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“I have to listen to music while I write, and usually I play just one song at a time. I repeat it all day, often for weeks on end. Months, even. There’s one song that I replayed up to 30,000 times during the ten years I was writing The Incendiaries. I love that song and its powers; I can’t tell you its name, lest it stop helping me. By obsessively replaying a single song at a time, I can, if I’m lucky, set the pitch. It gives me a place to start. The ritual of it, the repetition, lulls and quiets my anxious, everyday self. The ego goes silent, which lets my writing self emerge, and begin to sing. Even now, months after I last edited The Incendiaries, to play the song I can’t name is to be pulled back toward my novel, into my made-up town of Noxhurst. The still, quiet voice. That’s what I used to listen for, back when I was deeply religious: the still, quiet voice of God. I’ve lost that kind of faith, but I do believe in fiction’s voice, and in spending the rest of my life, or so I hope, listening for it.” R.O. Kwon 

Wow. As much as I love music, I don’t think there’s even one song that I would want to hear 30,000 times, especially not while I’m trying to focus on writing. This author’s powers of concentration must be far superior to mine. Even with a favorite song, after only about nine or ten listenings I’d be itching to cue up something else. 

July 30, 2018 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (1)


Anna Burns, on being shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize:

“Speaking short-term, I heard that within a day sales of Milkman went up. In monetary terms that’s an impact. Publishers will definitely like that sort of thing and might then be accommodating if I should go to them a wee bit later with some sketchy, hare-brained plan of possible further work and say, ‘How about you give me money to write this?’”

July 26, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“Gods do not answer letters.”

Color film footage has surfaced of Ted Williams’ final game, which was immortalized in John Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu”, which includes one of my favorite passages in all of literature:

Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn’t tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted “We want Ted” for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.”

Check out the footage - Williams did run out that home run exactly the way that Updike described. I can almost see the (metaphorical) storm. 

July 23, 2018 in Books, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

“Everything blooming bows down in the rain…“

I quite like this poem, "Heavy Summer Rain", by Jane Kenyon, especially the way she mingles the observational with the personal. Her observations remind me of the bowing hydrangeas and (albeit not blooming - that was in spring) lilac bushes in my yard. And how rain collects on the leaves of trees, only to be dislodged by the wind later, after the rains have passed - a phenomenon I like to call "tree rain."

July 23, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thank you, Lauren Groff

This needed to be said.

GAZETTE: You are a mother of two. In 10 years you have produced three novels and two short-story collections. Can you talk about your process and how you manage work and family?

GROFF: I understand that this is a question of vital importance to many people, particularly to other mothers who are artists trying to get their work done, and know that I feel for everyone in the struggle. But until I see a male writer asked this question, I’m going to respectfully decline to answer it.

July 20, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (2)


“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” - John Lewis

July 13, 2018 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)


“I am desperately hard up and owe about £20.” - William Butler Yeats

Echoes of the obscure Scottish poet, Ewan MacTeagle:


July 10, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Acquisitions: Ann Arbor, July 2018

For me, reading a book is paramount, but almost as interesting to me are the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the book itself. Below is the first in an occasional series about my book acquisition adventures.

Julie, Maddie and I spent the weekend in Ann Arbor, doing a college visit to the University of Michigan. After a few hours of touring the campus, we turned our attention to downtown Ann Arbor, which is full of restaurants and interesting shops. In the Kerrytown neighborhood, we spent a long time in Hollander's, where Julie was hunting for bookbinding paper. Bookbinding (inevitably) interests me, though I've never done it myself, so instead of the vast inventory of papers I found myself enthralled by the largest store display of Edward Gorey works that I've ever seen. Gorey has fascinated me ever since first seeing the opening credits of Mystery! on PBS back in the 1980s, and I've picked up a few of his things in the past. I was quite pleased to find his Thoughful Alphabets: The Just Dessert and The Deadly Blotter, in a beautiful little edition from Pomegranate. Gorey's alphabets were 26-word stories, with each word beginning with one letter of the alphabet (with a bit of fudging over x; instead of abusing the limited supply of words like xylophone and x-ray, he used words like expect and explain instead). A few years ago I actually wrote my own thoughful alphabet story, "The Afternoon Party", which was published in the online journal Goreyesque. The Pomegranate edition has what are apparently the only two of his thoughtful alphabet stories that he also illustrated himself (the others just had clip art), which clinched it for me. I just had to buy it, and did.

Then, after dinner and drinks, we made our way to the excellent Literati Bookstore, which was only two blocks from our hotel. I've been reading Michelle Dean's Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion, which included a chapter about Mary McCarthy, whose name I had heard of but knew nothing else about. She wrote a couple of big fiction books in the 1940s and 1950s (The Company She Keeps and The Group) before turning mostly to nonfiction; The Oasis is her lesser-known novella that was published between those two books, a satire that lampoons idealistic intellectuals, with many of the characters being barely-disguised members of her own social circle. That wicked premise would have been more than enough to lure me in, but even better is that Literati had the edition that was put out by Melville House, one of my favorite publishers; combine that with a beautiful summer night and a couple of good whiskies still buzzing through my brain, and the purchase was made. It will be one of the first books I read after my Summer of Welty ends.

July 9, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...a kind of parasitic hinterland...”

Peter Orner, from Love and Shame and Love:

A high place where the prairie convulses into ravines and the scalloped bluffs rise above the lake. It is part of what is known collectively as Chicagoland, a mythical place, a kind of parasitic hinterland that exists solely in the mind of those who dream of the city from a distance. Just half an hour away, depending on traffic. How do you begin to remember a place you've never left? It's not yet full winter, and memory is always November. The trees are stripped bare. Now you can see all the setback houses you hadn't been able to see in summer.

Orner is a Chicago native whose various writings I've always enjoyed - although to date the only book of his that I’ve read is his collection The Esther Stories, which included the lovely novella Fall River Marriage, a personal favorite of mine. Although he's best known for his shorter work, Love and Shame and Love is the longest thing he's published, and the book has me intrigued, along with the reading memoir Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live.

July 9, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (1)


“Good as it is to inherit a library, it is better to collect one.” - Augustine Birrell

July 7, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)


“It is indeed impossible to view a series of bearded portraits, however indifferently executed, without feeling that they possess dignity, gravity, freedom, vigour, and completeness; while in looking on a row of razored faces, however illustrious the originals, or skillful the artists, a sense of artificial conventional bareness is experienced.” - Thomas S. Gowing

Hear, hear!

July 6, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

“They’re not all bums that sleeps here.”

I love this Chicago reporter’s 1883 description of vagrants sleeping in Lake-Front Park (now Grant Park):

As a tramps’ paradise the park was an eminent success. Deep, raspy snores, indicative of a tranquil slumber, floated up from various quarters of the park, and here and there could be dimly seen a recumbent figure, flat on its back, its arms and legs ungracefully distributed about it, a coat serving as a pillow and darkness as a cove.


“They’re not all bums that sleeps here. Some of ‘em are pretty well-to-do, but put on their old clothes, leave their valuables at home, and come down here to sleep. It’s cooler, you know, than sleeping in a close room. Come down and try it some night, and I’ll see that you ain’t arrested.”

I can vouch for the latter. My dad and his siblings used to sleep in Chicago city parks on hot summer nights.

July 5, 2018 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (1)