Donna Tartt inspires the kind of loyalty in her readers that survives the approximate ten-year span between her books. This long-awaited third book, “The Goldfinch,” will provide a salivating public with almost 800 pages to tide them over for the next decade. It begins in Amsterdam, after some trauma has rocked Theo Decker. Resist the urge to Google-translate the few Dutch phrases and enjoy the mystery of what might have happened. Amidst his anxiety, Theo casts his mind back to a winter day with his mother in New York, the day she died. In an event that is never fully explained, he comes to possess a masterwork by a Dutch artist of little renown, Fabritius. The small, lovely painting features a goldfinch, which Theo hides. By complete coincidence, this real-life painting is currently showing at the Frick. Tartt fans, watch your worlds collide if you have an upcoming trip to Manhattan.
The first person that pops into his mind when social services arrives after his mother’s death is a not-so-close friend, Andy Barbour. The distant, wealthy family invites Theo into their home, but never provides the love and comfort he knew before. Eventually his estranged father appears and moves the boy to Vegas. The father is a gambler and an alcoholic, clearly after any money that might be coming their way. Theo is left alone in a huge, empty house in an abandoned subdivision, just down the street from a Russian kid whose father has left him in a similar situation. The Vegas portion of the book steers the book into the arena of economic unscrupulousness—as if the mortgage crisis and the fall of the economy boils down to inattentive fathers and boys run amok, doing drugs, ditching school, and hiding Dutch masterpieces in the bedrooms. Read the rest of this entry »
By Naomi Huffman
When Chicago Review Press was created in 1973, founders Curt and Linda Matthews operated the press out of their basement. Initial titles failed to earn an income that could keep the press afloat. That changed in 1975, when Michael Mann Productions purchased the rights to “Home Invaders: Confessions of a Cat Burglar,” written by Frank Hohimer while incarcerated at Joliet Correctional Center. The film rights were renewed every subsequent year until the film was finally released in 1981. Buoyed by this success, the Matthews moved operations to an office in River North and began to publish more titles. In 1987, the company purchased Independent Publishers Group (IPG). Chicago Review Press now publishes about sixty new titles each year, and currently has more than 650 in print.
This year marks Chicago Review Press’ fortieth anniversary–a laudable achievement for any company, and especially for an independent publishing company. Publisher Cynthia Sherry has been with the company for nearly twenty-five years, and was kind enough to answer my questions about the drama of the digital age, about the equally maddening and thrilling work of publishing books. Read the rest of this entry »
Americans and food are inextricably linked. Our weights, shapes and relative fitness have become a cultural trope tied to food traditions and brands that have left our shores and taken up root in nearly every country in the world. Foreigners scrutinize our eating habits nearly as much as we do, sometimes to learn from them, sometimes to spurn them, sometimes as a convenient way to mock Americans and Western cultural practices overall. Our relationship to food seems to have moved from one of necessary sustenance to fetishized status symbol. We talk about food constantly, watch it on our television sets, write about it in the pages of our newspaper and on our blogs.
Abigail Carroll began the research project that became “Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal” by focusing on snacking. What she discovered was that the history of snacking in America was linked to the cultural traditions of mealtime. What emerges from this project is a finely crafted, often surprising and detailed history of the American meal, and how time, tradition and innovation have created the food-obsessed country we inhabit today. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Start your Halloween celebration off with The All Hallows’ Eve Eve Variety Show at the California Clipper, an intimate bar with its own resident ghost. All proceeds from the show benefit one of Chicago’s newest literary institutions, the Chicago Publisher’s Resource Center (ChiPRC). ChiPRC founder John Wawrzaszek opened the center earlier this year as a way to support all things publishing-related.
Over email, John says that his goal for the center is “to cover all areas of publishing since that definition has been growing.” He went on to describe ChiPRC, located at 858 North Ashland, as “an accessible and affordable space that allows the community to complete publishing-based projects. It offers resources that are physical such as equipment needed to self-publish work or educational such as workshops that focus on craft and process.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Naomi Huffman
Despite the piles of books I encounter as a book reviewer and editor, I’m still often seduced by a book the old-fashioned way: a delightful cover design, a formidable number of pages, a titillating title. With Karen Joy Fowler’s “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,” it was the latter.
But a few chapters in, Fowler seduces with something else entirely, delivering a shock that quite literally changes the “truth” of the story, at least as the reader has come to understand it so far. It’s a trick, but it’s one Fowler deals deftly, and there’s nothing cheap about it. What follows is a story about how a young girl named Rosemary grieves the loss of her sister Fern, and how the memory of that loss has haunted her even into middle age. Rosemary tells the reader what she remembers, but because she was just five years old when Fern was lost, much of the novel pertains to memory and explores how what we remember is often just as important as what we choose to forget.
Karen Joy Fowler spoke with me recently from the road, while touring to promote “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.” Read the rest of this entry »
Robert Walser might be hailed the forgotten modernist. Beyond academic circles and lovers of German literature, the reverberations of the Swiss writer are scantly felt in the English-speaking world. They are more easily perceived through the writers he influenced: Kafka, Hesse and Musil. Here is an artist who, rather than demand the special attention of the reader to appreciate a fierce, innovative style, writes from an absolutely basic level of prose. His devices are by no means a destruction, or of themselves a statement. His only tragedy, if he can be accused of having one, was being born with too big of a heart.
“A Schoolboy’s Diary and Other Stories” is a collection of short pieces translated by Damion Searls, many appearing for the first time in English. Searls’ selection spans twenty-six years, from Walser’s first work in print “Greifen Lake” (1898) to “A Model Student,” (1925) a piece from his last book “The Rose.” The work is divided into three sections—first is “The Essays of Fritz Kocher,” the essays of a recently deceased schoolboy, followed by an expansive collection of short stories, topics ranging from adultery to military service to the life of an artist and finally, his sensual odyssey through nature, “Hans.” Read the rest of this entry »
He can fashion you a walnut cigar box with dovetail joints and white oak inlays but you can’t (figuratively) put into it what Nick Offerman is. The life story behind his success as the modern he-man personality, self-made woodworker, Chicago-hewn thespian and, of course, Ron Swanson on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” has been neatly packed into his new memoir-cum-MANifesto titled “Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living.” A hilarious walkabout full of the deadpan jackassery that we’ve come to expect from his famously mustached baconhole, this book reveals how one man’s journey led a corn-fed boy from Minooka, Illinois to become, among other heroic titles, the entertainer that People magazine named the Sexiest Man Alive 2012: Mustache Edition.
We know Offerman too easily as “Parks and Recreation”‘s leathery department director Ron Swanson, whose puffy-eyed, coal-miner stare and distaste for anything weaker than a rotary saw delightfully complements the character of comedic queen Amy Poehler. “Paddle Your Own Canoe” is here to convince us that there is more to the man than Swanson, that “despite some loose popular misconceptions, [he] did NOT in fact drop from [his] mother’s womb wielding a full moustache and a two-headed battle-axe.” Convinced we are. What follows are pages of tales, anecdotes, sketches, love poems, opinionated monologues and “well, I’ll be damned if that’s not spot on,” brilliant life advice that walk, or paddle, you through a biographical narrative teeming with tasteful vulgarity, self-deprecating hilarity and a most humble wisdom bordering on sage-like. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago welcomed the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition almost twenty years after the Great Fire, inviting thousands to flood the Second City. “Chicago by Day and Night: the Pleasure Seeker’s Guide to the Paris of America” was created to assist this influx of newcomers. With 300 pages and sixty-nine illustrations, the guide acted as a primer for exposition visitors and residents alike, detailing what one might need to know, from lodging accommodations to entertainment venues and revues, places of worship, gambling and vices, shopping centers, dining establishments and more.
The guide was recently revived by Northwestern University English Department lecturer Bill Savage and local writer and reenactment specialist Paul Durica. Savage was introduced to the text by a colleague at the Northwestern University Press where it was under consideration for reprinting. Savage enlisted Durica for his specialized knowledge on this Chicago time period.
The pair proceeded to do some digging. Due to its age, the guide was available in the public domain and a candidate for republishing. To track down the guide’s author, they searched Library of Congress records to no avail. All that was listed was a name penciled in on the cover page, Harold Richard Vynne, a journalist and writer. “The publisher’s records no longer exist,” says Durica. “We have little information on how the book was put together.” The two reviewed the original text, making very few changes in order to preserve its style and tone. They wrote an introduction that explains the relevance of the text and their work. Any edits were “for the sake of clarity,” says Durica. “Alternate spellings of the same word, sometimes within the same chapter, have been retained. Everything else is original, including all of the photographs and illustrations.” Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Shaun Crittenden
By Naomi Huffman
Among the dozens of editors and publishers suggested for 2013’s Lit 50 issue with whom I was not familiar (and it’s the discovery of new people that I love most about working on that issue), one particular name appeared over and over: Mairead Case. One contributor claimed, “Wherever something literary is going on in Chicago, Mairead is there.” Still another contributor insisted, “This city’s lit scene moves on Mairead Case’s blood and sweat.” I had to meet her.
Mairead is an MFA-W candidate at the School of the Art Institute. She’s the Youth Services Assistant at the Poetry Foundation Library, and an editor-at-large for Yeti Publishing and featherproof. She writes regular columns for Bad At Sports and Bookslut. The scope of her involvement in independent publishing is astounding: she’s previously edited for The Journal of Ordinary Thought and Proximity, and copy edited for Semiotext(e) and Nightboat. She co-authored a comic with David Lasky, “Soixante Neuf,” which was included in The Best American Comics 2011, and was a volunteer director at Louder Than a Bomb. Last summer, Mairead graduated from the Naropa Summer Writing Program in Boulder, Colorado, and is at work on a novel. Read the rest of this entry »