Knausgaard on Vesaas

 Karl Ove Knausgaard, in the NYTBR:

Who are your favorite Norwegian writers? Tarjei Vesaas has written the best Norwegian novel ever, “The Birds” — it is absolutely wonderful, the prose is so simple and so subtle, and the story is so moving that it would have been counted amongst the great classics from the last century if it had been written in one of the major languages. Knut Hamsun’s writing is magical, his sentences are glowing, he could write about anything and make it alive. Of contemporary writers, Thure Erik Lund is my definite favorite. I like Ingvild Burkey a lot too, her new book is a masterpiece, and also Steinar Opstad, Cathrine Knudsen, Kristine Naess and Jon Fosse, amongst others.

The Birds is every bit as wonderful as Knausgaard says: it's lyrical, quietly emotional and ultimately heartbreaking. One of my five favorite novels. It's a shame that the book, and Vesaas as a writer, aren't better known.

August 18, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

1000 W. Monroe Street

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I'm glad I photographed these two charming rowhouses (now very rare in the West Loop) while I had the chance, because they were recently demolished, for yet another new development. As if the West Loop doesn't already have enough generic luxury apartment buildings. 

August 16, 2017 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"But where would I be without it."

Kafka, on coffee. Though I'm not quite a coffee achiever, I know exactly where I would be without it: right here, tired and cranky.

(Ha! Though I remember that commercial from long ago, I didn't recognize Kurt Vonnegut until just now.)

August 11, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...a mere squeak for the stating of formulae..."

H.G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon is a strange book. Strange, but I like it. Most of the book is about scientific discovery (two humans reach the moon, by very unique means) and fast-paced adventure (the humans desperately trying to escape the moon's inhabitants, or "Selenites"), but then Wells adds on a lengthy, anti-climatic epilogue in which the scientist Cavor describes Selenite society. Here is part of Cavor's description of the highly specialized training each inhabitant undergoes.

If, for example, a Selenite is destined to be a mathematician, his teachers and trainers set out at once to that end. They check any incipient disposition to other pursuits, they encourage his mathematical bias with a perfect psychological skill. His brain grows, or at least the mathematical faculties of his brain grow, and the rest of him only so much as is necessary to sustain this essential part of him. At last, save for rest and food, his one delight lies in the exercise and display of his faculty, his one interest in its application, his sole society with other specialists in his own line. His brain grows continually larger, at least so far as the portions engaging in mathematics are concerned; they bulge ever larger and seem to suck all life and vigour from the rest of his frame. His limbs shrivel, his heart and digestive organs diminish, his insect face is hidden under its bulging contours. His voice becomes a mere squeak for the stating of formulae; he seems deaf to all but properly enunciated problems. The faculty of laughter, save for the sudden discovery of some paradox, is lost to him; his deepest emotion is the evolution of a novel computation. And so he attains his end.

There is no mention, by the way, of how one's "destiny" is determined. Presumably, it's not at all the individual's own choice how they turn out, but some higher authority deciding what role that individual will serve. This ostensibly ideal society sounds very autocratic and joyless. Sobering.

August 8, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

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"I was stealing time, operating a simple maxim: make the best hours your own rather than those you sell to an employer." - James Kelman

August 5, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Farewell, Selected Works

At South Side Weekly, Malvika Jolly writes a tribute to Selected Works, the used bookstore in the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue, which closed in June. The store was a bit too far from my office for me to visit on a regular basis, but I really enjoyed the times I did get over there. (And I petted the store cat, Hodge. I've always thought that one of the nicest things about owning a bookstore would be having a store cat.) I tried to visit the store during my city day at the end of my sabbatical earlier this summer, only to learn that it had closed the prior week. I'm very sorry I missed out.

On that city day I also learned that the Books-A-Million store on Clark Street had closed. For the moment (until The Dial opens in October, in the Selected Works space), the Loop doesn't have a single book store, with the closest stores now being Sandmeyer's on Dearborn in the South Loop, Open Books on Lake Street in the West Loop and After-Words on Illinois in River North. (No, I'm not counting the Barnes & Noble in DePaul's downtown campus, which is mostly geared to textbooks, or the Barbara's outlet in the basement of Macy's.)

August 3, 2017 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)

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"The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning." - Sam Shepard

August 1, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

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"You write from what you know, and one of the things you know is that you are not telling your own story, but bits of it are your own story. It’s like tessellation of a mosaic. You take a bit that happened to you and you put it beside a bit that you make up." – Bernard MacLaverty

July 31, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...airports aren’t just places for departures, but places for arrivals..."

I quite like this poem, "Sing at Unnatural Hours in the Presence of Artificial Light", by Clint Margrave.

July 29, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"No orange flashes in the sky."

East Chicago: a blue-collar suburb, thirty miles or so south of the big city. It is—was—the archetype of Steel Town, U.S.A. Most of its breadwinners worked in the mills: Youngstown, Inland, U.S. Steel.
    On this rainy afternoon, the journey on the IC train offers a bleak landscape, as other industrial suburbs are whizzed by. Smokeless chimneys. No orange flashes in the sky. Empty parking lots. Not a Ford nor a Chevy to be seen near the deserted plants. An occasional abandoned jalopy, evoking an image of the thirties. A stray dog, no humans. A fleeting glimpse of the business end of the towns; enough to see boarded-up stores and empty Main Streets.
    A mind-flash of Willard Van Dyke's 1938 documentary, Valley Town. It was Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a steel city of the Great Depression, stone-cold dead. It is a moment of deja vu in reverse.
    The front lawn of every other bungalow in East Chicago, it seems, has the sign: FOR SALE.

- Studs Terkel, from The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream (1988).

July 22, 2017 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)