Blog Archives

“All that great writing, trapped in mediocre books!”

September 22, 2010
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“All that great writing, trapped in mediocre books!”

The September 14th issue of the London Review of Books features an extended, combative review by Elif Batuman of a recent book from Harvard University Press, Mark McGurl’s The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing. Though Batuman takes issue with many of McGurl’s points, her essay is the sort of review any author ought to be happy to get, one that takes the book seriously enough to engage deeply with its ideas. Ultimately, however, Batuman is simply much more critical of university writing programs and the fiction they’ve spawned than McGurl is, arguing, among other things, that their ahistorical approach to fiction is a short-sighted, narcissistic mistake. “Literary scholarship,” writes Batuman, “may not be an undiluted joy to its readers, but at least it’s usually founded on an ideal of the collaborative accretion of human knowledge.” Batuman’s essay brought to mind one of our books, D. G. Myers’s The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing since 1880, which takes a longer view than McGurl’s book, surveying and analyzing more than a century of debate over how—and even whether&#8212creative writing should be taught. Myers draws on a wide range of writers—including Longfellow, Emerson, Frost, John Berryman, John Dewey, Lionel . . .

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Cops, the brass, and politicians: a neverending battle

September 15, 2010
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Cops, the brass, and politicians: a neverending battle

In the wake of Mayor Daley’s surprise announcement that he wouldn’t be seeking a sixth term in office, a long-simmering dispute between the Chicago Police Department’s rank and file and its leadership—specifically Superintendent Jody Weis—has erupted into a full-fledged public war of opinion. Even as Daley continued to vouch for his hand-picked superintendent last week, at least one prominent candidate for Daley’s job said that he’d fire Weis if given the chance—and today the Fraternal Order of Police joined the fray, organizing a demonstration that criticized Weis for everything from his handling of police brutality cases to his decision to dress in uniform. The CPD is far from alone: tensions between the rank and file and the departmental brass are common in big-city departments, where street-level officers often feel that they are misunderstood, underappreciated, and even undermined by those back at headquarters. For a fine-grained look at that fraught relationship, you can’t do much better than Jennifer Hunt’s new book Seven Shots: An NYPD Raid on a Terrorist Cell and Its Aftermath. Hunt recounts the dramatic story of a daring raid that foiled a bombing planned for the New York subway in 1997—and then she goes on to tell how, . . .

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In Which the Chicago Blog Makes an Important Announcement about the Mayoral Race

September 8, 2010
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In Which the Chicago Blog Makes an Important Announcement about the Mayoral Race

In the day since Mayor Daley’s surprise announcement that he won’t be seeking another term, speculation has run rampant and the rumor mill has been pulling twenty-four-hour shifts. So we thought we should be clear: unlike seemingly every other resident of our fair city, the Chicago Blog will not be running for mayor. Sure, we’ve got more than a century of accumulated knowledge about the City That Works (and how it works). And no candidate can come close to matching our backlist. But the rough and tumble of politics just isn’t for us. We’re more contemplative. Bookish, you might say. That doesn’t mean we don’t have some recommendations for those who are throwing their hats in the ring. First up are some good starting points for assessing Daley’s legacy—if you want to replace the king, you ought to take a close look at the crown first. Larry Bennett’s brand-new . . .

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Royko on ABC 7 News

September 3, 2010
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More television coverage of Royko in Love: Mike’s Letters to Carol. Last night David Royko sat down with WLS-TV news reporter Janet Davies: . . .

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The difficulty of loving a dog

September 3, 2010
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The difficulty of loving a dog

One of the Press’s unexpected bestsellers of 2000 was a little book translated from the French, The Difficulty of Being a Dog, by the novelist and essayist Roger Grenier. In the weeks following publication, as Grenier’s book sold through three hardcover printings, the Press fielded phone calls from readers concerned to know more about Abby, our cover dog. Her pensive face prompted some to ask, was she OK? Abby was not our first choice for the cover of Grenier’s book. Initially we approached a well known, commercially successful fine-art photographer for permission to reprint his photograph of an even sadder-looking hound. He declined permission on the grounds that the use was too commercial. At that point the book’s acquisitions editor, Alan Thomas, also a photographer, turned to his own dog, and our cover was the result. Jill Shimabukuro, the book’s designer, provided two versions. The unpublished alternate—with a less oblique view of Abby—is reproduced here as well. For those who may still wonder about Abby on picking up the book, we are sorry to announce that she passed away this week at the age of fourteen. When he heard the news, Roger Grenier recalled that Romain Gary‘s son once told . . .

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Royko in Love on FOX Chicago News

September 2, 2010
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As promised yesterday, here is David Royko’s appearance last night on FOX Chicago News talking about Royko in Love: Mike’s Letters to Carol: . . .

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Nancy Drew needs you!

September 1, 2010
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Nancy Drew needs you!

Last night my wife, as she often does, was reading an old Nancy Drew mystery, The Invisible Intruder (1969), when she started laughing. “Nancy’s investigating the theft of a shell collection,” she said, “and every single person she meets turns out to know a lot about shells!” For example, Mr. Kittredge, a lawyer, on being shown a shell “the shape of a pyramid and … about five inches high” says, “This is very interesting. Its nickname is the Fraud Shell. The right name is Epitonium scalare.” The lawyer explained that the shell was a rather rare type found in deep water off the coast of China. Then there’s a policeman, Detective Peron, who, on seeing Nancy inspecting a Crusader shell, says, “That’s a beautiful specimen,” and then, reminding us that we’re in midcentury American suburbia, continues, “My wife has a set of those scalloped shells. She uses them to serve salads in and sometimes creamed dishes.” All of which is a roundabout way of getting to this question: Why haven’t you bought a copy of our big, beautiful new Book of Shells yet? It’s 600-plus oversized pages of life-sized photos of stunning shells, alongside information about their range, distribution, abundance, . . .

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Literary Lives on Display

August 30, 2010
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Literary Lives on Display

Fans of National Book Award–winning novelist Shirley Hazzard and her late husband, Francis Steegmuller, a literary critic, translator, and biographer, are in for a treat if they can make it to New York before January 31st: the New York Society Library is featuring an exhibition of photos, manuscripts, correspondence, and literary ephemera from the couple. Given the pair’s long careers, great success, and wide-ranging literary friendships and contacts, the exhibition promises to be fun for any fans of twentieth-century literature. Us Chicago folks, of course, will be looking out in particular for any documents relating to the couple’s longtime second home, Naples—the subject of the one Hazzard and Steegmuller book that we’re proud to have on our list, The Ancient Shore: DIspatches from Naples. A highly literary account of a love affair with a complicated, rebarbative, but enchanting city, the book is perfect reading for late summer, when vacation is but a memory and the responsibilities of autumn loom. “The world of Francis Steegmuller and Shirley Hazzard has been defined by high civility, grace and an enduring dedication to literature,” writes the New York Society Library. We couldn’t agree more. . . .

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A parting

August 27, 2010
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On the Chicago blog, we usually stick to news of our books and authors—that, after all, is what a publisher’s blog is for. Today, however, we’d like to break from that for a moment to offer thanks and good wishes to the colleague who has been an eloquent voice on this blog for the past few years, Stephanie Hlywak. Stephanie is leaving us today after seven years, and she’ll be missed, perhaps nowhere more than in this very space, where her inventiveness, eye for a story, and ready wit have been responsible for giving the Chicago blog much of its panache. We wish her the best of luck as she takes up a job at the Poetry Foundation, where she’ll continue the good work of promoting books and literature to the world at large. At times like these, people have turned for centuries to the Ancients, and we would be remiss if we did any less. So as we wave goodbye, we’ll let Seneca have the floor, in an excerpt from a letter of advice to young Nero Caesar, as translated by Robert A. Kaster in our new volume, Anger, Mercy, Revenge: You can boldly make this declaration, Caesar: all . . .

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Royko writes of love

August 25, 2010
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Royko writes of love

Last week, we pointed you to a piece by Michael Miner in the Chicago Reader about Mike Royko’s early work. But Miner wasn’t done writing about Royko: on his “News Bite” blog, he also talked with Mike Royko’s son, David, about our book Royko in Love, a new collection of letters from Mike to the woman who would become his wife, Carol Duckman. Miner writes, Mike Royko’s letters burn with the passion and obsession of the moment. It is a state older men remember as happiness because they would be so happy to feel anything that intensely again. . . . . The letters begin in February 1954 with Royko, 21, still in the air force but home from Korea and stationed now in the state of Washington. The first letter is a nonchalant note to the Duckmans, the friends down the block back in Chicago that “Mick” somehow avoided dropping in on during a recent leave. He shrugs off his absence. Writing back, Carol Duckman, 19, drops the news that her brief marriage didn’t work out—she and her husband have separated. The information hits Royko like a miracle. “Writing this letter is going to be the toughest thing I’ve . . .

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