Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sarah Palin, Poet

2666: A Little Over Half-Way Book Report

500 pages in, I can say with some sort of confidence that 2666 is a masterpiece. Of course, I am expecting the whole thing to fall apart in the next, oh, 300+ pages that remain. I have read enough reviews to know that nothing will be answered and that this opus will not satisfy in the grand American tradition of McExplanations and tidy packages, and I’m okay with that. As in the case with The Savage Detectives, you just have to go with it and let the book take you where it will. How could this all end anyway? A pat, neat wrap-up to 2666 might be an insult. It might subvert the implacable feeling of dread that is found throughout the book, even during the funny bits. To put it best: I am obsessed (hey, that rhymed!). That is really what the book asks from its reader, and there’s no way for me to explain why I am so sucked into the world of Bolaño, but I’ll link up an article that does a good job at explaining how inexplicable this all is:

Monday, November 24, 2008

What the hell is going on?

From the local crime obsessed blog.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Best Ofs and Sez Whos

As they do each year, as they will do until their tired, thinning, rag finally goes belly-up, New City has their “Best of Chicago” issue cluttering up the city’s subway platform floors. There are, as usual, some interesting entries, and there are some that seem silly. It’s all debatable anyway. Still, in the spirit of the issue, and my oft disagreement, I offer my own Best of Chicago guide (in progress) for the year 2008 and beyond, and, while we’re at it, before.

Best Book Store: The Seminary Co-Op.

No matter how you slice it, this is the best bookstore in town for new books. Borders and Barnes and Nobel may vanish before long (which I don’t want to see happen) and most of the other indies have long gone gently into that good night, but the Co-Op still stands in its basement location in beautiful snooty Hyde Park (hey, that’s where Obama lives!) right on the campus of U of C. Now, remember we’re talking about new books. As for used…

Best Used Book Store: Powell’s on 57th St.

Sadly, Powell’s is the best used bookstore in town, which really means something, something bad if you ask me. Of course, the best Chicago store I’ve ever set foot in was the one where I worked, the Aspidistra, but in its absence I have to admit that Powell’s is where I often find myself. The Hyde Park location is still superior to the Lakeview store, though that place yields some pretty good finds from time to time. The books can get a bit pricey, so I have to give a shout out to…

Best Place to Find Cheap Used Books: Bookman’s Corner, a.k.a. Chandler’s.

A small, cramped store in Lakeview stuffed with books overflowing from the shelves. Most of the books are priced so low you won’t care about the slight danger that accompanies browsing. It’s a bad idea to walk in looking for a specific title. Just walk around, squeeze through an isle and see what (literally) jumps out at you. Perhaps best is the lack of pretension surrounding the place, unlike…

Best Used Book Store Staffed by Annoying Hipsters: Myopic.

Myopic is not a bad store, not by a long shot, but the seemingly bored (or trying hard to seem bored, I’m not sure which) people who work the counter get on my nerves. The atmosphere of the place is a combination of bookish (obviously) and apathetic indie-hip. They stock new copies of Bukowski and Kerouac at the front and ask that you not wander with these highly sought after items as if they were rare editions; they laughingly try to enforce a quasi-socialist policy of restocking the rejected books you have pulled form the shelves (failure to do so allegedly raises the cost of the book by a dollar); they host fair-to-lousy poetry readings and seem uninterested in giving out the details (a direct inquiry to a dead-eyed employee netted only the vague assurance that the information was on the website (it wasn’t)); they sell shitty coffee that’s supposed to be shitty, therefore hip (I guess); the staff members have the requisite tattoos and piercings and wear thrift store clothes and constantly play obscure rock on the stereo, much to the delight of the young Wicker Parkers and the chagrin of the old book hounds who have exhausted Powell’s stock of histiry books and literary criticism.

But on to other things…

Best Place to Spot a Suicide: Sheridan Between Hollywood and Granville.

Earlier this year, on this Edgewater stretch of road, a man was found dead, hanging from a tree with a noose around his neck. He killed himself publicly (or did he…) but at least he did so early enough that the local kiddies were (probably) spared the gruesome sight. Anyway, lightning of this kind doesn’t really strike twice, so maybe this isn’t the best place to spot suicides anymore, but it was a disturbing story. Even Eugene Izzi’s (alleged) suicide spectacle—hanging out of a window from his 14th floor apartment—wasn’t as public, though both contain equally chilling mysteries.

Best Place to Miss Barack Obama’s Election Day Speech: My Apartment.

The historic moment came and what was I doing? Fretting over my trammeled vision. After hours of watching election coverage (and some of Rocky II), a strange broken triangular pattern of shimmering red and blue lights formed near the lower corner of my left eye. It moved when I moved my eyes and was visible with the lids open and closed. The televised scene at Grant Park was obscured by this irregularity, causing me to freak the hell out. I assumed I was going blind, at least partially, and I opted to lay on the couch and close my eyes, waiting for the pattern to go away, watching it not go away, listening to the President Elect’s speech and thinking simultaneously that I was hearing history and not seeing it and that I might never read another book, see another movie or marvel at the beauty of mi niña, mi gato, or the Lake Michigan horizon at dusk when the lake finally looks majestic instead of merely polluted, and I’d never see Havana, Lima, Rome, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, New York, Mexico City, Bombay, Belfast, or any of the other places I’ve always wanted to see. Sadly, these thoughts overtook Obama’s words and I remember nothing of the historic evening save for my own fear over what turned out to be an ocular migraine. Look it up.

Best Place to Get Food I Would Never Eat: Hot Doug’s.

I work with a guy who won’t stop talking about this gourmet hot dog emporium where you can get the standard dog, the more adventurous pheasant dog, countless other variations on the dog, and fries cooked in (egad) duck fat complete with foie gras, served before, during, and after the citywide ban. When I tell my south-side buddies about it, they balk at the north-side affluence they assume must be the root of this establishment. “Gimmie the old Dave Berg anyday.” Personally, were I still a carnivore, I would try some of the menu items at a place like this. Hot dogs, we all know, are shit anyway, so why not at least once try the hoity-toity version? Just once and then you go back to the rat hair and bug leg laden encased meats you love so damn much. Still, can you lay off the ducks? They’re beautiful animals that ought to be left alone. Eating one automatically lowers you a notch in my book, but we all have our inexplicable prejudices.

Best Place to Try to Eat That is Almost Always Closed: Lake Side Café.

A vegetarian restaurant that boasts an impressive menu, I’ve been dying to eat at this place for a year. Unfortunately, they have odd hours and I never make it when they are open. Hippies are so unreliable.

Biggest Pain in My Ass Now That Winter is Coming: The Closed Pedway from the Washington Red Line Stop to City Hall.

I am pretty sure the signs said the pedway would reopen in the fall of 2008. They’d better hurry, as it’s getting cold out there and I’d like to be able to sneak underground from the train all the way to work, like I used to. I’m not holding my (visible) breath.

Best Place to Read About Local Crime and Reactionary Bullshit: The Broken Heart of Rogers Park.

I read this blog daily. Sometimes I feel Craig, the man behind the blog, is providing a good service for the community. Sometimes I think he’s a nut with a police scanner and a lot of time on his hands. Occasionally I think he’s a bit of a racist. Often I think he’s right about our Alderman, Joe Moore. Once in a while I think he’s in love with his local internet fame. More than often I think he’s getting off on the violence and corruption that he’s documenting. Regardless, this stew makes for interesting reading, especially when you see the proximity of a high school melee or mugged college student to your own address.

Best Place to See a Live Show: ?????

Don’t ask me; my days of going to concerts have dwindled to the current state of next to never. Hell, The Melvins are in town tomorrow night and I won’t go (previous engagement and I can’t stand going to late shows on a weekday). I do hear things and from what I can tell Reggie’s Rock Club is the place to be. One day, maybe, I’ll head over and relive my younger days.

Best Place to Try and Get a Free Beer: The Sovereign.

If you order a Pabst, you’ll see a number and suit printed on the underside of the bottle cap, just like you’d find on any of the cards in a standard deck. Guess it correctly and the bartender will give you the beer for free. I have only come close once. I guessed the eight of hearts, which I take to mean eternal love. It was the eight of diamonds (eternal wealth?). The bartender gave it to me anyway (I had been in pretty regularly trying to get a free beer and he took pity on me). I tipped him two bucks, which is what a Pabst costs anyway, so really my beer wasn’t quite free. I don’t get to the Sovereign as much these days, and when I do I usually try not to order a Pabst. I don’t want to get sucked in again. Life’s too short and there are healthier obsessions.

Best View of the City: The Dank Haus.

This is my new favorite place to get a drink, although it’s not as nice in the winter. The 6th floor view is wonderful and you can smoke on the deck, lounge in a chair and sip on incredible German beer. It’s only open on limited nights and you have to be in on the scene or know someone in on the scene to know when to show up. I’m so glad I was able to worm my way in. Last time I was there, I managed to get a sneak peek at a vintage oil painting of the Kaiser. How often does that happen?

2nd Best View of the City: The View From My Friend Julie’s Apartment.

I love house sitting for Jules. I love the view.

Okay, that’s it for now. There’s more I could say and list, but I’m off to do more constructive things. Stay tuned for more useless junk and ill-informed opinions.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Full Blown Gentle Madness

So I get an email from letting me know that they have shipped both the hardback and the three-volume paperback edition of 2666. This message comes on Saturday. I figure that my books should arrive by Wednesday, one day after they hit stores. I prepare by clearing some space in my backpack and finishing some books (most notably Sin by Farough Farrokhzad, which is an excellent collection of poems that anyone interested in poetry should check out. People compare the late Iranian to Plath, which I understand, though I lament the need to understand something only in relation to something else, especially when it deals with a foreign writer being digested by English readers, as it speaks to a sort of inability on our part to approach something or someone “exotic,” much the way we might balk at the idea of unfamiliar cuisine).

Of course I was hoping the books would arrive on Tuesday. They didn’t. It had nothing to do with the holiday and the mailpersons having the day off. Other people at the office got their Amazon packages. (My boss got a book about The Clash, one of my favorite bands but one, like The Ramones, that I’m getting tired of hearing about). I didn’t get mine. Fine. I spent Tuesday night reading some of the poems of Ernesto Cardenal (incredible at times, especially “Epigrams”) and let the expectations swell about what would arrive the next day.

Wednesday came. No books. Worse—a big package from Amazon arrived and was waiting for me on my desk. It seemed big enough to house two 900-page books. I was incredibly busy and couldn’t tear the box open at that moment, but I was relieved, wrongly, and finished my tasks planning the evening ahead (make dinner, make tea, sit with mi niña and read Bolaño). And then it gets to be after 4:00, close to 5:00, and I notice the goddamn box is addressed to the one person at my job who annoys me more than just about anyone else on the planet— at least as much as Anne Coulter or Gwyneth Paltrow or Sean Hannity or Katy Perry or the Rev. Phelps or Michael Moore or Sarah Palin.

I leave work with every intention of going directly home. Somehow I end up at Borders. I find the book, no sweat. I pick it up. It’s beautiful, wrapped in plastic and weighty and promising. I don’t look at the hardback—I still want some surprise to come in the mail, something to look forward to. I buy the book. It comes to the same price as it did on Amazon if you include the shipping cost. I tell myself that I’ll return the three-volume set when it comes in the mail and keep the one I just bought from the store, tearing the plastic off and beginning to read volume one on the train, balancing the other two volumes on my lap and keeping the first elevated at eye level so as not to compromise the flawless slip case by resting my hands on the delicate cardboard.

I read the first twenty-five pages before bed and am convinced I did the right thing by succumbing to impatience and my book collecting sickness. I’m twenty-five pages ahead of where I’d be if I had waited just one more day (and who’s to say the package will arrive today?). As of this morning, I am thirty-five pages ahead. Who knows how far I’ll be by the time the Amazon arrives?

Of course there is a part of me that thinks I might keep the duplicate three-volume set that I ordered online. The money is already spent—I won’t miss it. I’ll eat peanut butter for a few days if I have to (but I won’t). I can keep the books in plastic, keep them as a collector’s item along with the hardback (which I won’t crack open except to look at the author photo) and treat the store bought set as my reading copy. Yes, that means I would own three copies of the book: one hardback and two paperback three-volume sets. I am mad, I know I am mad…
R.I.P. Mitch Mitchell.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cheap Drunks Crash the 2666 Party

Over at Three Percent, Chad Post laments that at the 2666 release party in New York, a bunch of “non-literary folk” crashed the event, informed that there was a party with free booze by a website called So Chad was upset that some dolts crashed the big literary party to soak up some free drinks. My feelings on this are mixed, as no one wants to hang out with morons, especially when they’re not there to celebrate the release of a major world novel, and also when those in the know are there to hobnob with Zadie Smith and other big name literary folk. Another thought is that Bolaño might have loved it. This is the guy who, in his youth, crashed poetry readings by big name literary folk and shouted his own poems over theirs. Okay, so maybe that is more of a literary activity than some cheap-asses busting into a book release party solely for free drinks, but the irony is thick and I’ll bet the late author would have found it more amusing than the sophistos in attendance.

Also, I couldn’t go, so screw it.

My other thought: Why have I never heard of this website? I could have used this once upon a time. Damn internet, where were you when I was an unemployed drunk?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

This time it's personal...

This preview makes debating look like a Michael Bay film.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


Jonathan Lethem reviews 2666. The review makes my mouth water. Only a few more days.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

WWB Does Immigration

The new Words Without Borders is up with the theme this month being immigration. I think I may, at last, catch up with the stories and essays on the site I haven’t yet read. I’m especially excited to see the names Yehuda Amichai and Paul Celan up (though I don’t see their pieces yet).

Anyway, feast on some immigration lit.

Monday, November 03, 2008

His Divine Message

Joyce Mansour

Green Man

Are you watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as obsessively as I am? If so, you’ll want this for Xmas:

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Children of Men, a non-review

I just watched the movie Children of Men, which I’ve long wanted to see and, for some ridiculous reason, put off. I do this often. God knows I’ve been wanting to read this book or watch this movie or check out this band for a long ass time, but do I get to it? Not when there’s TV to watch and hours to waste.

But I got around to it. Couldn’t be happier that I did.

When I feel that cinema is up against the wall and being choked by endless remakes and the worst kind of mediocrity, a film like this comes around and knocks me off my fucking feet. I don't feel compelled to say much about it here, because you’ve probably seen it and if you haven’t, well, what am I going to do to convince you? Yeah, it’s a blog and that’s what bloggers do (when not going on about their personal lives), they write about things that interest them and pretend to be great critics (guilty!), but I’m not going to try and pick apart this movie. Fuck it, just see it yourself if you haven’t. I’m not in an analytical mood at the present moment. I’m too awed but what I just saw and want to let this feeling last before I begin deconstructions. Or maybe I'll leave the deconstruction for the deconstructionists. Art is alive, so why perform an autopsy, you know?

I will say this: The bonus bits on the DVD feature a short little talk with philosopher and cultural critic, Slavoj Zizek. After being bowled over by the movie, I was bowled further by seeing the top shit thinker of the day speaking about the themes and metaphors of this film. Why the hell not? Go Zizek! Go Cuarón!

So I see the movie, love it, pop it out of the DVD player and back into the Netflix pouch, seal that and walk to the nearest mailbox (and to the dry cleaners and, well, just walk a bit aimlessly). Eventually I make it home, make tea and turn the TV on to see what’s on. What’s on? Six Days Seven Nights with Harrison Ford, Anne Heche and one of the guys from Friends. Maybe movies like Children of Men stand out only in comparison to formulaic trash. Maybe I'm a snob, but to me the line between art and trash was really never clearer then it was today.