There’s a community of retired people at Mather’s Cafe in Norwood Park. Some take exercise classes, some take computer classes, some bide their time in the cafeteria. Some, like Sam DiMatteo, write books.
DiMatteo worked for twenty-two years as a mechanic at Procter and Gamble. His mentor once told him, “You’ll never reach your full potential here. You’re creative, and they’ll never let you express it.”
When he retired he got an associate degree and took creative writing classes. He took photographs and took up painting. He’s also a laughing yoga instructor at Mather’s. Read the rest of this entry »
By Kelly Roark
In “Why We Broke Up,” Min drops a box of objects on her ex-boyfriend’s doorstep to explain their incompatibility. Their brief love affair exemplifies the universal pathos of young love and heartbreak. Inspired readers are encouraged to visit the companion tumblr and leave their own break-up story. We recently spoke with Daniel Handler (also known by his pen name Lemony Snicket, which he used for young adult “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books) and illustrator Maira Kalman about young-adult literature, being ready for sex and the hooker scene in “The Catcher in the Rye.” Read the rest of this entry »
Marjane Satrapi is best known for her autobiographical graphic novel work, “Persepolis,” which was later made into a film. Her latest project, “The Sigh,” goes in a new direction: Rather than stories from Satrapi’s life, “The Sigh” is a fairy tale about a woman in a fantastical world who’s trying to save her lost love. It’s told as an illustrated story rather than a work of sequential art.
The eponymous sigh, which begins the story, summons a magical creature, Ah the Sigh, from the Kingdom of Sighs. Rose, a merchant’s daughter, follows this creature back to its realm where she meets and soon loses a prince.
The story builds in traditional fairytale style with one important difference. Instead of allowing herself to be held hostage by her strange world, Rose becomes an adventurer who moves the story forward. Unlike Rapunzel or Cinderella, she’s not a damsel in distress waiting for a man to save her. Instead, Rose sets out to rescue her prince and ends up helping a number of families by saving their sons and husbands from various magical predicaments along the way. Read the rest of this entry »
By Eric Lutz
This is the first sentence of my review of “Idaho Winter” by Tony Burgess—perhaps the most Barthian work of hardcore metafiction to be released in recent memory. A book review is meant to give the reader an idea of what the book in question is about and how well the author went about writing it.
Unfortunately, this is difficult to do with “Idaho Winter,” as it is, by design, insulated from outside criticism. The occasional tense shifts might be unintentional, sure. But they also might be purposeful, meant to develop an “author-as-character” who isn’t such a great author. So, too, might explain the novel’s excessive alliteration and noticeable overuse of the words “poor” and “sickly.” Or take an awful, redundant description like this: “A monstrous leech. I dropped my leg back down. Not a normal leech.” That could be, yes, awful and redundant. But a reviewer, like myself, calling it such runs the risk of seeming not in on the joke.
Therefore, any criticism I would want to level against “Idaho Winter” is really more of a criticism of the genre as a whole. Read the rest of this entry »
Finally, someone had the courage to write about the unsung privileged elite and the horrors they bear as they apply for the top universities in the world. Too long have they suffered in silence and born the agony of merely attending schools like Northwestern or the University of Chicago when they don’t get into the Ivy league.
John J. Binder, a Chicago author, writes of three high school students in a fictional western suburb, Oak Stream. Sarah, a middle child apparently incapable of making a decision, is the main character. Her friends Rob and Carrie are her loyal, nerdy friends. “There had been a few dates for Sarah and Carrie starting in the eighth grade, but the boys found them a bit overwhelming and largely stayed away. Rob’s off the wall sense of humor was the best girl repellent known to man and Sarah’s wit did nothing to help her with the boys either. Although the outside world did not always understand them, they understood each other and appreciated the bond they had forged.”
Sarah, crippled with indecision, applies to the 100 top schools in America, as well as her “safety,” the University of Illinois. Rob has a gimmick of his own and applies first as Rob Taylor and then legally changes his name to “Running Elk Taylor,” indicates his Native American heritage on his application, and applies to the same schools again. Carrie’s a legacy at MIT and her mother won’t hear of her going anywhere else. Read the rest of this entry »
By Alex Baumgardner
Most modern horror writers look eerily normal. Perhaps that’s one of their best weapons—a disarming countenance that makes them appear more like a member of the local PTA and hides the twisted slant on everyday life. Daniel Kraus is no different. The 36-year-old author’s boyish face rests below a receded widow’s peak, and gives little hint to his macabre sensibility.
The idea for his second book, “Rotters,” came to him in a moment when he was more or less running for his life. While working as a videographer at an NBC affiliate in North Carolina, he was fleeing a hurricane in the station’s news van when he caught a glimpse through the window of a flooded cemetery.
“The torrential rains had made it into a swamp almost,” he says. “And I had this flash of an image of a bunch of guys battling through the mud, trying to get to something that had maybe been loosened by the rain. I thought wow, that’s kind of an exciting, sort of gothic image. And that sort of stuck in my mind for ten years.”
“Rotters” was released by Random House in April, and has already been praised by horror heavyweights like Guillermo del Toro, the director of “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Devil’s Backbone,” and famed young-adult writer R.L. Stine. It’s the story of a Chicago teen sent to live in rural Iowa with his absentee father, and is somehow pulled into grave robbing. These are the types of ideas that flow through Kraus’ head on a daily basis, finding the beauty and the horror in the mundane and seemingly trivial. A transplant from Iowa himself, Kraus grew up loving horror. He’d stay up late to watch “The Twilight Zone” with his mother and pen volumes of horror stories in notebooks, having always found something thrilling in the grotesque. From a young age he dreamed of becoming a novelist, but in the decade after that moment at the cemetery a fledgling filmmaking career was getting in the way. Read the rest of this entry »
Julia Karr’s young-adult novel “XVI ” takes place in the futuristic land of Chicago where 16-year-old girls are obligated to get a XVI tattooed on their wrists. Set in Chicago, the main character, Nina, is from the “Cementville” neighborhood and hopes to break out of her low social tier to become a “creative.” Chicagoans will be interested to hear that, in 2051, the 33 bus still operates and the Art Institute continues to thrive, though they perhaps won’t be shocked by the unlikely fact that young women sketching in the galleries are offered jobs by wandering curators.
In this world, obsession with youth culture is carried to the extreme, like a Katy Perry song gone terribly, terribly wrong. On her sixteenth birthday, each girl is given a tattoo, her GPS tracker is removed and she’s given a full round of STD vaccinations. The tattoo signals that the young woman has reached her sexual maturity and is encouraged to fornicate with abandon. Schools promote wearing revealing clothing and flirty behavior. Naturally the seedy underbelly of this society, which hardly needs exposition, is that women have no control over their sexual or reproductive lives. Nina, having seen alarming videos owned by her mother’s abusive boyfriend, is not interested in this “sex-teen” lifestyle. She has the added responsibility of watching over her vacuous friend who eagerly awaits her own birthday, and her little sister, who is beginning to display the wanton behavior embraced by the culture. Complicating matters is that Nina’s first boyfriend makes her feel like she might like to do more than just kiss. Karr writes, “Whispering my name, he traced his tongue along the edge of my ear. I slung my leg over his, straddling him; his hands grabbed my butt, pulling me close.” Moments later, the young man in question says, “We’d better stop. Before we do something neither of us is ready for.” Read the rest of this entry »
Native Oak Park author Pamela Todd will introduce her anticipated young adult novel, “The Blind Faith Hotel,” to teachers, librarians and children on Saturday at Anderson Bookshop’s 5th Annual Young Adult Literature Conference, held at Naperville’s Holiday Inn Select. “The Blind Faith Hotel,” in which Todd comprises many personal experiences, is a contemporary coming-of-age story. The protagonist, a young girl, is forced to move to the Midwest from the northwest, deserting her father, and the only life she ever knew. After being sentenced to community service at a local prairie preserve, she meets a wild boy and together they use nature, each other and blind faith to heal from loss and grief. Todd hopes the novel will teach young adults how to cope with loss, mend relationships and learn to let go of situations they cannot control. Further, she aims to make kids aware of their relationship with nature and its importance. “I love encouraging people to write about the natural world and how they are affected by it,” she says. “There isn’t much out there like that for kids.”
Anderson Bookshop’s 5th Annual Young Adult Literature Conference, Holiday Inn Select, Naperville, Saturday, September 27, 2008.