Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago 2012

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Finishing the Lit 50 is always such a bittersweet ending for me. What starts out as such a pleasure of discovery—Chicago’s literary world now has more than 200 published writers!—ends in the sorrow of having to leave so many worthy names off the list. We do our best to reflect the sum of our knowledge and reporting, to add in diversity of style, medium and genre, and to constantly introduce new players to the mix. But we know that, in the end, many choices might appear capricious, that for every worthy individual honored, two have been overlooked. A day later, after the lingering effects of sleep, sunlight and exercise deprivation and an overdose of junk food and energy drinks abates, I know we’ll return to where we started: overjoyed at the growing literary abundance of our city.

Careful readers will remember that we alternate lists each year, between the behind-the-scenes influencers and the on-the-page creators; this year belongs to the latter. Which is why you won’t see represented the two most talked-about new endeavors in literary Chicago: J.C. Gabel’s magnificent revival of The Chicagoan, and Elizabeth Taylor’s noble undertaking, Printers Row. We are confidently hopeful, or perhaps hopefully confident, that they’ll still be around to have their day a year from now. (Brian Hieggelke)

Lit 50 was written by Greg Baldino, Ella Christoph, Brian Hieggelke, Naomi Huffman and Micah McCrary. See previous years here.
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Nonfiction Review: “Write More Good” by @FakeAPStylebook

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Chicago Publishers, Digital Publishing, Humor No Comments »

To avoid any possible confusion, “in all fairness” (see chapter 13), “Write More Good” is NOT a sequel to David Sedaris’ “Me Talk Pretty One Day.” Instead it is intended by the Twitter coterie at @FakeAPStylebook as a tongue-in-cheek antidote to the transgressive practices of our 24/7 media that is so galling to both the public and to those journalists who are in fact part of the problem but would like us to think that they can’t really do anything about it.

Their effort gets a mixed review but passing grade. (Who am I but a solo byline, against a committee of more than a dozen wiseasses ready and willing to use their bullying Twitter pulpit?)

As a print journalist with the usual prejudices against both broadcast reporters and the whippersnappers unable to diagram sentences or consult dictionaries, I was perhaps lulled into false expectations by Roger Ebert’s collegial foreword that the authors might join me in Strunking-and-Whiting such miscreants. 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: Twitterature/Book Cellar

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I hope we can all agree that Twitter is the most obnoxious of all social networks. Users seem to take advantage of Twitter to do one, or all, of these three things: 1) Remain “connected” with others simply by revealing innocuous information 2) Attempt to achieve correspondence with celebrities 3) Promote shit. All of this is depressing. I dislike most people and things, but Twitter makes me annoyed with the actual people I do like and respect. (Even you, Roger Ebert. Love the blog posts, but those are some crazy-ass tweets.) However, University of Chicago students Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin have created “Twitterature,” a collection of hypothetical “tweets” that reduce classic pieces of literature into an assembly of average-length Twitter updates. Charming concept, sure, and one can easily see how a writer could have fun with it. Rensin and Aciman rely on quip-based humor to take down Shakespeare, Dan Brown and Kerouac in this short, pleasing affair. These two smart-ass 19-year-olds have great things waiting for them in the future, I’m sure. They almost make Twitter tolerable. Almost. (Tom Lynch)

Alexander Aciman and Emmitt Rensin discuss “Twitterature” January 21 at Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln, at 7pm. Free.

Reading preview: John McNally

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John McNally’s often sad, often very, very funny new collection of short stories, “Ghosts of Chicago,” employs real-life phantoms that haunt our city’s streets, men and women whose lives had such profound impact on Chicago’s identity none of them were gonna let something as insignificant as death stand in their way. John Belushi. Walter Payton. Old Man Daley. Algren. Institutions, public figures that perpetually remain on the tips of tongues whenever our fair metropolis is discussed. McNally writes fiction—in one short the late Gene Siskel comes to blows, albeit humorous, with partner-in-crime Roger Ebert in a movie theater—and dots the book with stories of everyday souls as well, which in an offhand way demonstrates the power of celebrity, and in other, the strength and dignity of the working stiff. As he did with “The Book of Ralph,” McNally finds a suitable balance between the  treacherous reality and the charmingly absurd and, perhaps above all else, shows us just how much he’s enamored with this damn town. (Tom Lynch)

John McNally reads from “Ghosts of Chicago” October 16 at Book Cellar, 4736-38 North Lincoln, (773)293-2665, at 7pm. Free.

Fall Forward: Literary previews 2008

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Haunted City
John McNally’s collection of Chicago ghosts

The Chicago-raised author of “The Book of Ralph, ” John McNally, goes ghost-hunting in his new short-story collection, titled, tellingly, “Ghosts of Chicago,” a blend of fictional stories that incorporates long-gone famous Chicagoans, from Walter Payton to old man Daley to Nelson Algren and beyond. Between the spaces, McNally’s filled in stories of the everyday Chicagoan; these are more than just the travails of the dead—the nature of love, family bonds and loss all haunt these streets as well. McNally’s wit always comes at you unexpectedly—Gene Siskel mocking Roger Ebert in a movie theater doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility—but the subtle sadness of each story’s texture, the ache of emptiness, makes the final impression. “Ghosts of Chicago,” a fine assemblage, reminds us of what we’re missing.

With the seemingly limitless possibilities of employing deceased celebrities, it’s interesting McNally even bothered creating entirely fictional characters. “The book began with everyday stories,” he says, over the phone from his office in North Carolina, where he teaches at Wake Forest. “Thematically, [there was] the sort of sense of using the ghost as a metaphor—people missing from other people’s lives, people haunted by those who are gone. I think since the [idea to use real] Chicago people came later—that’s why I ended up doing it that way.”

He says the Chicago luminaries he chose—who also include railroad mogul George Pullman and “Garfield Goose and Friends” host Frazier Thomas—were either those that had some personal impact on him during his formative years, or who just simply interested him enough to write a short story with them as the subject. “I think in some cases, it was people I had some sort of connection to,” he says. “Frazier Thomas was one of those figures from childhood, an enigmatic guy, a pretty unlikely host of a children’s talk show. He never seemed particularly warm. He just intrigued me, as a character I wanted to write about. As far as the others, they played or were a part of my personal history. Like Walter Payton—that moment of The Fridge carrying him into the end zone—that stuck with me.” (Tom Lynch)

“Ghost of Chicago” will be released in October by Jefferson Press. McNally discusses the book October 16 at Book Cellar.

“Demons in the Spring,” by Joe Meno
Each short story in the new collection by local author of “Hairstyles of the Damned” Joe Meno is accompanied by an illustration from predominant artists from the graphic or comic-book fields, including Ivan Brunetti, Anders Nilsen and Jay Ryan. Meno reads from his collection, along with Anders Nilsen, September 25 at Quimby’s.

“Crime,” by Irvine Welsh
The “Trainspotting” author returns with a heaping pile of underbelly and Scottish wit, this time sending a down-and-out detective to Florida on vacation, where he’ll get all mixed up in a new crime. Welsh talks “Crime” at the Read Against the Recession event, September 14 at Metro.

“Indignation,” by Philip Roth
The American treasure, author of “Exit Ghost” and “American Pastoral,” returns with another apparent knockout, this time focusing on Cold War-era sexuality and male responsibility. Release date: September 16.

Chicago Humanities Festival 2008
This year’s festival takes the theme “Thinking Big,” and as always, features dozens of events, performances, workshops and lectures, including a talk by author Colson Whitehead, titled “The Art of Writing and How to Write.” Events for the Chicago Humanities Festival begin October 3 and run through November 16. Visit for more info.

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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Anshavian: Meet Chicago’s “new” master of the word, Carol Anshaw

Author Profiles, Chicago Authors, Drama, Fiction No Comments »

By Brian Hieggelke

The first thing Carol Anshaw tells me when I arrive at her office for a visit is that she’s just found out she’s been awarded the Carl Sandburg Award for fiction. Her barely contained enthusiasm is modest, though. The texture of our conversation quickly signals that it’s not as much the honor, it’s the money—$1,000—a meaningful windfall for a writer who’s stuck to the struggle for so long.

Her novel “Aquamarine,” published last year by Houghton Mifflin, is an extraordinary accomplishment. It explores three versions of the same life, each starting at the same defining moment and diverging down separate paths. Such a heavy structure could easily overwhelm the narrative; it’s a testimony to this novel’s facility that it enhances it. The Tribune’s veteran book critic, Joseph Coates, called it “the most original American novel I’ve read in years.”

It’s a book that’s changed Anshaw’s life, with all the new attention she’s received. (In addition to the Sandburg prize, she won the Midland Authors Award and was nominated for the Lambda Literary Award). But change is part of life for Anshaw, in a way that no political slogan could portend. And changes, and the multivariate consequences of the decisions leading up to change, is really what “Aquamarine” is all about. Read the rest of this entry »