I really enjoyed today’s interview on WBEZ with Rick Kogan. Thanks, Rick, for the opportunity to promote “Chicago Sketches.” I will be doing two readings in February. One will be at the Evanston Public Library on Tuesday evening February 12 at 7pm. The other will be at the Barnes & Noble at State and Jackson on Thursday evening February 21 at 6 pm. I hope to see many of you at either of these locations.
The author Bernard Malamud is best known for two of his novels, The Natural and The Fixer, both of which were made into very successful movies. However Malamud also wrote many short stories, over the course of some forty years, which feature an amazing gamut of colorful and memorable characters, as well as compelling narrative lines.
I will be teaching a course on Malamud’s short stories at Oakton Community College’s Emeritus Program beginning January 22nd. The course will consist of six ninety-minute sessions, meeting on consecutive Tuesday afternoons from 12:00 to 1:30, concluding on February 26th. For information on how to register for the course, which is called “The Magical Stories of Bernard Malamud,” please go to the Emeritus website www.oakton.edu/emeritus.
I will be teaching a course on the Man Booker Prize beginning Tuesday, January 22, 2013, at the Oakton Community College Emeritus program in Skokie. I decided on teaching this class at Oakton when twenty-two people attended my presentation on the “Man Booker Prize” in Retrospect” at The Book Stall in Winnetka last April. Interest in the Man Booker grows each year in the States, especially with the popularity of the last two winners, Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies and Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending.
The Man Booker Prize is the top literary achievement in the English-speaking world outside of the United States. Novels by authors who are citizens of the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly the British commonwealth) and Ireland are selected annually for juried competition. Publishers submit novels to a Man Booker review committee each year and the judges are charged with reading about 120 novels in a six to seven time span. A long list of 12 novels is announced in July, and a shortlist of six is announced in September. The winning novel is selected in October at a ceremony in London that is growing so grand that is now getting to be known, in some circles, as the Literary Academy Awards.
I have read all the winners since competition began in 1969. And with just a handful of exceptions, I enjoyed these novels immensely. In reading many of these novels you get a literary perspective of the rise and fall of the British Empire, from the perspectives of both the colonizer and colonized.
If you have interest in taking my course, which meets from 10:00 am until 11:30 am on six consecutive Tuesdays, starting this coming January 22, please call the Oakton Emeritus office at 847-635-1414 or visit the Emeritus website at http://www.oakton.edu/emeritus.
Kudos to the good folks at the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame for all their important work in preserving Chicago’s great literary history. This year six writers with significant Chicago connections are being inducted into the CLHOF. They are: Jane Addams, Sherwood Anderson, James T. Farrell, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes and Carolyn Rodgers. The induction ceremony is at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater on November 30, 2012 at 7:00pm. You can find out more about the event and the organization by going to http://www.chicagoliteraryhof.org.
Chicago literary enthusiasts might also want to check out the commemorative plaques of Chicago writers that the city has placed on buildings. These are:
Nelson Algren at 1958 W. Evergreen Street; L. Frank Baum at 1667 N. Humboldt Boulevard., James T. Farrell at 2023 E. 72nd Street; Edna Ferber at 1642 E. 56th Street; Lorraine Hansberry at 5936 S. King Drive; Ben Hecht at 5210 S. Kenwood Avenue; Carl Sandburg at 4646 N. Hermitage Avenue; and Richard Wright at 3743 S. Indiana Avenue.
A plaque for Saul Bellow, the only Chicago writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, is notably missing. I recommend that one be placed at his boyhood home at 2629 W. Augusta Boulevard.
As an homage to Noir, Evan Guilford-Blake’s new mystery, NOIR(ish), is absolutely ingenious. The author must have assiduously read the entire oeuvre of both Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett to create just the right genre phrasing and ambience in the book. Los Angeles in the summer of 1947 is the perfect setting for NOIR(ish).
The mystery’s gumshoe hero is Robert Grahame, an Indiana native and Word War Two veteran who moved out West, first to Frisco where he apprenticed for Sam Spade, before setting up a PI shop of his own in downtown LA. We first meet him about a year after he has broken up with the love of his life, and he’s hitting the bourbon a little bit too hard.
The plot centers on characters that may or may not have been involved with the murder of the notorious gangster, Bugsy Siegel. Every stock noir type character appears in the story, each depicted brilliantly by Guilford-Blake. All characters have names with noir references. For example, the manager of the all-night diner is Ed Hopper. The woman police lieutenant is Lauren Stanwyck. Even our hero’s cat has is called Greenstreet. Every noir devotee will enjoy this conjuring up of the genre’s icons.
What Guilford-Blake has not learned from Hammett and Chandler in NOIR(ish) is how to guide a mystery to a satisfying conclusion through subtlety and consistency. The plot disassembles in the end, as the author makes a disappointing choice of weaving sci-fi elements within what had been a pure noir context. In this particular situation, the mixing of genres just doesn’t work at all.
Kudos to the Man Booker Prize judges this year in choosing a shortlist that is much stronger than the one last year. I have read five of the six (missing Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse), and each one is a literary gem, all worthy to win the Prize, which will be announced in London on this upcoming Tuesday evening.
Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies seems to be the odds on favorite, although if I were a judge, my vote would go to Tan Twang Eng, for his The Garden of Evening Mists, a work of historical fiction set in colonial Malaya and post-colonial Malaysia. Mr. Eng elegance of style in his writing is highly reminiscent to previous Booker winners, Kazuo Ishiguro and John Banville.
If Ms. Mantel wins once again this year, it will be the fourth consecutive Prize winner to have novels set in London, either past or present. Her 2009 novel, Wolf Hall, as Bring Up the Bodies, is a depiction of the life and times of Henry the Eighth in sixteenth century London. Both Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question (2010) and Julian Barne’s The Sense of an Ending (2011) have contemporary London settings.
The intention of the founders of the Booker Prize was to make the literary competition as diverse as Britain and its former Empire. Of the first ten Booker winners, seven had colonial and post-colonial themes. I believe it is important this year to consider diversity as a major criterion in the selection of the winner. I fear that if Ms. Mantel wins once again, it will reinforce the recent perception that the Booker winning circle has become the domain of an English “good old boys and girls club.”
This is not to take away from the merits of this year’s shortlist English authors. I think that Ms. Mantel has proven once again that she is the best living writer of historical fiction in the English language. Will Self’s stream-of-consciousness novel, Umbrella, is one of the most creative and innovative literary works in many years. Deborah Levy’s beautifully evocative mood piece, Swimming Home, is an emotionally-laden piece of fiction that future generations will be reading as well.
I believe that Indian author, Jeet Thayil, is also deserving to win the Prize this year. His book, Narcopolis, is a gut-wrenching depiction of hard drug users in Mumbai.This is Thayil’s debut novel, and as a poet and musician, he adds amazing nuanced elements to his driving writing style. Yet, I think that Mr. Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists demonstrates incredible literary heft in an almost perfectly written novel, giving him an edge over Mr. Thayil.
In Chicago Sketches, we visit places as diverse as Maxwell Street, Riverview, Wrigley Field, the old Clark Theater and the National Bohemian Cemetery. We meet the famous—Nelson Algren and Yevgeny Yevtushenko—and the other people who have touched my life—Bubbie Gussie, Rabbi Mendel, and the Big Klu. We also witness moments in my life that echo through history—November 4, 1960 and November 22, 1963. Leonid Osseny’s vivid illustrations make all these Chicago sketches come even more alive. Chicago Sketches is available for purchase on AmikaPress.com and Amazon.com.