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"For one thing I don't remember anyone doing any work getting it save maybe Shaw. This last book of Faulkner's was written long ago. Hemingway went into a kind of hysterical haze. Red (Sinclair) Lewis just collapsed into alcoholism and angers. It has in effect amounted to an epitaph. Maybe I'm being over-optimistic but I wouldn't have accepted it if I hadn't thought I could beat the wrap."
- John Steinbeck (born on this day in 1902), on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and its subsequent effect on the winners

February 27, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Even more structured reading

Besides the forthcoming Jewish writers segment, I've recently thought up three more installments of Structured Reading: African-American (James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son, Richard Wright's Black Boy and Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God), Cold War (Peter George's Dr. Strangelove, Richard Condon's Death of a Politician and Ring Lardner Jr.'s The Ecstasy of Owen Muir) and Bitter White Guys (Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road, Leonard Michaels' The Men's Club and John Cheever's Falconer). Add this to my annual traditions Irish March and Summer of Classics, and my reading would be all planned out for the next two years. But of course I'll inevitably lose focus and wander down several other wayward paths.

February 21, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

McEwan's Bully Pulpit

In accepting the Jerusalem Prize, Ian McEwan endured plenty of criticism from pro-Palestine advocates who claimed that in doing so he was legitimizing Israel's suppression of Palestinians. As it turns out, McEwan used the ceremony as a means of giving both sides the tongue-lashing they so deserve, and thus exercised the freedom for which the prize stands. Had he boycotted, he would have missed out on the bully pulpit that allowed him to tell the adversaries what they needed to hear. Well done.

February 21, 2011 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)


"The thing about being a writer is that you never have to ask, 'Am I doing something that's worthwhile?' Because even if you fail at it, you know that it's worth doing."
- Richard Ford

February 16, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

McCarthy's lingering shadow

After reading this opening to Scott Phillips' Rut...

Her week's supplies purchased, Bridget walks the bicycle in lurching bumps over the shattered asphalt...

...it occurred to me that, after Cormac McCarthy's The Road, never again will a dystopian novel (or quasi-dystopian here - at least early on, Phillips' narrative retains major portions of civilized society) be able to include a shopping cart as a means of hauling provisions, lest it be dismissed as derivative of McCarthy's great book.

February 16, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"So I’ve kind of pulled a John Lennon house-husband thing."

Magnet Magazine has an interesting interview with lo-fi icon F.M. Cornog, who performs under the nom de band East River Pipe. Sounds like he's my kind of guy.

How is fatherhood treating you?
It's good. But this is why it's taken so, so long to put out a record. When you have a kid, you can’t do whatever you used to do. I don't want to feel guilty or have her harbor any resentment against me. Like, "Dad was always doing music up there in his room with his stupid mini studio. That was always more important than I was." So I've kind of pulled a John Lennon house-husband thing. Although I'm still working at Home Depot, it's turned the music thing into kinda like a guerilla-war operation. I kinda peck, peck, and then I run away. Then I come back and peck, peck, peck again. Plant a few explosives on the railway, blow 'em up, then retreat into the woods.

Well, at least the Nazis haven't found you yet.
I used to have hours and hours and hours of uninterrupted time when I was in Queens and in the early years when I came out here, around the time of Gasoline Age. But ever since then I haven't had those long, long periods of time. You know, I like to be present for my family, my wife and my daughter, and spend time with them. I still love doing the music, but it really comes, I would say, second or third now. Maybe when she gets older and gets sick of me and doesn't want me around I can get back into it again.

My writing comes second or third, too, for the same reason.

February 15, 2011 in Music | Permalink | Comments (2)

Another six-word story of mine...

...is up at Six Word Stories. (Kudos to Richard Thompson for supplying the album title that inspired me.) You know, if I was as successful with 6,000 words as I am with 6, I might just make a living with this writing thing.

February 14, 2011 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Coffee. Internet. Kitchen walls. Library book sale. Beautiful new range. Pogues. Chipotle. St. Peter's Sorgham Ale. The Social Network.

My great day.

February 12, 2011 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (2)

Fitzpatrick on the Irish

Tony Fitzpatrick presents his stunning latest edition of his "Star" series, "Star for my Black Irish Heart", with some tough and proud reflections on his Irish heritage. 
My father burned at least 10 bucks a day on Lotto tickets and, being a child of the Irish Sweepstakes, always believed he was going to win the big one some day. Three days before he died of skin cancer in 1998, he had me running down to the pharmacy for scratch-offs from the daily game.
Tony's dad and my mom grew up a few blocks from each other in the Auburn Park neighborhood but, true to the city's often parochial nature, they didn't know each other. 

February 12, 2011 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)


During weather like this, I always think of these lines from the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York":

They've got cars big as bars
They've got rivers of gold
But the wind blows right through you
It's no place for the old

Walking north from my train wasn't too bad this morning, but when I briefly turned west, the wind all but "blew right through me." I could swear I felt my forehead start to freeze solid. Thank goodness I could turn north again after only one block. In this weather, Chicago's no place for the old. Or the young either.

February 10, 2011 in Chicago Observations, Music | Permalink | Comments (1)

No to Illinois SB 136

The Illinois State Senate is currently considering legislation (SB 136) which would require registration of private school and homeschooled students. My wife Julie homeschools our ten-year-old daughter, Maddie, who has progressed rapidly (she's already studying at the high school level) and has enjoyed a far better education than she ever could have gotten from our local public schools. Maddie is an amazingly enthusiastic student with a real hunger to learn, and most of that is due to the close attention and guidance that Julie is able to provide. It's also worth noting that we support our public schools financially via our hefty property taxes, yet do not burden the system by having Maddie enrolled in it and thus diverting resources from other students.

SB 136's sponsor claims that the bill is merely about registering students. But I can't help suspecting that this is actually the first step towards full-scale regulation of homeschoolers, including the eventual imposition of a state-mandated curriculum and standardized testing. As parents, Julie and I have chosen to educate Maddie on our own, and the results (as well as those of other homeschoolers, who consistently outperform public school students) speak for themselves. We should remain free of registration or any other regulation that the state wants to impose.

If you agree with me, please contact your Illinois state senator and express your opposition. Even if your own kids are in public schools, this should matter to you. Because it doesn't matter where - in public schools, private schools or at home - our children are educated. What matters is that they're getting the best education they can get. Burdening homeschoolers with registration or any other regulation does nothing to improve the quality of education our kids receive. And taking away parents' right of choice on how their kids are educated is simply wrong.

Stop SB 136 now!

February 9, 2011 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (17)

Five Eight

Recently I was quite pleased to see The Angriest Man, the 1993 album from Athens, Georgia band Five Eight, finally turn up on iTunes. Fifteen years ago I taped the excellent leadoff track, "My Sister Is So Strange", from a radio broadcast and have enjoyed it ever since. I downloaded the song to have a digital copy (I was never able to find the album on CD) and now realize I'll probably download the rest of the album too. The band has a new album, Your God Is Dead to Me Now, coming out on March 29, and the title track is quite good (including what is certainly the best whistling on a rock song since Peter Bjorn and John's "Young Folks") and suggests that the band hasn't lost a thing since I first stumbled across them.

February 9, 2011 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Quote of the Day

"Gang wars, drug busts, police raids, paying off city officials, government-linked crime, and corruption of all types — these are all just part of the local sightseeing, although some of this is uncomfortably close to the truth. Apparently all of these criminal activities converge in the Loop, the most violent of all Chicago neighborhoods, thanks to its concentration of art museums, universities, and musical theater outlets."
- Michael Juliano, at The AV Club, on the new Fox drama The Chicago Code, which reportedly takes extensive artistic liberties with our fair city

February 8, 2011 in Chicago Observations, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)


White Eagle Coffee Store Press (in Fox River Grove, Illinois, right next to my childhood home in Cary) has announced the latest winners of its "Scent Of An Ending" contest, which asked for the terribly-written ending of an imaginary novel, along with the novel's title. My entry, alas, was not one of the finalists:

Clifford Paul, Night Stormy and Dark
The darkness struggled against that, the scanty lamps of the flame agitating and rattling fiercely along the house-tops (in London it lies, for that is our scene), the swept streets checked it up by violent intervals, the wind was occasional except when at a gust of rain in which the torrents fell; a stormy and dark night it was.

That sentence is, essentially, the opening line from Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Paul Clifford, rewritten in reverse. Bulwer-Lytton's novel is the one which famously begins "It was a dark and stormy night...", with that sentence being widely considered one of the shining (or non-shining) examples of a cliched or hackneyed story opening. So I figured if that was a bad story opening, then reversing it might make for a bad story ending. My piece isn't an exact reversal of the original sentence - among other things, I had to repeatedly flip nouns and verbs to make it readable, but other than that it's very faithful to the (terrible) original.

Too bad I didn't win the contest. I really could have used that $89.93 first prize, not to mention the universal acclaim.

February 8, 2011 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Vivian Maier


I would just love to know the story behind this scene. The cop being involved isn't a surprise - probably a typical Saturday night on the job for him - but I wonder how the suited guy on the right got drawn into lugging this poor unfortunate around. The suit certainly doesn't seem to be enjoying his task.

This photo is by the Chicago-based street photographer Vivian Maier (1926-2009), a virtual unknown whose works were discovered at an auction after her death. The Chicago Cultural Center is currently running an exhibition of Maier's works that I will be checking out soon. Given my loves of photography, Chicago and the midcentury era, Maier's photographs really resonate with me.

February 4, 2011 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

Hardcover to paperback

Nowhere_man_hc  Nowhere_man_pb

Damon Garr points to puzzling cover design choices for the paperback editions of two books: Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone and Alice Munro's The View from Castle Rock, both of which changed from the hardcover version and were wildly out of context with the book itself. (The Munro one is particularly baffling.)

Above are the hardcover and paperback versions of one of my favorite novels of recent years, Aleksandar Hemon's Nowhere Man. I first read the hardcover from my local library, loved it, and knew I had to have my own copy. But by the time I got around to buying, the hardcover was out of print and only the paperback was available. I was very disappointed in the latter's cover design - the hardcover version was so striking and enigmatic (much like the novel itself), while the paperback was just confusing (what exactly is that on the upper half of his body?). Sometimes I wonder what the hell publishers are thinking.

February 3, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (5)

If it walks like a dictator, talks like a dictator...

You see, Vice President Biden, this is how a dictator responds to public protests. Yes, Mubarak is a dictator. How disappointing that you refused to acknowledge this until the situation in Egypt revealed you were standing on the wrong side, and that you hide behind semantics just as egregiously as your White House predecessors.

February 3, 2011 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Snowmageddon, Part I





With all the snow the East Coast has gotten this year, I almost feel guilty making a big deal about a single blizzard in the Midwest. Still, there are some interesting sights out there this morning.

February 2, 2011 in Current Affairs, Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)


"The Middle East would be a much more powerful and dynamic place if there were less authoritarian regimes, and historically the U.S. has supported all of them. We’re always on the side of 'stability' rather than justice. So let’s get on the right side this time.”
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)

February 1, 2011 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Quick update

Hüsker Dü did the job last evening, and I eked out three or four pages of line edits. Not a major accomplishment, but at least it's a start. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

February 1, 2011 in Fiction, Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (1)