David Bowie passed away today. The entirety of my social media feeds have been filled with tributes to him. An endless stream of tweets have linked to essays, quoted lyrics, or simply shared a favorite song; the majority of what my friends have listened to on Spotify today has been something from every era of Bowie's 40+ year career; Facebook friends from different social circles that have never met each other (and probably never will) are posting the same links to music videos or articles about the Thin White Duke. The anecdotes that have been shared aren't morsels, but a nourishing feast to honor the legacy of David Bowie.

I am no different. A friend texted the news this morning. I woke up, read some responses online, then wrote my own tribute. David Bowie released 27 studio albums*. I wrote a short story, inspired by the album covers of these records. Each record gets one line. If you want to follow along, I recommend scrolling through NME's chronological list of albums with proper credit given to the  photographers, fashion designers, and other artists that contributed to the myriad of mystique personas that Bowie donned.

*Includes two albums with Tin Machine. Does not include soundtracks, live albums, compilations, etc.


Judge a Book by Its Cover

Dragged kicked and screaming into the digital age (ie, born in 1987), I am forced to admit when some technological advancements are absolutely necessary. The most recent case came from when I was looking at book previews for new releases for the coming year. The Millions massive book preview is always a great resource, and Flavorwire's list wasn't so bad itself. Obviously going straight to a favorite publisher (like Curbside Splendor or Other Press) is the most comprehensive way to find out what new releases are coming out.

You know what's sadly the most helpful out of this whole process though? Book covers. That adage, that cliche, that lie. It may have held weight in the past, but this is the age of design that is inherent in everything. The copies of my books that I inherited from my grandparents, leatherbound copies of Longfellow and Keats and Shakespeare that are too fragile to turn the pages, are absolutely beautiful in their minimal classicism. But they are literature from another era.


Year in Reading 2015

End of year lists. A bit played out and commenting on them being played out is too. But I think it's important to look back on what this year meant for me, literaturely. Along with starting to volunteer at Open Books as well as working on an event with Asymptote (stay tuned!), I've been writing more, sometimes for money, sometimes creatively, sometimes not at all (more often than I should). But the bones of a novel came out of it. If you're reading this blog and are interested in reading a surrealist tale about language, identity, memory, and perception, with indulgent experiments in form and more namedrops to philosophers, writers, musicians, and other pop culture references than I probably should have made, I will absolutely let you read it while I figure out where to go with it next.

But enough about what I wrote, here is what I read:


Literary Chicago - Phillip Roth 'Portnoy's Complaint'

"I pledge allegiance to the twat of the United States of America - and to the republic for which it stands: Davenport, Iowa! Dayton, Ohio! Schenectady, New York, and neighboring Troy! Fort Myers, Florida! New Canaan, Connecticut! Chicago, Illinois! Albert Lea, Minnesota! Portland, Maine! Moundsville, West Virginia! Sweet land of skikse-tail, of thee I sing!"


Punk Rock Lit Month

There is a slough of lit events coming up involving or related to really cool music peoples. Not all are necessary punk rock, but it's a catchy title, innit?

Saturday November 21st - How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up book release at Quimby's.

Andy Slater, more well-known as Velcro Lewis, is a highly respected and recognizable musician in Chicago. I've seen him perform only once, as lead singer for the funky and psychedelic Velcro Lewis Group, but there was that one time he did a karaoke version of STP's 'Plush' at Cafe Mustache. Now the legally-blind musician has drafted Steve Krakow to draft a graphic novel about Lewis' experiences with visual impairment. Lewis will read from the book, share stories, and do a Q&A. Free, all ages, 7 PM, Quimby's 1854 W North Ave; for more info on the band go to Velcro Lewis Group's website.

Sunday November 29th - Empty Bottle Book Club: Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl
You don't need me to tell you who Carrie Brownstein is. If for some reason you've made your way to this blog and have never listened to Sleater-Kinney or Wild Flag, or have never seen Portlandia, then do those things now. Brownstein's new memoir has already received high praise and I can't wait to get my hands on it. Free, 21+, 4:30 PM, Empty Bottle 1035 N Western Ave.

Thursday December 3rd - My Kind of Sound: The Secret History of Chicago Music Compendium release party

Speaking of Steve Krakow and speaking of the Empty Bottle, Krakow has his own release show at this swell swill of a venue. You've no doubt seen his illustrations about little known bands in the Chicago Reader. Krakow's dedication to uncovering tunes that time and dirt have piled on top of is impressive and inspiring to every writer no one's read and musician no one's heard of. The compendium finds a home for 200 such columns. $8 or free w/RSVP, 21+, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N Western Ave. Bobby Conn, ONO, Athanor, and VCSR perform.

Saturday December 12th - Joe Carducci and Spot of SST in Conversation

Black Flag, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Husker Du. All are canon when it comes to punk rock and you'd have no idea who they were if it weren't for these two guys. Carducci, co-owner of SST, and Spot, the label's house producer, both have books out. This afternoon, they'll read a bit from their respective works, interview each other, answer questions, "and lie only when absolutely necessary." Oh yeah, ONO, as you may recall, released their first two albums on Thermidor, also ran by Carducci. The more you know. Free, all ages, 3 PM, Permanent Records, 1914 W Chicago Ave.

Alrighty, now that you know what to do, go on and get out there. This is all assuming you've already read new books by Patti Smith and Richard Hell, right RIGHT ?!


A Passage from The Designated Mourner

Reprinted without permission. I believe this is an important passage, especially given recent events in the world, where people are quick to judge good vs. bad, good vs. evil.

JACK: Well, what Martin did was very cowardly. Tom spoke out, and Martin just kept quiet and tried to protect himself.
HOWARD: But you see, there you're judging another human being. Aren't you? Jack?
JACK: Well, yes, I'm -
HOWARD: That's the thing that doesn't make sense to me. Because you're saying in effect - you're saying, in effect, that Tom behaved the way he should have behaved, but Martin didn't. Martin ought to have behaved differently from the way he did behave. So you're implying - what? - that you think you'd have behaved differently if you had been Martin?
JACK: No, I don't say I would have - maybe I would have, I don't know - but that's not the point.
HOWARD: It isn't?
JACK: No - I -
JUDY: What he really means is -
JACK: I mean, I'm simply saying that Martin might have acted in a better way.
HOWARD: But you see, that's where I become incredibly confused. Because I mean, if you were Martin, or if someone were Martin, and they'd had Martin's life and Martin's experiences, then why wouldn't they perceive the whole situation around them in exactly the way that Martin did, and act accordingly? And in that case, what's the point of condemning Martin? Because he couldn't help being what he was - and since he was what he was, he saw things the way he saw them, and he did what he did.

This is all I should really post without diving too deep into copyright infringement. And I'm sure I could argue Wallace Shawn's own point about identity against him to say that the Wallace Shawn who wrote this play and the Wallace Shawn now are two entirely different, unrecognizable people (as he expanded on in a BOMB magazine interview). Either way, this is one of my favorite plays of all time. As poignant today as when it was written twenty years ago.


Asymptote Fall 2015 Issue

The newest issue of Asymptote Journal came out a couple weeks ago. I haven't made it through the whole issue yet. It can be hard to get through a full issue sometimes. I'm generally unfamiliar with many (read: all) of the author so I find myself reading a story (or poem or whatever else) and then falling into a blackhole of research about the author and if they have a twitter or what other works they've written and where they're from and who their translator is and if they have a twitter or what other works have they translated and...you get the point. And that point is these stories, these interviews, these essays, these are all great jumping off points to learn about new ideas, new works of art, new cultures, all around the world.

Take for instance, the poem 'Common Night' by Uyghur poet Merdan Ehet'éli. The Uyghurs are an ethnic group from Eastern and Central Asia, primarily in the far Western region of China called Xinjiang. Their culture isn't typical to what one normally thinks of Chinese as they are traditionally an Islamic group, and tend to have more in common culturally with neighboring countries (Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan) than with Beijingers and Shanghainese.

Merdan (born 1991) is already an accomplished writer and translator, having translated works from Chinese to Uygher (and vice versa). He's part of what's called the Nothingism school of Uygher poetry. Take the opening lines of the poem for example: "This is a night made from words" and contrast those with a later line: "This is a night that no elegy, ode, rain, or beam of light shall ever reach." This seeming contradiction is just another facet of a common night. The Xinjiang region that is home to Uyghers is fairly isolated from the rest of China, but as translator Joshua Freeman notes in an interview, "a lot of what’s really vibrant and interesting in Uyghur poetry right now is happening primarily on the web, and even on phone messaging apps."


David Sedaris - "Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls: Essays, Etc."

In the intro to this book, Sedaris explains what the "Etc." part of the subtitle means, which refers to the six monologues he wrote from other perspectives as a departure from his first-person essays. These etceteras typically expose the character for a bigoted, small- and/or close-minded, selfish, and foolish individual. These characters are quite disimilar from Sedaris himself, who although not without his readily admitted faults, fail to have a sense of objectivity about their own shortcomings.

We all know people like this and may sometimes recognize ourselves exhibiting these attributes from time to time. What makes Sedaris a generally adept writer is his ability to turn his faults into some sort of lesson or awakening, a cautionary tale, or at the very least, an interesting anecdote that keeps you turning pages and snickering, chuckling, and even, on occasion, laughing out loud.

Unfortunately in his essay about China, '#2 To Go' (originally titled 'Chicken Toenails, Anyone?') Sedaris comes across as one of these characters that he was originally making fun of; his view on the country comes off as ignorant as the comments of a Shanghaiist article. He admits never to liking the food, in Raleigh, in Chicago, in New York. So I won't fault him for hating the food in China (holding back from a "even though that opinion is wrong" comment...oh shit, there it goes!). But it's the way he talks about the people. How he compares them to the Japanese and how pure and virtuous they are, whereas the Chinese are just disgusting and weird and barbarous. And yet, he's the one who pissed in a children's sandbox at 35 years old and holed up in the women's room of an Amtrak after the bar closed to smoke pot and get wasted with a stranger.


Did You Like That Picture?

Did you like that picture? I sent it to you not to show off. I sent it to you to remind you of the god-damned man-made majestic beauty of our world. Of this perfectly primary-colored edge of our world, edge of our country. The perfect golden-red; the cocksure azure water, crisp as the air that breathes ocean mist onto my skin; the typical colored sand: because we no longer need to describe what color sand is (unless it's atypical), because I think about how much sharper writers of the past had to be with their words. But now, we all experience everything from the seats of our desks, and what we used to seek at the top of the world, we seek at the top of our laps. So: typical is what this sand remains. 

I remember being impressed by Kerouac for painting the entirety of America in one simple pamphlet-tome. Now I am the one, within a span of a few months, who has ventured from statues of freedom, arches of note, and finally this bridge, the summation of this country, the end and the beginning of this country, our country, our world. I've heard the blues in Memphis, I've heard the blues in Chicago, I've heard the blues in Austin. And I've seen the blues in all these cities and I see the blues before me: the sky, the waves, my shoes. And I hope this picture finds you back home to help you escape your blues. 

I am wearing a shirt that portrays a sketch of a sewer, a Chicago manhole cover. Our art is about the dirt, the filth, the overlooked, the dispirited, the dispossessed, the disposed, the disks that cover up our dirt, our filth, our waste. Our city works. Our workers make it work. Our civic pride is tied into the fabric of where we deposit our waste, our filth. We recognize the beauty of the sewer system and we're not ashamed to put our names on it. 


Albertine Sarrazin - 'L'Astragal'

Walking through City Lights in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I told myself: "don't over-do it." For one, new books require $$$. For two, I'd already purchased about a half dozen books at other bookstores and space was limited in my backpack. But being at the ground zero of Beat literature, I knew I had to purchase something here. My plan was to buy a book published by City Lights itself (which I did). But I didn't expect to find French writer Albertine Sarrazin's 1965 auto-biographical novel L'Astragal.

"The sky had lifted at least thirty feet." So the book begins, with our anti-heroine Anne escaping from prison, breaking her ankle (the astragal of the title) as she leaps from the prison wall. Sarrazin writes poetically. "The shock must have cracked the pavement" and she equates every passing second to that of a century in agony. The healing process lasts nearly the entire first half of the novel: "where the explosions in my toes are less frequent," and later: "my leg frozen into a painful rigidity."

Hopelessness and hope, fog, suffering, distrust, neglect. Waiting. Sleep that doesn't come. Restlessness and restiveness. Emerging themes and the ones that Patti Smith, who wrote the introduction for the 2013 edition of this translation, found so evocative to give her her own strength, boldness, and identity, wandering through the Greenwich Village in late 60s New York City. Smith's praise: "A female Genet? She is herself. She possesses a unique highbrow poet-detective deadpan style."

Coffee. Smoking. Drinking. Mascara. Anne's life on the lam. Our anti-heroine is almost glamorous. But she is still a criminal. Why are we so attracted to her? "When it comes to drinking, I'm always for it." She's troubled, this Anne, this Albertine (this Smith, this reader). We must remember: she's not to be idolized anyway. Not in the way most heroes are. But she can be in the way that the faults we see in her are the ones we see in ourselves. You don't have to smoke or drink or wear mascara to relate to her feelings about neglect, distrust, or hopelessness.