Street Smart Chicago

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 »

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.

Nonfiction Review: Man of Torment

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It is somehow continually surprising to discover how many of America’s essential writers were eccentrics, outsiders: in exile, even at home. Herman Melville was forgotten in his lifetime. Richard Wright found refuge from the rage of his youth in existentialism.

Even John Cheever, whom so many readers encountered in the gentile visage emblazoned on the back of his Pulitzer Prize-winning collected stories, was a lonely, equivocal visitor in the suburban world to which his name has since become synonymous.

The 1991 publication of Cheever’s ribald, deeply sad and erotically bisexual journals punched open a new personal dimension to this persona. Now we have an even wider, clearer window into Cheever’s life: this fabulous, enormously enjoyable biography by Blake Bailey, the author of a previous book about another troubled, hard-drinking mythologizer of suburbia, Richard Yates. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

The Ninth Man Out: As baseball begins again, Nelson Algren turns 100

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"Our Joe" by Tony Fitzpatrick

Tony Fitzpatrick, "Our Joe"

Editor’s Note: Nelson Algren was born 100 years ago this very day, on March 28, 1909

By Jeff McMahon

This is the story of the broken heart of a man, the rusty heart of a city, and how they got all tangled up as one. Like a lot of us, he learned hope and heartbreak first from a baseball team, then from bruising bouts with love, then from the city in which he lived, but unlike a lot of us, he never learned to play along, never stopped seeing the way things are contrasted against the way things ought to be, never stopped championing the nobodies nobody knows—for there, he wrote, beats Chicago’s heart. He followed his own beat straight to the place where pride will lead you every time—to poverty and exile—while describing Chicago as no one had since Carl Sandburg and as no one has again. And save for the devotion of a peculiar few, the City of Big Shoulders shrugged him off. 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.

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.