Something Waukegan This Way Comes: Finding Ray Bradbury’s Boyhood Muse

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Ray Bradbury's boyhood home

By Dan Kelly

Chicago’s sci fi pedigree is impeccable. Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator of Tarzan and John Carter: Warlord of Mars) was born in the city and lived in Oak Park, for example, while Weird Tales magazine—publishers of H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch and others—had offices downtown. The real coup, however, is Waukegan, the setting for the birth, boyhood, and books of Ray Bradbury. A short trip to the town revealed that the writer of “Fahrenheit 451″ is a prophet with honor, but minimal commemoration, in his hometown.

A Midwestern Proust, Bradbury re-imagined Waukegan as Green Town, Illinois, in several works—most famously in “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “Dandelion Wine.” Per Bradbury, Waukegan was a charming rural burg of the twenties, rife with sun-dappled fields and pies cooling on windowsills, which happened to be visited by serial killers and evil carny demons. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: “Bound to Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book” edited by Sean Manning

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One sensibly approaches a “theme” book with trepidation, especially a compendium of writers describing their “most cherished book”—and most especially one in which the author who has written the foreword is by far the best known. When you read how Ray Bradbury’s aunt introduced him to the literary imagination, you might suspect this is as good as it will get.

If so, you would be wrong. Not only do many of these essays go to the soul of how their writers found their calling, but the diversity of their experiences is totally unexpected. For example, one essayist’s most cherished volume is a massive new masterpiece by his own favorite author, but because of his diminishing eyesight, they are also the last pages he will ever read.

This volume also breaks its own rules by admitting a visual artist, the widow of David Foster Wallace. Her grief at her husband’s suicide is magnified for us by her encounter with the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office, where she faces the commodification of death in the sale of gift items with chalk-line logos. She does not talk about viewing her husband’s body; this is raw enough.

Refreshingly, this collection poignantly delivers even more than it promises. (Martin Northway)

“Bound to Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book”
Edited by Sean Manning; foreword by Ray Bradbury
Da Capo Press, 240 pages, paper, $15.95

The Bradbury Beat: Sam Weller returns for an extended visit with one of Waukegan’s most famous native sons

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Sam Weller, Ray Bradbury, Black Francis (who wrote the new book's intro) in LA at the end of June 2010/Photo: Nathan Kirkman

The premiere episode of “Q&A” on the Newcity Video Network

By Brian Hieggelke

On the cover of a new collection of interviews with Ray Bradbury, the legendary author proclaims “Sam Weller knows more about my life than I do!” It’s probably not far from the truth, since Weller can claim to have gotten his start even before he was born: Weller’s father read Ray Bradbury to him in the womb.

Ray Bradbury was born and raised in his early years in Waukegan Illinois, just forty miles north of downtown Chicago. His family moved west to Los Angeles during the Great Depression, and Bradbury went on to be one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated writers, crafting such classics as “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man,” “Fahrenheit 451″ and hundreds of stories, screenplays and television scripts. His career has taken him far from his idyllic youth in Waukegan, but not too far:  those formative years in the Midwest were forever captured in his most celebrated stories.

Chicagoan Sam Weller has spent the better part of a decade on the Bradbury beat: first in crafting the definitive biography of the author, “The Bradbury Chronicles” and now, on the eve of Bradbury’s ninetieth birthday, he’s assembled “Listen to the Echoes, The Ray Bradbury Interviews.” Needless to say, he’s developed a special relationship with the author. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Reading Preview: Dave Tompkins

Chicago Publishers, Nonfiction, Readings No Comments »

Stop Smiling may have stopped publishing a magazine in favor of books but, if their plans for their debut release are any indication, they won’t let the rarefied airs of book publishing force them to dial down their promotional festivities. And an unusual debut it is, in which music scribe Dave Tompkins (The Wire, Vibe, Village Voice, The Believer) crafts “How to Wreck a Nice Beach—The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop: The Machine Speaks” which is exactly what its title promises, a loose history of a once-top-secret tool for wartime communication and later an over-the-top gadget for special music effects. How often do you get Adolf Hitler and Fab Five Freddy into the same conversation? Fortunately, Tompkins is a wordsmith with ample verve and rapier wit. He augments the potentially dry first half of the book, the science and war stuff, with a nice selection of old photographs of bulky machines and the serious-looking folks who manned them, the kind of pictures that get used in ironic advertising mashups nowadays, Read the rest of this entry »

The Writing Type: The Big Read encourages more Bradbury

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bradburyphoto1Columbia College’s Hokin Annex echoes with the sounds of manual typewriters furiously clacking away. The school’s library is hosting the first ever “I Wanna Write Like Ray: The Typewriter Olympics” as one of many citywide The Big Read events.

The contest celebrates Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451″ by allowing students to revive the methods that he used to type the novel’s manuscript and to have their own work compiled into a book. Bradbury’s masterpiece was written on a metered typewriter—which needed to be fed a dime every half hour—in a basement at UCLA. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Eat These Words

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The Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago is hosting its 10th Annual Edible Books Show & Tea event on Wednesday, an event hosted at various venues across the globe in which artists, chefs and book lovers whip up recipes and create books that are made to be eaten. “It’s a fundraiser for the Center for Book and Paper Arts equipment fund,” says Steve Woodall, Director of the Book & Paper Center at Columbia. “This is something that’s been going on since 1999 and it was kind of the brainchild of Judith Hoffberg, who was the founder, and she died a couple months ago. And so part of this year’s event is a tribute to Judith and part is connected to Ray Bradbury.” This year’s Big Read sponsored by the Chicago Public Library is “Fahrenheit 451″-themed, and the Edible Book event will do its best to honor that. “It’s an open invitation for anyone who wants to make one!” Woodall continues. “If you bring an edible book with you, you get into the event free. It’s a really fun, kind of informal and interesting event. The winner last year was an edible book called ‘The Velveeta Rabbit’ that was a rabbit carved out of Velveeta. Somebody [else] made a tablet out of marzipan and a scroll out of pie dough, so it’s just kind of a fun, somewhat surreal event.” The event starts at 6pm at the Columbia College Library.

Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago 2008

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Chicago’s book world can be a quiet place. In part due to the solitary nature of the work, and in part due to the void of publishing parties that keep New York’s assorted gawkers journaling away, it’s easy to think nothing new is happening. Jeffrey Eugenides moves to town, Jeffrey Eugenides moves away, and no one seems to notice. Then, bam!, Aleksandar Hemon publishes “The Lazarus Project,” the comparisons to Nabokov resume and suddenly we’re the center of the universe again, if only for a moment.
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