Nonfiction Review: “Two” by Melissa Ann Pinney

Chicago Authors, Essays, Photographs No Comments »

two

RECOMMENDED

“Two” is a compelling book of photographs by Evanston photographer Melissa Ann Pinney. Edited and introduced by Ann Patchett, interspersed throughout are ten essays on the theme of twoness written by some of our best contemporary writers, including Barbara Kingsolver, Edwidge Danticat and Richard Russo. Read the rest of this entry »

Memory and Guilt: Ryan Spooner Talks About his Essay Collection “Regret”

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By Toni NealieRyan Spooner

A young man argues about how to make a martini. It’s a performance, both in the bar and on the page. The man’s friend says, “Look at yourself. Look at how you’re acting.” So the writer does, commenting: “Young people have a flair for, a tendency toward the tumultuous.” In “Regret,” his first prose collection, Ryan Spooner examines ideas about selfhood, social class and masculinity, the male gaze and the tumult of becoming adult. Read the rest of this entry »

Still Bullish: Bill Hillmann Chronicles His Goring and other Glories in “Mozos”

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Mozos+CoverBy Brendan Buck

When during the summer of 2014 Bill Hillmann made the news for getting gored by a bull, I was shocked but not surprised. When I heard him read publicly months before, my former Columbia College classmate had told a harrowing tale of a pileup he had witnessed during his 2013 trip to Pamplona. Despite the terrible scene described to us that evening, one where he had to drag a body out of the tunnel leading into the arena, Bill said he planned to return and run with the bulls. Later I’d learn Hillmann wasn’t surprised by his goring either. As he writes in his new book “Mozos: A Decade Running with the Bulls of Spain,” his first thought after the horror of it was “Accept it. You knew this day would come.” Read the rest of this entry »

No Longer Waiting for the Bombs: Rebecca Makkai Discusses her New Book of Short Stories, “Music for Wartime”

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Makkai - white shirt

Rebecca Makkai / Photo: Ryan Fowler

By Kim Steele

In the final story of Rebecca Makkai’s collection “Music for Wartime,” “The Museum of the Dearly Departed,” a young graduate student inherits his grandparents’ apartment when a gas leak kills them along with nearly all of their neighbors. The student busies himself by creating a replica of the building complete with artifacts from the homes of each of the deceased. The art piece works well as a symbol for this book. It is as though each story in this collection exists in one house. They share similar themes and Makkai’s uniquely intelligent and affecting voice. And yet each story—like each replicated apartment—also manages to be full of its own distinguishing details. Read the rest of this entry »

What We Talk About When We Talk About The Humanities: Twenty-Four Hours of George Saunders

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George Saunders - photo credit Chloe Aftel

George Saunders/Photo: Chloe Aftel

DePaul University is hosting a twenty-four-hour marathon reading of every book George Saunders has published to precede his lecture titled, “Why the Humanities? Why Art?”

The event, organized by H. Peter Steeves, a professor of Philosophy and Director of the Humanities Center at DePaul, was inspired by the groups that read James Joyce’s “Ulysses” out loud on Bloomsday. As Steeves explains, “Speaking words aloud has something approaching a kind of magic to it, almost like an act of conjuring. We’re all hearing it together, experiencing it together, entering into the same narrative space together, with the same world appearing there for all of us. What better way to celebrate George and remind ourselves of the power of art than to create such a community for a full day?” Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “On the Way” by Cyn Vargas

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vargas

Cyn Vargas’ debut short-story collection, “On the Way,” insistently taps familiar themes: abandonment, loneliness, secrets, blossoming womanhood. The fathers are always gone, the secrets are never told, the girls are never friends. The slim volume feels full, perhaps because it holds so many people like Selma, whose mother was kidnapped in Guatemala, or Lloyd, who works listlessly at the DMV, and they are all so poignant in their wanting. Their internal narratives slipstream alongside a world that won’t give them what they want, and if they somehow get it—rare—it’s with a healthy helping of mixed feelings. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “A City Called Heaven, Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music” by Robert Marovich

Chicago Authors, History No Comments »

a city called heavenRECOMMENDED

“A City Called Heaven, Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music,” is a thoroughly researched, dynamic account of gospel music’s history in Chicago over five decades, from the 1920s through the 1960s. Written by music historian Robert Marovich, it provides in-depth biographies of gospel music’s artists, and a riveting narrative of the two great waves of African-American migration north from the Deep South that gave birth to gospel in Chicago.

Gospel music eventually broke the lock that traditional European music had on Chicago’s black establishment churches, and Marovich, founder and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Gospel Music, and host of “Gospel Memories” on Chicago’s WLUW-FM, calls gospel music an “artistic response to the Great Migration…the gospel music community provided the catharsis and affirmation they needed to feel less like strangers in a strange land.” Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins” By Irvine Welsh

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Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh/Photo: Jeffrey Delannoy

RECOMMENDED

When we can’t stop stuffing our faces with junk, drinking more than we should, wasting hours on end in front of the TV or computer screen, staying in that dead-end job, or continuing to long for that person who is just not into us, what is it that will jolt us out of our funk, turn things around, move things forward? Self-help books? Life coaches? Phone apps? Extreme ruts often call for extreme measures. In Irvine Welsh’s new release, “The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins,” employing unorthodox means seems exactly what’s needed to catapult the main characters out of their vicious cycles. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “Drawn From Water—An American Poet, An Ethiopian Family, An Israeli Story” by Dina Elenbogen

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RECOMMENDEDElenbogan-cover-front

The search for identity is always fraught, involving questions that the seeker does not even know to ask at the start of the journey. Dina Elenbogen finds this out firsthand in her new book “Drawn From Water: An American Poet, An Ethiopian Family, An Israeli Story” in which she takes the reader on an exploration to Israel after Operation Moses in 1984, a rescue mission that brought 7,000 Ethiopian Jews to the country. Read the rest of this entry »

Comedy, Tragedy and Combatting the Ultimate Void: Aleksandar Hemon Discusses His New Novel, “The Making of Zombie Wars”

Chicago Authors, Fiction, Humor No Comments »
Aleksandar Hemon - headshot

Aleksandar Hemon/Photo: Velibor Bozovic

By Amy Danzer

Aleksandar Hemon brings the funny in his new novel, “The Making of Zombie Wars.”

After giving us “The Question of Bruno,” “Nowhere Man,” “The Lazarus Project,” “Love and Obstacles,” and “The Book of My Lives,” he now presents us with a comical story that centers around born-and-raised Highland Parker, Joshua Levin, an ESL instructor who compulsively comes up with script ideas that never hold much promise, with the exception of “Zombie Wars.” According to just about everyone in the novel, his girlfriend is too good for him; his relationship with his family is pretty average-if-a-bit-strained; and his army vet landlord, Stagger, has an absolute lack of appreciation for boundaries. Everything in Joshua’s world moves mediocrely along until he plays a dangerous game of seduction with his Bosnian student, Ana who is married to a Bosnian war vet. Thereafter, misadventures ensue like a Coen Brothers film. Though its pace is swift and the mishaps ridiculous, there’s no shortage of poignant subtext. Hemon recently entertained some questions I had for him about his new novel at his shared writers’ space on the North Side of Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »