Lit 50: Who really books in Chicago 2010

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Illustration: Pamela Wishbow

A strange and unpleasant wind blows through the literary land. Our obsession with technocultural toys, whether iPhones, iPads or Kindles, makes the foundation of thought almost since thought was recorded, that is ink on paper, seem increasingly destined to be twittered into obsolescence. And it’s not just mere media frenzy, either. Massive upheaval among major publishers these last few years has left some of Chicago’s finest writers stranded in a strange land: that is, the work is finished, but no one is around to put it out. Who knows, maybe in two years when this version of Lit 50 returns, some, if not all, of our authors will be publishing mostly, if not entirely, in the digital realm. If that’s the case, let’s enjoy an old-fashioned book or two while we can. Read the rest of this entry »

For the Love of the Game: Billy Lombardo takes the field with his new novel

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By Tom Lynch

Billy Lombardo strolls into The Breakfast Club on Hubbard Street fifteen minutes late, having missed his stop as he took the train into the city from his home in Forest Park. He was writing, he says, finally making progress on something new, and he wasn’t paying attention. The author, though in his forties, exudes a childlike whimsy when he laughs at his mistake—he’s apologetic, but he wears an excited, goofball sort of grin that’s apology enough. He has a lot to smile about.

Lombardo’s first novel, “The Man With Two Arms,” was just released by Overlook Press, a baseball book about a father who teaches his son to throw with both his left and right arms; the son becomes Major League Baseball’s first superstar ambidextrous pitcher. This book follows last year’s acclaimed “How to Hold a Woman,” Lombardo’s collection of vignettes and short stories about a family suffering immense grief after the death of a child. His first collection of stories, the award-winning “The Logic of a Rose,” is a genuine Chicago book; Lombardo bases his stories in Bridgeport, the neighborhood in which he was raised, “a rich childhood,” he says.

Over coffee amongst the Saturday morning early-lunch crowd, Lombardo says that he gained the courage to write about his neighborhood once Stuart Dybek wrote about Bridgeport in “The Coast of Chicago.” “After I met Dybek I felt I had permission to write about some of the stories. This was right after Lenard Clark was beat up pretty bad, and that’s the only thing that people were talking about.” Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2009: Books

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Top 5 Bookschronic_city
“Chronic City,” Jonathan Lethem (Doubleday)
“War Dances,” Sherman Alexie (Grove Press)
“Generosity: An Enhancement,” Richard Powers (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)
“Ruins,” Achy Obejas (Akashic Books)
“Inherent Vice,” Thomas Pynchon (Penguin Press)
—Tom Lynch

Top 5 Local Books
“Ruins,” Achy Obejas (Akashic Books)
“Her Fearful Symmetry,” Audrey Niffenegger (Scribner)
“How to Hold a Woman,” Billy Lombardo (OV Books)
“The Way Through Doors,” Jesse Ball (Vintage)
“The Adventures of Cancer Bitch,” S.L. Wisenberg (University of Iowa Press)
—Tom Lynch Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Preview: Meno, Kuehnert, Lombardo/Old Town School of Folk Music

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Ethereal-folk music, poster art, experimental photography and live reading collide this Saturday for a unique multimedia event. Joe Meno will be supported by live music from The Astronomer, and accompanied by visual art from Jay Ryan and Todd Baxter, as he reads from his recently released novel “The Great Perhaps” at the Old Town School of Folk Music. New songs, posters and photographs were created especially for this event, all based off Meno’s work. “My work for this event is three simple images which will be projected to accompany Joe’s reading, and The Astronomer’s live music,” Ryan says. “I expect that Joe’s presence and reading style will dominate the evening, and that The Astronomer will create the right soundtrack to his story.” The slightly surreal plot of “The Great Perhaps” centers on a tumultuous family composed of characters permeated with mystique and frenzy. Here’s hoping that this event will mirror Meno’s story in every way. “My drawings and Todd Baxter’s photos will simply add a bit of color to an already full presentation,” Ryan says. Stephanie Kuehnert and Billy Lombardo also read. (Josh Kraus)

Joe Meno, Stephanie Kuehnert and Billy Lombardo read from their work August 1 at Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, (773)728-6000, at 8pm. $15.

Hold Your Head Up: Billy Lombardo explores the unspoken misery of grief

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By Tom Lynchbillyatnight

Bridgeport native Billy Lombardo, who penned an award-winning collection of short stories in 2005 called “The Logic of a Rose,” has a new book via OV Books, a novel in stories called “How to Hold a Woman,” a devastating look at the life of a family after the loss of a child.

The Taylors seem normal enough until daughter Isabel dies; Lombardo focuses on the aftermath, as the husband and wife and their two surviving children each receive ample spotlight. What’s most remarkable, a testament to Lombardo’s sharp skill—and this has been written in most reviews of the book—is his avoidance of heavy-handed, cheap sentimentality. This isn’t a Mitch Albom book. Instead, Lombardo traces the process of grief with stirring insight, using smaller, more specific methods than painting a family in crisis with broad strokes. Relationships are strained, kids grow up and adults age. The misery goes unspoken. Isabel is everywhere and gone at once. Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Preview: Story Week 2009

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One of the city’s top literary events of the year, Columbia College’s Story Week begins on Sunday, and as usual features the best of the bunch-students and faculty-of the school, plus some high-profile outsiders, at various events scattered throughout the city. This week kicks off with the “2nd Story: Storytellers” event at Martyrs’ on Sunday night, featuring readings by CP Chang, Molly Each, Deb R. Lewis and Doug Whippo. Saturday features a Q&A with “Blue Angel” author Francine Prose at the Harold Washington Library, plus a reading at Sheffield’s Beer Garden by local crime guy Marcus Sakey. The Nelson Algren Tribute, Tuesday at the Harold Washington, features appearances by Joe Meno, Billy Lombardo, Stephanie Kuehnert, Bayo Ojikutu and J. Adams Oaks. On Wednesday at the Spertus Museum, Rick Kogan discusses Studs Terkel in a tribute to the man, with Donna Seaman, Bill Young, Alex Kotlowitz, Don De Grazia, Drew Ferguson and Ann Hemenway. And that’s just the first half of the festival. (Tom Lynch)

Story Week 2009 runs March 15-20 at various venues. Visit for complete details.

Printers Row Book Fair Highlights 2008

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The annual Printers Row Book Fair offers a its usual plethora of must-see readings, panel discussions and presentations, not to mention all those book for sale. Here’s a rundown of some highlights—for the full schedule visit
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