see triptych portraits of british soldiers from before/during/after their deployment in afghanistan. then see some more of them & read an interview with the photographer, lalage snow.
from the war, literature & the arts journal, download and read a pdf of dan moreau’s “108 degrees under partly cloudy skies.”
watch a fascinating documentary on pbs about the ghost army of wwii. kept a secret for 40 years after the war, the visual artists who were recruited by the u.s. army to create a completely fake battalion are now free to talk about their service. my local affiliate even did an interview with a member of that 603rd engineer camouflage battalion.
read, from just a single issue of willow springs, some excellent work related to our brothers in arms: issue 67 features poetry from iraq veteran hugh martin and a short story from natalie sypolt about a soldier who comes home with a prosthetic arm.
from national geographic magazine, see photography from lynsey addario of a rebuilding iraq in 2011.
revisit some reports from the front lines, including ernie pyle’s “the god-damned infantry” from 1943 and the 2002 rolling stone piece from evan wright (who went on to write the book that david simon’s generation kill was based on).
check out an entire issue of the iowa review devoted to the work of u.s. veterans & active duty personnel, or the first issue of so it goes, which featured a “war and peace” theme. there are also journals which always publish literature of/about the military, including o-dark-thirty‘s the report (online) and the review (print), as well as epiphany.
on the new york times website, read words straight from veterans via their “home fires” and “warrior voices” series.
the other day me & a whole bunch of other nerds waited in line outside a movie theater so we could sit in very uncomfortable chairs for a sold-out double feature (one of which films was shot on 16mm film ten years ago & was readily available via streaming, dvd, etc.) and listen to the films’ creator talk about what he’d made. if i could summarize in a single reason why we would do such a thing, i would say it’s all shane carruth’s fault.
i imagine that the reason most of us were in line that day was because we’d seen primer (shane carruth’s first film, and half of this double feature), and had been collectively holding our huge nerd breath waiting for him to release another movie. if you haven’t seen primer, i honestly cannot recommend it enough. in fact, i love it so much that, for those of you who care first & foremost about plot surprises, i’m going to “ruin” it for you: the main characters build a time machine. and you might be surprised by how far you go into that 77-minute film before that little fact is revealed. but primer is about time travelling in much the same way that moby-dick is about whale hunting.
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by the time i posted something last thursday morning about the shteir controversy from the new york times sunday book review, here in chicago it kinda felt like i was already beating a dead horse. turns out, not everyone else felt that way. in fact, the story even made the friday edition of all things considered on npr. but since then, the conversation among ex- and current chicagoans has evolved—and even spun off into other, just tangentially related, areas.
molly redden wrote for the new republic about “one of critical journalism’s stupidest tropes”—the city takedown—and why that trend should come to an end.
larry bennett penned a tribune op-ed suggesting we should be more qualitative, and less quantitative, in how we assess our cities.
michael miner at the chicago reader had a couple of nice pieces all by himself. one blog post mused about cities’ obsession with how they compare to other cities that they see as a notch above theirs. (the idea that st. louis might view chicago as we view new york actually generated for me a bit of a “duh—why didn’t i think of that before?” moment.) he also had a nice article about local newspaperman rick kogan’s place in the pantheon of chicago writers & the (important) difference between being sentimental and being a sentimentalist.
the most interesting, however, maybe didn’t have anything at all to do with shteir, and it’s just an extraordinary bit of coincidental timing. michael bourne wrote a great post over at the millions about the end of the “play by play” book review. with basic plot summaries now being ubiquitous (on amazon, goodreads, blogs, etc.), bourne says there’s more pressure than ever on book critics to do more than just say what a book is about & why they did or did not like it. he encourages reviewers to create “mini-essays” which put the book in a broader cultural context, to write something that is part of a “bigger conversation” (as lovers of social media like to say). while i think shteir’s “review” was cack-handed at best, let me say here & now that i’m all for bourne’s suggestion, and i hope it can lead to a real renaissance of literary coverage at newspapers.
in case you missed it, rachel shteir wrote a piece for the new york times sunday book review this week, and it caused quite a little shit storm here in chicago. i’ll give you a moment to stop & really contemplate that first sentence there. because (a) the fact that a book review can get all corners of this city all kinds of fucking riled up is pretty awesome, and kinda undercuts part of shteir’s premise, and (b) the fact that a book review agitates this city more than our murder problem or budget problem or corruption problem is pretty awful, and kinda underscores part of shteir’s premise. unfortunately for both chicago & shteir, the review in question was about as deftly written as the wall scratchings of nyc sewer rats.
if that sounds harsh, forgive me. but if shteir insists on such vitriolic writing, i’m afraid that nothing less than responding in kind will get her new-york-state-of-mind attention. when a brouhaha erupted after her piece’s publication, shteir claimed in a wttw interview that her piece was a “polemic” and then bemoaned the fact that perturbed chicagoans failed to focus on the “book review” part of her “book review” (a contradiction on the most obvious level). but one only needs to watch that wttw interview to see that her protests ring false, and that she was clearly enthralled by her moment in the limelight. and i think that is what got under our collective blue collar in chicago.
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i make no reference whatsoever to this book here.
the other day i was taking the L to work in the morning, reading an issue of another chicago magazine. a guy on the train walks up in front of me, crouches a bit to get a better look at the cover—his head and torso kinda awkwardly tilted sideways—and held that position for a bit.
“it’s a lit mag,” i said.
“oh, i know!” he exclaimed. ”i tried reading that shit! but i had to throw it away! what’s with all the sad young writers?!? can’t any of ‘em write a story that isn’t so damn sad?”
“umm…this is my stop.”
but the guy sorta had a point. and it was hard not to take said point personally. the issue i happened to be reading was one focusing on chicago writers, and though i didn’t have any work in it, i was kinda one of ‘em. which is to say, i don’t really write happy stories.
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in a recent interview with wired, the wildly successful futurist guy tim o’reilly said “I don’t really give a shit if literary novels go away. They’re an elitist pursuit.” as you can imagine, that resulted in a bit of backlash from literary circles, such as john warner’s piece in printers row. in the comments section of that wired article, o’reilly tried to backpedal a bit from his statement, saying it was taken out of context, and that he “loves” fiction. i think the important thing to note was that he was trying to compare literary novels to classical music, saying that novels don’t need special protection “And that when we got this mindset that classical music needed special funding and protection, it became increasingly disconnected from what people really wanted to hear.”
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it’s march. which means brackets for everygoddamnthing. the tournament of books was a good bit of fun when it first launched in 2004 (and i think it still is). but now we’ve also got all this other shit: book madness, (harper collins canada) march madness, the piglet: the battle of the cookbooks, and the battle of the kids’ books. this is getting ridiculous. i love brackets as much as the next guy, but the problem with all these tournaments is that nobody dies in them. hell, the TOB even has a “zombie round” now where a “disqualified” book gets to make a comeback. wtf, man. what we need here is a little more death in our literary competitions, not resuscitation.
in that vein, i suggest we start a competition that’s more like fight club. two books enter, one book leaves—fucking thunderdome-style. there’s too many shitty books out there anyway. if we do it my way, there’ll be fewer books to read (because once you’re dead, you stay outta print, motherfucker), and the books that remain will inevitably be higher quality. everybody wins. i’ll even help get this started. let’s do this.
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i think i could write a post about about why, even today, i find genuine joy in the unlikely camaraderie of “the a-team.” everything about that show is basically ridiculous. soldiers coming back from war are far more likely to suffer from PTSD than to band together as do-gooders for the most vulnerable citizens they can find. that scenario becomes even less likely when you consider the soldiers in question have also escaped prison after being sentenced for treason.
the show plays with the american fascination of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, and our obsession with the individual as hero. it’s like an old western, where a person/group/town has done everything they can to repel the bad guy(s), and just as the person/group/town has exhausted every option, and is about to concede to the bad guy(s), a stranger arrives to show them that everything they needed to triumph was already right there in front of them. all it took was a little ingenuity and elbow grease. with “the a-team,” that translated into making bulletproof super tanks out of some scrap corrugated steel and old watermelons.
but what i love about “the a-team” is this group of men who would have nothing in common had they met on the street—but because of service to their country (i.e., serving in the military), they have formed this enduring & amazing bond, forged with humor and tragedy and valor and love—and they continue to maintain it amidst the most difficult (and insane) of circumstances. the story remains the same every week, but the chemistry of these characters just kills me. also: please never mind all those explosions & flipping jeeps & whizzing bullets that never hit (let alone kill) anyone.
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i’m from chicago. maybe you’ve heard of it. it’s the place
with the pizza and hot dogs where lots and lots of people get murdered.
According to the Department of Defense and FBI data, 2,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001. During that same period of time, more than 5,000 Chicagoans were killed.
- local npr affiliate, wbez (6/15/2012)
despite the staggering number of homicides here, i basically have no connection with anyone who’s been murdered in my city. i learned about hadiya pendleton at the same time as people in london. even though there’s been 43 homicides in my neighborhood since 2007, i wouldn’t recognize a single one of the victims if i saw him/her. over the course of 10+ years in west town, sometimes i’ve heard gun shots outside. but i’ve never had to personally confront whatever happened in the aftermath of those triggers being pulled. there’s a yawning gap between the people attending all these funerals and me.
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in response to a line from president obama’s inauguration speech (“we cannot afford to mistake absolutism for principle.”), wayne lapierre gave a speech to an audience at the annual weatherby international hunting and conservation awards the other week.
that same week, john warner wrote a column in the chicago tribune about the bildungsroman, saying this: “in the words of corinthians 13:11, ‘when i was a child, i spake as a child, i understood as a child, i thought as a child: but when i became a man, i put away childish things.’ the bildungsroman is a story where the protagonist’s eyes are opened to the world’s realities. coming-of-age novels ask their protagonists to put away the black-and-white view of a child and adopt the shades of gray we’re forced to live through as adults.”
i imagine that half of america heard wayne lapierre’s words and thought, “that’s fucking ludicrous.” because actually even children know that only dark lords deal in absolutes. but i also imagine the other half of america hearing wayne lapierre and thinking, “goddamn right.” and if what i imagine is true, then how do writers, or legislative leaders, or just people in general respond to that disparity? if we’re unable to even agree on how to communicate with each other, doesn’t this create exponentially greater problems for what we communicate to each other?
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