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"A great department store is an offensive thing, because it pretends that trade is carried on in a dignified manner. The strong towers and wide façades of these immense shops make believe that Commerce has become a god, for whom it is meet to build a temple: whereas, in its present-day development, it is a vampire, to be buried at the cross-roads, with a stake through its heart."
- Rebecca West

And West didn't even live long enough to experience Walmart on Black Friday. Just imagine her reaction to that.

November 29, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Once upon a time, a work was considered a failure if it did not make you cry."

Margaret Atwood reflects on literature, particularly literary tearjerkers.
But “The Little Mermaid” simply made me furious. Cutting off one’s hair, losing one’s voice, replacing one’s tail with two painful feet, all for such a worthless prince, and it doesn’t work out in the end? Feh, I exclaimed to myself. Or the ’40s child equivalent.
I always love Atwood's frank sensibility. So refreshing.

November 28, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary."
- John Milton

November 26, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...to make no noise, to leave no trace..."

The narrator of Willa Cather's My Antonia reflects on his late teenaged years in small-town Black Hawk, Nebraska (which Cather modeled on her home town of Red Cloud):
On starlight nights I used to pace up and down those long, cold streets, scowling at the little, sleeping houses on either side, with their storm-windows and covered back porches. They were flimsy shelters, most of them poorly built of light wood, with spindle porch-posts horribly mutilated by the turning-lathe. Yet for all their frailness, how much jealousy and envy and unhappiness some of them managed to contain! The life that went on in them seemed to me made up of evasions and negations; shifts to save cooking, to save washing and cleaning, devices to propitiate the tongue of gossip. This guarded mode of existence was like living under a tyranny. People's speech, their voices, their very glances, became furtive and repressed. Every individual taste, every natural appetite, was bridled by caution. The people asleep in those houses, I thought, tried to live like the mice in their own kitchens; to make no noise, to leave no trace, to slip over the surface of things in the dark. The growing piles of ashes and cinders in the back yards were the only evidence that the wasteful, consuming process of life went on at all.
Ouch. Even Sinclair Lewis would have been hard-pressed to describe small-town life so darkly.

November 23, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Fading Ad: Amazon Hose & Rubber Company


Construction of the new building at the left appears to have prompted the partial removal of the canvas banner on the building at the center, at 140 N. Jefferson Street. When I saw the vaguely retro typeface and the orange background, my first thought was that this might have been an early logo for amazon.com. But an image search for old Amazon logos brought up nothing that looked anything like this, and so I kept looking, and a search on the address finally revealed that this was once the home of Amazon Hose & Rubber Company, a wholesaler of industrial hoses. The company was established in Chicago in 1945 but, oddly enough, now operates only from three locations in Florida - Miami, Tampa and Orlando. A corporate snowbird, I guess.

November 22, 2015 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Modern hunger

The Rumpus has an interesting review , by Tara Merrigan, of Carrie Brownstein's memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. Merrigan takes exception with Brownstein's lack of candor about her personal relationships.
However, when it comes to her personal life, Brownstein is less direct, using vague allusions to discuss her romantic desires. She describes herself as “queer” and briefly mentions girls she dated or desired, but she refuses to delve deeper. This limits Brownstein’s portrayal of herself, and her portrayal of the band’s development because her sexual history is intertwined with Sleater-Kinney — she and Corin Tucker, the band’s other singer and guitarist, dated.
One aspect of rock bands that fascinates me is what happens when two of the members fall in love - and, even more dramatically, when they break up. Bands spend so much time together - in the studio or on the road - that the tensions that inevitably arise after a breakup have to be almost unbearable. For a band to survive two of its members breaking up seems like nothing short of a miracle.

Superchunk (with Mac MacCaughan and Laura Ballance) and Versus (with Richard Baluyut and Fontaine Toups) are two bands I know of that survived a breakup; in contrast, Sonic Youth's stellar career ended after three decades, at least partly due to the separation and subsequent divorce of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon. (Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley are the happy rock-breakup exception - they founded Yo La Tengo in 1984 and have kept both the band and their marriage together ever since.)

Though I still want to read the book, Brownstein's apparent omission is indeed disappointing. I would have loved to learn her personal take on how her relationship - and breakup - with Tucker impacted the band. And how the band survived.

November 19, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


image from http://www.boogaj.com/.a/6a00d83451ce9f69e201b7c7ee5955970b-pi

It's been gray and drizzly here lately - in other words, a typical Chicago November. This photograph captures the mood fairly well. My eye was first drawn to the "Open" sign, barely cutting through the gloom, but as I framed the image I liked how the illuminated droplets of rain on the train window distorted the sign. I shifted my position until the sign was directly behind one of the droplets. The effect seems somewhat surreal - the pink spots almost look painted on.

This is the EggCetera Cafe, in downtown Mokena.

November 18, 2015 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...the material out of which countries are made..."

Early in Willa Cather's My Antonia, the narrator Jim Burden is remembering being ten years old, and riding in a wagon through the pitch-black night of nineteenth-century Nebraska.

There seemed to be nothing to see; no fences, no creeks or trees, no hills or fields. If there was a road, I could not make it out in the faint starlight. There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made. No, there was nothing but land—slightly undulating, I knew, because often our wheels ground against the brake as we went down into a hollow and lurched up again on the other side. I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, and were outside man's jurisdiction.

I like the feeling here of being in complete wilderness, of which the utter darkness of night is emblematic. I've only felt this once, sleeping outdoors without a tent in the Alaskan backcountry. But even there, I knew the lodge was only a short walk away, with just enough civilization to make it feel not quite like total wilderness. I certainly had more creature comforts than young Jimmy Burden had at this point in Cather's novel. It's telling that he doesn't express any unease over his surroundings, but more a sense of wonder.

I'm enjoying the book quite a bit - much more than The Song of the Lark.

November 15, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"I can’t be a pessimist, because I am alive.” - James Baldwin

Though I was underwhelmed by Baldwin's non-fiction last year, I really should re-read Go Tell It On the Mountain soon. It's been a very long time.

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


"We sit in the mud, my friend, and reach for the stars." - Ivan Turgenev

I haven't read Turgenev, but Fathers and Sons and First Love (the latter in Melville House's way-cool Art of the Novella edition) are both on my list.

November 10, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)


image from http://www.boogaj.com/.a/6a00d83451ce9f69e201bb088bb758970d-pi

"Whether he is an artist or not, the photographer is a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts." - Walker Evans

Happy belated birthday (Tuesday) to Evans, one of my heroes.

November 5, 2015 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)