I am urging all my literary friends in Chicago to attend a fun event on the evening of September 15 to support the good works of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. The event will be at the penthouse party room at 1700 E. 56th Street with a spectacular view of the Chicago skyline. The main activities for this fundraising event will be Trivia Contest (mostly literary stuff) and a Silent Auction. It will also be an evening of good food and drink, music, and conversation with your fellow literary enthusiasts. More information on the program and how to register for the event can be found on chicagoliteraryhof.org


The Wife-An Ideal Film For Literary Buffs

I believe that the American movie viewing audience with a literary bent will surely enjoy The Wife. The film, based on the Meg Wolitzer novel of the same name, focuses on the lives of Joe Castleman, the esteemed American author who has been selected as the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, his wife Joan, and their son David. The year is 1992, with flashbacks going back to the 1950s, when Jane is Joe’s student in a literature class at Smith College, and later into the 1960s when Joan becomes Joe’s second wife and the supportive partner in his blossoming writing career. Meanwhile the grown-up David has also chosen to write and is trying desperately to gain his father’s respect and recognition for his work.
Glenn Close is superb in the role of the older Jane. She is hiding secrets and suppressing emotions, and this is revealed by viewing the subtle changes of her face and reading her body language. One can see the strong influence of Ingmar Bergman on Swedish director Bjorn Runge’s direction of her complex and unpredictable character.
On the other hand, I found Joe, whose older embodiment is played by Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce, and whose younger one is played by Harry Lloyd, as well as the adult son Max, played by British-Irish actor Max Irons (Jeremy’s son), to be both predictable and stereotypical in their behavior. Joe, who comes across as an amalgam of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, is the poor Brooklyn Jew hungering and hustling for fame and fortune in the literary world. David’s incessant brooding over his father’s seemingly negative opinion of his writing gets a bit tiresome at times.
Yet the story has a strong and compelling narrative and a powerful ending that delivers quite an emotional punch to the gut. The pageantry and the backstage antics of the Nobel Prize ceremony were fun to watch. Christian Slater is effective in his role as Nathaniel, the journalist who is Joe’s unctuous would-be biographer traveling to Stockholm to cover the ceremony and dig up dirt on the family. Glenn Close gives one of the best performances of her long film career and is certainly deserving of an Oscar nomination. For that alone, this movie should be seen.

My Course on Ulysses Starts September 26

I will once again be teaching James Joyce’s Ulysses at the Oakton College Emeritus program in Skokie beginning Wednesday afternoon beginning September 26. The campus is located at 7701 North Lincoln Avenue. The class is from 1:30 to 3:30 and runs nine consecutive Wednesdays through November 21. Ulysses is arguably the greatest novel ever written in the English language. Admittedly, the reader is intellectually challenged by the book. But it is well worth the effort. On the surface, it is primarily a story of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus and their travels and travails through Dublin and its environs during the day and evening of June 16, 1904. The book concludes with Molly Bloom’s unforgettable soliloquy. The reader soon recognizes the genius of Joyce through the novel’s fantastic dialogue and cascading narrative. The marvelous cast of characters leaps forward out of Joyce’s unbridled imagination and into the reader’s mind and soul. I hope that some of you will consider taking this course, and feel free to share this information with others who may have interest. Registration can be done online at http://www.oakton.edu/conted or by phone at 847-982-9888.

Man Booker 2018 Longlist Announced

The 2018 Man Booker Prize longlist has just been announced:

Author and Title:

Belinda Bauer (UK) Snap
Anna Burns (UK) Milkman
Nick Drnaso (USA) Sabrina
Esi Edugyan (Canada) Washington Black
Guy Gunaratne (UK) In Our Mad and Furious City
Daisy Johnson (UK) Everything Under
Rachel Kushner (USA) The Mars Room
Sophie Mackintosh (UK) The Water Cure
Michael Ondaatje (Canada) Warlight
Richard Powers (USA) The Overstory
Robin Robertson (UK) The Long Take
Sally Rooney (Ireland) Normal People
Donal Ryan (Ireland) From A Low And Quiet Sea

This year’s longlist includes 6 writers from the UK; 3 from the U.S.; 2 from Canada; and 2 from  Ireland. Seven of the authors are women. For the first time, a graphic novel, Sabrina, has been nominated.

Reconsider Returning to the Original Man Booker Eligibility Criteria


This coming Tuesday, on July 24, the Man Booker Prize 2018 longlist will be announced in London. It’s a pity that the Prize committee changed its eligibility rules a few years back. I favored the original sui generis eligibility criteria, where only British authors and authors from the former Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe could qualify for the competition.
Now it is open to all authors of books written in English, no matter where they come from, as long as the book they wrote was published in the UK. Distinctiveness of the competition is a thing of the past. As most expected, the American publishing industry with its financial and marketing clout has dominated the submission process. The last two winners have been American.
I think that it is time for the committee to seriously reconsider going back to the original eligibility rules and restore the unique nature of the Man…

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A Fond Irish Memory

It was a perfect early summer day (June 22, 2018) on Lough Gill, in the heart of Yeats country, as our guide and boatman George read to us the poet’s “The Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water.” A memory to be cherished forever.
I heard the old, old men say,
‘Everything alters,
And one by one we drop away.’
They had hands like claws, and their knees
Were twisted like the old thorn-trees
By the waters.
I heard the old, old, men say
‘All that’s beautiful drifts away
Like the waters.’
( William Butler Yeats)

There is Nothing Like Bloomsday in Dublin

This year we celebrated Bloomsday in Dublin, and it was wondrous and oh so much fun. We began our day early in the morning at an 8:00 breakfast and performances of snippets of episodes from Ulysses at the James Joyce Centre. The actors were in rare form, and the forty of us in the room were simply enthralled with delight by the meanderings and shenanigans of Molly, Poldy and Stephen. Even the serious-faced Lord Mayor of Dublin, sitting at an adjacent table, occasionally broke out with a smile and a laugh.

Immediately after leaving the Joyce Centre, we caught a train to the town of Sandycove, a suburb of Dublin which is the home to the Martello Tower that is featured in Chapter 1 of Ulysses. Now the tower serves as a Ulysses-themed museum year-round, with readings from the book scheduled on its deck for most of Bloomsday.
We tortuously climbed the narrow and winding stairs of the tower, finally reaching the deck. The volunteer in charge and I began a conversation. He told me that the scheduled readers had taken a lunch break. I mentioned to him that I taught Ulysses back in Chicago and that I was thrilled to be in Dublin today experiencing Bloomsday. Since there were about a dozen visitors milling around the deck, he suggested that I do an impromptu reading during this interlude. How could I say no?

The volunteer lent me his copy of the book and directed me towards the raised platform in the middle of the deck. There I stood, atop the tower overlooking the bay, as I began reading Chapter I with the words “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” I continued reading through the third page of the book. These were truly magical moments for me, as I read the words of Joyce from the very space where the great writer once stood himself over a century ago.

Returning to Dublin City Centre, we capped off our Bloomsday evening by attending Dermot Bolger’s splendid cabaret performance of Ulysses staged at the historic Abbey Theatre. The staging was spartan-consisting of a bar, a few chairs and a bed. Puppetry was cleverly interwoven into a good number of scenes, enhancing the surreality of much of the text.

The play ended, and so did our memorable Bloomsday 2018. Dear memories to be cherished forever.