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Moving, shaking

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a book release party for Ben Tanzer's new novel, You Can Make Him Like You. The event was at Beauty Bar, a really funky place (think 1950s beauty parlor, including on-site fingernail jobs) in Ukrainian Village. Though I had to leave early to catch my train (thus missing Ben's performance as well as the later readers) I did see great readings from Jason Fisk and Gina Frangello, and finally got the chance to meet many writers I had only heard of or corresponded with online, particularly Fisk and David Masciotra. An enjoyable if abbreviated evening, indeed.

April 28, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Joliet police blotter

I haven't passed along a police blotter item in a while, but this one is pretty wonderful. File Under: Least Competent Criminals.

Fleeing suspect runs into cops training session in Joliet
JOLIET — A man who was reportedly trying to escape from a few cops ended up running past a virtual convention of them Wednesday.

About 30 Joliet cops and a large number of officers from other departments were at Bicentennial Park for a training session on "being prepared for any situation" — which would likely describe the arrest of Domonique J. Loggins, 21.

Loggins was a passenger in a car driving over the Jackson Street Bridge around 1:05 p.m., Joliet Deputy Chief Mike Trafton.

"He and his 20-year-old girlfriend began arguing over cigarettes, and near Cass and Joliet streets, he punched her in the mouth," Trafton said.

The young woman detoured to Washington Street and parked in front of the police department, where she ran in to tell police.

"Officers went outside and saw Loggins walking toward the Jefferson Street Bridge," Trafton said. "He began running as they approached him and turned north once he crossed the bridge, into Bicentennial Park where about 60 squad cars were parked."

Several of the cops attending the training came outside as Loggins was grabbed by the officers who had been pursuing him.

Then another unexpected situation occurred.

"Once he was placed in handcuffs, Loggins took off again and ran up the cement steps that lead up to Broadway from the park," Trafton said.

With more and more officers flooding the area, Joliet Cmdr. Brian Benton recaptured Loggins a short time later in the 300 block of Oneida Street. Benton was reportedly returning from lunch when he heard the call.

April 28, 2011 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)


The passing of a local legend...

Lynn Hauldren, 89, the advertising copywriter who became the inspiration for the Empire Carpet Man in the 1970s and helped launch the company's signature jingle into national recognition, died Tuesday, according to an Empire spokesperson.

Mr. Hauldren rose to became a decades-long advertising icon, as the person who wrote the catchy jingle that accompanies the company's famous phone number, and often delivered it with style: "Five-eight-eight, two-three-hundred ... Empire."

By sheer coincidence, while driving to the train this morning I was remembering two other once-ubiquitous Chicago advertisers, Danley's Garage World and Tru-Link Fence Company, both of which are still in business but don't seem to advertise much on TV any longer, if at all. And neither was lucky enough to have a human spokesman like Hauldren, whose quiet, friendly warmth graced our homes for so many years.

April 27, 2011 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (2)

Farewell to Ward Six

Rhian Ellis and J. Robert Lennon, writers and married couple, are retiring their excellent litblog, Ward Six, after four stellar years. The blog was a rarity in that it covered both the writers' creative processes and also the books of other writers (most litblogs do one or the other, but rarely both) and I'm really going to miss the many great discussions that went on there. Best of luck to both of them, and I hope the extra free time they gain leads to even greater things.

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

More on the Raber House


Lynn Becker has a fine post on the Raber House (pictured above, in 1870) and a history of the surrounding Englewood neighborhood. Sounds like Lavicka is asking for more than the original Tribune article disclosed, but it would still be a very worthy undertaking.

April 26, 2011 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Krakauer the attack dog

I really haven't been following the Greg Mortenson controversy. (I won't call it a scandal, because deceit in the world of memoirs is now so commonplace that a dishonest account has to be really serious to be "scandalous.") But The Guardian has a good recap, including this great line:
Note to budding writers: if you have to choose an assailant who attacks your literary integrity, let it not be Jon Krakauer.
Krakauer is one of my favorite nonfiction writers. More on him here at The Daily Beast. 

April 24, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

"...to be in a place where there was only silence..."

From Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses:

All my life I have longed to be alone in a place like this. Even when everything was going well, as it often did. I can say that much. That it often did. I have been lucky. But even then, for instance in the middle of an embrace and someone whispering words in my ear I wanted to hear, I could suddenly get a longing to be in a place where there was only silence. Years might go by and I did not think about it, but that does not mean that I did not long to be there. And now I am here, and it is almost exactly as I had imagined it.

At the outset of the book, the aged narrator has removed himself to a cabin in the woods, accompanied only by his dog, and has just begun to recount events of his youth, fifty years earlier. Very intriguing so far.

April 22, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Meno and Vonnegut

The Chicago Reader's Spring Books Issue includes several local authors sharing their reflections on books that have impacted them. Knowing that Joe Meno took such great inspiration from Slaughterhouse-Five in the writing of his latest novel, The Great Perhaps, makes me want to read that book even more.

April 22, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Vivian Maier site redesign!


Vivian Maier's lovely photographs now have the lovely website they deserve. The old blog format really didn't do them justice.

April 22, 2011 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"I probably like the buildings more than wisdom would allow, or should allow."


This is fantastic. I see this mansion whenever I take the Rock Island line to work, and despite the article's claim it's not that hard to imagine something beautiful returning there. I've seen 19th Century etchings of the house, and it was quite lovely in its day. Best of luck to Mr. Lavicka.

Bill Lavicka's renovations have always been unusual. The veteran rehabber and owner of Historic Boulevard Services has trucked four buildings intact from one site to another, converted small churches into homes, remade entire Near West Side blocks and showcased his quirky aesthetic by topping spires and balusters with bowling balls.

But the next remodel he has his heart set on raises the bar on unusual. Lavicka wants to turn a boarded-up Washington Park mansion, one of the city's last surviving examples of a multiacre country estate, into a winery.

And he doesn't want to import the grapes.

He wants to plant about 5,000 vines in the yard — what's now three or so bombed-out-looking blocks along the Dan Ryan Expressway just south of Garfield Boulevard.

April 21, 2011 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Milestone is finally reached

Wheatyard is finished. (Or momentarily finished, until some editor starts tearing it apart.) I first started writing the book in late 2005, and just this morning, sitting in a drafty corridor in Union Station, I typed in the final edits. I didn't even mind the cold. When I stepped outside the sun was shining and I didn't mind the cold there either. I'm relieved and maybe even a little proud of myself for getting this done at last. Soon I'll start hunting for publishers, but for now I'm savoring the moment.

April 21, 2011 in Fiction, Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (3)

The airport? It's that-a-way!

Gapers Block just linked to a database of Chicago aerial photos from 1938-41. The images aren't indexed (yet?) so I randomly clicked a link that brought up this photo, which includes the unmistakable outline of Goose Island (near the upper left - the diagonal that bisects it is the since-removed Ogden Avenue viaduct). Interesting enough in itself, but zoom in closer and you can see this, just to the west of the island:

Airport is that-a-way

The lettering is fuzzy, but reads "Chicago Municipal Airport 10 Miles" with a big arrow pointing to the southwest (the airport is now known as Midway). Wow. Fortunately, airplane navigation is much more technologically advanced than it used to be. All other things being equal, I'll gladly take the chance that a modern-day air traffic controller might be asleep on the job, rather than being back in the forties and having a pilot who has to read directional signs from the cockpit.

April 18, 2011 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Innocent until proven guilty

Compare and contrast this passage from Nelson Algren's Nonconformity...

For so deeply now do we presume the accused to be guilty by the act of having been accused, that it seems to us no more than an act of atonement to turn the knife on himself. The accused who stubbornly declines this form of confession is now advised that either the answers he would have given would have incriminated him or else he would not have declined. Refusal to reply thus becomes an automatic confession of guilt. You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Leaving us with the implication that the men who devised the Fifth Amendment had in mind not the protection of the innocent, but of the guilty. How sick can you get?

...with this recent item from Boing Boing:

CNN has discovered that the TSA considers "complaining about TSA procedures" to be a profiling marker for potential terrorists. They explain that one terrorist (the "twentieth hijacker") complained a lot about TSA screening, and so that means "getting angry about TSA screening procedures" goes in the "signs of terrorist intent" bucket.

So much for being innocent until proven guilty - just complaining about inappropriate treatment from the TSA will get you tagged as a potential terrorist. Although Algren was writing in direct reference to the McCarthy anti-Communist witchhunts of the 1950s, he clearly would not have been surprised at the absurdity of the War on Terror, over fifty years later. Algren also quotes the following from Judge Learned Hand:

Risk for risk, for myself I had rather take my chance that some traitors will escape detection than spread a spirit of general suspicion and distrust.

I'm guessing Hand wouldn't have been a big fan of our current paranoia either.

April 18, 2011 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

A conversation with Ben Tanzer

I lunch regularly with my great friend Ben Tanzer, but recently I decided to record our conversation to mark the publication of his latest and excellent novel, You Can Make Him Like You. Since this is the first time he's set a book in Chicago (where he's lived for the past sixteen years), in this podcast we chat about/riff on three locales that play key roles in the book.

Though those locales are our main focus, we characteristically veer into other topics, related or otherwise, including: Tom Cruise's cultural relevance to the ten-and-under crowd, Mike Royko, Studs Terkel, the audacity of not only conceiving a fictional narrative during a rock show but actually writing out the first scene there, and possibly the worst description ever (mine) of Archers of Loaf. Plus, of course, an embarrassingly large number of "ums" uttered by me.

Please listen in. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Embedded player:

Podcast: Ben Tanzer and Pete Anderson, April 2011

Direct download:
Podcast: Ben Tanzer and Pete Anderson, April 2011

April 17, 2011 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...the overwhelming maleness of it all..."

"I remember the overwhelming maleness of it all — cigar and pipe smoke, foul language (words I had heard before, but not from adults, not at that volume). ... My father told me that there were nearly as many people in the stadium as lived in my town, and I was suitably awed ... [But] what impressed me most was just how much most of the men around me hated, really hated, being there. As far as I could tell, nobody seemed to enjoy, in the way that I understood the word, anything that happened during the entire afternoon."
- Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch

The wonderful Mr. Hornby is 54 today. I will raise a pint, curse at a soocer match on TV, and make a Top Five list today, all in his honor.

April 17, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wandering lonely, as a critic-plagued poet

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Writers Almanac reports that today is the anniversary of Wordsworth's first inspiration for his famous poem, after seeing daffodils while on a walk in England's Lake District in 1802. The site also passes along these contemporary and very wrong critical opinions: "He thinks it worth while to give a tame, matter-of-fact account of some daffodils blown about with the wind, because he thought of them afterwards." and "Surely, if his worst foe had chosen to caricature this egotistic manufacturer of metaphysical importance upon trivial themes, he could not have done it more effectively." Damn those critics, Will. You did just fine.

April 15, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


Speed the time, Father, when the bow of peace
Spanning the gulf, shall bid the tempest cease.
- Frederick Bartleson

Bartleson was Joliet's first Civil War volunteer, and perhaps its first poet as well. He died at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, in 1864.

April 14, 2011 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The lost and the overburdened..."

From the conclusion of Nelson Algren's call-to-arms essay Nonconformity:

But behind Business's billboards and Business's headlines and Business's pulpits and Business's press and Business's arsenals, behind the car ads and the subtitles and the commercials, the people of Dickens and Dostoevsky yet endure.

The lost and the overburdened who have to meet life so head-on that they cannot afford either the tweeds that make such a strong impression in certain business circles or the deodorant that does almost as much for one socially. The lost and the overburdened too lost and too overburdened to spare the price of the shaving lotion that automatically initiates one into the fast international set.

It is there that the people of Dickens and Dostoevsky are still torn by the paradox of their own humanity; yet endure the ancestral problems of the heart in conflict with itself. Theirs are still the defeats in which everything is lost, theirs victories that fall close enough to the heart to afford living hope. Whose defeats cost everything of real value. Whose grief grieves on universal bones.

Stirring words.

April 13, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Algren the Poet

Nelson Algren wasn't particularly well-known as a poet, so when I learned that Poetry magazine has put its complete archives online (all the way back to 1912), I went looking for him there merely on a whim. On top of his presumably limited poetic output, I also figured that Poetry was enough of an establishment publication that the outsider-ish Algren might not have been eager to publish there. Imagine my surprise, then, to see the archives yield the following:

"Home and Goodnight"
"Local South"
"How Long Blues"
"Epitaph: The Man With the Golden Arm"

My office computer is being maddeningly balky today, so I'm having trouble navigating these, but here are the first few lines of "Home and Goodnight":

Tell the 26-game nifties they can all go home now:
The streets are getting lighter and the Clark Street cars are running again;
Each can turn off a little green night bulb
Lay the nightlamp lengthwise along the green baize of the 26-board
Put the big colored dice back in the faded shaker,
Have one last cigarette in the can and go home.

Sounds a lot like his prose, which even in its more brutal moments always had a lyrical quality.

April 11, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Happy birthday, Mr. Dybek

Stuart Dybek, one of my favorite writers, turns 69 today.

He was an indifferent student. He was instead obsessed with jazz, and played the saxophone. One day he wrote the line "the tree scraped skies," which excited him so much he read it to his mother. She had the flu and vomited.

While I'm all for constructive criticism, I hope that was just the flu talking. But oh my, has it really been eight years since I Sailed With Magellan? I'd love to read something new from him.

April 10, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)



As I've mentioned here before, one of the things I love about living in Joliet is its throwback quality - old-fashioned barber shops, vintage neon signs, 1960s muscle cars driven as everyday vehicles. Here's another example: the photo above is one of only 14 Rax restaurants still in existence. During its 1980s heyday the chain had over 500 locations and was even a staunch competitor of Arby's. The Joliet store on Jefferson Street soldiers on, though I must admit I've never eaten there.

April 8, 2011 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture

This year's Irish March got off to a late start, had a late finish and consisted of just one book - Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture. I somewhat liked the book but also had some serious concerns. The prose was beautiful and the Irish subject matter (something I'm always a sucker for) inevitably drew me in. Oh, but those concerns:

+ Much of the book is narrated by 100-year-old Roseanne Clear via the secret journal she is writing about her early life, prior to her committal to a mental institution. (She does not seem mentally ill, and her committal was not justified, but instead the result of the vindictiveness of her in-laws and the parish priest.) But though Roseanne was minimally educated, gives no indication of previously doing any writing during her life, and is subject to the unreliable memory and erratic thought processes of a 100-year-old, her writing is simply gorgeous and reads like the work of a young, sharp-minded and educated writer - like, say, the author. In short, her voice seems false.

+ The side story of Dr. Grene is a distraction. His role in investigating the circumstances of Roseanne's long-ago committal is important (for one, it provides a counterpoint to her unreliable memory), but his personal life doesn't have much relevance to the story until the very end.

+ Agggh, that ending! Too tidy, convenient, and cliched. When I read the big revelation (which, I'm embarrassed to say, I failed to see pages in advance) I actually said "No no no no no" in a muted voice, which I might have yelled had I not been on a crowded train at the time. I might have also flung the book against the wall. As the author thoughtfully mused on truth versus fact, wondering if false imaginings are better than hard reality, I hoped he would leave much of the mystery of Roseanne's life unresolved - I often find questions more interesting than answers. But instead the author answers almost everything about her (including that huge and implausible revelation), not only through Grene's reading of her journal but also a decades-old bureaucratic file and two highly convenient explanatory letters. Almost every loose end is neatly tied up, leaving little to the imagination. The author should have trusted his readers much more than he did.

Overall, the book was a disappointment. It should have been much better than it was. I'm not sure I'll be reading any more of Barry's work.

April 7, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kindled and Nooked

The debut issue of Midwestern Gothic (ahem) is now available for Kindle and Nook. Really, what are you waiting for?

April 6, 2011 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

CVS gets classy


Behold, the most beautiful drugstore in the world. Then again, the store's beauty is obviously in spite of it being a CVS and not because of, with the real credit belonging to the vintage bank building itself. Regardless of aesthethics, though, this sure beats demolishing the old building and slapping up a new one in its place. Well done.

(Via Gapers Block.)

April 6, 2011 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Rooster has crowed

And it's not for Franzen. (Not that I would have read his book anyway.) Instead it's Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad, which I plan to read sometime before next year's Tournament. I hope the judges' preoccupation with the book's structure simply reflects their struggle to find a critical angle for them to write from, and that the story/stories are inherently worthwhile. If a story isn't good, all the innovative structure in the world won't make it so.

April 5, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


I am thrilled to announce the publication of my short story "Mahalia" in the debut issue of Midwestern Gothic, a sharp-looking quarterly journal from Ann Arbor, Michigan. "Mahalia" is one of the first stories I wrote after finally getting serious about writing, way back in 2003, and after all these years it remains the story that's closest to my heart. It's been rejected over forty times by various journals and contests, and though all of those rejections could have easily brought me great doubt about the worth of the story and even myself as a writer, I never stopped believing in the story. Finally getting "Mahalia" published is, to me, a real validation of my writing, and I couldn't be happier to see it in print. My very special thanks to founders and editors Jeff Pfaller and Robert James Russell.

You can buy Midwestern Gothic here, either in print ($12) or ebook/PDF ($2.99). Plenty of great writers are in the debut issue, which I highly encourage you to check out.

April 4, 2011 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tools of the trade


Okay, so "tools of the trade" is somewhat misleading, because "trade" implies I make a living at writing, which is certainly not the case. Still, they're tools, specifically: a Hewlett-Packard laptop which mercifully lost its Internet connection to a virus, and is now free of all online distractions; an H-P power cord for recharging; a Maxtor external hard drive for file backup; a Wilson-Jones looseleaf binder for manuscript printouts; a Rhodia notebook for handwritten revisions and random ideas; a Uniball pen for jotting edits; and a lowly but incredibly essential binder clip, which holds the manuscript and/or notebook pages open as I type. And not shown in the photo is my favorite tool of all: a handcarved wooden pen that Julie gave me as a birthday gift very early in our relationship, which I use to write all of my longhand first drafts. All have served me well in whatever writing success I've had.

April 4, 2011 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)


"I’m a recluse who loves the dialectic of being at the same time within and against a community."
Adam Zagajewski

I admire that quote, in part because it almost perfectly describes Wheatyard, the protagonist of my novel-in-progress, and his relationship with his hometown.

(Via Patrick Kurp.)

April 3, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

The good kind of propaganda

PRYSE 1915
Gerald Spencer Pryse, “Belgium Refugees in England” (1915)

Olaf Gulbransoon, "Poster of the Ludendorff Fund for the Disabled" (1918)

Kürthy, "Hungarian War Loan poster" (1917)

The bold title of this book at Project Gutenberg - War Posters Issued by Belligerent and Neutral Nations 1914-1919, edited by Martin Hardie and Arthur K. Sabin - is what first grabbed my attention, drawing me to the very arresting images within. I think I even have a crush on the Belgian woman.

April 3, 2011 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lake Claremont Press, bruised and reduced

Chicago-centric publisher Lake Claremont Press is running a sale on its stock of returned books. Check out the entire list here. I've read, enjoyed and highly recommend three of the sale books: Libby Hill's The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History; Carolyn Eastwood's Near West Side Stories: Struggles for Community in Chicago's Maxwell Street Neighborhood; and Rick Kogan's A Chicago Tavern: A Goat, a Curse, and the American Dream. Though your copy of Kogan's book won't have the warm and thoughtful inscription that my mom managed to procure for me from the author.

April 1, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)