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“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” - John Lewis

July 13, 2018 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

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“I am desperately hard up and owe about £20.” - William Butler Yeats

Echoes of the obscure Scottish poet, Ewan MacTeagle:

 

July 10, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Acquisitions: Ann Arbor, July 2018

For me, reading a book is paramount, but almost as interesting to me are the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the book itself. Below is the first in an occasional series about my book acquisition adventures.

Julie, Maddie and I spent the weekend in Ann Arbor, doing a college visit to the University of Michigan. After a few hours of touring the campus, we turned our attention to downtown Ann Arbor, which is full of restaurants and interesting shops. In the Kerrytown neighborhood, we spent a long time in Hollander's, where Julie was hunting for bookbinding paper. Bookbinding (inevitably) interests me, though I've never done it myself, so instead of the vast inventory of papers I found myself enthralled by the largest store display of Edward Gorey works that I've ever seen. Gorey has fascinated me ever since first seeing the opening credits of Mystery! on PBS back in the 1980s, and I've picked up a few of his things in the past. I was quite pleased to find his Thoughful Alphabets: The Just Dessert and The Deadly Blotter, in a beautiful little edition from Pomegranate. Gorey's alphabets were 26-word stories, with each word beginning with one letter of the alphabet (with a bit of fudging over x; instead of abusing the limited supply of words like xylophone and x-ray, he used words like expect and explain instead). A few years ago I actually wrote my own thoughful alphabet story, "The Afternoon Party", which was published in the online journal Goreyesque. The Pomegranate edition has what are apparently the only two of his thoughtful alphabet stories that he also illustrated himself (the others just had clip art), which clinched it for me. I just had to buy it, and did.

Then, after dinner and drinks, we made our way to the excellent Literati Bookstore, which was only two blocks from our hotel. I've been reading Michelle Dean's Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion, which included a chapter about Mary McCarthy, whose name I had heard of but knew nothing else about. She wrote a couple of big fiction books in the 1940s and 1950s (The Company She Keeps and The Group) before turning mostly to nonfiction; The Oasis is her lesser-known novella that was published between those two books, a satire that lampoons idealistic intellectuals, with many of the characters being barely-disguised members of her own social circle. That wicked premise would have been more than enough to lure me in, but even better is that Literati had the edition that was put out by Melville House, one of my favorite publishers; combine that with a beautiful summer night and a couple of good whiskies still buzzing through my brain, and the purchase was made. It will be one of the first books I read after my Summer of Welty ends.

July 9, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...a kind of parasitic hinterland...”

Peter Orner, from Love and Shame and Love:

A high place where the prairie convulses into ravines and the scalloped bluffs rise above the lake. It is part of what is known collectively as Chicagoland, a mythical place, a kind of parasitic hinterland that exists solely in the mind of those who dream of the city from a distance. Just half an hour away, depending on traffic. How do you begin to remember a place you've never left? It's not yet full winter, and memory is always November. The trees are stripped bare. Now you can see all the setback houses you hadn't been able to see in summer.

Orner is a Chicago native whose various writings I've always enjoyed - although to date the only book of his that I’ve read is his collection The Esther Stories, which included the lovely novella Fall River Marriage, a personal favorite of mine. Although he's best known for his shorter work, Love and Shame and Love is the longest thing he's published, and the book has me intrigued, along with the reading memoir Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live.

July 9, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (1)

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“Good as it is to inherit a library, it is better to collect one.” - Augustine Birrell

July 7, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

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“It is indeed impossible to view a series of bearded portraits, however indifferently executed, without feeling that they possess dignity, gravity, freedom, vigour, and completeness; while in looking on a row of razored faces, however illustrious the originals, or skillful the artists, a sense of artificial conventional bareness is experienced.” - Thomas S. Gowing

Hear, hear!

July 6, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

“They’re not all bums that sleeps here.”

I love this Chicago reporter’s 1883 description of vagrants sleeping in Lake-Front Park (now Grant Park):

As a tramps’ paradise the park was an eminent success. Deep, raspy snores, indicative of a tranquil slumber, floated up from various quarters of the park, and here and there could be dimly seen a recumbent figure, flat on its back, its arms and legs ungracefully distributed about it, a coat serving as a pillow and darkness as a cove.

But...

“They’re not all bums that sleeps here. Some of ‘em are pretty well-to-do, but put on their old clothes, leave their valuables at home, and come down here to sleep. It’s cooler, you know, than sleeping in a close room. Come down and try it some night, and I’ll see that you ain’t arrested.”

I can vouch for the latter. My dad and his siblings used to sleep in Chicago city parks on hot summer nights.

July 5, 2018 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (1)

“Walk on air against your better judgement.”

That line above is the epitaph in the gravestone of Seamus Heaney, which he wrote himself. Heaney’s family is compiling 100 of his poems into a new collection, most of them for their greatness, but others for what they meant personally to the family. (“The first 70 or 75 almost self-selected, they agree, and it was in the final 25 the choices became more significant.”) He memorably wrote poems for his grandchildren, including the last poem he ever wrote, “In Time”:

Chris: “Mum says she saw him watching the Proms, and his fingers.” He taps on the side of his armchair. “She says she could sometimes tell: he’d be tapping the fingers, which would be metre, rhythm, working out the line, the syllables. She’d look and say, ‘Ah, there’s something going on under the bonnet.’ ”

Such lovely remembrances from them of him, as a father and poet. He sounds like he was a special man.

June 30, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect on art.” - Susan Sontag 

June 27, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...these people never knew where the very roads they lived on went to...”

In Eudora Welty's "Death of a Traveling Salesman" (from A Curtain of Green), the protagonist R.J. Bowman is lost in the boonies of Mississippi.

He had made the Beulah trip before. But he had never seen this hill or this petering-out path before - or that cloud, he thought slyly, looking up and then down quickly - any more than he had seen this day before. Why did he not admit he was simply lost and had been for miles? ... He was not in the habit of asking the way of strangers, and these people never knew where the very roads they lived on went to; but then he had not even been close enough to anyone to call out. People standing in the fields now and then, or on top of the haystacks, had been too far away, looking like leaning sticks or weeds, turning a little at the solitary rattle of his car across their countryside, watching the pale sobering winter dust where it clunked out behind like big squashes down the road. The stares of those distant people had followed him solidly like a wall, impenetrable, behind which they turned back after he had passed.

With my given name, I have an issue with the term "petering-out", but otherwise I admire this passage. Welty telegraphs Bowman's fate with that title, but the means of his demise wasn't what I expected. I guess this is one way (of many) that she diverged from Flannery O'Connor.

June 26, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)