Fiction Review: “Freeman’s: The Best New Writing on Arrival” edited by John Freeman

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freeman's arrivalRECOMMENDED

Arrival is a verb denoting the attainment of a goal at a journey’s end. However, as John Freeman’s infinitely relatable and beautifully crafted prose and poetry anthology “Freeman’s: The Best New Writing on Arrival” demonstrates, the word arrival is more indicative of a discovery than a destination. The work Freeman presents transports us to events, life milestones and new understandings that serve as springboards for further journeys.

Freeman has assembled a thoughtful and profoundly accessible collection of work that connects our vulnerabilities, our expectations and our hopes. According to Freeman, the very act of reading can be seen as an arrival: “Every time I read, I look to recreate the feeling of arriving that day,” Freeman tells us. “Stories and essays, even the right kind of poem, will take us somewhere else, put us down somewhere new.” It is from this somewhere new that the conversation takes root and the potential for new arrivals blooms. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “The Little Magazine in Contemporary America” edited by Ian Morris and Joanne Diaz

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little magazineRECOMMENDED

Starting a little magazine is like embarking on parenthood: Its founders begin with a vision, with no idea as to what it truly takes to raise their baby to adulthood, day by day. These projects are often birthed in basements, borrowed apartments and coffee shops, on shoestring budgets scraped together through small loans, donations or academic largess that these days could not feel smaller. Their goal is to make public exceptional new work by established and emerging writers. What results, in some cases, is nothing short of spectacular. In “The Little Magazine in Contemporary America” edited by Ian Morris and Joanne Diaz, twenty-three editors of influential little magazines, many still in circulation and others that have run their course, reveal the hardships and gifts inherent in creating and producing these journals. Read the rest of this entry »

Big-Hearted and Bawdy: Tony Fitzpatrick’s “Dime Stories” Speaks Truth to Power

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Tony Fitzpatrick/Photo: Paul Elledge

By Amy Friedman

“Whatever you do in this life, make sure you’re the only one who can do it,” Tony Fitzpatrick’s father advised him in the third grade, and hell if he didn’t listen. Artist, author and actor are but a few of his titles, and there’s no doubt that no one can do what Tony does.

“Dime Stories,” the soon-to-be-released foul-mouthed, straight-talk collection of Fitzpatrick’s Newcity columns speaks truth to power, and we’d be wise to heed its warnings and take its advice. Fitzpatrick rails against waste, criticizes the sellout of our political institutions to big money, laments the proliferation of mass shootings and parses various other elements that lead to injustice. These essays examine with sharp focus and acerbic wit our true nature and that of our changing city, rife with new dangers and old problems. Read the rest of this entry »

Anthology Review: “Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula” edited by Ronald Riekki

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One of summer’s delights is to leave here and travel there. The thirty-six authors whose poems and stories are collected in “Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula” fully dwell in the very diverse personal, natural and cultural landscapes of the Upper Peninsula, and they will guide you through this undiscovered country.

If your idea of the Upper Peninsula is a cabin in the woods, you will certainly find lakes and streams and trees in Ronald Riekki’s anthology, but be prepared to visit cow barns and technical colleges, cozy trailers and stripped living rooms, barrooms and gas stations. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World”

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Flash Fiction International pbk mech.inddRECOMMENDED

Some anthologies are guaranteed to be piles of good literature. Edited by a trio that includes James Thomas and Robert Shapard, editors of the influential “Sudden Fiction” anthologies, “Flash Fiction International” is such an unlikely disappointment. Given their history with flash, it is unsurprising that the stories are excellent.

The duds are few, while the strong ones stab unexpectedly, sometimes literally, like Edgar Omar Aviles’ “Love” in which a mother suddenly stabs her daughter to save her from a life of poverty. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “The Best American Short Stories 2013” Edited by Elizabeth Strout, Heidi Pitlor

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Once a year, the Best American series descends from the heavens holding in its pages what its editors, and guest editors, have determined are the best writing in sports, nonfiction and short fiction from the previous year, among others. This year, the series drafted “Olive Kitteridge” author Elizabeth Strout to edit the “The Best American Short Stories: 2013,” a strong pedigree to be sure. But did Strout and series editor Heidi Pitlor choose wisely?

The answer is largely dependent on what you think the purpose of a year-end anthology is.  If you’re someone who thinks that anthologies should focus on finding and promoting new voices, “The Best American Short Stories” probably isn’t for you. The anthology features many of the usual suspects. Of the twenty-two stories in the collection, three stories are from Granta, six are from the New Yorker, and the vast majority of their authors have been published in one publication if not both. Strout, when discussing her choices in the introduction, praised the distinct voices of three authors most will recognize immediately: Junot Díaz, George Saunders and Alice Munro. But it’s not as if these are the wrong choices. “Train,” Munro’s contribution, displays the chops that won her a Nobel Prize; Saunders, a writer renowned for baking unique voices into each one of his stories, lends the anthology what is probably his greatest novella, “The Semplica-Girl Diaries.” And while perhaps Díaz relies a little too much on his perennial narrator Yunior, he does so with good reason: Yunior is one of the strongest voices in contemporary fiction, and more importantly, one unique to Díaz. Read the rest of this entry »

Graphic Novel Review: “The Graphic Canon, Volume 3: From Heart of Darkness to Hemingway to Infinite Jest” edited by Russ Kick

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RECOMMENDED graphiccanon3

There is a Kathy Acker comic now.

With this third entry in Russ Kick’s acclaimed series of anthologies adapting works of literature into illustrated form, the most notorious work by America’s most controversial postmodern author, “Blood and Guts in High School,” exists in comics form.

I can stop writing reviews now. I have now everything I ever wanted out of Western literary culture.

All of which is what makes the Graphic Canon series so interesting as a concept. Adapting prose works into comics is nothing new, going back to the long-running “Classics Illustrated,” which for decades brought works of classical literature into a cheap and accessible format before closing down in 1971. It would briefly resurface in the early nineties with noteworthy artists such as Bill Sienkiewicz, P. Craig Russell, Jill Thompson and others, reflecting the tones and themes of the original stories with comparable artistic style and motifs. Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry Review: “Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry,” edited by Charles Henry Rowell

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anglesofTo anthologize is a political act. As political acts go, though, it’s a relatively subtle one. Still, to make decisions about inclusion and exclusion in something that will stand as an authority on a field—a handbook for the uninitiated—carries the heavy burden of cultural gatekeeping.

“Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry” joins the ever-increasing Norton family of anthologies this year under the capable direction of editor Charles Henry Rowell. Rowell is a professor of English at Texas A&M University and the founder and longtime editor of Callaloo, a well known literary quarterly of the African Diaspora.

“Angles of Ascent” seems clearly designed to update a mainstream history of black literature, poetry in particular, to include its most recent movements and movers. Rowell’s introduction gives us a clear and accessible mini-history of black poetry in the U.S. and its socio-political contexts. He traces for us the difficulties of the “divided mind” throughout that history—a schism created by pressure from the white publishing establishment to be mainstream and apolitical, and pressure from the black communities to be political. Read the rest of this entry »

We’re Sleeping In Today: The Way We Sleep Blog Tour Stops Here

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Booking Local and Lightly: A Holiday Shopping Guide for the Literary Expat

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Part of what makes Chicago an amazing city is how many people have come here to get a new handle on their lives. I truly do think that what makes you a Chicagoan is not whether you were born here or how long you lived here, but how alive you feel about being here.

That said, I also truly do think that being an expat gets incredibly annoying come the holiday season. Seriously, you’ve got two family holidays a month apart. One of them you’re expected to spend time with your family, the other you’re expected to spend money. So after you’ve already made one trek to sit around and play the game of pretending Facebook doesn’t exist and asking each other “So how have you been?” you have to make another one a month later.

With freight. Read the rest of this entry »