Staff Q&A: Our Favorite Rereads

In this soon-to-be-regular feature, we ask our staff a literary question that we’re dying to have answered, and we also want to hear from you! Please use the comments section to tell us about your literary tastes, recommend some reading, or even call us out on something if you disagree.

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PHOTO BY ALBA MACHADO

This time, we want to know:

What book do you find yourself returning to despite all of the other reading you’ve got on your plate?

Julia Fine There are so many books I find myself coming back to, but right now my most indulgent reread (if only because my copy is 846 pages long) is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. Jane Austen meets Harry Potter meets the Grimm Brothers meets European History in this sprawling tale of magic’s return to 19th century England. It’s like Clarke read my mind and combined all of my favorite things into one, crafting a tome that is alternately hilarious and terrifying. It’s hard to believe this is her first novel, the voice is so strong and her hand so deft. A lovely book to curl up with during crazy summer thunderstorms, or to lose yourself in on the CTA. I’m on my third read (not counting a listen to the fabulously creepy audiobook), and I foresee many more to come.

Karen McKinley Wonderful, weird book! I loved it. How about Michael Crichton’s Timeline? A great story about going back in time, and the problems of money and technology and arrogance. The foreword always gets me when he says that as you read the novel and consider whether time travel could ever be possible, you should think of all sorts of technology that would have been considered ridiculous science fiction 100 years ago, including the concept of people traveling to the moon, which now seems commonplace. I reread it again last summer.

Danette Chavez Hard Times (or For These Times) by Charles Dickens. I’ve been reading it about every two years since high school. Its critiques of a utilitarian approach to education and the abysmal conditions of workers caught in the wheels of progress (i.e., the Industrial Revolution) could easily be confused with contemporary works. The Coketown education model championed by one of the main characters has found its real life successor in the Common Core. And oh, those Dickensian names: Gradgrind for an educator and Sparsit for an old gossip, to name a few.

Daniel Camponovo I have a bunch of books I return to far too often (including The Red Pony, every year on my birthday, for 19 years running), but the book I just returned to was The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald. The book, split into four narratives each focusing on a German emigrant’s relationship to the narrator, is a stunning meditation on memory and belonging and collective guilt and the reverberations of war, felt even among those who left the country before it was destroyed. Sebald’s voice is clear and level, and he weaves in these beautiful black-and-white photographs, wrapping the text around the images and incorporating them so they become as much a part of the narrative as the words themselves. If I ever got a tattoo it would be a #3 for Allen Iverson, but if I ever got a second tattoo it would very probably be “There is mist that no eye can dispel.”

Jess Millman A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid. I’ve combed through the essay with a highlighter and a No. 2 many times, but these days I prefer to pretend I’m a virgin reader and let her knock me out. I like the reality check and the clean, rolling rightness of Kincaid’s anger. I like the one hundred-page microburst of being made to look at and feel the rot of a wrong that is so plainly indefensible. Her lessons on imperialism continue to be relevant as exotic-destination beach tourism becomes more popular across different areas of the middle-class spectrum. The trivialization of people who live in these so-dubbed “exotic” places and the cycle of devaluation is a kind of disgrace I, as a beneficiary of this racist system (no matter how compassionate I am, how concerned I am, or how much I try to educate myself) can only come close to fully appreciating by having someone sear me with it. Her prose shakes me and it does it every time. So, for me, there’s no blue like Kincaid’s Antigua.

Todd Summar One of my favorite novels, and one that I return to every so often, is Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. It just celebrated its 25th anniversary, so I took the occasion to reread it recently. I discovered this novel in high school, at a time when my fascination with David Lynch, William S. Burroughs, and all things weird was just beginning to develop. There’s nothing worse than when you return to something you loved when you were younger only to find that it didn’t quite retain its luster. I was happy to discover that Geek Love holds up, and that it is crafted in a much more complex and three-dimensional way than I was originally able to appreciate as a teenager. Not just the gimmicky genre story of a family of circus freaks, Geek Love is rich with character development, morally ambiguous characters, and expertly woven language—at times gruesomely poetic, and at other times harsh as a slap in the face.  The only shame is that Dunn has not written another novel since.

Alba Machado Mine is both canonical and made into films presented on late-night TV with rubber chickens and mustachioed skulls. Growing up, Frankenstein was the big, green guy with a flat head, hemorrhoids, and bolts sticking out of his neck, the guy we hang on the door at Halloween. And that was fun. But then in high school I read the story, and discovered the story behind the story—and I never tire of either one. Often cited as the first science fiction novel to be written in English, Frankenstein explores big, important ideas about the ethics of scientific discovery that are relevant to this day, nearly 200 years later, while still giving its readers one hell of a thrill ride. Despite its flowery language, it feels modern, too, far ahead of its time, given its layers of text forms: letters, journals, inscriptions, and courtroom accounts. And how great is it that it was written by nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley in a scary story competition against literary giants Percy Shelley (her husband), Lord Byron (the cad), and John Polidori (the guy who wrote the first published vampire story—the first, but not the best)? I think it’s safe to say she won that one.

Scott Eagan The two books I’m chronically rereading now are Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Hey! Wake Up! (Like five reads a day, and that’s a lie because it’s more like seven.) A novel that I come back to frequently, and there are several, is Catch-22.have this love affair with science fiction, and while I know Catch-22 has nothing to do with that, Joseph Heller utilizes the paradox so masterfully in this satirical anti-war polemic that it resonates in everything. It is, to date, the funniest book I’ve ever read, coupled with some of the most complex and batshit crazy characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction. However it’s not one note. There’s variance. It’s very somber at times, very tragic, but also poignant, beautiful, and terrifying. The non-linear structure is so complex, yet is packaged in such a way that the reader never feels lost in time. I love it.

Sophie Nagelberg Almost No Memory by Lydia Davis. It’s full of these concise little stories that leave you thinking. Gigantic by Mark Nesbitt is one I’m always recommending. It’s another short story collection with a powerful voice and these down and out characters that you really root for. Finally, Flannery O’Conner is an author I’ve long been drawn to, perhaps because of our shared Georgia roots, and her infamous use of the grotesque.

Do you have a question that you’d like us to answer in a future installment of Staff Q&A? Let us know in the comments!

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Living Stories in Poetry and Pedagogy
By Daniel Camponovo

My Apartment in Chicago by Jack Murphy

“I am the magic marker’s missing cap,” Jack Murphy asserts in the first line of his new collection My Apartment in Chicago. He also calls himself Derrick Rose, Bob Dylan in 1963 or sometimes 1972, your grandmother’s lampshade, pink Starbusts, and a scratched off lottery ticket, among other miscellaneous objects. Drawn in by that first line, and intrigued by the writer the Chicagoist says “encapsulates avant-garde literature in all of its aspects,” I decided to take the poem’s title (“Hey There Stranger, Come Sit Down And Get To Know Me For A While”) to heart and meet the man at the West Loop’s Jupiter Outpost.

Jack Murphy, it turns out, is not Bob Dylan or root beer fizz or Derrick Rose (though he is a Chicagoan, through and through.) Jack Murphy is a 26-year-old teacher and writer, a graduate of DePaul University’s Writing and Publishing MA program, and an avid, rabid Bulls fan and self-proclaimed Derrick Rose defender. He is an iced tea drinker (see: “The Summer of Iced Tea”) and a former girls’ basketball coach. He is approachable, funny and insightful, able to alternate between pedagogy and Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system on the fly. Above all else, he is passionate about his work: the writing and the teaching, which he views as inextricable from each other. Continue reading

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Revelry Recap: Printers Ball CHATTER in Photos
by Danette Chavez

The Write Spot: Dollop Lakeview
by Julia Fine

Dollop

PHOTO COURTESY OF DOLLOP COFFEE & TEA COMPANY

As one who is at least 100x more productive outside of my “home office” than in it, I am excited to introduce a new regular feature here at Literary Chicago, The Write Spot: Rating Our Local Haunts.

We are kicking off at Dollop, whose Lakeview location at the corner of Belmont & Clark is one of my go-to spots. When I scout out a good place to make camp for the afternoon or morning, there are several elements I’m looking for, and Dollop has all of these in spades. Local artwork, good coffee, relaxing but not overly generic coffee shop music, and some big tables to spread myself out. Here’s how this location rates on our official LC scale:

Beverages: Metropolis coffee, a variety of Rishi teas, and some delicious indulgences like the Honey Cinnamon Latte make Dollop a great place to get caffeinated. They also offer free water in mason jars — a huge bonus in these hot summer months.

Food: No hot food, but a large assortment of pastries and bagels from the likes of Southport Grocery and Fritz Pastry. If you are willing to skip the egg sandwich (a struggle sometimes, I know), Dollop is a great breakfast/general snack-time spot. I’ve also seen folks bring takeout from places down the street, though I’m not sure how the management stands on this.

Atmosphere: Just lovely. A large, open space with shared tables that are long enough to feel like private desks. More than enough outlets, a reclaimed warehouse feel, and lots of natural light from the front windows. Dollop is also home to lots of laptop workers: some leave after an hour, others put in another few. In all of my visits, I’ve never felt pressure to leave or been unable to find myself a spot. I’m also a fan of the bathroom, always clean and plastered with fliers for local events.

Location: IDEAL! Just a block from the Belmont Red line (and, it so happens, my current apartment), and surrounded by restaurants, Divvy Bikes, and even several gyms for when you need a non-caffeinated energy boost.

Price Range: Inexpensive.

Word Count: Ahh, the chimera of all writerly endeavors. I’ve actually been able to get a lot of material written here, despite the comings and goings of area coffee drinkers during peak hours. Just pop in some headphones or be inspired by the barista’s eclectic musical choices and the range of Dollop customers, and channel the low-key vibe. At my best, I’d say I’ve made it 900 words in two hours — which for me is quite the feat.

Overall, I’d recommend Dollop to anyone who needs to get some serious writing done. Let me know when you’ll be stopping by, and we’ll make it a date!

Do you have a favorite writing spot that you think we should review? Let us know in the comments — we are always on the lookout for new and exciting places to be productive.

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GET OUT OF THE HOUSE, AND LEARN SOMETHING WHILE YOU’RE AT IT
by Danette Chavez

Learnapalooza

PHOTO COURTESY OF LEARNAPALOOZACHI.COM

If Literary Chicago is an ongoing lit fest, then Learnapalooza is a festival of ongoing learning. Founded in 2010 by Maggie Schutz and Sarah Press, Learnapalooza is a day of free classes taught by community members, covering a broad range of subjects and skills. Though it started off as a single day festival in Wicker Park, the organizers have tripled the fun and knowledge to cover three summer Saturdays (in June, July, August) in three Chicago neighborhoods (Wicker Park, Lakeview, and Logan Square). These learning extravaganzas receive the full support of their “host” neighborhoods, as local businesses and organizations such as CHI PRC, Quimby’s, and Avenue N Guitars offer both instructors and “classrooms.”

Your first chance to enlighten yourself is Saturday, June 28, in Wicker Park. We’ve scoured the class listings to bring our readers some recommendations for the type of lit-inclined learning we know they’re after.

So on Saturday, take in a class or two while out for your morning or afternoon constitutional. Again, classes are free, but donations are accepted. For more info, or questions about registering for classes, please contact info@learnpaloozachi.com.

 

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Printers Ball: Chicago’s Biggest Theme Party for Book Lovers
by Alba Machado

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VOLUNTEERS AT THE 2010 PRINTERS BALL. PHOTO COURTESY OF TEDDY WAFFLES.

Break out your ball gowns, book lovers. It’s time for Printers Ball. Of course, showing up in jeans is okay, too. But make no mistake: Printers Ball is not a low-key, humdrum occasion, nor is it a buttoned-up conference, or your average fair, festival, or convention, although it does include readings and discussions. It’s a theme party for bibliophiles, only bigger. Free carnival food, beer, and over 400 magazines, literary organizations, and design studios from across the country? These are part and parcel with any Printers Ball. What distinguishes one year from another is the surprises that are determined by that year’s theme. 2012′s “TIME WARP” featured a commencement by ’80s icon Max Headroom, and 2011′s “IT’S ALIVE!” got us a Ouija Board with a planchette the size of a coffee table—to awaken the spirits of dead writers, of course. This time around, for its tenth anniversary, the theme is “CHATTER,” and whatever that means, it will undoubtedly deliver an evening of fun surprises, in addition to a scheduled line-up of presenters that includes legendary book cover designer Chip Kidd, pop-up performances by a number of Chicago’s most innovative reading series, bookmaking with Leah Mackin, and a dance party with Odd Obsession, among many others. Founded in 2004 by Poetry magazine’s Fred Sasaki and presented by Spudnik Press Cooperative, this is the social event of the season for fans of indie publishing in all its stripes. A full schedule of events is available on the Printers Ball website.

10th ANNUAL PRINTERS BALL | THE HUBBARD STREET LOFTS | 1821 W HUBBARD | FREE | SATURDAY, JUNE 28, 2014 AT 4PM (DOORS OPEN AT 3:30) | Website


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Navigating the Massive Jungle of Online Book Purchasing
by Todd Summar

PACKING AND SHIPPING AREA AT BIBLIODISIA BOOKS. PHOTO BY ALBA MACHADO.

When I was a little boy – back before iPhones, electricity, and the internet – my favorite activity was going to the mall and spending hours roaming the aisles of its two bookstores. Yes, we had two, and the names B. Dalton and Waldenbooks meant more to me than any sports hero. Eventually these giants toppled (in 2009 and 2011 respectively) to make way for stores like Hot Topic and Build-a-Bear, and then consumers soured on the idea of malls altogether. But I was a kid, with no access to indie bookstores with their more eclectic selection, often located in urban settings beyond my reach. Continue reading

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Guts & Glory: An Intro to Live Lit
by Julia Fine

Sam and Keith

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAMANTHA IRBY AND KEITH ECKER

On Wednesday night, between raucous mid-June thunderstorms, I ventured to Schuba’s Tavern for Guts & Glory, my first Live Lit experience. Now, I know that I am way late to the club—Guts & Glory’s Facebook page has over 800 followers, and when I spoke with co-founder Keith Ecker, he marveled at how quickly this Chicago community has grown. Two years ago, Guts & Glory was just a gleam in Ecker and co-founder Samantha Irby’s eyes—now, the June Edition is filling the upstairs room at Schuba’s (a room I’d like to dub the SXSW Roundup Room, given the impressive collection of said posters on its walls), and they’ll be celebrating a two-year anniversary in September. Continue reading

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