« December 2018 | Main | February 2019 »


“I don’t know what Rembrandt’s earlier practice portraits, which he destroyed, looked like. But for good reasons he destroyed them.” - Carl Sandburg

B.J. Hollars remembers being a fledgling writer at Galesburg College, where he walked in the footsteps of Sandburg, who himself once walked in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln.

January 27, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“You are living with ghosts...”

Paul Auster, in conversation with Lou Reed, first published in Dazed & Confused, April 1996:

"So many people that we've loved and cared about are not here any more, but you carry them around inside you. The older you get, the more your life becomes a quiet conversation with the dead. I find that very sad and at the same time very comforting. You know, the older you get, the more of a spiritual being you become. You are living with ghosts and they have a lot to tell you. And if you listen carefully you can learn a lot."

The conversation is collected in Lou Reed: The Last Interview and Other Conversations (Melville House, 2015). The book is very good - the interviews show Reed in his many moods, from cranky to thoughtful, but his talk with Auster was the best of all. I've never read Auster, but I admire the sensibilities he displays throughout their talk, and should probably delve into his work.

January 24, 2019 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (4)

New Chicago-area bookstores

The American Booksellers Association has announced that 96 new member bookstores opened in 2018, of which six are in the Chicago area:

Barbara's Bookstore (Vernon Hills)
Booked (Evanston)
Bookie's (Homewood)
Harvey's Tales (Geneva)
Jake's Place Books (Oak Park)
*play Lincoln Park (Chicago)

The ABA's post also listed a new location for Prairie Path Books, whose original location is located inside of a Toms-Price furniture store (?) in Wheaton. But the company's website indicates the new Hale Street location as "closed." Curious. Also, *play appears to be more of a toy store, and Barbara's is a branch of the small local chain - but, in somewhat of a throwback, it's located within an indoor shopping mall. Shades of B. Dalton and Waldenbooks.

January 22, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: J.S. Patterson Body Shop


J.S. Patterson Body Shop, formerly located at 3611 S. Archer Avenue in Chicago. The building is still car-related, but now houses Monte-Jalisco Auto Repair, which gives an indication of McKinley Park’s changing demographics. The age of the ad is suggested by the phone number lacking an area code - until 1989, the entire Chicago area had the area code 312, so the area code was rarely referenced. 

January 13, 2019 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Archer Avenue Tour

Last week I had a bachelor weekend (Julie and Maddie were away, at our city place), and my big thing to do for fun was to...drive the entire length of Archer Avenue, from Lockport to Chicago. (Yes, I’m quite the wild one.) My daily train runs generally parallel to Archer, so I've seen bits and pieces of the street here and there, but never the entire distance. So I hopped in the car on Saturday afternoon, with a bottle of water, an Epic bar and a couple of old CDs (Chris Mars, Treat Her Right) and set out.

Archer is one of the major southwestern arteries of the Chicago area, which starts just north of downtown Lockport, winds through the towns of Lockport, Lemont, Willow Springs, Justice and Summit (just edging Bedford Park) and the Southwest Side of Chicago, where it ends at 19th and State, in the South Loop. Archer follows the path of an ancient Native American trail (which paralleled the Chicago and Des Plaines Rivers), and was originally built as a supply road for the building of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, which was headquartered in Lockport.

Naturally, I stopped and took photos along the way.



St. James at Sag Bridge Catholic Church, in Lemont. St. James was built in 1833 to serve Irish diggers of the canal, many of whom are buried in the quaint churchyard. The church stands on a bluff above the canal and the Des Plaines River, on a highland that in prehistoric times was an island - in fact, the area is formally called Mount Forest Island. Driving up the short road between Archer and the church feels like stepping back in time.



Pleasanty creepy, Addams-esque (or Munster-esque, if you prefer) Victorian house in Willow Springs. I've seen online mentions of this house being haunted. Ghosts might be the only thing living there - it looks abandoned. The house isn't actually on Archer, but is visible from the street, on the bluff just a block up Charleton Street.



The main gate of Resurrection Cemetery, in Justice. Resurrection is one of the largest cemeteries in North America, with 540 acres and over 152,000 graves. The cemetery is infamous for being the purported resting place of Resurrection Mary, whose ghost supposedly haunts Archer Avenue.



Administration building of the former Argo corn starch factory, in Summit. These relief sculptures depict the history of corn, from its first planting and harvesting by Native Americans to the laboratory explorations of scientists. The factory is one of the largest corn processing plants in the world, and is so prominent that the town is often known as Summit-Argo in its honor. This building is now occupied by the U.S Food and Drug Administration. 



36th and Archer, McKinley Park, Chicago. This house, the setting of my story "Valentino’s Return" in Where the Marshland Came to Flower, is incongruously wedged between an auto repair shop and a CTA bus lot, on a very commercial stretch of Archer. I see the house from my daily train to the city, and am always struck by how out of place it looks. Thinking of the sort of people who would live in a house like this eventually lead me to my story.



Huck Finn Donuts, 3414 S. Archer, McKinley Park, Chicago. I've always been curious about the name - I don't remember any specific references to doughnuts in Huckleberry Finn, or from Mark Twain in general. Yes, I stopped for a doughnut, to fortify myself for the long drive home - tasty, good but not spectacular.



R.V. Kunka Pharmacy, 2899 S. Archer, Bridgeport, Chicago. Sadly, it's no longer in business - I would have loved to stop in for a chocolate malt. I hope that wonderful storefront is retained by the next owner.



Hilliard Towers Apartments (formerly Raymond Hilliard Homes), seen from Cullerton Street near Archer. Designed by the incomparable Bertrand Goldberg (best known for Marina City) and built in 1966 as a CHA public housing project, the complex was redeveloped in the early 2000s as a mixed-income development - middle-class, low-income and seniors. Hilliard is bounded by Cermak Road, Clark Street, Archer, Cullerton and State Street, and even though it is only briefly bordered by Archer, it bears a commanding presence over the street. Archer ends just two blocks east, at State, where I turned around and headed for home.

January 13, 2019 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)


“Sightings of butt-naked emperors are now no longer newsworthy.” - Gary Younge

January 11, 2019 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

“Northwood was to London as London was to Europe."

Julian Barnes writes of his childhood, and how the old Blackfriars train station taught him that London wasn't the center of the world, but merely a departure point.

January 9, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Books given, books received

If my family ever decides (or finally tells me what they’ve felt all along) that they don’t like books, everyone will get cash for Christmas. But, for now...

Books Given

For my Vonnegut-loving wife, who already owns all of his prose: Kurt Vonnegut, Drawings

For my religious, bibliophile mom: Scott Esplin: Return to the City of Joseph; Shaun Bythell: The Diary of a Bookseller

For my hipster-ish, Midwest-proud niece: Paul Dickson, Contraband Cocktails; Edward McClelland, Folktales and Legends of the Middle West

For my hipster-ish, eloquent niece-in-law: Mark Meyer and Meredith Meyer Grelli, The Whiskey Rebellion; Rosemarie Ostler, Splendiferous Speech

For my offbeat, outdoorsy nephew: Ryan Schnurr, In the Watershed; Christopher Boucher, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive; H.P. Lovecraft, The Dunwich Horror

For my island-loving, outdoorsy niece-in-law: Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs (#2 on my year-end list); Helene Glidden, The Light on the Island; Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca (#1 on my year-end list)

For my music-major sister: Andrew Talle, Beyond Bach

For my engineer brother-in-law: Dan Egan, Life and Death of the Great Lakes

For my feminist niece: Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions (#6 on my year-end list)

For my mom’s gentleman friend: Steve Lehto, Preston Tucker and His Battle to Build the Car of Tomorrow

For my sports-addicted sister: David Rapp, Tinker to Evers to Chance

Books Received

Wioletta Greg, Swallowing Mercury
Simon van Booy, The Illusion of Separateness
Benjamin Franklin, Fart Proudly: Writings of Benjamin Franklin You Never Read in School

January 7, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)


“What have I in common with the Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself.” - Franz Kafka

January 6, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)