« July 2009 | Main | September 2009 »

Summer of Classics 2009 - The Recap

It's August 31st, and another Summer of Classics has ended. This year I read five undeniable classics which spanned more than a hundred years, from before the Civil War to after World War II, when the world and especially literature changed completely. Though I admired all five, some I liked much more than others, as I hope to adequately impart below.

Henry David Thoreau: Walden, or Life in the Woods
Thoreau writes magnificently of the natural environment around his cottage at Walden Pond, observing everything in sharp, patient detail and yet still conveying the ecstacy he felt every day. However, his philosophy - basically, that everyone should renounce the materialistic excesses of civilization and retreat to the simplicity of nature - is naive and leaves much to be desired. For one thing, not everyone has the luxury of doing so, and Thoreau wouldn't have either were it not for the landowner who let the writer live on his woodlot, or his generous Concord friends. And if everyone did have that luxury, Thoreau's beloved woods would have been overrun with neophtye naturalists from town, destroying the serene solitude that he cherished so much.

George Orwell, 1984
A truly great and terrifying story of a faceless, bureaucratic, ultra-controlling society, where individuals are powerless and history itself is regularly erased and rewritten to serve the government's needs. The book is every bit as relevant to contemporary times as when it was written, nearly sixty years ago. Read read read this book if you haven't already, and if you have, then read it again.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
In sharp contrast to Orwell, Huxley's opus is comic in tone, a narrative mode I certainly didn't expect from subject matter such as this, and one that certainly lightens the mood. But the book suffers from two drawbacks: first, a lack of focus in terms of a central character, which shifts from Lenina to Bernard Marx and finally to John the Savage, and prevented me from fully engaging with the narrative; and second, the fact that Huxley's dystopia (which prominently features copius quantities of sex and sedatives) sounds infinitely more pleasant than Orwell's, which blunts much of the author's cautionary message. If you are forced to live in a dystopia, you could do a lot worse than Huxley's.

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
After the weighty dystopias of Orwell and Huxley, I gratefully turned to Twain's comic masterpiece of Mississippi River adventuring. And in that sense the book did not disappoint - Huck is one of the greatest characters in American fiction, and the book is never less than thoroughly entertaining. But, odd as it might sound, I would have liked the book to be more about Huck, and less about the characters (particularly "the king" and "the duke") around him. I was touched by Huck's moral quandry over his responsibility to the runaway slave Jim versus societal norms, but would have preferred to see more of his inner psychology.

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
After a momentary literary infatuation with Emma Bovary, I quickly soured on her, as the instances of her deceit, greed, infidelity, shallowness, and brattiness rapidly piled up. The book itself didn't work for me either, as it lacked even a single sympathetic character to identify with - certainly not Emma, of course, but not the clueless cuckold Charles, the naive wooer Leon, the conniving lothario Rodolphe nor the pompous blowhard Homais either. And the book was much too long, running far beyond my point of caring any longer and yet still not long enough to see Emma suffer the karmic comeuppance that she so thoroughly deserved. That comeuppance might have redeemed the book for me, and when it didn't arrive the book was irretrievably lost. And the overwhelmingly sad final pages didn't help matters either.

August 31, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (6)

When Nelson met Simone

Interesting Algren item at the Chicago Reader.
"He also is barely able to penetrate her pronounced French accent, or understand her broken English, as she enthuses over the 'thrillings' (thrillers) she has seen at the movies. But language is unimportant. He finds her attractive...The description she has been given of him, unstable, moody, neurotic, inclines her in his favour..."
Personally, the terms "unstable, moody, neurotic" would repel me from a woman I've never met, but I guess Algren's attraction is emblematic of his offbeat and warped sensibility that I admire so much about his life and work. Incidentally, Beauvoir first arrived in Chicago on February 21, but I wonder if their first date was on the same day, or later. By coincidence Julie and I had our first date on February 21, 1997. Beauvoir was the (mostly unrequited) love of Algren's life, and I think it would be very cool if both their relationship and ours started on a February 21. I'll have to check out that book to find out.

August 28, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Joliet Police Blotter

This is certainly a strong candidate for Joliet Police Blotter Story Of The Year. How discreet of the newspaper to not disclose the woman's name, thus protecting her from well-deserved public ridicule.
No surprise when gas and lighter mix
JOLIET -- A woman's method of checking her fuel level Tuesday night was like pouring gasoline on a fire.

The 27-year-old Joliet woman suffered second-degree burns and destroyed a car after reportedly using a cigarette lighter to help her see how much gas was in the can she'd been filling.

Police reports say it was around 10:30 p.m. when the woman drove to 7-11, 1609 E. Cass St., in a yellow 1970 Chevrolet 400.

The woman "was filling up a gas can, which was sitting on the passenger seat of the car. (She) then used a lighter to use as a light to observe how full the can was," police said.

The can ignited from the lighter's flame and the resulting explosion also set the vehicle's interior ablaze.

Apparently fearful the fire could spread to the fuel pump she'd been using, the victim began to push the burning car.

Firefighters from Station Four reported the Chevrolet was "approximately five feet from the pumps and fully involved" when they arrived.

The woman was treated for "nonlife threatening, but serious" second-degree burns to her right wrist and right thigh by ambulance personnel and taken to Silver Cross Hospital.

August 28, 2009 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (7)

Quote

"I got on with the task of turning myself into a brief professional writer. The term professional is not meant to imply a high standard of commitment and attainment: it meant then, as it still does, the pursuit of a trade or calling to the end of paying the rent and buying liquor. I leave the myth of inspiration and agonised creative inaction to the amateurs."
- Anthony Burgess

(My lifetime earnings from writing haven't been enough to cover even one-third of a single monthly mortgage payment, but I've also never believed in the myth of inspiration and my creative inaction has grown steadily less agonized over time, so I'm not sure where I would fit in the Burgess continuum.)

(Via About Last Night.)

August 27, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Boring Update

You might recall the first entry, from 2007, of "In Search of the World's Most Boring Book Title" by Paul Collins, which squared When Mother Lets Us Make Paper Box Furniture against 75 Exciting Vegetables for Your Garden. Well, Collins has finally posted his long-awaited followup, which pits When Mother Lets Us... (also my choice from the first round) against The Baking Powder Controversy. For me, the most boring honor still goes to When Mother Lets Us... because, frankly, I'm thoroughly intrigued by the other title, and am now eager to know what could possibly be controversial about baking powder.

August 25, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

"A Book Lover’s Guide to IKEA seating"

Jimmy Chen is a very funny man.
This is a futurist looking chair which will compliment books about our future: Brave New World, 1984 (um, that’s ages ago, but still), Fahrenheit 451, The Road, etc. All books about the future are dystopian because nobody wants to read a predictable book about the future. Imagine a book called “2010″ about a guy who goes to work everyday and drinks other people’s sodas in the fridge and drafts stories veiled in Microsoft Outlook as work-related emails, and craps as much as he can at work in order to deplete toilet paper, to “get back” at his employers for the low salary. That book would be boring, right? (Any publishers interested please email me.)
And that "All books about the future are dystopian..." is a great bit of insight that I wish I'd thought up myself.

August 25, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

What happened to Sir Minnes?

I've been following the daily entries in Samuel Pepy's Diary for a while now, albeit not intensively. Maybe the sometimes archaic language has put me off, or the timely references I don't recognize, but reading the diary has been a very casual activity. But this entry from August 20, 1666 really grabbed my attention, in its mention of the stricken Sir. J. Minnes. (I've bolded the passages pertaining to him.)
Waked this morning, about six o’clock, with a violent knocking at Sir J. Minnes’s doore, to call up Mrs. Hammon, crying out that Sir J. Minnes is a-dying. He come home ill of an ague on Friday night. I saw him on Saturday, after his fit of the ague, and then was pretty lusty. Which troubles me mightily, for he is a very good, harmless, honest gentleman, though not fit for the business. But I much fear a worse may come, that may be more uneasy to me. Up, and to Deptford by water, reading “Othello, Moore of Venice,” which I ever heretofore esteemed a mighty good play, but having so lately read “The Adventures of Five Houres,” it seems a mean thing. Walked back, and so home, and then down to the Old Swan and drank at Betty Michell’s, and so to Westminster to the Exchequer about my quarter tallies, and so to Lumbard Streete to choose stuff to hang my new intended closet, and have chosen purple. So home to dinner, and all the afternoon till almost midnight upon my Tangier accounts, getting Tom Wilson to help me in writing as I read, and at night W. Hewer, and find myself most happy in the keeping of all my accounts, for that after all the changings and turnings necessary in such an account, I find myself right to a farthing in an account of 127,000l. This afternoon I visited Sir J. Minnes, who, poor man, is much impatient by these few days’ sickness, and I fear indeed it will kill him.

I'm struck by how Pepys suddenly introduces Minnes and his great concern for the gentleman, but then just as abruptly goes on to relate the innocuous remainder of his day, which then concludes with his visit to Minnes and his startling layman's diagnosis. So what happened to him? Did he finally succumb to the ague? Yes, I know I could easily Google the answer, but that would seem like cheating. I'm simply going to wait and let Pepys tell me himself.

August 23, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hail, hail!

What do you know? A National Book Award winner that I've actually read: William Maxwell's So Long, See You Tomorrow. I read the book last year, and absolutely loved it. Maxwell packs so much meaning and description into so few words that if it's possible that a slender book of just 144 pages can qualify as an epic, then it's this very book. A great one -read it.

Browsing the list, I see that I've only read three of them: The Man With the Golden Arm, Invisible Man and So Long, See You Tomorrow, with several more winners (The Moviegoer, The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor, All the Pretty Horses, Cold Mountain, Waiting) on my shelf and due to be read. One might think this dearth of award-winning books might suggest I'm less than well-read, but given that awards and official hosannas have never meant much to me (I haven't seen most of the Best Picture Oscar winners, either) it doesn't bother me at all.

August 21, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Boy's gotta have it.

R. Sikoryak's Masterpiece Comics.

Masterpiece Comics adapts a variety of classic literary works with the most iconic visual idioms of twentieth-century comics. Dense with exclamation marks and lurid colors, R. Sikoryak’s parodies remind us of the sensational excesses of the canon, or, if you prefer, of the economical expressiveness of classic comics from Batman to Garfield. In "Blond Eve,” Dagwood and Blondie are ejected from the Garden of Eden into their archetypal suburban home; Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray is reimagined as a foppish Little Nemo; and Camus’s Stranger becomes a brooding, chain-smoking Golden Age Superman. Other source material includes Dante, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, bubblegum wrappers, superhero comics, kid cartoons, and more.
What really grabbed me was Charlie Brown as Gregor Samsa. Genius!

August 21, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"On the proper way to use this book"

1001

The image above is a page from the 1915 book "1001 Places to Sell Manuscripts", edited by William R. Kane. On behalf of aspiring writers everywhere, I am insulted. "On the proper way to use this book"? Don't you think, Mr. Kane, that any writers who have enough intelligence and savvy to not only write, but to produce a book-length manuscript which they then want to publish, probably already know how to "use" your book? Chances are they've already seen a book or two in their lives (otherwise how would they know what a manuscript is supposed to look like?) and are familiar with how tables of contents, indexes, etc. work. Also, thanks for the reminder to "take time to read this book through carefully from cover to cover" as I'm sure your magnum opus is fully deserving of a very careful, studious reading. And I'll definitely take time to do so, because like most writers I'm a bit slow and will have to pore over each word, one by one, marking my place with my dirty thumb and trying not to drool from my tongue that's sticking out of the corner of my mouth.

Okay, I'll admit that this book (basically the Writers Market guide of its day) was probably very helpful to writers, but still, the condescension of this introductory page was really unnecessary.

(Via The Rumpus.)

August 19, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Save the public option!

I'm dismayed that the Obama Administration is already backing down from including a public insurance option as part of healthcare reform. Without a public option, it will be reform in name only, and our broken healthcare system won't be fixed.

The “public option,” a new government insurance program akin to Medicare, has been a central component of Mr. Obama’s agenda for overhauling the health care system, but it has also emerged as a flashpoint for anger and opposition. Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, said the public option was “not the essential element” for reform and raised the idea of the co-op during an interview on CNN.

Mr. Obama himself sought to play down the significance of the public option at a town-hall-style meeting on Saturday in Grand Junction, Colo., when a university student challenged him on how private insurers could compete with the government.

After strongly defending the public plan, the president suggested that he, too, viewed it as only a small piece of a broader initiative intended to control costs, expand coverage, protect consumers and make the delivery of health care more efficient.

No no no. The public option is the essential element. The best way to "control costs, expand coverage, protect consumers and make the delivery of health care more efficient" is to have a public option which will force private insurers to be more competitive. This will benefit both those who are currently uninsured (who will gain coverage) and those (myself included) who already have employer-provided private insurance, who will gain from more comprehensive coverage and controlled growth of policy premiums.

And the argument that "a public plan would invariably drive private insurers out of business and prompt employers to drop private coverage" doesn't hold either. The insurance companies are already in such a position of strength that even a few million people migrating to the the public plan won't bankrupt them, but should instead spur them to be more efficient and negotiate more vigorously with pharmaceutical companies and hospitals instead of just passing along higher costs to employers and individuals. This will make their health plan offerings more affordable, and make them more palatable to employers, who will thus be more likely to continue providing coverage to workers.

What's wrong with a little competition, anyway? Isn't that what capitalism is all about? What are the private insurers afraid of, other than the days of their being able to print money coming to an end?

I would like every conservative politician who rails against the so-called "government takeover of healthcare" to immediately renounce Medicare and Medicaid and demand the immediate termination of those programs. Those politicians would be lucky to suffer no more than simply losing their next election - but instead, I think it's more likely they'd be greeted in their home districts by angry constituent seniors armed with torches and pitchforks, with tarring and feathering suddenly coming back into vogue.

August 17, 2009 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3)

A christening party gets out of hand

This brief passage from Madame Bovary has to be the most entertaining chistening party scene I've ever read.

On the evening of the ceremony there was a grand dinner; the curé [parish priest] was present; there was much excitement. Monsieur Homais towards liqueur-time began singing "Le Dieu des bonnes gens" [an anti-clerical poem by Berangér]. Monsieur Leon sang a barcarolle, and Madame Bovary, senior, who was godmother, a romance of the time of the Empire; finally, M. Bovary, senior, insisted on having the child brought down, and began baptizing it with a glass of champagne that he poured over its head. This mockery of the first of the sacraments made the Abbe Bournisien angry; old Bovary replied by a quotation from "La Guerre des Dieux" [a blasphemous poem from 1799]; the curé wanted to leave; the ladies implored, Homais interfered; and they succeeded in making the priest sit down again, and he quietly went on with the half-finished coffee in his saucer.

I particularly like the sly inclusion of "towards liqueur-time," which is being quite generous to Homais, who was likely already well into his cups by the time he started singing such a socially inappropriate verse. But this passage also points out one of the frustrating things I've found about Flaubert, that being his tendency for summation instead of illustration. I would have loved to read this scene spread out over an entire chapter or at least several pages instead of just a single paragraph, one that played out more the tensions between the sacreligious Homais and the borderline-profrane Bovary senior and the rest of the otherwise polite gathering.

August 17, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Joliet, er, Lockport Police Blotter

My spirits lifted when I saw this headline, hoping for so much more than this story turned out to be.

Armed robber strikes Lockport comic shop

LOCKPORT -- An armed robber made off with $300 from Fantasy Comics, 1128 S. State St.

Police said the holdup man entered the business at 3 p.m. Wednesday. By the time police had arrived, he had fled the scene.

The robber was described as a white male, 18 to 22 years old, 5-foot-9, with a thin build. The man was wearing a black bandana.

Police said the robber showed customers and employees a small, black, semi-automatic handgun, telling them to get on the floor.

If you have any information regarding this incident, contact the Lockport Police Department's Investigations Unit at 815-838-2132.


One would think that a comic book shop robber would at least have enough imagination to wear a mask when committing his crime, or cackle fiendishly as he departed. And apparently Superman was asleep on the job, because not only did the police have to be called in, but they're even seeking help from the public. Superheroing just ain't wait it used to be.

August 15, 2009 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Chicago, the Beautiful"

Here's a relic - a 1948 MGM travelogue on our fair city. Plenty of physical superlatives abound, such as "tallest" (Stevens Hotel) and "largest" (Merchandise Mart). I hope the Chamber of Commerce bankrolled this entire project, because they certainly got their civic-booster money's worth.

(Via Lake Claremont Press.)

August 15, 2009 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

An update on my woeful short story reading progress

You may recall the goal I set for myself for 2009 - read 25 short stories during the year (with each story from a different book, no more than three stories I've already read, and no more than three authors I've already read), which seemed like a modest goal at the time.

Not modest enough, apparently.

We're already halfway through August, but I've only read seven stories so far. (True, I've reviewed them all, which I hadn't anticipated, but that aspect is nothing to hand my proverbial hat on.) So now I still have 18 stories to read but only 20 weeks left in the year, so instead of my original leisurely pace of two stories per month, now I'll have to basically read and review a story every week for the rest of the year. I think I'm up to it, maybe. I seldom achieve any of my literary resolutions, but this seems like such a reasonably attainable one that there's not much excuse for falling short.

So with a renewed sense of purpose I'm now trudging forward. At least I'm on track with the limitations I listed above - I haven't re-read any stories yet, but I've already used up my allotment of writers I've read previously (Algren, Bierce, Kafka) while the other writers (Spencer Dew, Randa Jarrar, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Colum McCann) had previously been new to me. So now I'll have to venture into completely uncharted writer territory.

Next up is Eudora Welty's "Why I Live at the P.O."

August 14, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Quote

"James Joyce was a synthesizer, trying to bring in as much as he could. I am an analyzer, trying to leave out as much as I can."
- Samuel Beckett

August 13, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Crushworthy?

An early passage from Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (which I just started yesterday) that describes one of the few private scenes between Charles Bovary and Emma Rouault prior to their marriage:

One day he got there about three o'clock. Everybody was in the fields. He went into the kitchen, but did not at once catch sight of Emma; the outside shutters were closed. Through the chinks of the wood the sun sent across the flooring long fine rays that were broken at the corners of the furniture and trembled along the ceiling. Some flies on the table were crawling up the glasses that had been used, and buzzing as they drowned themselves in the dregs of the cider. The daylight that came in by the chimney made velvet of the soot at the back of the fireplace, and touched with blue the cold cinders. Between the window and the hearth Emma was sewing; she wore no fichu; he could see small drops of perspiration on her bare shoulders.

After the fashion of country folks she asked him to have something to drink. He said no; she insisted, and at last laughingly offered to have a glass of liqueur with him. So she went to fetch a bottle of curacao from the cupboard, reached down two small glasses, filled one to the brim, poured scarcely anything into the other, and, after having clinked glasses, carried hers to her mouth. As it was almost empty she bent back to drink, her head thrown back, her lips pouting, her neck on the strain. She laughed at getting none of it, while with the tip of her tongue passing between her small teeth she licked drop by drop the bottom of her glass.


Rowwwwl. I recently did a literature Q&A on Facebook in which one of the questions asked if I ever had a crush on a literary character. Though I answered then that there wasn't anyone I could think of, now I'm thinking it just might be Emma Bovary.

August 12, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)

Office work-stopper of the day

Because I'm all about unselfish public service, I give you the P.G. Wodehouse random quotation generator. Here are some of my favorites, so far:

The Right Hon. was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say "When!''
- Very Good, Jeeves (1930), "Jeeves and the Impending Doom"

I was behind the desk, crouching on the carpet and trying to breathe solely through the pores.
- Thank You, Jeeves (1934)

The Sheridan Apartment House stands in the heart of New York's Bohemian and artistic quarter. If you threw a brick from any of its windows, you would be certain to brain some rising interior decorator, some Vorticist sculptor or a writer of revolutionary vers libre.
- The Small Bachelor (1927)

One of those ghastly literary lunches...This one was to honour Emma Lucille Agee who wrote that dirty novel that's been selling in millions in America...About fifteen of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.
- The Girl in Blue (1970)

Unseen, in the background, Fate was quietly slipping the lead into the boxing glove.
- Very Good, Jeeves (1930), "Jeeves and the Old School Chum''

I now realize, of course, that I must add Wodehouse to my precariously teetering to-read list.

(Via The Book Bench.)

August 11, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

"The other side of the Burnham Plan"

Daniel Burnham is getting a lot of attention here in Chicago right now, with 2009 being the centennial of his landmark Plan of Chicago. I've been meaning to read Carl Smith's well-received The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City.

But I've now come across another book, What Would Jane Say? City-Building Women and a Tale of Two Chicagos, by Janice Metzger, which postulates how the great social reformer (and Burnham contemporary) Jane Addams would have responded to the Plan. On the blog of Lake Claremont Press, Erik Germani writes:

Instrumental as they were in shaping the development of Chicago’s neighborhoods and creating its social institutions, the women were left on the sidelines while Burnham and the Commercial Club laid the course of Chicago’s future. The men knew that there was no profit in catering to the poor and downtrodden, as they certainly wouldn’t be footing the bill for their grandiose designs. So the Plan of Chicago was published, representing only the voices of the elite.

Though the plan’s drafters may have been uninterested in what Addams had to say, Janice Metzger cares, and makes the case that we should care, too. Her book, What Would Jane Say? City-Building Women and a Tale of Two Chicagos, breaks down the plan (and details its break downs), then imagines how the women would have responded to it, substantiating her speculation with detailed research.

Sounds like Metzger's book would be an excellent companion piece to Smith's. I think I'll read Smith first, and then Metzger as a sort of rebuttal.

August 9, 2009 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (2)

Rockwell Kent and Moby-Dick

Beautiful collection here of Rockwell Kent's illustrations for Melville's masterpiece, Moby-Dick, accompanied by a nice essay by Larry Weinberg that draws numerous parallels between Kent and Melville. I've been a big fan of Kent ever since reading his journal Wilderness while staying overnight on Fox Island in Resurrection Bay, Alaska on my honeymoon (the book documents Kent's own, extended stay on the island). I've never read Moby-Dick but have long been meaning to, and when I finally buy a copy it will definitely be an edition that includes Kent's gorgeous illustrations.

(Via Mark Athitakis.)

August 9, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Andrew Ervin

I'm very pleased to see the formal announcement of my friend Andrew Ervin's fiction debut Extraordinary Renditions: 3 Novellas, which is coming out on Coffee House Press sometime next year. I've really enjoyed Drew's stories as well as our often lengthy email conversations during the past several years, and am greatly anticipating his book. Seeing such glowing praise from the likes of Chris Abani and J. Robert Lennon whets my appetite even further.

August 6, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cahokia

Timothy R. Pauketa's book, Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi, sounds utterly fascinating.

In retrospect, Pauketat sees an even more important conclusion emerging from Mound 72 and other Cahokia excavations: evidence of a metropolitan Native American society "characterized by inequality, power struggles and social complexity." These people were neither half-feral savages nor eco-Edenic villagers; they had lived and died in a violent and sophisticated society with its own well-defined view of the universe.

Though I'm a native and lifelong resident of Illinois, I've spent almost no time in the southern part of the state. But the Cahokia Mounds site is definitely one place I'd love to visit.

August 6, 2009 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (1)

Budd Schulberg

I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Budd Schulberg, author of What Makes Sammy Run? and screenwriter of On The Waterfront and many other books and films. I read Sammy earlier this year and absolutely loved it, so much so that when I discovered, much to my surprise, that Schulberg was still alive, I wanted to contact him and tell him how much his writing has meant to me. Now that won't happen, so the next best thing I can do is to read as many of his books as I can get my hands on.

Like his On The Waterfront collaborator, director Elia Kazan, Schulberg had a knotty relationship with Hollywood, going so far as to "name names" against some of the Hollywood 10 who were ostracized for supposed un-American activities during the height of the Red Scare. I'm sure it was a tortured decision for him, but his rationale does make some sense:

“They say that you testified against your friends, but once they supported the party against me, even though I did have some personal attachments, they were really no longer my friends,” he said. “And I felt that if they cared about real freedom of speech, they should have stood up for me when I was fighting the party.”

That must have been a very difficult era to live through, when one's loyalties to friends and country were constantly being questioned, all in service of the largely mythical threat of Communism. This is yet another case of thoroughly admiring the writer while having considerably mixed feelings about the human being behind the writer. So though my enjoyment of reading Schulberg will always be somewhat leavened, I'll still read everything of his that I can, and remember both the difficulties of his life as well as inspiring words like these:

“It’s the writer’s responsibility to stand up against that power. The writers are really almost the only ones, except for very honest politicians, who can make any dent on that system. I tried to do that. And that’s affected me my whole life.”

August 6, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

"One Son Resists" now appears in golden-throated audio

My public reading of my short story "One Son Resists" at The Parlor's Emerging Writer's Festival from earlier this year is now up as a podcast at the Parlor site. I haven't listened to this yet, but assume it captures the audio experience well. However, there is no video available, so the forehead sweat, awkwardly stiff posture and almost complete lack of eye contact with the audience will have to be left to your own imagination.

And in case the vocal delivery is too much for you, you can always just read the story text instead.

August 3, 2009 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Effin golden, indeed

Amazon customers are having a field day adding tags to Rod Blagojevich's upcoming (and self-serving, delusional, narcissistic, etc.) memoir The Governor. I'm guessing most if not all of the contributors were his former constituents, howling online in outrage as they wonder (as I've done) how the hell they ever voted this guy into office twice. Here are all the tags so far that were selected more than once.

moron (121); delusional (91); crook (79); fraud (58); historical fiction (46); insanity (41); impeachment (35); fantasy series (29); hairbrush (27); hair care (20); comedy (19); testicular virility (7); sociopath (4); corruption (3); effin golden (3); illinois political corruption (3); narcissistic personality disorder (3); pay to play (3); cuckoo (2); disgrace (2); dogs (2); embarrassment (2); fitzpatrick (2)

The full list is here. (My favorites, at one vote each, are "governor goofy" and "careful picking up the soap.") And please, literature lovers, do society a favor - don't buy the book (let the schmuck pay for his own legal defense) and leave your own tag instead.

(Via Gapers Block Book Club.)

August 3, 2009 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Working: Interstate Truck Driver

Another great passage from Working, this by "Frank Decker", a trucker who delivers loads from the Gary steel mills.

A stop at the Wisconsin state line, a place to eat. Big trucks stop there. Maybe meet a bunch that have been in the steel mill all night. Coffee-up, tell all the stories, about how badly you're treated at the steel mill, tell about the different drunks that try to get under your wheels. Then move towards your destination and make the delivery at seven o'clock in the morning. We're talking about thirteen hours already. My routine would be to drop two days like this and not come home. Halfway back from Milwaukee take a nap in the cab at a truck stop. You use the washroom, the facilities, you call your dispatcher in Gary, wash up, get rejuvenated, live like a human being for a day, come back to the mill after supper, and be off again.


To me, this passage is truly literary, capital-L Literature. Any fiction writer who wants to create realistic dialogue, to sound like people really talk, should regularly use Terkel's book (or any of his books, for that matter) as a reference manual.

August 2, 2009 in Studs Terkel: Working | Permalink | Comments (1)