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All Our Bookcases, continued


This is one of my favorites - a built-in bookcase (original to the house, which was built in 1927) in our sunroom, one of two which flank the opening from the family room. Unlike most of our shelves, this one is moderately organized. The left-hand two-thirds of the top shelf are my collection of Chicago books (fiction and nonfiction, the latter featuring six books by my local hero Mike Royko - five collections and Boss, his Mayor Daley biography), while other end is primarily short story collections. The second shelf is mostly literary novels, with some poetry on the far end. The third shelf includes classic Scandinavian fiction (most notably Knut Hamsun), plus most of Kurt Vonnegut's novels. The bottom shelf has oversized volumes (most notably Art Spiegelman's epic In The Shadow of No Towers), music-related books and some sort of educational set that Julie picked up at a garage sale but whose name I've forgotten. I've considered the possibility of getting more shelves custom-built on top of these, extending all the way to the ceiling - though instead of adding extra shelf capacity, it's probably healthier to cull our library on a regular basis.

And in the foreground are our workout shoes - just out of the frame is our treadmill, which Julie uses avidly and which I've just recently started using. Just in case you thought we were only slothful, bookish types.

Previously in this series: 1, 2.

February 28, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Irish March returns

Irish March, my annual Irish-literature month, really snuck up on me this year. Usually I have several books planned in advance, but until this week I had almost completely forgotten about it, so once I realized March was fast approaching I had to scramble. Fortunately, being a huge fan of the prolific William Trevor means I always have several unread books of his in the house, so I'll finally read his story collection Cheating at Canasta, which was the last book I bought at Brent Books before it closed for good in 2009. Scanning my shelves, I also found Samuel Beckett's play Endgame, which I will also read. But knowing the Trevor and Beckett probably won't take me a full month to read, I realized I needed a third book but nothing immediately came to mind.

I browsed through my to-read list on Goodreads and finally saw J.P. Donleavy's The Ginger Man (which I picked up in a used bookstore in Hilton Head two years ago) and was drawn to the Irish surname, but wasn't sure if either the author or the subject matter was particularly Irish. Thus I was quite pleased to discover that although Donleavy was born in New York City, his parents were Irish emigrants and he resettled in Ireland after WWII, and the book is set in Ireland (and is even considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century). And it was once banned in both Ireland and the U.S. for obscenity, so it will more than likely be an entertaining read. So this year, Irish March will be Trevor, Donleavy and Beckett. Looking forward to it.

February 27, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"The human race has not devised any way of dissolving barriers, getting to know the other chap fast, breaking the ice, that is one-tenth as handy and efficient as letting you and the other chap, or chaps, cease to be totally sober at about the same rate in agreeable surroundings." - Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis

February 27, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Excerpt from Wheatyard

Another teaser paragraph from Wheatyard, this time from chapter two.
The heat inside the car was stifling, with little relief from the wind that whipped through as we sped at sixty-five along the farm roads. The temperature gauge was running dangerously high, so there was no way I could run the air and risk overheating the engine. Wheatyard might be able to replace his own carburetor, and wring two free beers out of a reluctant bartender, but there was no way he could conjure up a fresh supply of coolant out here in the vacant countryside. The annoyance act that worked so well for him at the bar probably wouldn't work on the nearest suspicious farmer.

February 26, 2013 in Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (2)

"The Beautiful Game in the Faroe Islands"

Even in the bleak, cold, wind-whipped Faroe Islands, there is soccer. And also wonderfully crude chants:
I was able to recognise some of the Premier League best, such as the well-loved “you’re s**t, and you know you are” and “the referee’s a w****r” even though they were in the local Faroese language.
I love the fact that fans are encouraged to come onto the field, at halftime and after matches, to play 5-on-5's of their own.

(Via Steve Himmer.)

February 24, 2013 in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Curbside Castoffs


Fourth in a series of memorable curbside discards. Or in this case, alleyside - behind an apartment building on Jefferson Street, on the east side of Joliet. The taped-on sign, of course, begs the question of why the TV's owner is just throwing it away. And I suspect it probably won't work quite as good after sitting in four inches of snow.

February 22, 2013 in Joliet, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Your 83 year old grandmother called..."


I don't know if this note is real or not, but if so, that is one awesome grandma. David Berman is the borderline-genius behind the Silver Jews.

February 21, 2013 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Farewell, Helix

Helix Camera is closing, after 49 years in business. I don't think I ever bought anything at Helix, other than having some film developed at their former store in Champaign. (Most of my camera equipment was inherited from my brother, and my darkroom equipment came from the long-defunct Lion Photo.) One by one, camera stores are disappearing. Thank goodness that Central Camera is still with us.

(Via Gapers Block.)

February 20, 2013 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Interview with Michael Czyzniejewski

Hair Lit, Volume 1 is a new collection of short stories inspired by 1980s heavy metal bands, which is edited by Nick Ostdick and published by Jason Behrends at Orange Alert Press. I'm very pleased to publish the follwing interview with Michael Czyzniejewski, whose piece "You've Got Another Thing Coming: A Deconstruction in Nine Parts" appears in the collection. Mike is a Chicago native who currently teaches at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, and has published two books, including Chicago Stories: 40 Dramatic Fictions, which was one of my favorite books of 2012.

"You've Got Another Thing Coming: A Deconstruction in Nine Parts" (inspired by the Judas Priest song) is an unusual piece. Although it has some fictional narrative elements (consisting primarily of two personal anecdotes of the narrator), most of the piece comes across (to me, anyway) as more of a lecture that riffs on various aspects of the song's title, including heaven and hell, karma, and the odd fact that the song title incorrectly references the original idiom from which it derives, giving the title a very different meaning from the idiom.

Pete Anderson: Mike, it's great to finally connect with you. I know, from your afterword in the book, that the phrase "you've got another thing coming" has probably preoccupied you for quite a few years now. Please pass along that anecdote, and tell how the phrase evolved into "Deconstruction."

Mike Czyzniejewski: Great to be here, Pete! Yeah, when Nick Ostdick asked me to do one of these, I was pretty excited because I immediately knew I was going to do this Judas Priest song. I wasn't a fan of JP, and I never got into the hair metal bands, but this song always amused me because of its misuse of the idiom. About eight years ago, while I was still Editor of Mid-American Review, we were proofreading an issue and Karen Craigo, my co-Editor, marked the phrase "you've got another thing coming" as incorrect. When I went into the files to make the change, I had to ask her what was wrong. She didn't understand my question, assuming it was as obvious to me as it was to her. So we, and a couple of other editors, got into a discussion, Karen claiming that the true idiom was "you 've got another think coming," as in, "if you think this, then you got another think coming." This made no sense. Like I said, I wasn't a metal fan, but I'd heard the JP song, maybe on Beavis & Butthead, maybe just growing up on Chicago classic rock stations. But JP definitely made me think that the author was correct and Karen was way off (which she never was). Besides, "you've got another think coming?" That just sounded wrong.

What ensued was actually a pretty heated argument. This was before smart phones and wi-fi, so we had to go to the office to use the Internet to check it out. Karen was right, it turned out, or at least mostly right. The historical term is indeed "you've got another think coming," with a K, but the error had worked its way into our lexicon and many more Google hits led to "thing" with a G. We decided to change it and see what the author said in galleys. Seth Fried was on staff then and I remember him getting particularly upset because he didn't think anyone would know the original term and that it would look like we were including a typo. I remember him leaving in a huff, so this debate caused some pretty intense emotional reactions. In the end, we changed it, the author did ask us about the change, and when we explained the true usage, he relented and it went in as "think."

From then on, whenever we'd do a proofing test for MAR staff members. we'd throw that on there. Of course, nobody ever got that. When we explained the error, we received quite a few puzzled and disbelieving looks.

So when Nick asked, I immediately thought of this anecdote and wanted to get something into a story about the members of JP not realizing their mistake (and of course not caring). It seemed hard to get this into a narrative with characters, and since I'd just gotten into a phase of writing list stories, I began to write about regret and karma--themes heavily implied by the song--in different ways. After the first couple of drafts, the nonfiction voices started sounding a lot like the literary theory I'd read in grad school, and I thought it would be funny to talk about a hair metal song--in a hair metal anthology--in that voice. I looked up literary theory sites and tried to work in as many terms as I could. But I also wanted it to read like a story, for the parts to be different, so I worked in the anecdote about St. Maxmillian and the nuns in the van, as Catholics (including me) have a great sense of guilt and karma than anyone.

PA: I've always thought it was "thing" too - probably due to the JP video being in heavy MTV rotation during my bored high school years - and it wasn't until recently that I started noticing the "think" version. The latter makes more sense, especially when preceded by "I you think..." I got a laugh out of you noting that the band botched the phrase even with "If you think I'll let it go, you're mad..." preceding it. I almost wonder if Halford actually sang "think", but the record company screwed up and printed it as "thing", and the band either didn't notice or didn't care.

The structure of this piece is unusual, especially the narration. Do you see this as a nonfiction piece, with you as the actual narrator riffing on various aspects of the song's title and including personal anecdotes (the nuns in the van, and St. Maximilian) to illustrate your point? Or is the narrator, and the whole piece, entirely fictional?

MC: I think it's fiction. Or I know it's fiction. There's definitely an affected voice in the lit-crit deconstruction parts. I never use "trope," e.g., in my everyday conversation. The anecdotes are fabricated, too, and aren't supposed to be the same person speaking, though it's okay if people read it that way. St. Maxmillian was canonized when I was in grade school, in Catholic grade school, and there was a priest at my parish who was pretty obsessed with that story, so I've always known about him and wanted to work him into a story. The nun anecdote is also fabricated. I know that intersection—South Chicago Ave and Stony Island—because that a short cut out of the city to the south suburbs, one I'd take from Wrigley to where my mom lived. I guess I just thought it would be funny to depict some guy farting into a van full of nuns: I really wish I had some great literary or thematic reason behind that. Hot sweaty nuns + horrid fart = something to throw all the lit crit talk off balance, I guess.

PA: Yeah, I figured it was fiction, especially after the narrator uses "Judeo-Christian" in the opening section, a mostly academic term that really doesn't come up in everyday conversation - and from what I know of you, it seems you'd be much too down-to-earth to toss around pretentious terms like that. But, wow, until now I assumed that the whole thing (other than, obviously, the record review blurbs) was a single narrator. Is each section actually a separate narrator?

MC: I imagined the two narrative sections to be separate, for sure, as with the numbered sections, I pictured an anything-goes scenario, roving POV, etc. So when I imagined those characters, I was imagining two different people. Since I usually don't put any description of characters into my stories—a combination of a bad habit and wanting everyone to be the "Everyman"—that sometimes gets lost, I think. But I'm also not sad that you or anyone else might pair them up. As for the voice in the more faux-critical areas, I think that's definitely different, but if someone were to think that this is the same character, just expounding on the Priest, either too invested in reader response theory or high on mescaline, then have at it.

PA: Okay, now that I've read through it again, I see four narrators: parts 1-4 are the philosopher-critic; part 5 is the regular guy, regaling his buddies over beers at the corner bar; parts 6-7 are the music critic (very different from the philosopher); and parts 8-9 are the profound cultural commentator, who is quite possibly a This American Life contributor. Agree/disagree?

And which of these narrators was the most fun for you to write? For me, it would be the philosopher, since I enjoy mocking pretentious blowhards (I can just hear those parts being narrated by Kelsey Grammer, in his Frasier Crane voice), especially those who try to divine deep meaning from a Judas Priest chorus, and my humor is more wry than regaling or profound.

MC: I remember taking lit theory in grad school and wondering if someone was pulling my leg with some of the things that people came up with, let along put in text books and studied. I understand the need for perspectives, to understand those, but the language, style, and tone all that stuff was written in always cracked me up. It was like The New York Times Crossword every time I sat down to try to read it.

I don't think I have a favorite voice, but I did love the intermingling of all the different parts to get the whole. I really like the anecdote about the nuns. I've been at the intersection (Stony Island and South Chicago Avenue) a thousand times and have seen guys selling water, dish towels, peanuts, inflatable toys, and a whole bunch of other things, just because Stony gets backlogged heading south at 95th (but it's still better than taking the Dan Ryan). I've sat at light after light, with no air conditioning, and my imagination has wandered so often, to many different places, so I'm glad I got one of those stories into the mix. And farting on nuns? Come on. That's basically the team handshake for Judas Priest, isn't it?

PA: Yeah, I would guess that any band named Judas Priest probably isn't too devout, nor most of its fans. I can totally picture those two dudes wearing black-sleeved Priest world tour t-shirts, circa 1982, which would probably have horrified those nuns almost as much as Eddie's fart.

Time to start winding this down, so here's a slight tangent. As I mentioned earlier, your book Chicago Stories was one of my favorite reads of 2012. For those who haven't read the book, it's a collection of fictional monologues by famous and infamous characters from throughout Chicago's history. And your Hair Lit story is mostly told in monologue, too. Do the book and story share a common genesis at all? Or do they just have the same narration device?

MC: I think I was more in tune with research with the Chicago pieces. For each one, I read as much as I could about the person (or as much as I needed to to get a story down), making sure to catch their voice, their cadence, their catchphrases, anything that had to be in the story. The Hair Lit piece was more just seeing where an idea took me, getting into the mode and figuring it out. Two different processes all together.

PA: You must have done a bangup job on the research for the book then, because for me those voices were all very distinct and realistic. And in their final creations, I can definitely sense the different processes behind the book (with all of that research) and the more improvisational feel of "You've Got Another Thing Coming." Though obviously there was also improvisation involved with the book, and research with the story, as with any good fiction.

I'd like to sincerely thank you for the great Hair Lit story as well as your book, and talking at length about how the story came about. Especially since you're an expectant father with a new arrival coming within days! In the days before my daughter was born, I never would have had the courtesy and patience to trade numerous emails with a guy 500 miles away whom I've never even met. I really appreciate you taking time out of your hectic schedule to talk. Best of luck to you and your family, and keep going with your writing!

MC: Thanks, Pete! I enjoyed doing the interview, much like I enjoyed writing the story. (Nick) Ostdick put together a pretty can't-miss book. Who doesn't want to read a book of stories inspired by heavy metal songs? I just got my copies the other day and have been eating them up. If Comedy Central were to roast an anthology, this would be the anthology that they would roast.

And perhaps one day someone will do an anthology of stories inspired by stories inspired by heavy metal songs, and someone will write about my story, and you'll interview that person. If that happens, think of our time together, download the Judas Priest song onto your iPod, position your head forward, and bob.

(Note: The end of this interview was postponed for a few weeks by the arrival of Mike's second son, Keats Márquez Czyzniejewski. They are obviously quite a literary family!)

February 20, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Occupational Alphabet, 1850


This oddity was apparently a school primer, though I don't think the content would have kept many children interested for very long. There are also some interesting musings here on how many of the occupations mentioned in the book still exist today.

(Via The Paris Review.)

February 19, 2013 in Books, Ephemera | Permalink | Comments (0)

Excerpt from Wheatyard

My debut novella Wheatyard will be released by Kuboa Press ten weeks from today, so on the next ten Tuesdays I'll be posting a short excerpt from each chapter, just to build some anticipation. From chapter one:
There stood a rumpled, bemused figure, shaking his head like a gently scolding schoolmaster. He was of below-average height, a few inches shorter than me, with an unkempt beard, greasy hair which hadn't been washed for a week or more, and intense brown eyes which peered at my selection—which I unconsciously began to return to the shelf—with a riveting stare.

February 19, 2013 in Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (0)

Edward J. Rathke, Ash Cinema

Ash Cinema tangentially addresses the life of the fictional avant-garde filmmaker Sebastian Falke, from three very different perspectives: an old man who once collaborated on Falke's films; a woman who was formerly the platonic lover (lover, that is, in everything but the physical sense) of a writer who was obsessed with finding Falke and his long-lost films; and the teenage girl who was Falke's lover at the very end of his life. Though (tangentially) about Falke, the book is really about grief, longing and trying to bring lost loves back across decades through writing about them. The book is haunting, obsessive, mournful and yet somehow triumphant, and eloquently and passionately written. A thoroughly impressive debut novel from a very talented young writer.

February 18, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

everyone else


Austin Kleon posted a bunch of love-related blackout poems yesterday. The one above is my favorite.

February 15, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Boy's gotta have it.


Fifty of Alvin Lustig's book covers for New Directions, in postcards. Sweet.

(Via Vol. 1 Brooklyn.)

February 14, 2013 in Art, Books | Permalink | Comments (0)



Very cool: the British Library's thousand-year-old manuscript of Beowulf is now fully viewable online. (Announcement here.) Historic literary treasures like this are a rare exception to my general objection to the electronic version of books. I'd never be allowed to get my filthy mitts on this relic anyway.

February 13, 2013 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Michigan Avenue, 1960


I love this 1960 foldout cover of the Saturday Evening Post, which looks west from the Art Institute across Michigan Avenue toward the "street wall" that overlooks Grant Park. The tinting and the pedestrian bustle, plus charming little details like the man in the lower left corner taking a snapshot of the artist, make this a really wonderful image. And I especially appreciate the fact that most of these buildings are still standing, more than fifty years later. This stretch of Michigan Avenue has been remarkably resistant to the ravages of urban renewal.

February 12, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Kings' new home


What a wonderful image: Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King (the couple at the top center) at the apartment they moved into in 1966 at 16th and Hamlin on Chicago's west side, to bring attention to living conditions in the city's slums.

February 10, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

What the hell is Wheatyard about, anyway?

It recently occurred to me that, with all my talk about trying to get Wheatyard published and finally getting my offer from Kuboa Press, I've never really explicitly explained what the book is about. It's weird being so immersed in creating a book that, although all of it makes perfect sense to me, it's very hard to succinctly explain it to others. So, as I continue to craft my elevator pitch, here's the standard written description I gave to prospective publishers.
Wheatyard is the story of the enigmatic, unpublished writer Elmer Glaciers Wheatyard and the unnamed narrator (a business school graduate stuck in an Illinois college town, jobless, after graduation) who improbably befriends him. During the course of a summer the two circle each other, with Wheatyard eager to exert his authority yet wary of revealing his personal life while the narrator struggles to focus on launching his finance career but finds himself distracted and passively fascinated by the writer. Though at first polar opposites, they gradually yield their idealistic extremes and arrive at a common ground that will better position themselves for the rest of their lives. The book meditates on art versus commerce, idealism versus pragmatism, and independence versus survival, as it reveals the lives of two very different people who have more in common than they realize, and also celebrates the subtle beauty of the rural Midwest.

February 10, 2013 in Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (3)

"If the intention was to further divide people, this attack failed because it has achieved the opposite."


The anonymous writer behind Spitalfields Life posts a report on the aftermath of the firebombing of London anarchist publisher The Freedom Press.
"It might be disheartening, if it were not for the flood of well-wishing and offers of help we have received from all over the world. Disparate groups in the radical hinterland have laid aside their differences and come together in solidarity."
I certainly hope the perpetrators never invoke the right to freedom of speech or expression to justify any of their actions.

February 8, 2013 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Laschet's Inn


Oh my god, I'm suddenly jonesing for German food. Laschet's was the home venue of my billiards team back in my city days, though then it was just a bar with no dining. Now it's a full restaurant-bar, which looks great from a food standpoint, although the dining room is now where the pool table used to be. But for good German food, I can forgive the loss of pool. And desserts from Dinkel's, plus a complimentary schnapps? Be still my heart.

February 7, 2013 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Guthrie the novelist

I'm adding House of Earth to my list.
There are passages in the novel where you can hear Woody Guthrie the lyricist. He plays with words, veers into poetry, wanders off into streams of consciousness. Brinkley says the book does not have a strong narrative, but Guthrie makes deft use of language to bring his characters to life.

"And he is able to really do a great job of capturing dialects and the slang expressions of a region," says Brinkley. "But it's done with a poetic flourish. You can almost speed-read the novel out loud, and when you do there is a musicality to it."
My recently revived interest in Billy Bragg also has me rethinking my early-2000s selloff of Mermaid Avenue, his collaboration with Wilco in which they created and performed music for a late-discovered trove of unpublished Guthrie lyrics. I don't remember how much I made from that sale, but I'm sure it was less than the ten bucks it will cost me to re-buy the album on iTunes. Unless I can find the CD at my local used record store.

February 6, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

"...the tug of war coursing through him..."

From Ash Cinema, by Edward J. Rathke:
Each step to the flower brought youth and each step to the notebook dug his grave. He stood between, where boundary met boundary, the draw of the past and the promise of future. For twenty three minutes he stood, inert, weaving into the fiber of his life, each one, the past, the future, sewn to his heart, to that place at the center of him that houses all that he is, where a name sits with a promise.
Good book so far. Very haunting.

February 6, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Barnes & Noble

My friend Mark Athitakis pens an ode to the often-maligned (often by me) Barnes & Noble.
The internet fixes this, allegedly. If I were 16 now, I could theoretically discover Lipstick Traces on Amazon. But claiming that online retail negates the brick-and-mortar bookstore is like saying we don’t have to worry about socializing in person now that we have Facebook and Twitter.
I can't say that I quite share his appreciation. B&N and Borders didn't reach my distant corner of suburbia until after I left for the city as a young adult, so neither store was part of my formative reading years and I never had the sort of pilgrimages that Mark describes. However, in my early twenties I did become addicted to the B&N mail order catalog which somehow magically arrived in my mailbox one day, and from there I regularly bought obscure remaindered/overstock titles for ridiculously cheap prices. For a few years, then, the catalog was my primary source of books, until I moved to the city and its indie and used bookstores. So I'll always be grateful to B&N for that old catalog, though their stores have done little for me.

February 5, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wacker Drive


It's hard to imagine now, but there once was a CTA elevated track running right down the middle of North Wacker Drive (then called Market Street). That photo above shows the Market Terminal at Madison Street, where the line terminated, in front of the grand Civic Opera House. The stub was demolished during the late 1940s, undoubtedly to the relief of the Opera House's owners. This memorable 1946 painting by John Falter shows a scene beneath the terminal, at roughly the spot where the lone car protrudes from underneath the structure in the photo. I walk past this intersection on a regular basis and always admire the broad, airy expanse of Wacker Drive, and although I'm normally a traditionalist, I'll admit that the demolition of the Market Stub is one act of urban renewal that I have absolutely no objection to.

February 1, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)