual suspects: a limited audience for literary short fiction, a crowded marketplace, lack of funding (the journal didn't have financial backing from any university, which seems to be critical for long-term viability these days, although the University of Illinois-Chicago did provide free office space). And on top of that, the new issue of Poets & Writers has a piece by H. Perry Horton of Ellipsis…Literary Serials and Narrative Culture and an interview with Herbert Leibowitz of Parnassus: Poetry in Review, both of whose journals are ceasing publication as well.

Strange days, indeed.

June 23, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

More on Glenn Mercer...

Updating my glowing post about Glenn Mercer, WFMU has a pretty terrific in-studio appearance from Mercer and band. Most of these songs are from his new solo album (though he does perform the Feelies' "Let's Go") and they sound great. To my ears it seems he's gone back to the wonderfully subtle and near-pastoral vibe of The Good Earth and Only Life, forsaking the more urgent and louder tones of the final Feelies and first Wake Ooloo albums. Mercer's album is up at iTunes, and I'll probably be splurging on it soon.

June 23, 2007 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

An Impeachable Offense?

We've long known about President Bush's signing statements, in which he claims to reserve the right to disregard the very bills he's signing into law. Now an investigation by the Government Accountability Office has revealed that Bush is indeed putting this highly questionable "right" into practice.

President Bush is notorious for issuing statements taking exception to hundreds of bills as he signs them. This week, we learned that in a shocking number of cases, the Bush administration has refused to enact those laws. Congress should use its powers to insist that its laws are obeyed.

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan arm of Congress, investigated 19 provisions to which Mr. Bush objected. It found that six of them, or nearly a third, have not been implemented as the law requires. The G.A.O. did not investigate some of the most infamous signing statements, like the challenge to a ban on torture. But the ones it looked into are disturbing enough.

But never mind the specifics of the laws the Bush is refusing to enforce. Instead, let's look at the bigger picture, and see what the United States Constitution has to say about a President's powers and, more importantly, responsibilities. Here's Article II, Section 3:

He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment, he may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper; he shall receive ambassadors and other public ministers; he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and shall commission all the officers of the United States.

Pretty straightforward, right? Among other duties, the President is required to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Congress passes bills, in accordance with the Constitution, and the President signs those bills into law and then has the responsibility of executing, or enforcing, those laws. But Bush isn't doing so, instead claiming an executive prerogative, one which the Constitution doesn't allow and which the Founding Fathers, in deep distrust of the absolute power of monarchy, surely never intended any President to have.

In short, Bush isn't doing his job, in direct violation of the Constitution which is the legal foundation for all of American society. Directly and willfully violating the Constitution... doesn't that sound like it would be considered, at the very least, a misdemeanor, and probably a crime? Again from the Constitution, Article II, Section 4:

The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

Enough said.

June 23, 2007 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Reading Habits of My Readers

I've been a member of the Powell's Books partner program for over three years now. The primary benefit to me is, of course, earning store credit from books purchased by readers of my blog who click through from my site. But as an added bonus, I also get to see exactly what books people are buying, the complete list of which is below the jump. Three observations are worth noting. First, I've never even heard of half of these books. Second, I've only recommended a handful of these books (both Algrens, Evans, Fitzpatrick's Bum Town, Freese, Hamsun, Hornby's High Fidelity, Kinsella's Shoeless Joe, Kogan and Wendt, Kuper, and Laxness' Iceland's Bell) on my blog. Third, my blogging efforts have resulted in the sale of three copies (!) of Culley's The Immortal Class, a book which I read but didn't particularly like. It's apparent that many of my blog readers wander over to Powell's, following one of my links, and proceed to go on a shopping binge that had absolutely nothing to do with any of the books I recommended on my blog.

Not that I'm complaining about any of this, mind you. Some people are taking my recommendations so much to heart that they're buying their own copies of books I love, while others are simply following their own whims (and fattening up my store credit balance in the process), including three people who don't give a damn what I thought of Culley's book. And for the most part, it also looks like my blog readers don't read fluff -- there's Sebald, Mead, de Tocqueville etc., with nary a Nora Roberts or Danielle Steel in the lot. That's certainly comforting.

Nelson Algren, Chicago: City on the Make
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Anna Banti, Texts and Translations #9: La Signorina E Altri Racconti
Robert Olen Butler, From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction
William E. Channing, Works of William E. Channing, Parts 1 and 2
Travis Hugh Culley, The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power (3 copies)
Hanns Eisler, Composing for the Films
Terry Evans, Disarming the Prairie
Tony Fitzpatrick, Bum Town
Tony Fitzpatrick, Dirty Boulevard: 25 Drawings
Barbara Freese, Coal: A Human History
David Gillespie, Russian Cinema (Inside Film)
Laura Grant, Well Said : Advanced English Pronunciation
Andrew Sean Greer, The Path of Minor Planets
Knut Hamsun, Hunger
Amy Hempel, The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
Nick Hornby, High Fidelity
Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down
Alexander Humboldt, Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent
A.L. Kennedy, Indelible Acts: A Collection of Stories
W.P. Kinsella, Shoeless Joe
W.P. Kinsella, The Thrill of the Grass
Herman Kogan and Lloyd Wendt, Lords of the Levee
Peter Kuper, The Metamorphosis
Halldor Laxness, Iceland's Bell (2 copies)
Halldor Laxness, Under the Glacier
Janna Levin, How the Universe Got Its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space
Beth Luey, Revising Your Dissertation: Advice from Leading Editor s
Dick Marr, Bicycle Gearing: A Practical Guide
Carson McCullers, Ballad of the Sad Cafe
Margaret Mead, Kinship in the Admiralty Islands
Francesca Merlan, Ku Waru: Language & Segmentary Politics in the Western Nebilyer Valley
Andree Millar, Orchids of Papua New Guinea
Charles Olson, The Collected Poems of Charles Olson Olson
Ann Patchett, Truth & Beauty: A Friendship
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Reymundo Sanchez, My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King (Illinois)
Bob Scarboro, Etowah County Volume II
W.G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction
Marilyn Strathern, Women in Between
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

June 23, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Getting that first novel published...

At The L Magazine, Nick Antosca relates the poignant tale of trying to get his debut novel, Fires, published -- first through an agent who thought the book's ending was too violent, then a second agent who didn't think it was violent enough and finally, agentless, getting it published with Iowa City indie Impetus Press. It has to be weird getting your first book published when you finished writing it a long four years earlier, as Antosca touchingly notes:

While my protective and proprietary feelings toward Fires have deep roots, almost anything said or written about the novel seems muffled to me, as if heard from a distance, and it’s certainly not because I’m indifferent to the opinions of my (very limited) readership. It’s because I barely remember the person who wrote the novel.

Ditch agent, check. Go indie, check.

June 22, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

No Caption Needed

The University of Chicago Press announces a fascinating new release, Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites' No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy. The press has posted an excerpt in which the authors discuss perhaps the most iconic photograph that American journalism has ever produced, Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother". The excerpt rather compellingly describes the story behind the creation of the photo and, even more interestingly, the mythos which arose around it and the subject's later reaction to being immortalized.

Longtime readers of this blog are likely already aware that I am an ardent devotee of the Farm Security Administration photographic project and collection from the 1930s and 1940s, which included works by Lange, Walker Evans, Jack Delano and many others and which I believe, in seeking to bring attention to the plight of everyday people during the Depression and its aftermath, is one of the finest examples of the ambition, humanity and compassion of the New Deal. Whether or not the photographs' subjects were at all aided by having their lives so documented, at least the enduring appeal of the photographs will ensure that these people will never be completely forgotten.

Although the scope of Hariman and Lucaites' book goes far beyond just the FSA collection, it looks like a very invigorating read. I'm definitely adding it to my list.

June 22, 2007 in Books, Photography | Permalink | Comments (1)

"...the power of the story..."

"I want something to happen in my stories, and I want to sort of push them to the edge. ... Most threats in life come from the unpredictable, random, cruel behavior of other people. ... [Suspense is] not the only thing one wants in a novel, but I hold to quite old-fashioned beliefs in the power of the story, our need for story."
- Ian McEwan, who celebrates his 59th birthday today.

June 21, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Forgive me. I am a very weak man.

Early this year, seeing my to-read list overflowing from two shelves and taking root on a third, I imposed a book-buying embargo on myself. I vowed to not buy a book, not a single one, for all of 2007. I would instead read from what I had already accumulated, and with any luck make a small dent in that considerable library.

I was successful. For six months, anyway.

A few days ago I stopped in at the newly-revived Brent Books. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, just browsing. I was still abstaining, I told myself. But I might as well have been a recovering alcoholic "just browsing" in a liquor store. Or an aspiring celibate monk strolling along Daytona Beach during Spring Break, just for the exercise. Like those two theoretical individuals in overwhelmingly adverse conditions, I bravely stared down temptation for a few critical moments. And then I caved.

Peace

It was an intriguing little volume called Voices For Peace a UK collection of essays espousing peace in the aftermath of 9/11. The book was published in early 2002, an momentous interlude in time, after the invasion of Afghanistan but a year before the invasion of Iraq. It seemed like an Important Book, or at least a fascinating time capsule. And it was on the sale table, for only five bucks. I told myself the book was probably out of print and might be hard to find if I passed on it. So I bought it. No big deal, I thought. It's just one book.

Heh.

Then yesterday, in attempt to escape the blistering heat while still getting out of the house, we decided to visit our local used book store. Julie has resolved to read the entire Harry Potter series before the new one comes out next month, so she was specifically looking for H.P. #2. (She just picked up #3 and #4 at a garage sale, and not having #2 would put her in limbo for a while.) In other words, I could delude myself and claim I was just tagging along. So we arrived. I scanned the crammed shelves and book-strewn floors, casually at first, then more seriously, then very intently. Suffice it to say that, in very short order, three volumes leapt off the shelves and sunk their teeth in my backside or, more accurately, my wallet.

Amsterdam

Echo

Pounding_2

That's Amsterdam by Ian McEwan, Echo House by Ward Just, and Pounding Nails In the Floor With My Forehead by Eric Bogosian. It's recently occurred to me that, William Trevor and Aleksandar Hemon notwithstanding, McEwan and Just are my two favorite living authors. (In terms of all authors, living and dead, Algren and Hamsun still top my pantheon.) So the opportunity to pick up two of the strongest efforts from McEwan and Just, at a bargain price no less, was too much to resist. Bogosian was more of a quirky choice. I've been enamored with his work ever since seeing his film adaptation of Talk Radio, a truly riveting flick which hardly seems to get any mention these days. A cheap copy of a book version of one of his one-man plays was sheer indulgence on my part but, since I was already buying McEwan and Just, and had already established the self-justification for doing so, adding Bogosian to my purchase was accomplished with a minimum of conscience.

Then I came home, and put my three acquisitions on the shelf. And now the shelf just below is peering upward, warily, wondering when the invasion will finally occur.

Okay, I'm now vowing, no more book purchases for the rest of 2007.

Heh.

June 17, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Glenn Mercer steps from the shadows...

The Village Voice has a nice appreciation of the Feelies' Glenn Mercer, who is finally releasing his solo debut, Wheels in Motion, several decades into his career. Although it sounds a bit like it's a solo album in name only--given the fact that Mercer recruited former Feelies bassist Brenda Sauter and several of the band's past drummers for the recording sessions--and more of a Feelies record than anything else. But Mercer is hesitant to call it such, given the continued absence of his former Feelies partner Bill Million:

"I really can't explain it other than the fact that it wouldn't seem right," Mercer says of his geographically departed partner. "If either one of us isn't involved, it wouldn't be the Feelies."

I was glad to see the writer give props to The Good Earth, which is far and away my favorite Feelies album. The critics always seem to prefer their debut, Crazy Rythyms, but The Good Earth is the one that's stuck with me the most for all these years.

June 16, 2007 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Chicagoans, Mark Your Calendars!

I am very pleased to announce that I will be doing my very first author reading in July, as part of the release party for issue #3 of the RAGAD literary zine. I will be reading along with three other writers, RAGAD impressario Nick Ostdick and fellow contributors Spencer Dew and Josh Stevens, at MoJoe's HotHouse (2849 W. Belmont in Chicago) on Saturday, July 14, starting at 7 PM. One and all are welcomed to what should be a very enjoyable evening.

As my first reading, I'm looking forward to this with a strange mixture of excitement and fear. Excitement in making a direct connection to the Chicago literary community (to which I'm very much an outsider) and fear of screwing up horribly. I still haven't decided what story I'll be reading. Maybe "A Son Resists" which I first wrote several years ago but only just recently completed extensive revisions on. Or maybe "Mahalia", that favorite story of mine which has now been rejected by 25 literary journals. Or maybe something else.

June 16, 2007 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

When reading Cormac McCarthy's excellent The Road, I couldn't help being struck by the contrasts between the two characters. The young boy is innocent, hopeful, accepting, trusting, and always looks for the goodness in other people and strives to help the less fortunate despite his own desperate circumstances. His father, on the other hand, is world-wise and world-weary, suspicious, guarded and fearful even as he tries to project a face of optimism to his son on their journey along the endless road and toward an indeterminate future.

The son has never known any world other than the bleak wasteland through which they traverse, and accepts things as they are. His father, endlessly remembering what things were like before, and being painfully aware of what mankind is capable of in bringing about this dire situation, sees instead the grim reality of their situation. Yet he repeatedly tells his son that they must reach the ocean (despite having no idea what awaits them there) and that somewhere there are "good people" to be found and to make a new life with. He is loving, patient and extremely protective of his son, qualities which, in keeping his boy from harm, he is unable to extend to other people they encounter. He turns others away, denying food and fire, taking away one man's clothes and shoes, and wounding another with a shot from a flare gun. He will do anything to keep his son safe; helping others means putting themselves at risk.

But not all of the father's acts are of wary self-preservation. He educates the boy with daily lessons and tries to enliven their journey with stories about the old days. But the lessons fall away as they move down the road, the abstractions of learning perhaps becoming irrelelvant when one is struggling to simply survive, and the boy discounts the old stories, saying they aren't true, couldn't possibly be true (sunsets and animals and lush forests? impossible!) since the ravaged landscape offers no evidence that these things ever existed. Yet he trusts his father and follows along, believing that his father will somehow make everything right.

Recognizing their grim reality, the father surely has to believe that a highly unpleasant fate awaits them at the end of the road. But he soldiers on, keeping a brave face for his son, perhaps believing that even if death awaits him there is the slightest chance of delivering his son to safety. It's an overwhelmingly improbable chance, but it's one he has to take. Keeping his son alive and away from harm has become the sole purpose in his life, a mission he gladly undertakes out of love and devotion for his only child.

The Road says a lot about what it means to be a parent, about how you will instinctively do absolutely anything to protect your children, even at the expense of your own well-being, but also that you have to make your children aware of the realities and dangers of the world so they can one day fend for themselves. Protecting your children won't do them any good at all if they never learn to live on their own. Since you won't always be there to watch over them, they have to learn to take care of themselves, and you have to have the strength to let go, as painful as that might be.

The father in The Road did everything he could for his son, selflessly and valiantly in the face of horrible circumstances, and by the end of the story has prepared his son, as well as he could, for whatever future awaits him. And that is what every father, even those of us in a dramatically more hospitable world than that of the book, should forever strive for.

June 16, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Epigraph for Jim Crace

Remember my mentioning that Powell's contest for Jim Crace's non-book Useless America? The contest that solicited fake epigraphs in the spirit of Crace, who has been known to insert fake epigraphs into his other books? Well, I was one of the 75 lucky winners of said non-book. Here's my entry:

Noble indeed is the man who has plenty to say but politely refrains from saying it.
-Thaddeus Winthrop

Quite honestly I have no idea what I'm going to do with this non-book once it arrives. Store it on a non-shelf, perhaps.

June 14, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Relentless scourge of progress continues...

The City of Chicago, in its never-ending quest to sate the petulant whims of powerful real estate developers, wants to tear down a block of buildings at 300-308 W. Randolph Street. Included in this block is 300 W. Randolph, the charming home of the Showmen's League of America, a fraternal organization of carnival workers, and 50-year Loop mainstay Harry's Hot Dogs. The building is one of the few quirky buildings left downtown, replete with carved elephants above each of the 24 upper-floor windows and a vividly-colored painted depiction of the league's logo.

Why does the city want to tear this endearing building down? Does it want a brand-new commercial building in its place, one which will bring hundreds of workers downtown? No. Does it want to build a new public park? Yes, but with a huge catch. Uber-developer John Buck Co. is pushing for the vacated space to become a publicly-owned plaza, not for the common good of the city's residents, but to enhance the value of its latest Wacker Drive office tower which is being built right next door. Never mind that the property owners don't necessarily want to sell, or at least not at the terms offered by Buck, which now wants the city, through eminent domain, to do all the dirty work instead. Never mind that, if the city really wanted park space in this area, there's a large surface parking lot right across Randolph which could be developed into a park at a substantially lower cost than acquiring and demolishing the buildings at 300-308 W. Randolph would require. But, of course, that scenario wouldn't directly benefit the value of Buck's property (since that park would be across the street instead) and thus, given the developer-friendly milieu of City Hall, will never happen.

Let's see, obliterating a unique relic of the city's past, at public expense, and removing productive commercial buildings from the property tax rolls, all for an amenity whose primary function is to greatly benefit the coffers of a well-connected real estate titan. Yes, indeed, the city's priorities are firmly in place.

June 13, 2007 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

McCarthy On the Written Word

The written word, so vitally important to so many of us in the civilized world, might well prove to be mere folly in a brutally elemental, post-civilization wasteland. At least that's what I believe Cormac McCarthy is saying, in this brief passage from The Road:

Years later he'd stood in the charred ruins of a library where blackened books lay in pools of water. Shelves tipped over. Some rage at the lies arranged in their thousands row on row. He picked up one of the books and thumbed through the heavy bloated pages. He'd not have thought the value of the smallest thing predicated on a world to come. It surprised him. That the space which these things occupied was itself an expectation. He let the book fall and took a last look around and made his way out into the cold gray light.

June 13, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

From the Dusty Remainder Bin

Marshall Zeringue's Page 99 Test features Stona Fitch talking about his novel Senseless, a book whose subject matter now seems rather remarkable given that it was written in 1999 -- before 9/11, before Abu Ghraib, before political extremism became the 21st Century norm. My local library has a copy of Fitch's first novel, Strategies for Success, which I've been meaning to read for a while now. Regardless of his literary talents (which appear to be considerable) Fitch will always hold a special place in my heart, given that he was a founding member of Scruffy the Cat, the late lamented Boston band which still remains one of my favorites, fifteen years after its demise.

Maud Newton positively glows about Somerset Maugham's Cakes and Ale ("so bitchily insightful about the hypocrisies of literary culture"), so much so that I might just give the book a go, despite being underwhelmed by his Of Human Bondage when I read it many years ago.

FOUND passes along a cryptic message (or cryptic to my ignorant self, anyway) scrawled inside the back cover of Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, a great novel which I'm planning to re-read during this Summer of Classics that my wife and I are undertaking.

June 12, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Words Without Borders Goes Scandinavian

This month Words Without Borders is focusing on Scandinavian literature in translation. The first batch of goods includes short stories by Jonas Karlsson, Matti Yrjänä Joensuu, Johan Harstad, and Levi Henriksen, and a review of two Per Petterson novels.

The two Scandinavian literature courses I took at the University of Illinois in the mid 1980s with Dr. Rochelle (Shelley) Wright remain my most rewarding and vivid educational experiences. I've forgotten most of my financial management and almost all my accounting from that period, but the literature from these two courses has stayed with me to this day, and likely will for the rest of my life. One course was devoted entirely to Ibsen's major works and the other to various great Scandinavian writers. It's just occurred to me what an amazing amount of reading we did in that latter course, during just one semester: various short works of August Strindberg, Knut Hamsun's Hunger and Pan, Pär Lagerkvist's The Dwarf, Tarjei Vesaas' The Birds, Jan Fridegård's I, Lars Hård, Sigrid Undset's Kristen Lavransdatter, Vilhelm Moberg's The Emigrants and Isak Dinesen's Winter's Tales. How I was able to get all of that read, in what was (within the context of my business degree) a superfluous elective course, rather astounds me today.

These courses introduced me to two authors, Hamsun and Lagerkvist, who rapidly became personal favorites whose other books I've steadily accumulated over the years and re-read over and over. But for whatever reason, during the past twenty years the ranks of Scandinavian authors I've read has only expanded by one: Halldór Laxness. I really feel like I owe it to my Scandinavian heritage (ethnically I'm almost entirely Swedish, plus a bit of Norwegian and German) and to Shelley Wright to seek out new writings by contemporary authors. Perhaps this Words Without Borders feature will be a much-needed push in the right direction.

June 10, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Writings Here, There, Everywhere

Three items for your weekend reading pleasure:

My friend Andrew Ervin has a new short story, "Self-Portrait", published at Oxford Magazine. The story is a sharp piece of metafiction which suggests that the narrator might have a viable career as an art thief, should his writing career not materialize as hoped. (Just joking: between his fine stories and bounteous book reviews, he's already firmly established himself as a writer.)

Aleksandar Hemon, one of my very favorites, penned a lovely essay, "Sarajevo Is", for Habitus: A Diaspora Journal. Clearly, Hemon may now be a Chicagoan, but his heart will always remain firmly lodged in Sarajevo. I've really been hankering for a new Hemon book for several years now, but for the time being I guess I'll just have to keep slaking my thirst with the occasional story and essay from him.

Lastly, the ever-worthy and indefatigable Largehearted Boy has branched into posting guest reviews of music-related books. First up is Jody Chromey's review of Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story by Laurie Lindeen, wife of Replacements legend Paul Westerberg and former guitarist of Zuzu's Petals. Sounds like the book has its moments but overall is less than fully satisfying.

(Hemon link via Ready Steady Book.)

June 8, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Lit 50

The Lit 50, Newcity Chicago's annual roundup of the city's literary movers and shakers, while largely shying away from writers in favor of institutional figures, still includes several of my personal favorites:

8. Joe Meno
The Chicago literary punk—author, teacher, playwright, journalist—scored huge with "Hairstyles of the Damned" a few years ago and again with last year’s "The Boy Detective Failed." Both are currently getting the Hollywood treatment, as Meno continues to play a major role in Columbia College’s fiction-writing department, which is emerging as one of the most convincing in the city, if not the country. Look for his next book, "Demons in the Spring," on shelves in 2008.

18. Jessa Crispin
The city’s popular book blogger is a daily read for anyone who’s lit-obsessed, as Bookslut.com has become a leading location for book news, reviews and author features. The monthly reading series at Hopleaf has expanded the Bookslut reach beyond the keyboard.

28. Aleksandar Hemon
The author of "The Question of Bruno" and "Nowhere Man"—also a frequent contributor to The New Yorker—plays a major part in Northwestern University’s creative-writing program as one of its instructors.

30. Ivan R. Dee
Founded in 1988, Ivan R. Dee Publishing group publishes trade books in history, politics, biography, literature, philosophy and theater that are thought-provoking and controversial. The company, a model for successful small-press publishing, has been owned by The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group since 1997, but still operates out of Chicago where Ivan’s son, Alexander, serves as vice president of marketing.

35. Gina Frangello
The ambitious Frangello—author of "My Sister’s Continent"—also acts as literary magazine Other Voices’ executive editor as well as for its brand new fiction imprint, OV Books.

46. Jonathan Messinger and Zach Dodson
Proof that your local DIY doesn’t go unnoticed—Messinger and Dodson, co-founders of Featherproof books, put out their first two perfect-bound novels last year. They also release frequent mini-books, which are downloadable for free on their Web site. Messinger also hosts The Dollar Store, the monthly reading series at Hideout, and oversees the books section at Time Out Chicago.

But a Lit 50 without Studs Terkel? Blasphemy!

June 7, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Writing on Trains

At the Guardian blog, Laura Dietz muses on writers who pen their magnum opuses (opi?) on trains.

Some novelists have a hard time saying goodbye to such routines. "I knew where to stand on the platform to get my seat - the only one on the Cambridge Flyer without a seat in front. It was next to the loo," recalls crime writer Jim Kelly. Having left his office job at the Financial Times, he now recreates the commuting experience with short bursts of work in pub gardens and, intriguingly, borrowed sheds. No word on whether he jabs himself in the neck with a newspaper or pays those nearby to scream into phones.

Were it not for my daily Metra commute, I'd get little writing done at all. I actually welcome the petty annoyances Dietz references in the above passage, as I tell myself that in writing I'm actually doing something worthwhile with my time, unlike the cellphone-yappers. And based on the photo accompanying the article, I'd say Britain's commuter trains are immeasureably more luxurious than those here in Chicago. Those seats look so comfortable that it's a wonder anybody can stay awake, no matter how great the writing is going.

June 6, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Dan Brown’s intrigue or Christopher Hitchens’ invective"

Wonder why there's been a recent wave of "militant atheist" books? Wonder why The Da Vinci Code is so relentlessly popular? William Pike of the Britannica Blog has some thoughtful answers.

But whatever the reason for this rash of anti-religion books, the faithful in this world need to take a long, hard look at why books bashing religion sell well, or even sell at all. If the world’s great faith traditions lived up to their creeds and their Creator’s desires, perhaps there would be no reason for “militant” atheism in this world.

I think the militant atheists, as well as Christian evangelicals and other prostelytizing religious groups, are completely missing the point of faith. After all, one definition of faith is a "firm belief in something for which there is no proof." There is no proof -- so either you believe or you don't believe, and no admonishment from either extreme, religious and non-religious, will likely convince you to move to the other side. As a personal example, my mom is very religious, and I'm not religious at all. No amount of logical argument from me could possibly convince her that God doesn't exist, nor could any from her convince me that God does exist. She has faith, and I don't, but we see past those differences and continue to love and care for each other.

All of the extreme dialogue which permeates much of our current religious discourse -- militant atheists branding religious people as (at best) wishful-thinking fools, religious fundamentalists demonizing secular people as hell-bound infidels -- only creates unnecessary and dangerous divisions between people at a time when we all critically need to see our commonalities and not our differences. We're all human beings. Some of us have faith, some of us don't. Regardless, we need to live together.

June 4, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Save Lake Shore Athletic Club!

An unsolicited letter to Alderman Brendan Reilly, of Chicago's 42 Ward:

Dear Alderman Reilly:
I strongly encourage you to support the preservation of Lake Shore Athletic Club. The building is an absolute treasure and a beautiful throwback to a bygone era which should be saved and cherished, not demolished to make way for yet another anonymous condo tower. For far too long real estate developers have had the upper hand, and in many cases the only hand, in Chicago and particularly in the Loop and Near North areas. Surely if the prospective developer of this property is intent on building a condo tower, there has to be a parking lot or at least a less important existing building to replace, even along Lake Shore Drive.

In addressing the subject of Lake Shore Athletic Club, please honor the balanced approach to development-versus-preservation which was such a key component of your successful aldermanic campaign this year.

Sincerely,
Pete Anderson
Joliet

June 2, 2007 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Aaron Petrovich, The Session

The Spring Books Special issue of the Chicago Reader includes my short review of Aaron Petrovich's very fine novella, The Session. The review is online here (scroll most of the way down) and also on page 21 of the front section of the print edition. This is my first professional (that is, paying) book review. Though I don't expect book reviewing to become a regular gig (I'd rather focus my energy on my own writing instead of commenting on others'), this was a very enjoyable experience overall.

June 1, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)