« June 2007 | Main | August 2007 »

Babbitt Lets Loose

Here's an early passage from Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt, which I have just begun to re-read, after a lapse of twenty years. George Babbitt has just sat down to the breakfast table with his rather irritating family, and after hearing his daughter Verona suggest that she might forsake her degree from a pricey private college in favor of social work, he can hold back no longer and finally lets loose with a priceless rant.

"Now, you look here! The first thing you got to understand is that all this uplift and flipflop and settlement-work and recreation is nothing in God's world but the entering wedge for socialism. The sooner a man learns he isn't going to be coddled, and he needn't expect a lot of free grub and, uh, all these free classes and flipflop and doodads for his kids unless he earns 'em, why, the sooner he'll get on the job and produce--produce--produce! That's what the country needs, and not all this fancy stuff that just enfeebles the will-power of the working man and gives his kids a lot of notions above their class. And you--if you'd tend to business instead of fooling and fussing--All the time! When I was a young man I made up my mind what I wanted to do, and stuck to it through thick and thin, and that's why I'm where I am to-day, and--Myra! What do you let the girl chop the toast up into these dinky little chunks for? Can't get your fist onto 'em. Half cold, anyway!"

There are just so many nice touches here, to wit: 1) that incomparable American vernacular; 2) the none-too-subtle look at Babbitt's less than enlightened views on politics and class mobility; 3) his hypocrisy over insisting that the working class should produce produce produce while he, as a real estate broker, is not exactly a productive member of society himself; and 4) the youthful decisiveness and ongoing diligence which he displayed (and espouses for his aimless daughter as well) indeed got him "where I am today" - in a lifeless marriage, in an unfulfilling career, without a single true friend and forever obsessed with such petty trifles as how his morning toast is prepared.

That paragraph encapsulates quite neatly what George Babbitt, and the archetype his character has come to represent, is all about. (The only thing it's missing is the back-slapping, mindless jocularity of Babbitt's social club.) I'm enjoying the book immensely, and can't believe I've ignored it for so many years.

July 31, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

That Surprising Hedgie

The Book Inscriptions Project is a very interesting endeavor which presents inscriptions found in old books. It's a fascinating glimpse into other people's lives - how the donor and recipient relate to each other, and what the donor thinks of books. Most of the books presented mean nothing to me, having never read or even heard of most of them, which made the recent entry for Jan Brett's Hedgie's Surprise really grab my attention. It's one of my daughter Maddie's favorite books, a truly delightful story about a young hen who longs to become a mother, a mischievous troll boy who steals her egg every day for his breakfast, and Hedgie, the hen's clever friend who comes to her rescue. Like all of Brett's folk tales, it's sweet, gentle and funny, not to mention gorgeously illustrated.

Maddie has the same strong (some would say obsessive) attachment to books that Julie and I have, and we all share the plague of the overstuffed bookshelf. Looking closely at that blog post above, it's interesting to see that some parents are much more efficient at culling their kids' libraries than we are - it appears that book found its way to the used bookstore in less than four years. But that book is definitely a keeper. I'm all for thinning the herd, but I'd draw the line at any of Jan Brett's books. To me, they're all treasures.

July 28, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Words to Live By

From a recent P.F. Chang's fortune cookie:

Failure is the mother of success.

Not bad, but I much prefer the following from Samuel Beckett:

Never mind. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

In fact, I like the Beckett quote so much that I have it set up as the screen background on my laptop. It's a nice reminder that my writing will never be perfect, but that doesn't matter as long as the writing always keeps improving.

July 28, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Happy Birthday, Bugs!

A happy 67th to my first anti-hero hero.

It was on this day in 1940 that Bugs Bunny made his debut in a short animated film called A Wild Hare. Bugs Bunny was designed to be the epitome of cool, modeled on Groucho Marx, with a carrot rather than a cigar. He is never fazed by what the world throws at him. He nonchalantly chews on his carrot in the face of all his enemies, speaking in a Brooklyn accent. A Wild Hare, which premiered on this day, told the story of Elmer Fudd's attempt to hunt rabbits, only to have Bugs Bunny thwart him at every turn. Bugs Bunny's first line in the cartoon, when he meets Elmer Fudd, is, "What's up, doc?" It was a phrase that one of the writers remembered people saying where he grew up in Texas. It got such a big laugh in the theaters that the writers decided to make it a catchphrase.

How this item made it into "The Writer's Almanac" is completely lost on me but, given my lifelong reverence for Mr. Bunny, I'm not at all complaining.

July 27, 2007 in Film, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...the festival of what is not eternal..."

In contrast to the extended stretches of madness and hysteria for which Knut Hamsun's Hunger is best known, the book also contains numerous passages of quiet, sorrowful and understated beauty. Here, the narrator reflects on autumn and the looming winter.

The mood of the approaching dusk made me despondent and sentimental. Fall was here and had already begun to put everything into a deep sleep--the flies and small creatures had received their first shock; high in trees and down near the earth you could hear the sounds of a laboring life, breathing, restless, and rustling, struggling not to die. The whole community of insects would rouse themselves one more time, poke their yellow heads up out of the moss, lift their legs, put out expeditions, feeling with their long antennae, and then suddenly collapse, roll over, and turn their stomachs to the sky. Every plant had received their mark--the delicate breath of the first frost had passed over it. Grass stems held themselves stiffly up toward the sun, and the fallen leaves slipped across the ground with a sound like that of traveling silkworms. It was the hour of fall, well into the festival of what is not eternal. The roses have taken on a fever, their blood-red leaves have a strange and unnatural flush.

Not surprisingly, given that throughout the book the narrator eventually relates everthing he experiences in the streets of Oslo back to his own pathetic situation, the above passage becomes a metaphor for his own life, summed up neatly in the very next line:

I myself felt like an insect about to go under, attacked by annihilation in this world ready to go to sleep.

Though I'm not sure that line was entirely necessary, it does drive home the helplessness which the narrator feels in facing a cold and merciless world.

Once again, Hunger was an absorbing, invigorating and enjoyable read for me. If you're interested in reading the novel, I strongly encourage you to pick up the version referenced in the link above, which is the 1967 edition with Robert Bly's very lively translation. I have not read the earlier translation by George Egerton (the pen name of Mary Chavelita Dunne Bright, who coincidentally was once romantically involved with Hamsun) but I can't imagine it being superior to Bly's.

July 26, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hamlin Garland resurfaces

Hamlin Garland's A Son of the Middle Border (1917) has been reissued by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, and reviewer Steve Weinberg is quite impressed, calling the work "timeless."

The book's followup, A Daughter of the Middle Border (also reissued by MHSP), just so happens to be sitting on my shelf, patiently awaiting my reading during this Summer of Classics that I've been enjoying. With about five weeks left in the summer, I'm scheduling Garland, Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt and Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology, all of which should take me through Labor Day. So far I've read Winesburg, Ohio, The Great Gatsby and Bartleby the Scrivener and right now I'm most of the way through my umpteenth re-reading of Hunger. Mostly great stuff, though I must admit Fitzgerald was not quite as great as I had expected.

(Via Conversational Reading.)

July 25, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Vagaries of Perception

Check out this photo.

Oldwoman1

A sorrowful, grieving, desperate old woman, right? Wrong...

Oldwoman2

...it's a mirthful, puckish, playful old woman.

Bighappyfunhouse always makes me smile, of course, but this is the first time I can recall being emotionally moved. As the site's proprietor Ron Slattery states in that post:

It amazes me
The way a simple photograph
Can change the way you feel

I couldn't agree more, Ron. You have my endless gratitude for sharing these two photos, and so many others.

July 25, 2007 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Say it ain't so, Joe! Say it ain't so!

This news is sad, tragic and devastating.

Weekly World News Shutting Down

I'll bet this has Ed Anger madder than a swarm of hornets at...at...oh, I just can't do it.

I used to read WWN avidly in college, when I'd pick up the latest issue in the supermarket checkout line and hurry home, where I'd immerse myself in the tabloid to such an oblivious degree that the frozen goods were often left thawing on the counter. Perhaps my favorite WWN story of all time was the revelation that the extinction of the dinosaurs had finally been solved: they were victims of big-game hunters from Mars. It was even the cover story, and thus included a classic full-page illustration (in crude black & white, of course) of flying saucers zapping terrified brontosauruses and T-rex's with death ray beams. Which, as even the most committed paleontologist would have to admit, is a much more fun theory than blaming some boring old meteor.

(Via Magazine Death Pool.)

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

Weekend Literary Wanderings

+ Our regular visit to the Sandwich Antiques Market had me taking a pass on both a lovely antique secretary/bookcase (made by the Gunn Furniture Co. of Grand Rapids, MI) as well as nice old hardcovers of Dreiser's Jennie Gerhardt, Sinclair Lewis' Dodsworth and Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat. Guess I just wasn't in a buying mood. Fortunately, the weather was very pleasant and the pork tenderloin sandwich was quite tasty. (My companions, needless to say, were as charming and lovely as ever.)

+ Marty Weil at the Ephemera blog posts a very rare matchbook from Random House (circa 1945) touting The Modern Library ("Over 300 of the Greatest Books of All Time, 95c and $1.45 a Copy"). I shudder at the thought of how bloated and unwieldly my library would be if those prices were still in effect today.

+ I'm plodding my way through Voices for Peace. The plodding is not at all due to any deficiency in the writing, which is actually quite good, but instead that I've only been reading it just before bed when I'm at my most drowsy. I've only been able to read a few pages each night before nodding off, but over the weekend I willfully read some of the book during the day when I'm moderately coherent. The book is a very impassioned collection of essays which point to the folly of bombing Afghanistan as a response to 9/11. (The book was published well before the invasion of Iraq, but the arguments against bombing Afghanistan prove to be even more compelling in their applicability to Iraq.) Interesting stuff, and I'm sure I'll be posting numerous excerpts from the book once I finally finish it.

July 23, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

The restrained prose of Knut Hamsun's Hunger

As I've mentioned here many times before, my favorite novel of all time is Knut Hamsun's Hunger, which I'm currently re-reading once again, this time as part of my Summer of Classics. The book has any number of great passages, but the following one is probably my favorite. The unnamed protagonist has just returned to the pawnshop where he (jobless, soon to be homeless and not having eaten for days) has just pawned his waistcoat, not realizing he left his stub of a pencil in the pocket. The young man fancies himself as a great writer, and not having that pencil is, in his fevered mind, the only thing preventing him from writing a great philosophical (and likely unpublishable, and certainly unreadable) opus.

"It would never have occurred to me," I said, "to go to such trouble for just any pencil; this case is something special: there is a reason. This stump of a pencil may look insignificant, but this pencil is responsible for getting me where I am in the world, it has given me so to speak my position in life..."

I stopped there. The man came all the way over to the counter.

"Is that so?" he said, looking curiously at me.

Hamsun shows remarkable restraint with this brief scene. Lesser writers, or writers bent on milking a potentially comic situation for all it's worth, could easily have gone on for ten pages showing the absurdity of the protagonist's situation. The man is starving to death, is ragged and filthy, and yet reveres this lowly pencil for "getting me where I am in the world" and giving "my position in life." The pawnbroker undoubtedly recognizes this disconnect (note the subtle phrase "looking curiously at me") and yet respectfully addresses the protagonist, proceeding to claim that of course he recognizes the title of the philosophical work which the protagonist has just name-dropped despite the fact that he hasn't yet written it, and likely never will. Another writer might have gone on and on with this premise, but Hamsun instead sets up the scene, delivers it swiftly and moves on.

Crisp and restrained prose such as this is one of the things that makes Hunger my favorite novel. The book is 232 pages of the protagonist's aimless wanderings around Oslo, with most of it lacking any sort of forward-moving plot and much of it being internal monologue, and yet it's a very brisk read. Hamsun's earliest novels were all this spare - Pan goes by even quicker - which makes his later, denser and more ponderous volumes (including Growth of the Soil, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1920) rather disappointing in contrast.

July 23, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

Photo of the Week

Atticwindow_1004w
Attic Window
Joliet
October 2004


It appears I'm insufficiently on the ball to manage posting a three-year old photograph even once per week. (The last "Photo of the Week" appeared two weeks ago.) Still, I hope you enjoy the late-afternoon image above, of the east side of our house. I like how the windows catch the deeper blue of the eastern sky, while overhead the sky is a paler blue from the fading sun. I've long toyed with renovating that attic into some sort of creative space. With windows like these on each end, it has plenty of good light, but also no heating or cooling. Which probably means it would be more of a financial investment than my frugal self is willing to undertake.

July 22, 2007 in Joliet, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Proud Papa

As enjoyable as the RAGAD reading was, it wasn't the single most gratifying part of my weekend. So if you'll be so kind, please indulge me while I pass along a Proud Papa moment.

When Julie and I went into the city on Saturday night for the reading, we left our six-year-old daughter Maddie with her Aunt Heidi and her cousin Landon, who also live in Joliet. We got back to Joliet around 11 p.m. and went to pick up Maddie. Heidi let us in, and back in Landon's bedroom we found Maddie and Landon both sitting on his bed, Landon's eyes glued to a Pixar DVD while Maddie scribbled intently in a Hello Kitty journal which, we learned, she had gotten that evening at McDonald's. We asked her what she was doing, and she said she was writing a book. (Actually, she writes little books all the time, but this time she was particularly intent on doing so.) We finally convinced her to go home, and we said our goodbyes and proceeded to our car. Maddie climbed in the back seat, buckled herself in and continued writing, even in the pitch blackness. When we got home she found the nearest chair, sat down and continued writing, even though it was hours past her bedtime and she was exhausted from her very long day. I finally convinced her to go to bed. Then the next morning she got up, returned to that same chair, and continued writing until the book was finished.

Although I have not yet read the book, it appears to be graphic novel of sorts, titled Hello Kitty Worlds & Fields. Regardless of the literary merits of the book (which I'm certain is precociously endearing), I can't begin to describe how proud I am to witness her devotion and focus in creating it. I'm sure she would have stayed up all night to finish writing her book had I not talked her into going to bed, showing much more writerly diligence than I've ever practiced myself. Though I had inklings of such before, now I'm convinced we have another writer in the family, and I couldn't be happier with this coming to pass.

We now return you to my regularly scheduled crabby cynicism.

July 16, 2007 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (0)

MoJoe's Reading a Success!

Saturday night's RAGAD reading at MoJoe's Hothouse was a really great experience. My reading of "Waiting On a Train" went fairly smoothly, though I definitely had some first-time jitters. Spencer Dew, Ben Tanzer, Josh Stevens and especially our host Nick Ostdick all read their various stories with plenty of flair and energy. The crowd was a bit small - everyone in attendance seemed to be a friend of one of the writers - which was just as well given the state of my nerves. And MoJoe's is a nice little venue, with the feel of being in some hipster's funky living room. All in all it was a great time, and I'm looking forward to doing something like this again soon.

My sincere thanks go to Nick Ostdick for letting me be part of a fun evening.

July 16, 2007 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Dept. of Innovative Criminals

This story is funny, on so many levels.

+ The guy dressed up as a tree to pull a bank heist.
+ The bank was located on Elm Street.
+ The police chief's name is Dick Tracy. (Then again, if you're a policeman with the given name of Richard Tracy, of course you go by the name of Dick, right? I know I would. I mean, what would be the point of being Rick Tracy?)

The only thing that could improve on this story would be if he had left the bank, only to be chased down the street by a ravenous beaver.

(Via Boing Boing.)

July 14, 2007 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

One More Reminder!

Passing along a message from Nick Ostdick:

SATURDAY, JULY 14, 7:00 PM
MOJOE’S HOTHOUSE
2849 W BELMONT AVE
CHICAGO, IL
FREE

The release reading for RAGAD # 3 is upon us. This Saturday join a whole host of fine readers for performances in celebration of our third installment. Readers include SPENCER DEW, BEN TANZER (author of the new novel Lucky Man), PETER ANDERSON, AND JOSH STEVENS. Editor NICK OSTDICK will read and host. Much fun, to be sure.

July 14, 2007 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ignorance? Or willful manipulation?

The latest outlandish quote from the source of so many others...

"The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that’s why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home."
-George W. Bush, July 12, 2007

No, you clueless simpleton, the two groups are decidedly not the same.

But while American intelligence agencies have pointed to links between leaders of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and the top leadership of the broader Qaeda group, the militant group is in many respects an Iraqi phenomenon. They believe the membership of the group is overwhelmingly Iraqi. Its financing is derived largely indigenously from kidnappings and other criminal activities. And many of its most ardent foes are close at home, namely the Shiite militias and the Iranians who are deemed to support them.

Note to Bush apologists: My use of the term "clueless simpleton" is being exceedingly generous. It implies that he genuinely does not recognize the difference between the two terrorist groups. However, many others might argue that he's fully aware of the sharp distinctions between the two, but is intentionally blurring those distinctions, and talking about the two groups as if they are one and the same, to willfully exploit the country's still-festering resentment and trauma about 9/11 to justify both the invasion of Iraq and its continuing occupation, cynically manipulating the public's fear to legitimatize his failed policies.

But that's what others might argue. That's not what I'm saying. Not here, anyway.

July 14, 2007 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Three cheers for Alderman Reilly!

Finally, the forces of historic preservation and civic tradition have their day.

Brendan Reilly, freshman alderman of downtown's 42nd Ward, came out against the demolition of the old Lakeshore Athletic Club, saying the "historically significant" building can be saved. His opposition could kill a developer's $41 million contract to buy the property at 850 N. Lake Shore Drive.

It also puts him at odds with Northwestern University, the building's seller. A mandate to keep the 19-story building lowers its resale value.

The decision was Reilly's first involving a controversial and high-profile project in his high-rise ward. Last February, he beat nine-termer Burton Natarus in part by arguing that the incumbent had gotten too close to developers.

Somehow, I imagine Northwestern will survive the likely loss of a few million, and Fifield will find countless other buildings to tear down and toss up bland glass towers in their place. I'm not entirely anti-development, but Lakeshore Athletic Club is a gem that's undeniably worth saving.

Update: Lynn Becker has some appropriately sobering commentary on the powerful institutional resistance that Reilly is likely to face in his preservation efforts. But for now, I'm just going to keep wallowing in today's (perhaps momentary, perhaps moral) victory.

July 11, 2007 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Farewell, Noble Car-Bob

Carbob_2

Berwyn's infamous Spindle, aka the Eight Car Pileup or Car-Bob, is facing its final days.

The "car-kabob" is coming down in west suburban Berwyn -- a decision prompting kitsch fans to moan "No way!"

Way, says the mayor of Berwyn.

Officially known as the Spindle and made widely famous by the first "Wayne's World" movie, the artwork of eight automobiles stuck on a steel pipe will be removed this summer to make room for...

For what? What critical piece of infrastructure is slated to replace this wonderful piece of public art? Why, another Walgreen's, of course, even though there are already seven Walgreen's stores within three miles of this site. The bitterly cruel hand of progress squeezes a bit more life out of the urban landscape. Sigh.

July 10, 2007 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...only in drinking and raising hell..."

In April 1924, F. Scott Fitzgerald resumed work on The Great Gatsby. In a remarkably self-lacerating letter to his editor Maxwell Perkins, Fitzgerald chided himself for neglecting his art in pursuit of his legendary brand of dissipation (all italics are original):

A few words more, relative to our conversation this afternoon. While I have every hope of finishing my novel in June, you know how these things often come out, and even if it takes me ten times that long I cannot let it go out unless it has the very best I'm capable of in it, or even, as I feel sometimes, something better than I'm capable of. Much of what I wrote last summer was good but it was so interrupted that it was ragged and, in approaching it from a new angle, I've had to discard a lot of it--in one case, 18,000 words (part of which will appear in the Mercury as a short story). It is only in the last four months that I've realized how much I've, well, deteriorated in the three years since I finished The Beautiful and the Damned. The last four months of course I've worked but in the two years--over two years--before that, I produced exactly one play, half a dozen short stories and three or four articles--an average of about one hundred words per day. If I'd spent this time reading or traveling or doing something--even staying healthy--it'd be different, but I spent it uselessly, neither in study nor in contemplation but only in drinking and raising hell generally. If I'd written The B. and D. at the rate of one hundred words per day, it would have taken me 4 years, so you can imagine the moral effect the whole chasm had on me.

That phrase "something better than I'm capable of" strikes me as odd, with the implication that he wouldn't submit his new manuscript unless it was of a quality beyond that which he was capable of creating. In other words, an impossible condition, unless Fitzgerald happened to be blessed with some sort of genius "writer gremlins" who spiffed up his work while he was otherwise distracted, perhaps by drink or hell-raising.

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

Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener

Just finished Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener, and what a wonder of a tale it is - of maddening stubbornness, of touching generosity, of melancholic poignancy, of wry humor, of responsibility both to one's self and to others, of staid propriety, of the vanished world of mid-nineteenth century Manhattan. And all of it wrapped up (in my Dover Thrift Editions copy, at least) in a tidy 32 pages. But since none of my adjectives can do this great story justice, I strongly encourage you to read it for yourself.

July 9, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Photo of the Week

Cashwholesaleproduce_031107_2
Cash Wholesale Produce Co.
150 St. Louis St., Joliet
March 2007


Since I'm getting back into the photographic spirit, I've decided to launch a new feature, "Photo of the Week." Every weekend I'll post another photo from my collection. Enjoy.

July 7, 2007 in Joliet, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

This flyer, alas, does not mean I'm fly.

In my next small step toward "arrival" as a writer, I'm now on a flyer. Nicely done, Nick.

July 7, 2007 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ads Come Back To Life

My old friend Frank Jump has been kind enough to post three of my old photographs on his photo blog: Union Station, Midland Hotel and Felt & Tarrant. Frank's arrival in the blogosphere has reinvigorated my passion for "fading ad" photographs -- I accumulated quite a few of my own during the late 1990s from Chicago and elsewhere, but writing, parenthood and suburban homeownership diverted my attention, and I never consolidated the images into one central online gallery as I had originally intended. I'm also vowing to start carrying my digital camera with me everywhere, especially since this year I've seen quite a few fine ads on various travels (Savannah, GA, Des Moines and Clinton, IA) that I would have loved to photograph but couldn't since I didn't have a camera with me at the time. (Inexcusable.)

During the next few months I'm going to scour my archives and assemble an online gallery of fading photos. I'm aiming to formally launch the venture by the end of this year. Stay tuned.

July 7, 2007 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Four Years Too Late

It appears that the guidebook to understanding what American troops would be up against in "winning the hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people was on the Pentagon's bookshelf all along: Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq during World War II. I wonder if it includes a passage stating: "Sunni and Shia don't particularly like each other. Removal of a secular dictator may very well lead to sectarian violence or civil war."

Regardless, it's too bad this wasn't published in early 2003. But then again, even if the neocons had known about this book at that time they probably would have ignored it anyway. Truths can be so peskily inconvenient when one has an ideology to pursue.

July 6, 2007 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Happy 4th of July from Howard Zinn

I was thinking about re-running last year's 4th of July post for lack of anything new to say this year. But now, thanks to one of our most rational and insightful citizens, Howard Zinn, I don't have to.

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours -- huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction -- what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.

Sobering thoughts, yes, but ones we'd all do well to reflect upon during this celebratory day. I couldn't agree more with Zinn. The idea that America is better than any other country in the world, that we are morally superior to and a shining example for the rest of the world, has caused us, again and again, to inflict our often hypocritical and self-serving way of life on other countries and cultures who mostly just want to be left alone.

July 4, 2007 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Axl Grinding

Well, this certainly looks interesting.

Here's the premise: two Chicago PIs receive an anonymous tip in the mail that the Axl (Rose) in recent media appearances is not the real Axl. Also in the envelope is a $100k check with a promise of more to come if they can prove the claim. The check clears and our guys fly out to LA.

In short, local writers Pete Coco and Scott Stealey are launching a new online litmag, Please Don't, later this summer. The Axl Rose story will be a collaborative serialized novel, with Coco writing the first chapter and Stealey the second, with subsequent chapters by a procession of other contributors. A new installment will appear in each issue of the litmag. Cool concept -- and I'm surprised Barrelhouse didn't think of it first.

July 3, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Piety and Desire in Winesburg, Ohio

I'm currently reading Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio and am enjoying it quite a bit. There's a great deal of piety and propriety in that small town, of course, but also strong undercurrents of earthy sensuality which constantly threaten to pull even the devout under. Witness Curtis Hartman, the Presbyterian minister and protagonist of the sharp story/chapter "The Strength of God":

One Sunday morning in the summer as he sat by his desk in the room with a large Bible opened before him, and the sheets of his sermon scattered about, the minister was shocked to see, in the upper room of the house next door, a woman lying in her bed and smoking a cigarette while she read a book. Curtis Hartman went on tiptoe to the window and closed it softly. He was horror stricken at the thought of a woman smoking and trembled also to think that his eyes, just raised from the pages of the book of God, had looked upon the bare shoulders and white throat of a woman. With his brain in a whirl he went down into the pulpit and preached a long sermon without once thinking of his gestures or his voice. The sermon attracted unusual attention because of its power and clearness. "I wonder if she is listening, if my voice is carrying a message into her soul," he thought and began to hope that on future Sunday mornings he might be able to say words that would touch and awaken the woman apparently far gone into secret sin.

Cigarettes, bare shoulders, white throat...yes, sinful indeed. Naturally, Rev. Hartman becomes obsessed with those shoulders and that throat, and before long it isn't only her soul he needs to worry about. The story is nicely followed by "The Teacher" which serves as a rather neat epilogue that explains the woman's situation further and also integrates the omnipresent George Willard who once again finds himself connected, but not always willingly so, to yet another Winesburg citizen's life. Well done.

July 2, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)