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Hear, hear!

Why we need a biography of Kent Haruf.
But no is an interesting story, one that doesn’t get told often enough. Writers’ lives are filled with failure and rejection, and not just because editors are blind to their genius. For every Great Gatsby that gets tossed back on the slush pile, there are thousands of manuscripts rejected because they simply aren’t that good. And when a writer faces that rejection, not just once, but for decades, and finds the combination of humility and confidence to keep working on his craft, keep believing he was meant to be a writer - that’s a story we all could learn something from.
I'm eagerly (and wistfully) looking forward to Haruf's final novel, Our Souls at Night - but not until it's out in paperback. I have all of his novels in paperback (ever since I found Plainsong on the book swap shelf at a Starbucks), and it wouldn't seem right reading this one in anything but.

May 31, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Herman Wouk

Very cool: Herman Wouk to publish first memoir aged 100. What a radical concept in this excessively confessional age: a writer who thoroughly experiences and writes about the world before finally turning the focus on himself. Quite a contrast to the rash of youngish serial memoirists out there.

May 27, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"It was a constant nagging problem that nobody owned up to."

The lost (and gradually rediscovered) county cemetery at Dunning is in the news once again.

May 18, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Graphic Papers of Joliet


One of my favorite buildings in Joliet: paper wholesaler Graphic Papers of Joliet. I particularly like the "GPJ" logo at the top. I don't think this building was originally a warehouse - it's adjacent to the former Joliet Steel Works, so I assume it was once something industrial. That weird peak is actually the end of an long, windowed, loft-like section above the roof that runs the length of the building, which must have allowed light and ventilation into the factory floor. I've seen this feature on a lot of old factories but don't know what it's called.

May 17, 2015 in Joliet, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)


“There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.” - William Zinsser

May 15, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

"...noise or wine or sex or gluttony..."

In Black Like Me (1960), the white writer John Howard Griffin disguises himself as an African-American in order to experience, firsthand, that other side of society. After starting in New Orleans, he moves on to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which is simmering with imminent racial unrest after a white jury refused to indict members of a mob suspected of lynching Mack Charles Parker. Here, he reflects on African-Americans' seeming ability to remain joyous in the face of injustice and deprivation.
The music consumed in its blatant rhythm all other rhythms, even that of the heartbeat. I wondered how all of this would look to the casual observer, or to the whites in their homes. "The n***ers are whooping it up over on Mobile Street tonight," they might say. "They're happy." Or, as one scholar put it, "Despite their lowly status, they are capable of living jubilantly." Would they see the immense melancholy that hung over the quarter, so oppressive that men had to dull their sensibilities in noise or wine or sex or gluttony in order to escape it? The laughter had to be gross or it would turn to sobs, and to sob would be to realize, and to realize would be to despair. So the noise poured forth like a jazzed-up fugue, louder and louder, to cover the whisper in every man's soul, "You are black. You are condemned." That is what the white man mistook for "jubilant living" and called "whooping it up." This is how the white man can say, "They live like dogs," never realizing why they must, to save themselves, shout, get drunk, shake the hip, pour pleasures into bellies deprived of happiness. Otherwise, the sounds of the quarter would lose order and rhythm and become wails.
Or, as the old blues lyric goes, "I'm laughing just to keep from crying." Powerful book, one that I'm really enjoying.

May 14, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


image from http://www.boogaj.com/.a/6a00d83451ce9f69e201b7c78a67a7970b-pi

Two of my favorites: Howlin' Wolf and Hubert Sumlin, at Sylvio's in Chicago, 1964. Wolf is simply one of the greatest singers ever. "Smokestack Lightnin'" still gives me shivers.

(Via Chicagogeek.)

May 14, 2015 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Universal Overall Company


Chicago's West Loop neighborhood may not have many fading ads, but it does have a lot of old factory buildings, many of which still have their cool original signage. This one is over the entry of the Universal Overall Company, (1060 W. Van Buren) which was founded in 1924 and is still family-owned and operated. That's something I always love to see. If a company has been around that long, and survived the strife which surfaces so often in family businesses, you know they're doing something right.

May 12, 2015 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

"I like that devilish thing in children."

William Trevor, from a 1989 interview with The Paris Review:
My skill in art and English made me impatient, and I found those subjects rather dreary to teach as a result. “Why are the art room walls covered with pictures of such ugly women?” a headmaster asked me once. “And why have some of them got those horrible cigarette butts hanging out of their nostrils?” I explained that I had asked the children to paint the ugliest woman they could think of. Unfortunately, almost all of them had looked no further than the headmaster’s wife. I like that devilish thing in children.
Trevor (one of my favorite writers) must have been a marvelous teacher, though at least one headmaster's wife would surely disagree.

May 10, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"So this is the end. Is this what peace looks like?"

In the Guardian, contemporary accounts of the final days of World War II, seventy years ago this week.

May 8, 2015 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Boy's gotta have it.

Restored print of an 1898 bird's-eye view map of downtown Chicago. Fantastic detail.

May 8, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)


image from http://www.boogaj.com/.a/6a00d83451ce9f69e201b8d10ff7e2970c-pi

Sad: Chicago's Mirabell restaurant is closing, after 38 years in business.
Owner Jeff Heil planned one last weekend of food and drink last weekend, but some well-wishers had to be turned away, because more than 1,500 people showed up.

"Probably more than we had all year," Heil said, a trace of bitterness in his voice.

Chicago has not been kind to its German restaurants over the last 30 or so years; one by one, once-storied names such as Zum Deutschen Eck, Heidelberger Fass and Golden Ox have succumbed to business pressures, retiring owners, or both. Mirabell was one of the last old holdouts.
I've been to most of the places mentioned, but Mirabell was my favorite - though I'm chagrined to admit that I haven't been there in twenty years, so I'm as much to blame for its demise as anyone. I first went there with my high school German Club, then on a business lunch after college when I was auditing a company in the area, and then a few times after I moved to the city, including once with my parents. Good memories.

May 7, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)


Radical publisher Richard Carlile was once brought to trial in England on charges of blasphemy and seditious libel for publishing Thomas Paine's writings, which were banned by the authorities. His response?
At his trial Carlile argued that the jury could only judge whether Paine’s work was seditious and blasphemous if they heard it for themselves, and splendidly read out the whole of Paine’s The Age of Reason, an attack on institutionalised religion and church corruption. This was a sneaky ploy to get the book into the public domain: verbatim trial proceedings could legally be published. It later sold 10,000 two-penny copies.
Despite its official suppression, The Age of Reason became one of history's seminal texts. Thank goodness for rational, forward-thinking people like Carlile.

May 5, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Joliet Industry: Triptych




May 3, 2015 in Joliet, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)



In Marseilles, Illinois, there is a canal lock without a canal. The Illinois and Michigan Canal fell into disuse in the early 20th Century, having been supplanted by railroads and bigger canals, and while most of its original 96 miles still exists as stream and marsh, some sections have been filled in, as shown here in Marseilles. (And more notably on the southwest side of Chicago, where the Stevenson Expressway follows the old canal bed.) I frequently ride alongside the canal on my Saturday morning bike treks, and quite of the few old locks still exist in the Joliet area. I haven't seen the dry Marseilles lock myself, but will hunt for it next time I'm around there.

(Photo by The American Canal Society.)

May 3, 2015 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)


Farewell, Grooveshark. (I always wondered about the legality of the site. I guess this is my answer.)

May 1, 2015 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)