Graphic Novel Review: “La Lucha—The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico” By Jon Sack (Author) and Adam Shapiro (Editor)

Book Reviews, Comics/Graphic Novels/Cartoonists, Nonfiction No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDla lucha

“La Lucha, The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico,” is first in a series of graphic books conceived by Front Line Defenders, an organization based in Ireland whose mission is to protect human rights defenders around the world. Jon Sack and Adam Shapiro have worked together on “La Lucha” to create a graphic book set in Mexico in the state of Chihuahua, for years known as one of the most dangerous places on earth, where drug cartels and a corrupt governing body maintain brutal rule. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Principles of Navigation” by Lynn Sloan

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Debut Novel or Collection, Fiction No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDprinciples of navigation

Chicago photographer Lynn Sloan’s debut novel, “Principles of Navigation,” opens with a photograph, a crystallized moment at Rolly and Alice Becotte’s wedding: “We are perfect here, aren’t we?” Rolly observes. A closer look reveals the disarray of life with the intrusion, at the right edge of the photograph, of the padded hip of a wedding guest that neither can identify. It is the imperfect unknowable that drives this domestic drama.

Theirs is a dynamic marriage with ever-shifting goals, longings, and moral high ground; they are united only as long as each exercises “a reserve, as if… they were asking each other for forgiveness.” As this fragile courtesy inevitably crumbles, each Becotte reveals more of their internal complexities. Alice is pliable, a bit superstitious, but she is a relentless logician in calculating her fertility. Rolly dreams of the world beyond their rural college town, constructing canoes that carry his imagination to the world beyond, but he is surprisingly uxorious. Read the rest of this entry »

Pleasure, Art, Ambition: Christine Sneed Discusses Her New Novel, “Paris, He Said”

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Fiction No Comments »
ChristineSneed3

Christine Sneed/Photo: Adam Tinkham

By Toni Nealie

Making art is tough, whether you are a writer, a musician or a visual artist. It’s hard to keep going when there are bills to pay if you are not gaining traction in your career. How do you balance commerce and artistic sensibility? Who defines your success? What part does environment play? How much of an artist’s success depends on luck? How much should one give up in order to make art? Newcity contributor Christine Sneed explores ambition, beauty and intimacy in her new novel “Paris, He Said.”

The central character Jayne has been out of art school for eight years and is stuck in a low-paid rut in New York when her wealthy, older lover Laurent invites her to live with him in Paris so she can paint. He’s a successful gallery owner and an urbane pleasure-seeker who doesn’t curtail his dalliances with other women once Jayne moves in. New York is dreary and hard work. In contrast, Paris is a sensual city of light. Jayne escapes the American grind for something rather more delightful. On the surface, “Paris, He Said” is an entertaining romantic fantasy, but Sneed has crafted a literary work concerned with trade-offs. What do people give up for their various passions and how do they get comfortable with themselves? Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “God Help the Child” by Toni Morrison

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RECOMMENDEDgod help the child

The last living American (and sole black woman) recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature now offers “God Help the Child.” Like all of Toni Morrison’s novels, this one also runs “narrow but deep” as she once spoke of her widely acknowledged masterwork, “Beloved” (1987).

Enter Bride, who at birth profoundly repels her light-skinned mother, Sweetness, because of her “Sudanese black” skin. Bride aches for attention to the point of plotting to misbehave to earn spankings and at last, feel Sweetness’ touch. The closest she gets to this involves her testimony in court which sends a teacher to jail for fifteen years on child abuse charges, but even that isn’t enough. Enter Booker, who is haunted by his brother’s savage death and falls for the grown cosmetics mogul Bride, then leaves her after a brief but intensely carnal period, claiming that she is “not the woman…” Read the rest of this entry »

Seven Minutes and Semi-Drunk: Write Club Brings Bare-Knuckled Lit Brawls to Your Living Room

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Essays, Humor, Nonfiction No Comments »
Lindsay Muscato and Write Club Overlord Ian Belknap/Photo: Evan Hanover

Lindsay Muscato and Write Club Overlord Ian Belknap/Photo: Evan Hanover

By Adrienne Gunn

Write Club, Chicago’s pre-eminent storytelling brawl that pits two writers with opposing themes against one another in front of a live audience, has collected its funniest and most badass bouts into a new anthology, “Bare Knuckled Lit: The Best of Write Club.” The live show, taking place in Chicago on the third Tuesday of every month at The Hideout, prides itself on high-intensity, no-holds-barred matches. How does “Bare-Knuckled Lit” compare? Write Club founder and “overlord” Ian Belknap says, “It’s the difference between hunting on a game preserve, and hunting in the wild; between a fencing match, and a fistfight in a gas station parking lot.” Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “The Girls of Usually” by Lori Horvitz

Book Reviews, Memoir No Comments »

girls of unusually“The Girls of Usually” is Lori Horvitz’s debut, bite-sized chunks of memoir from a woman of many places. Now an English professor in North Carolina, Horvitz would periodically interrupt her New York City life in her twenties to traverse Europe. Those twenties were edgy politically and personally. Burdened with a Communist sometimes-boyfriend, living in an AIDS-ravaged neighborhood, Horvitz slowly realized her burgeoning lesbian identity, complicated by her youth.

Her essays stay brief when dealing with her childhood and mid-twenties, growing longer with age and importance. Characters and objects illuminate Horvitz’s history and locale. Communist Russia is defined by blonde, blue-eyed Rita (the anarchist British tour guide, the first woman Horvitz ever sleeps with) and the packs of gum she trades with locals on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Read the rest of this entry »

The Gift of the Banya: An Enlightening and Freeing Journey Through the Russian Baths

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with light steam

“With Light Steam: A Personal Journey through the Russian Baths,” by Bryon MacWilliams, captures the fractured identity of contemporary Russia with high fidelity in a way that is at once tender and clear-eyed. This book is introspective American travel writing at its best. A genre-defying mosaic of memoir, historical research and a reflection on time and place, “With Light Steam” is easily in a league with “Travels in Siberia,” by Ian Frazier for spectacular American travel writing on Russia.

MacWilliams takes the reader on an insightful, but never belabored tour of the history of Russian baths, which play a major role in the nation’s history if for no other reason than that many major events of Russian history occurred in these steamy rooms (e.g. in an act that initiated the early Russian state as an independent power, its matriarch, Princess Olga, burned to death an entire delegation of Drevlians—a rival tribe—in a banya to revenge her husband’s death). Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “Chicago Portraits” by Chicago Tribune Staff

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chicago portraitsRECOMMENDED

“Chicago Portraits” has a simple but noble mission: to celebrate Chicago while highlighting the hard work of Chicago Tribune newsroom photographers, whose names often go unnoticed. While the digital age has cataloged images for all to enjoy, it has also opened doors to intellectual property theft, making it easy for one to print or distribute images and rob photographers, both famous and not so famous, of royalties. Furthermore, technical innovations like tablets, the smartphone, camera apps and social media have allowed too many users to fancy themselves as talented, knowledgeable photographers. This line of thinking hurts the public every bit as much as the professional lensman or woman with a lifetime of craftsmanship: the public expects less of the art itself while legions of trained and talented artists suffer in oblivion. This handsome coffee-table volume offers a chance to momentarily reverse this hateful trend and take in photographs with the proper printing (and credit) their authors deserve. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “We Are Pirates” by Daniel Handler

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we are pirates - handlerDaniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket, does write the occasional book for adults, in addition to his wildly popular books for younger readers. “We Are Pirates” is his first novel specifically for adults in a few years; however, it does read a bit like a YA novel. This is perhaps because the main character is a girl of fourteen, Gwen, who does, although, engage in adult behavior like pillaging on the high seas. Gwen is punished for shoplifting with a stint at a nursing home, where she becomes attached to an elderly gentleman with Alzheimer’s disease. The old man loves fiction about pirates and soon he and Gwen hatch a harebrained scheme to become pirates in the San Francisco Bay.

Unfortunately, Handler’s novel never seems to come together. It suffers from stifled dialogue, quite unusual for him, and moves awkwardly from teenage discontent to parental anxiety to sudden violence. While clearly influenced by the language and impulsive characters of pirate literature, “We Are Pirates” doesn’t achieve the thrill of some of those great books like the obscure, strange and wonderful “A High Wind in Jamaica.” Gwen and the old man’s journey is more one of confusion, whereby “being at sea” is a too-obvious metaphor for the drifting mind of the very young and the very old. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “My Florence: A 70-Year Love Story” by Art Shay

Art Books, Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Memoir No Comments »

florence shayRECOMMENDED

Chicago photographer Art Shay—the same man who photographed royalty, presidents, sports figures and historical moments like the 1968 Democratic Convention—now presents us with a collection of photographs featuring his “beloved wife and model,” and owner of Titles, Inc. for more than thirty years, the sprightly Florence Shay.

One of the very first photographs in “My Florence: A 70-Year Love Story,” is from the Shays’ 1944 honeymoon, in which a twenty-two-year-old Art in U.S. Air Force uniform looks upon his beaming bride with enormous adoration in his eyes, clearly enamored. He looks grateful to be in such close proximity to someone so beautiful and full of life. The photographs in Shay’s latest collection portray his late wife’s brimming effervescence in that same spirit of reverence and love. Read the rest of this entry »