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Beautiful day

Yesterday we drove to the city for the Newberry Library Book Fair, a fantastic book sale which benefits that venerable Chicago institution. Considering the size of my ever-expanding book pile, at mass sales like this I try to avoid more common books and only pick up titles that would be difficult or impossible to find anywhere else. I came home with just three books: Carl S. Smith's Chicago and the American Literary Imagination, 1880-1920 (a survey of Chicago's literary heyday), Francesca Falk Miller's The Sands: The Story of Chicago's Front Yard (stories from Chicago's notorious Sands district of the 19th Century) from 1948, and Budd Schulberg's novel Everything That Moves (I'm a great admirer of Schulberg, but had never heard of this one), all of which only cost me ten bucks total. The sale ends today, so if you're in the area and love books you should definitely check it out. Today everything is also half-price.

Then for lunch we swung up to Lakeview (a few blocks from where my dad grew up) at Cassava, a wonderful place where everything is gluten free. All the bread is made from cassava flour, and we had both empanadas and rolls, which we liked so much that we brought several dozen home, frozen, for future eating. The hardest thing about going gluten-free is not being able to chow down on some really good bread, but Cassava's was delicious. Highly recommended.

Then we drove back home, grilled burgers and watched the end of Harry Potter 7.1. We've watched all of the movies in order during the past few weeks, and are heading to the theater this afternoon to watch 7.2. Should be great.

July 31, 2011 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bonnie Jo Campbell


The Rumpus has a sharp graphic review of Bonnie Jo Campbell's new novel Once Upon a River, a book which has definitely hit my radar screen lately, along with her earlier, much-praised story collection American Salvage. I loved her unsettling circus story in On The Clock: Contemporary Short Stories of Work, and am eager to read more.

July 29, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"There is a fertile stretch of flat lands in Indiana where unagarian Eastern travelers, glancing from car windows, shudder and return their eyes to interior upholstery, preferring even the swaying caparisons of a Pullman to the monotony without."
- Booth Tarkington, who was born on this date in 1869

Echoes of sentiments expressed by my narrator in Wheatyard, though those were about Central Illinois, which has very similar terrain. I've never read Tarkington, but I think I'll add The Magnificent Ambersons to my Summer of Classics longlist for next year.

July 29, 2011 in Books, Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (1)

Life's been good to him so far...his kids, not so much.

Gee, thanks for all the sermons on fiscal responsibility, Congressman.

Tea Party Rep. Joe Walsh sued for $100,000 in child support
Freshman U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, a tax-bashing Tea Party champion who sharply lectures President Barack Obama and other Democrats on fiscal responsibility, owes more than $100,000 in child support to his ex-wife and three children, according to documents his ex-wife filed in their divorce case in December.

"I won’t place one more dollar of debt upon the backs of my kids and grandkids unless we structurally reform the way this town spends money!" Walsh says directly into the camera in his viral video lecturing Obama on the need to get the nation’s finances in order.

And apparently he won't place one more dollar into his kids' pockets, either.

July 28, 2011 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Closing time

This week at the Powell's Books blog, Amor Towles is discussing "closing time", that brief tentative lull that occurs in bars between last call and heading home (or elsewhere). Yesterday Towles' piece was on Frank Sinatra's "One For My Baby" (a tune I definitely need to download), and today it's Ernest Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" (which happens to be my favorite Hemingway story). Very interesting narrative. And the shameless self-promoter in me can't resist using this as an excuse to point once again to my own story, "Clean and Bright", which was published at the online journal Joyland in 2009 and retells Hemingway's story from the perspective of the old man in the café.

July 27, 2011 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)


The abandoned boat bobbed at anchor, rocking heavily when ships lumbered past. Below deck the man labored, hands unsteady and eyesight hazed, cursing as he picked shot pellets from the raw wound in his thigh. Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. He prayed there weren't more, that the gin would disinfect well enough, and moved in closer with the needle and Trilene he had found.

July 27, 2011 in Fiction, Micro | Permalink | Comments (0)

On the demise of Borders

On my way across the Loop today to buy coffee beans for home, I stopped at the Borders on State Street, mostly to see if they had any of the 33 1/3 books I wanted and could pick up for cheap. (In short, no - only two volumes left, neither of which I wanted.) I rode the escalator to the third floor, behind a Chicago cop. Over his shoulder he said, "Sad day, huh?" Surprised by the comment, I only nodded and said nothing.

I realized shortly after that I should have said No, it's not such a sad day. It's simply a badly-run corporation slowly dying a natural death. Yes, I'm sad for the 10,000 people who are losing their jobs across the country, but I'm not sad for losing Borders. It's been years since the store carried anything I really wanted - Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends was the last book I remember experiencing there and enjoying enough to buy, about three years ago, and I can't remember the last time before then that I bought a book from them. Put me in a good indie or used bookstore and I'll have to physically restrain myself from buying five or ten books that I won't get around to completely reading for several years. But Borders? No.

July 26, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)

Farewell, Elliott Handler

An icon of my childhood has passed away, albeit an icon whose name I didn't know until today: Elliott Handler, co-founder of Mattel, and - even more important to me - inventor of Hot Wheels. I don't know what my childhood would have been like without Hot Wheels. I hope he thoroughly enjoyed speeding down the bright orange track of life.

July 25, 2011 in Current Affairs, Personal | Permalink | Comments (0)


The second rejection of Wheatyard just arrived. It was from a small publisher that I thought I might have an "in" with (via a mutual friend), though the publisher probably wasn't aware of that connection. When I submitted I refrained from any name-dropping; I kind of want the book to stand on its own merits, independent of any connections, even if those connections might open doors for me. The notification was standard boilerplate ("We've decided to pass on this one") and not too encouraging. Given the volume of submissions that publishers are seeing these days, I'm sure I'll get many more like this before the book finally finds a home, so this doesn't trouble me very much. Onward.

July 25, 2011 in Fiction, Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (3)


"People think of Solzhenitsyn writing these huge books…with a thunderous voice. [With these stories], it's a different voice. It's not heavy-handed, even though these stories are full of moral import. They're not preachy. They're not didactic. They let the story convey certain historical and moral messages…We see a great literary craftsman and an historian at work."
- Daniel J. Mahoney, on Alexander Solzhenitsyn's forthcoming Apricot Jam and Other Stories

I loved One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, but couldn't really get into any of his denser, epic novels. And I've still only been tempted to tackle The Gulag Archipelago, as fascinating as the subject matter is to me. I'm really looking forward to this new collection.

July 24, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Randolph Street, 1900


At Shorpy, here's another lovely turn-of-the-century street view from Chicago, this one of Randolph Street, looking east from LaSalle. Sadly, unlike that fine stretch of Wabash Avenue, virtually none of the buildings shown here are still standing. The block shown here on the left (between LaSalle and Clark) was demolished to make way for the Thompson State of Illinois Building monstrosity during the 1980s.

The second tall building beyond the next corner (Clark) is the Schiller Building (with the "Burgomaster" sign) which was later known as the Garrick Theater. After the theater was demolished during the early 1960s, a new building was built which housed the Garrick Restaurant, where my dad ate lunch every day for years. (His old office was in the Oriental Theater, one block further down.) The Garrick Restaurant building is also now gone, with the popular theater district restaurant Petterino's now occupying the site. Julie and I have had several fine meals at Petterino's, but I didn't realize its distant connection to my dad until just now. Nice.

July 22, 2011 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (1)

"...in shutting out the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more..."

Late in Great Expectations, Pip reflects on Miss Havisham:

That she had done a grievous thing in taking an impressionable child to mould into the form that her wild resentment, spurned affection, and wounded pride found vengeance in, I knew full well. But that, in shutting out the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more; that, in seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and healing influences; that, her mind, brooding solitary, had grown diseased, as all minds do and must and will that reverse the appointed order of their Maker, I knew equally well. And could I look upon her without compassion, seeing her punishment in the ruin she was, in her profound unfitness for this earth on which she was placed, in the vanity of sorrow which had become a master mania, like the vanity of penitence, the vanity of remorse, the vanity of unworthiness, and other monstrous vanities that have been curses in this world?

Being Dickens, it's typically wordy. Yet somehow concise.

July 21, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lawless it is!

It's a rare event to read the private correspondence between a writer and editor, so I'm fascinated by this exchange between Stuart Dybek and his editor ("AMcP") at A Public Space, concerning how to name a housing project in Dybek's story "Four Deuces."

I could simply move him to somewhere notorious such as Cabrini-Green (it was just torn down finally). I am worried about loading the line with too much exposition. It could read: "He moved to the Lawless Garden Projects—excuse me, Low-Income Apartments. Lawless—they got that right." Or "He moved to Bronzeville, the Lawless Garden Project—excuse me, Low-Income Apartments. Lawless—they got that right." This is one of those places in the story where you not being a Chicagoan has been very helpful as the story has to be clear for someone who did not grow up in the city.

I admire Dybek's decision to not go with the infamous Cabrini-Green, which would seem like too obvious of a choice. And I love his comment about the CHA's tendency to add "garden" to the name of its housing projects. Garden spots, they certainly weren't, especially during their latter decades.

(Via John Williams at The Second Pass, returning the nod.)

July 20, 2011 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Playwrights and pints

I've never heard of this before, but love the concept: pub theaters.

The convivial chaos of some of the old pub theaters has diminished in recent years, with the tidying up of the bars into cafes or gastropubs. Whereas once a senior barman at Finborough was convicted of manslaughter, and fistfights broke out almost nightly before and after performances, nowadays the rare cross word might come from Ms. Badham — the bartender-cum-dramaturge at the wine cafe — chiding patrons who ask about beers on tap.

"We’ll tolerate you drinking beer, but we won’t encourage you," she told one.

I would certainly be among the chided.

July 20, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Joliet Police Blotter

A strong candidate for Meathead of the Year...

Police: Drive-through fight leads to high-speed chase in Shorewood

SHOREWOOD — A fight over a spot in the drive-through lane reportedly led to a high-speed police chase through the village Saturday night.

A man called 911 around 11:23 p.m. as he left the McDonald’s on Route 52 near Interstate 55 in Joliet, Shorewood police Cmdr. Eric Allen said.

"He had been in the drive-through getting food and honked at the car ahead of him to move along," Allen said.

Apparently angry at being honked at, Andrew J. Myers, 33, reportedly got out of his blue Saab 97x and walked up to the vehicle behind him.

"Some words were exchanged before the confrontation turned physical with Myers reaching into the vehicle," Allen said.

Police say Myers fled as the other man followed and called 911.

I encourage you to read the entire article. To whet your appetite for meatheadedness, I'll just mention that it escalated into a 100-mph chase and a police roadblock - and all of this with the moron's 7-year-old daughter in the backseat, not even wearing a seatbelt. This, combined with the two other incidents the article mentions, certainly doesn't reflect well on Tim McGraw fans.

July 19, 2011 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (1)


This is simply lovely: Mark Olson and Gary Louris (of the Jayhawks) and Victoria Williams performing "Lights."

July 17, 2011 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)


"If I was living in a pure state of grace, I probably wouldn't bother with writing fiction."
-  Donald Ray Pollock

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

Hornby and Springsteen


At my friend Tim Hall's webzine Undie Press, Mark Cashion discusses putting together a chapbook that weds the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" and Nick Hornby's essay (from his Songbook) about the song. This installment is Part 1 of 2 (with the conclusion coming next month) and though it ends on a downer, a quick look back at the opening sentence implies that everything turned out just fine. Hurray. And Hornby sounds even cooler than I had imagined.

(Spoiler Alert: Here's the full story. Double Spoiler Alert: Apparently copies may still be available. But as much as I love Nick Hornby and that song, $60 is just too rich for my blood.)

July 15, 2011 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)


"There is another Richard Russo who is still in Gloversville, sitting on a barstool. Someone very different. Someone angrier. Certainly not a writer. I doubt we would like each other very much."
- Richard Russo

July 15, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sleeping with the enemy

So far I've been very wary of e-books. I love books as physical, tangible objects - even when they're bulky, or hard to carry around, or musty from years of poorly-ventilated storage. I love that they can sit on the shelf for decades and still be easily read, which isn't necessarily the case with the potential (and perhaps planned) obsolesence of e-book readers or file formats. And as an aspiring but struggling writer (published plenty of stories, but can't get anyone to say yes to any of my books) I'm troubled by the absurdly low selling prices of e-books, which threaten to make any book that I do eventually publish provide only minimal financial rewards.

I'm no Luddite. While I may be a slow adopter (I owned my first CD player, iPod, laptop and iPhone years after everybody else), I embrace technology once I finally get into it - for example, on a regular basis I have to willfully to pry myself away from Facebook and my blog reader, switch off the phone, and interact with those around me. But though I enjoy technology, and though Julie has had a Kindle for several years and keeps offering to buy me a Nook with our Barnes & Noble credit card points, I've resisted e-readers for the reasons mentioned above.

But as of this morning, I'm giving the Kindle a try. I'm a slow reader, and am only 400 pages into my library copy of Great Expectations after six weeks of reading. I just ran out of renewals from the library, and instead of trying to haggle with a stubborn librarian for another renewal (it's not as if there's any demand for the book from other library patrons anyway - mine was shelved under Teen Fiction, and I doubt many teens are spending their precious summer reading Dickens), I decided to just return my copy and borrow Julie's Kindle to read the rest of the book. I've already noted several pluses and minuses, and after a few weeks' test run I'll let you know what I thought of the experience.

July 14, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)

Perhaps literature and finance simply don't mix.

The NYT's business page discusses three recent Wall Street thrillers.

"So, guys," Milner said, "I can do the permanent financing once I take control. The real catch is, I need the front money to finance the tender offer to buy the company until I can put my permanent financing in place."

"We figure you’ll need about $6 billion, including refinancing their existing debt," Steinberg said.

"Right," Milner said. "So where do I get that kind of money in the middle of the worst credit crunch any of us has ever seen?"

"Our partner GCG has a big balance sheet," Steinberg said.

"I’m all ears," Milner said.

Wow, that's really bad writing. Even the boilerplate credit approval memos I write every day read more smoothly than that.

July 12, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Staging the unstageable

Intriguing: the National Theater in London is staging an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's Emperor and Galilean, which was written in 1873 but has purportedly never been staged. And for good reason - the original play runs for nine hours and is apparently full of long-winded (and presumably audience-trying) speeches. Ibsen himself acknowledged the play was better read from a book than watched onstage. The producers have whittled it down to a more manageable yet still daunting four hours. Good luck to them. I've studied all of Ibsen's better-known plays (A Doll's House, The Master Builder, Peer Gynt, etc.) but never this one. Even at four hours, though, it's far more likely that I'd read this instead of watching.

July 7, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Starlin Castro.

A superstar in the making. A 21-year-old All Star. Five-tool player. Still physically maturing and growing into his frame. Plays the most important defensive position on the field.

How will the Cubs screw this up? Because, rest assured, it's not a matter of if they will screw this up, but how.

Maybe by surrounding him with overpaid, over-the-hill mediocrities for years and subjecting him to years of losing, thus driving him into free agency and a new team that knows what winning baseball actually is? Maybe by rashly responding to one off-year from him by trading him to the Yankees for several overhyped minor league prospects? Maybe by rushing him back from a rotator cuff strain too soon, leading to a complete muscle tear and lengthy rehab? Maybe by re-signing to a multiyear deal their perenially underachieving third baseman, who will prove to be a negative role model and toxic source of bad habits? Or will they do something more creative, such as an ill-advised publicity stunt involving a motorcycle, a jumping ramp and shark tank?

The fact that Castro will not be a superstar for the Cubs is beyond question. The only question is how they will manage to make it happen. I will be watching the impending trainwreck with perverse interest.

July 6, 2011 in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Phil Alvin, Unsung Stories


July 4th always gets me thinking about American music, which yesterday had me delving into old Blasters videos on YouTube (including, of course, "American Music"). Which then lead me to looking on iTunes, just for the hell of it and expecting to find nothing, for Phil Alvin's first solo album, Unsung Stories. The album has never been released on CD - it came out in 1986, or just before the era when all new releases automatically came out on CD. (My guess is that the album probably didn't sell particularly well, and Warner Brothers simply cut its losses and didn't bother with a CD release.) I've owned the vinyl LP since around 1988 and have always loved it, enough to seriously consider digitizing it in recent years since I figured the record company would never do so.

Imagine my thrill, then, to actually find Unsung Stories on iTunes yesterday! Within seconds I was bopping along to "Someone Stole Gabriel's Horn", singing all the lyrics by heart despite not having listened to the LP in years. The album is a terrific slice of Americana, with Alvin reinterpreting a great bunch of old standards with backing by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (on "Someone Stole Gabriel's Horn"), Sun Ra and the Arkestra (on several tunes, including the fantastic "Old Man of the Mountain"), various members of the Blasters, as well as several solo-guitar tunes and an acapella version of "Death in the Morning" with gospel singer backup. The joy and energy that Alvin brings to these dusty old songs makes this album an absolute delight, and one which I can't recommend any more highly. Do check it out.

July 5, 2011 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

One Sentence Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)


Not even the most predetermined fate can withstand the strongest will.

Moderately enjoyable flick that reminded me of Inception but with a much simpler plot. Julie had to explain various aspects of Inception to me for an hour after that movie ended - no such trouble here. Matt Damon is appealingly charismatic, as always.

As always, thanks to Kevin Smokler for the one-sentence concept.

July 5, 2011 in Film | Permalink | Comments (0)

Post-holiday blues?


Blues be gone: photo gallery of Basset hounds, running. I love that breed. When I was a kid, our neighbors had a sweet elderly Basset named Judy that I will never forget.

(Via Boing Boing.)

July 5, 2011 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (3)


"The only sensible ends of literature are, first, the pleasurable toil of writing; second, the gratification of one's family and friends; and, lastly, the solid cash."
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, born on this date in 1804

July 4, 2011 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Hitler reacts to Metallica recording with Lou Reed"

Beauty. Favorite line: "And I own White Light/White Heat."

(Via Boing Boing.)

July 3, 2011 in Music | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wabash Avenue, Then and Now



I was pleased to recently see the first photo, shown above, at Shorpy.com. The image is from 1907 and shows Wabash Avenue in Chicago, facing north from Monroe St. Knowing how well-preserved Wabash is - being next to the El tracks makes it a less-than-desirable location for new skyscrapers, and thus many 19th and early 20th Century buildings remain there - I guessed that a lot of these buildings would probably still be standing. So I swung over there this week and was pleasantly surprised to find even more vintage buildings than I expected. The second photo is taken from almost the exact same vantage point as the first, and almost every building in the first photo can still be seen.

Working from left to right in the original photo, the first building (with the arched cornice) is gone, but remaining are 30 S. Wabash (the tall narrow one, three windows wide), the Atwater Building (pointed cornice), the Barker and Haskell Buildings (slightly shorter), Silversmith Building (medium height with sign painted on its side) and Hayworth Building (tall, at the very center of the photo). And just beyond the Hayworth is the Mandel Brothers Annex (with flagpole on the roof) which was originally part of the old State Street department store and now home to Filene's, TJ Maxx and other discounters. Of particular note, the Silversmith is now a boutique hotel (odd location for one - I can't imagine paying a premium room rate that close to the El tracks); the Atwater, Barker and Haskell buildings date from 1875-77 and are some of the very oldest in the Loop; and recent renovation of the Barker and Haskell buildings revealed gorgeous facades designed by Louis Sullivan.

In framing this photo, I was also quite pleased to capture the young guy with the sunglasses and shopping bag, who nicely echoes the top-hatted gentleman in the original photo.

July 2, 2011 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)