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“I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.” - James Baldwin

October 20, 2019 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

“The Lighthouse”

Fascinating...an unfinished story fragment by Edgar Allan Poe, from 1849:

Besides, I wish to be alone . . . . . . It is strange that I never observed, until this moment, how dreary a sound that word has — “alone” ! I could half fancy there was some peculiarity in the echo of these cylindrical walls — but oh, no! — this is all nonsense.

Poe could have gone so many different ways with this: a powerful storm overwhelming the island (note the comment about how high the sea runs there) and flooding out the cellar; the lighthouse crumbling, being built only on chalk; a man who at first cherishes solitude slowly descending into madness from his isolation; even Neptune the dog meeting an unfortunate end.

October 19, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...his father didn’t believe in touching the savings."

Mike Royko’s favorite everyman, his fictional boyhood pal Slats Grobnik, was a true creature of the the city. An actual news story about suburban Arlington Heights' banning the playing of sidewalk hopscotch lead to the column “Sidewalk Slats”, which includes this gem of a passage:

The best place for a child to play and learn is on a sidewalk. It is his natural environment. If you take a child into the woods, he can fall out of a tree and break a leg and ruin the weekend.

Nobody liked sidewalks more than I did, except Slats Grobnik. To this day, if he walks on grass for more than five minutes, his feet blister. His attitude towards lawns and gardens is summed up when he looks sick and says: “Worms live in that stuff.”

When the rest of us would go to Humboldt Park, Slats would shake his head and stay behind, saying: “Anything that can hide behind a fireplug is small enough for me to handle, but how do I know what kind of creep is in the bushes?” He feared being kidnapped and held for ransom because he knew his father didn’t believe in touching the savings.

When we built a tree house, Slats wouldn’t come up. He said, “If people was meant to live in trees, the squirrels would slip some nuts to the city building-inspector.”

Collected in I May Be Wrong, But I Doubt It! (1968).

October 17, 2019 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

You might think...

...that my local Barnes & Noble would have a table devoted to this year’s National Book Award nominees. You would be incorrect. Or at least have copies individually available on the shelves. You would be incorrect, at least regarding the title that I was specifically looking for, Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans. I’m also not confident that the coming weeks will see the appearance at B&N of anything by Olga Tozarczuk or Peter Handke, the recently announced 2018-19 Nobel Prize in Literature winners. 

If James Daunt is going to save B&N, he’d better hurry. 

October 13, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


“From education, to equality, to health care to virtually every other issue the republicans are standing for the wealthiest of the wealthy and against We the People. If your business relies on We the People it is time to give serious thought to standing up for them.”

Thank you, Bill Penzey. I already loved your company, and now I love it even more.

October 10, 2019 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)


“We’re not writing machines (unless you’re a journalist, and mad props if you are, seriously), and I for one do not write every day. Maybe it’s wishful thinking or part delusion, but I subscribe to the notion that observing, thinking, reading, pacing, and revising—or osmotic writing as I like to call it—are integral parts of the process.” - Su Hwang

October 10, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...there was a here that belonged to us..."

One last excerpt from In My Parents: An Introduction/This Does Not Belong to You. Hemon describes returning to his family’s apartment in Sarajevo as a child, after being away on holiday.

In the hallway of our building, which would always be cool because it never saw the sun, I’d inhale the smells of our neighbors’ lives: their cooking, their sweat, whatever was used to wash the hallway stairs. At the top of the third-floor staircase leading to our home there would be a stain cascading down the stairs, a consequence of my dropping a bottle of milk when I was five or six. Nearly fifty years later, the stain is still there. I see it every time I return to Sarajevo and stay in the apartment my sister and I grew up in. And when we’d enter the apartment, everything would be exactly as we had left it, except for the pungent scent of our absence. Without us there, there was no life: no one cooked, no one went to the bathroom, no one washed hands, no one made coffee, no one turned on the lights, no one lived there, and all the windows and doors to the balconies were closed, so that only walls, carpets, furniture, and old magazines and newspapers stacked on the radio or the coffee table exuded existence. I loved that emptiness, because, each and every time, we’d refill it with ourselves. Before we returned there would be nothing, and then, within a moment, there would be everything, because we were there, and there was a here that belonged to us, that was us.

That final line is especially touching. Though his family eventually regrouped in Canada and the United States, it seems like they never really got over what they lost when Yugoslavia collapsed into ethnic war. “That was us”: that was our lives, that was who we were, that was everything we’ll never quite get back.

October 4, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)