Staff Q&A: From Page to Screen

In this 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.



This time, we want to know:

What is your favorite book-to-screen adaptation? What book-to-screen adaptation is the absolute worst?

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Not All Who Wander are Lost: Finding an Honest Guide in Ben Tanzer’s “Lost in Space”
by Jeff Toth

Lost in Space

“So you also look for signs to provide you some kind of roadmap for where things might possibly be going, because even a sign that is hard to read or navigate is better than none.” — Ben Tanzer, from the essay “The Boy with the Curious Hair”

Full disclosure: despite what may seem like a daunting title, Ben Tanzer’s Lost in Space: A Father’s Journey There and Back Again is neither hard to read nor difficult to navigate. It is, instead, an incredibly honest take on the joys and fears every parent experiences, sometimes long before their children are even a part of the picture. With a blend of humor, inventive structuring, and sometimes sobering truth, Tanzer explores the wide array of influences and instances that continue to shape his journey as a father and as a man. As signs go, Lost in Space is everything a person in need of a guide through the uncertainty of adulthood, manhood, parenthood, personhood, could hope for. At least that was the experience of this reader. I’ll explain.

I first encountered the author and his latest collection of essays in Seattle of all places. We set out separately from our respective homes in Chicago in late February to attend the annual conference for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP)—Mr. Tanzer, no doubt, kissing his wife and two sons goodbye before setting out to share his work with the literary masses, while I was taking the last trip I would ever take on my own before becoming a father myself. Then again, it wasn’t so much a “trip” for me as it was an exploratory mission. Continue reading

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Down-and-Dirty Writing Process: Jen Bosworth

Jen Bosworth


If you spend any time exploring Chicago’s live lit scene, you’re bound to run into Jen Bosworth. A graduate of The Theatre School of Depaul University with a number of stage and screen credits, including The Steppenwolf’s adaptation of The House on Mango Street, Bosworth has—for a decade—been combining her love of writing, her theater background, and her personal experiences to tell hilarious and heartbreaking stories in reading series throughout the city, including her own, the sorely missed Stories at the Store. She’s also a damn nice lady. That’s what her website says——and we know it’s true, because her solo show, Why Not Me…Love, Cancer and Jack White opens this weekend—it runs from July 18 to August 17 at the Heartland Studio in Rogers Park—and yet here she is, in the midst of opening week preparations, sharing the intimate details of her writing process with us at Literary Chicago, in the first installment of our ongoing feature: the Down-and-Dirty Writing Process. Let’s do it.
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The Write Spot: Star Lounge Coffee Bar
by Danette Chavez

Star LoungeI’m not the most disciplined writer: my attention is easily diverted, and I give myself a lot of time to “decompress” from my day job. So I’m often in search of a place to get work done without feeling tied to another desk. Oh, and to  enjoy several cups of delicious (read: strong) coffee. Star Lounge Coffee Bar (2521 W Chicago Ave) fits the bill, with lots of space, a friendly staff (with excellent taste in music), and said delicious coffee. I’m somewhat hesitant to add to their kudos, because I’d rather not fight any more folks for a spot at a table. But since this is one of my favorite spots to work away from home–and work–I’ll give you the rundown. Continue reading

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The Power of Story
by Scott Eagan

Once I Was CoolI have an admission I’d like to get out into the open before moving onto Megan Stielstra’s wonderful collection of personal essays, Once I Was Cool. I know the author. I mean, we’re not besties or anything. There was this time, not so long ago, when I decided, on a whim, to take a class taught by Bobby Biedrzycki and Megan Stielstra called Story and Performance—an experience I hold as one of the high points in my pursuit of an MFA degree at Columbia College Chicago. (Bobby makes a very powerful appearance in Once I Was Cool, in the essay “Dragons so Huge.”) For fifteen weeks I got to learn from Megan, while being exposed to fragments of this collection. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time. And every so often, as I read this book, these small moments would sweep in and leave me with this sense of familiarity, because I heard a part of the story, like with the first line to the essay “Those Who Were There.” Or like with this striking bit of insight on the nature and importance of story, which I highlighted then promptly wrote down in my journal:

Story—when done right—can help you find yourself in others, share realities that can’t possibly be real, and show a person or people a world that you never before imagined.

Here’s the thing: writing, like anything else in life, is a process. Even this review—the approach of which is a bit unorthodox, but who the hell says a review needs to be orthodox—is part of a process. A presentation of my opinion on Once I Was Cool with the intent to persuade—totally the case with this book—or dissuade—not the case with this book—the reader. But, and this is the important part, I need to first understand why I think Once I Was Cool is so good. Is worth both your money and time. Accomplishing that is not just about pinpointing the things that I liked, or admired. It’s also about the distillation of the work into those themes that resonate the strongest with me. And sometimes that can be tricky. So I’m going to walk you through the process I underwent in order to find those themes. Continue reading

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A Bookish Holiday: Celebrating Independent Bookstores
by Alba Machado

Ah, bookstores. New releases, staff picks, favorite sections, bookish novelty items, and friendly and knowledgeable booksellers. It feels like it was just yesterday when I last perused the stocks of a beloved brick and mortar. Oh wait. It was. I got myself a copy of Roxane Gay’s Untamed State from 57th Street Books in Hyde Park. My bookseller dad started taking me on weekly pilgrimages to bookstores before I even knew my ABCs, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

57th Street Books is among my favorites, and it’s one of the nine bookstores participating in the first ever Chicago’s Independent Bookstore Day this Saturday, July 12. It’s the start of what will undoubtedly be a happy tradition for the local community of readers and writers, which, of course, includes you. During the celebration, these shops will be offering special deals, free books, and refreshments. Also, adding a mild but fun element of The Amazing Race to the occasion, from July 12 to August 3, each bookstore will give out a handful of puzzle pieces to the first twenty customers who ask for them, pieces that will fit together to create an exclusively designed frameable print by Lilli Carré—free with a $30 purchase. Featured events include a signing by Pulitzer-prize-winning advice columnist Mary Schmich at Women and Children First, gourmet gazpacho from The Soup and Bread Cookbook author Martha Bayne at City Lit, pie from The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie author Paula Haney at Open Books, and vegetarian comfort food from The New Chicago Diner Cookbook authors Kat Berry and Jo Kaucher at Unabridged Bookstore. See website for additional details. Chicago Independent Bookstore Day | Nine bookstores throughout Chicago | Saturday, July 12, 2014 | Website

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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.



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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