Street Smart Chicago

The Air Down Here: Finding Myself in Hyde Park Without Even Attending the University

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photoBy John Wilmes

At first, I felt like an outcast. I lived against my will in quaint, pastoral places, and screamed about things which no one near me understood. I saw the city as my escape. At first, I merely wanted to belong to Chicago, to belong to it at all.

But once I did, once I’d been paying too much rent and squeezing through the Blue Line for some months, jittery with my sense of inclusion, I grew to want something more. I wanted for my leanings—my preferences for the written, for the expressed, for the over-thought and the intellectually overwrought—to flow freely. For my bibliophilia and existential self-pummeling to be worth something; for them to find a home. I’d long assumed the city was pure fertilizer for the madness I’d always felt, that it was a place for my socio-political yowling to take root, to bloom. This, I thought, was where the alienation I felt through all my suburban life, through all my years in the Big Ten, would be assuaged.

But it wasn’t. I was too surrounded by those merely feigning to feel what I felt. They’d only scheme tragic visions with me until they found a beer, a joint, the correctly musty bar, or the sound of a song that was properly sold to them—at which point they were as opiated as anyone, and closed themselves to the continued crocheting of our dystopian, perversely celestial quilt of the world. I would have to stay up sculpting it myself in Microsoft Word, through any number of failed novels. I would have to fall asleep with my shoes and sweatshirt on, with all of the lights on, with my fingers on the keyboard. Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Preview: Greg Kot/57th Street Books

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Honestly, do you really need to hear once more that the music industry is, uh, changing? That much you already know. What you might not know is exactly how artists developed new ways to funnel their music to the public, how fans themselves became mouth-to-mouth (or file to file) distributors and live music has become even more essential in the marketplace. In essence, how boomboxes and CD players gave way to laptops and the Internet. Chicago Tribune music critic and co-host of “Sound Opinions” Greg Kot chronicles this progression in his new book, “Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music,” which hits shelves this week. To achieve a greater understanding of where exactly the music business is at the present-plus, with all probability, where it’s headed-Kot’s analysis can work as a textbook. Now if I could just figure out how to open this .rar file…(Tom Lynch)

Greg Kot discusses “Ripped” May 27 at 57th Street Books, 1301 East 57th, (773)684-1300, at 6pm. Free.

Reading Preview: Joe Meno/Quimby’s

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Fitting that the family Joe Meno’s new novel circles around dons the surname Casper, as all five of them move like phantoms in and out of each other’s existence, directly through one another, yet hardly touching at all. The grandfather, Henry, goes so far as to speak less and less as life continues on, in an effort to completely disappear. With “The Great Perhaps,” Meno deftly moves beyond the teenage angst and wrath he explored in his successful “Hairstyles of the Damned” and the experimental boy-wonder in “The Boy Detective Fails” and glides further into adult territory; the maturation in his writing is a welcomed change of pace, as big questions are asked and decidedly grown-up problems surface. Parental separation, mid-life professional frustration, kids searching for meaning here, there and everywhere—Meno gives ample attention to and offers insight from both parents, their two kids and the receding patriarch. In each of his novels, Meno has dealt with a very specific, very different sort of reality, whether it’s that of teenage punks on Chicago’s South Side, an adolescent crime-solver surrounded by buildings suddenly disappearing or, now, of a family in crisis, handicapped by cowardice and the world’s oppressive weight. And who can blame them? Life is scary. (Tom Lynch)

Joe Meno reads from “The Great Perhaps” May 7 at Quimby’s, 1854 W. North, (773)342-0910, at 7pm. Free.

Reading Preview: S.L. Wisenberg

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Adapting her blog to full-fledged book, local author S.L. Wisenberg transforms her illness memoir into a fiercely engaging and often very, very funny account of her battle with breast cancer. The title, “The Adventures of Cancer Bitch,” should be the first clue that Wisenberg wasn’t prepared to linger in an overly sentimental region and play to readers’ fears and Lifetime-movie expectations. She claimed “Bitch,” she writes, because “Babe was too young and Vixen was already taken.” Presented in a diary format, the piece is, at its core, a 160-page staring match Wisenberg has with herself. Doctors, diagnosis, medication, chemo, surgery—sure, it’s in there. The most devastating offerings aren’t found in the cold facts that are beaten into our bodies by health magazines and prescription-pill commercials, but rather under blog entries with titles like “How Not To Tell Your Class About Your Breast Cancer.” (Wisenberg, Jewish, deftly adapts the wit of Woody Allen as well.) But, like the best of the savage memoirs, it’s doused in hope, and as readers, we share a most important reward in the end: life. (Tom Lynch)

S.L. Wisenberg discusses “Adventures of Cancer Bitch” May 6 at 57th Street Books, 1301 East 57th, (773)684-1300, at 6pm. Free.

411: It’s a Mystery

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catherine-oconnell-photoThe newest installment from Chicago- and Aspen-based author Catherine O’Connell is “Well Read and Dead,” a continuation from the story of heroine Pauline Cook in “Well Bred and Dead.” Pauline experiences new locales and people in the second novel, while still upholding her persona O’Connell affectionately refers to as “a snob with a heart.” O’Connell’s main inspirations for “Well Read” include her experience in wine trade, her friendship with David Grafton (whose death influenced her first novel) and her life in Aspen. “Well Read and Dead” is no flake piece of chick lit. “The novel gives me the opportunity to write a murder mystery while underneath the surface it is also a satirical piece,” O’Connell says. Elements of high society are present; however there are issues that stray from glitz and glamour. “I always have messages [in my writing] if readers want to find them.” O’Connell touches on societal issues in “Well Read” and the concept that there is “‘no one better than I, and no one lesser than I.’ I like to show that they’re all the same.” She reads from the book Thursday at Book Cellar.

Tip of the Week: Post-It Note Reading Series

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Think of it as sort of a literary event for writers with ADD. Created several years ago by former “This American Life” producer Starlee Kine and cartoonist—and former Chicago resident—Arthur Jones, the Post-It Note series is exactly as you’d imagine, writers and illustrators presenting works on Post-It Notes, with a little help from a slide projector. The charming method of storytelling came to life years ago when Jones worked as a graphic designer at a marketing company; Kine had booked a literary event at Hideout and asked Jones—who was not a writer—to contribute a piece. The doodles Jones crafted at work out of shear boredom became his inspiration as he conjured a tale through the little sticky Notes, projected it onstage and narrated. The pair have a come a long way since, striking a deal to draw twelve animated shorts for Lexus and even performing at Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival. Tonight, the day after Jones and Kine’s appearance for the “This American Life” taping at the Chicago Theatre, they bring the Post-It Note series to Hideout, where “This American Life” contributor David Wilcox and local artist Derek Erdman supply stories as well. (Tom Lynch)

The Post-It Note Reading Series takes place April 20 at Hideout, 1444 West Wabansia, at 8pm. $8.

Tip of the Week: Jon Ginoli

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Jon Ginoli founded Pansy Division in early-nineties San Francisco out of frustration more than anything else, to confront typical gay stereotypes and show that there are no boundaries, no limitations, in music. The pop-punk band—which consisted of all openly gay members—released its first record in 1993 on Lookout!, and by 1994 had some mainstream success with second album “Deflowered.” (The group opened for Green Day on the “Dookie” tour.) Unknowingly, Pansy Division had helped spearhead the Queercore movement, with a little help from some good-spirited, filth-laced lyrics. Ginoli’s written a memoir chronicling his experiences in the band—a band that’s still making records—called “Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division,” and as far as rock ‘n’ roll autobiographies go, it’s a terrifically fun read. You get your typical rock band stuff-the band fights, the label battles, the sex and dope-but with Ginoli’s bent, it seems to have, hmm, more purpose? (Tom Lynch)

Jon Ginoli reads from “Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division” April 8 at Quimby’s, 1854 W. North, (773)342-0910, at 7pm. Free.

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.

Tip of the Week: Mary Gaitskill

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Acclaimed novelist and essayist Mary Gaitskill comes to Harold Washington to discuss her career, which, to the frustration of many, has only produced two books and three collections of short stories since the publishing of her first, “Bad Behavior,” in 1988. Maybe it’s for the best, however, as an overabundance of Gaitskill’s various tales of sexuality, sadomasochism, death and self-image would shove some of us over the edge. Her work is haunting not because of the explicit content, but because of her writing’s humanity, life’s treachery, the comfort-and discomfort-found in everyday pain. “Veronica,” Gaitskill’s 2005 novel, focused on two female friends, one who has contracted AIDS. This is no tearjerker. You want sugar, give Mitch Albom a ring. “Don’t Cry” is her newest collection of shorts, released just this week, at it features more snapshots of lives lived with thunderously beating, profusely bleeding hearts.  (Tom Lynch)

Mary Gaitskill discusses “Don’t Cry” March 26 at Harold Washington Library Center, 400 South State, (312)747-4300, at 6pm, as part of the “Writers on the Record with Victoria Lautman” series. The event is free.

About the Island: The Cuba to Chicago to Cuba to Chicago journeys of writer Achy Obejas

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By Tom Lynchkaloian-067

On an unusually warm and muggy evening in early March, a sizeable crowd has gathered at Andersonville’s Women and Children First Bookstore, all here to help celebrate the release of “Ruins,” local author Achy Obejas’ new novel. All seats taken, some are forced to stand in the back, near the table that supports the bottles of champagne and large white cake, with the book’s title and the author’s name scribbled across it in edible coloring. After a few announcements, Achy’s introduced, and she sweetly refers to W&C as “home base”; her reading’s received well-everyone’s here to see her, after all-and afterwards, you get the sense she’s relieved by the audience’s lack of questions, that she’d rather not be at the center, with all eyes on her. Either that or she wants to hit the booze and cake as soon as possible.

“I still get really nervous,” Obejas says. “Nobody believes me when I say that, but I still get insanely nervous about reading.” Read the rest of this entry »