« November 2017 | Main | January 2018 »

Books given, books received

As always, I give almost nothing but books as Christmas gifts to my family (other than Julie and Maddie, for whom I use a bit more imagination). And I receive a few in return. This year, the given are my usual mix of old and new, read and unread-but-looked-interesting. The received are both intriguing - I’m especially curious to see whether Hanks can really write, or if the book is a vanity project that his publisher thought they could make a quick buck from.

C.D. Rose: The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure
Kate Chopin: The Awakening
The U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality
Tarjei Vesaas: The Birds
Debra A. Shattuck: Bloomer Girls: Women Baseball Pioneers
Giano Cromley: The Last Good Halloween
Knut Hamsun: Pan
Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale
Neal Bascomb: The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb
Stephen Greenblatt: The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve
Elena Passarello: Animals Strike Curious Poses
Alexander Solzhenitsyn: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Muriel Spark: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Tom Hanks: Uncommon Type: Some Stories
Joshua Hammer: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts

December 30, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


“...the quintessence of humanism is to have conversations. There is a deep connection between communication and ‘communio,’ community. Sitting together, eating together, drinking together, talking together. When people stop talking to each other, then you get into war.” - Rob Riemen

December 29, 2017 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

This is just so wrong.

I earned more money from the five tossed-off microfictions that I sold to Le Meridien Hotels in 2006 than Poe earned (even after adjusting for inflation) for “The Tell-Tale Heart”, one of the greatest short stories ever written.

December 27, 2017 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Good Reading 2017

Here is my latest installment of the best books I read this year. As always, it's books I read in 2017, and not necessarily books that were published in 2017.

1. Suzanne Mars (editor): What There Is To Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell
2. Joseph Mitchell: Joe Gould's Secret
3. Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid's Tale
4. H.G. Wells: The Time Machine
5. Tim Krabbe: The Rider
6. Ben Tanzer: Be Cool
7. Eudora Welty: The Ponder Heart
8. H.G. Wells: The Island of Dr. Moreau
9. Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Gambler
10. Giano Cromley: The Last Good Halloween

Honorable Mention: Robert Ferguson: Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun; Edward McClelland: How to Speak Midwestern; Kingsley Amis: Girl, 20; Rosie Schaap: Drinking With Men: A Memoir; Martha Bayne (editor): Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology

Re-readings: Nelson Algren: The Neon Wilderness; Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol

Thoughts: The Welty-Maxwell letters were an absolute delight - two great writers from extremely different worlds who were drawn together into a warm friendship by a shared love of literature - although maybe not of great interest to anyone who isn't already a fan of either writer...I finally read Joe Gould's Secret at the instigation of my friend Joe Peterson, who saw parallels between the book and Wheatyard, and he's right - and I totally see that too...My “Summer of H.G. Wells” was very up and down, but the two books listed above were great...Welty and Maxwell talked a lot about The Ponder Heart (which first appeared in The New Yorker, with Maxwell as editor), so it was cool to read the novel after experiencing their thoughts on its creation...Three "writers I know" books are on this year's list - Ben Tanzer, Giano Cromley, Ted McClelland - and all are quite good...When I re-read a book, I automatically disqualify it from my Top Ten, due to the built-in bias (I wouldn't re-read a book that I didn't already love) but if I had read The Neon Wilderness for the first time this year, it would have been #1 - the book is a sweet reminder of the greatness of Algren's early career, made somewhat bitter by how utterly he let himself languish for his last twenty-five years.

December 26, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


Even during the holidays, I'm not a particularly merry person - not that I'm at all glum, just that I'm not boisterous. A second or third cocktail makes me quieter, not noisier. Still, I like the sentiment of George Wither's poem "A Christmas Carol", and particularly this portion:

Hark how the roofs with laughters sound!
Anon they'll think the house goes round,
For they the cellar's depth have found,
And there they will be merry.

I'm guessing the cellar is where the merrymakers will discover the trove of hard cider or ale. I wonder if they will ever make it upstairs in time for Christmas dinner.

(Via Patrick Kurp).

December 22, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

"...ten times that amount of continuous soaking..."

In Kingsley Amis' Girl, 20, the narrator, music critic Douglas Yandell, is trying to prevent his friend, the renowned classical conductor Sir Roy Vandervane, from publicly performing his avant-garde work Elevations 9, which Yandell rightly foresees as an utter disaster. Yandell and Vandervane are meeting for drinks, just before the performance.

He seemed to me fairly drunk already. While he spoke to the waiter, I dallied with the thought of plying him with his own drink to the point at which he would be unable to leave the club, or at least mount the concert platform, then put it aside. We must take off in half an hour or less, and ten times that amount of continuous soaking would hardly have been enough to put him under any table I had ever seen in his vicinity.

Very enjoyable book - Amis is typically fine with all things alcoholic - though the dated misogyny (the book was published in 1971) can be trying at times.

December 22, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


“I think that the chill wind that blows from English publishers, with their black suits and thin umbrellas, and their habit of beginning every sentence with ‘We are afraid,’ has nipped off more promising buds than it has strengthened.” - Cyril Connolly

December 10, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


“Those special days are not measured in minutes nor hours but in chapters completed and sentences perfected. They don’t even feel like days, they are periods I spend in a magical place, unbound by the rules of a temporal universe.” - Ayobami Adebayo

I like this commentary, other than the idea of “sentences perfected.” Perfect sentences rarely exist. They are polished, yes, but almost never perfected.

December 9, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...the perishable possibility...”

"4. Early September anywhere in the city, when the sunlight angle has changed and everything and everyone appears kinder, all the edges softened; the torments of the hot summer are over, the cold torments of the winter have not begun, and people bask in the perishable possibility of a gentle city." - Aleksandar Hemon, "Reasons Why I Do Not Wish to Leave Chicago: An Incomplete, Random List" (from Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology)

December 4, 2017 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)