Monthly Archives: March 2016

Book Review — Chicago Stories

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

Carl Sandburg

“There are eight million stories in the naked city” is how New York is described in the Naked City. Los Angeles is the city that reinvents itself every two days. People live there, but no one is from there. In the middle lies a city the City of Big Shoulders, the Windy City, and taken as a sign of disrespect, the “Second City.” Chicago is often overlooked in favor the coastal cities when it comes to culture, trends, and styles. Even in television, New York has Mike Hammer. LA has Joe Friday. Chicago has Al Bundy. Chicago, however, has stories that reflect the same hope as LA and the same grittiness of New York.

Chicago was and is an important city as the short stories in this collection tell. There are stories about politics and big dreams. Publishing and baseball. There is the sense of the LA optimism mixed with a harsh New York reality. The stories range through the entire twentieth century and the reader will see the city evolve and grow, not always for the better.

Zane Grey writes of baseball and a rising star. Nelson Algren tells the story of a young Polish gang member and his interrogation by the police who are out for a conviction instead of truth or justice. Richard Wright writes about a black man searching for upward mobility moving from dead end job to dead end job. Conversely, Saul Bellow writes of an educated white man working to hand out relief checks in mostly black neighborhoods. He is met with distrust. Chicago is a mix of people, races, and ethnic backgrounds all bringing something to the city.

Dover Thrift Editions brings together fourteen Chicago stories chosen by editor James Daley. This collection works well even for those, like myself, who are not fans of short stories. I read the collection for the Chicago aspect. Being from another often ignored Rust Belt city I read for the commonalities between my experience and that of Chicago. The common background of Chicago and the chronological order of the stories ties everything together nicely. The reader is taken out of the short story theme and put into more of a historical setting. Dover Thrift excels at giving the read a bigger bang for the buck. This collection sells for $4.50 (about a dollar less in ebook format) and is well worth the price. A fine collection of short stories about a strong and proud city.

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Poetry Review –Slow States of Collapse: Poems

Slow States of Collapse: Poems

Slow States of Collapse: Poems by Ashley-Elizabeth Best is her first published collection of poetry. Best is from Cobourg, Ontario. Her work has appeared in Fjords, CV2, Berfrois, Grist, and Ambit Magazine, among other publications. Recently, she was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry.

This is quite an interesting collection of poetry it starts off well enough and almost without realizing it, the reader is introduced to what sounds domestic violence “that really wasn’t meant” and life-threatening disease. It is, as the title hints, a slow state of collapse. Best can still write beautiful lines in the face the collapse:

We’re strangers descendants
returned, sounding the healing
depth of silence


The sky churns terminal clouds,
falls slack and dull into an umber

From the bus ride east and running and feeling the Braille of her sister’s spine to visiting her brother in jail, the brother she turned in the poems weave a story. There is a descent into darkness so slow and steady that it goes by unnoticed. The reader will suddenly look up from his or her reading and ask “How did I get here?” There are problems with men from “loving daddy was like inviting wasps to nest under your skin”, to a jailed brother, a boyfriend with Betty tattooed on his neck, to being ” the best little bit on the side” with a shipwreck between her thighs.

Self-image contrasts nature in the collection. Even in its dreariest moments nature holds some beauty while the person uses, tries to hide, her image in graceful words– “an elephantine infusion, the porous borders of my curves widening threat.” The high points seem high only in comparison to the usual events making up life.

This is an enjoyable collection of poetry in that it delivers emotion and reality in a way that will have an effect on the reader. Moving and emotional. A few of Best’s poems can be found here along with audio of her reading:…

This is a very worthy collection to both read and own. It is available on April 1, 2016, published by ECW Press and will be available from the usual reading sources.

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Book Review –The Town and the City: A Novel

The Town and the City by Jack Kerouac

The Town and the City: A Novel by Jack Kerouac is Kerouac’s first novel and writing in a semi-autobiographical form. Kerouac needs no introduction to most readers. Everyone has read On the Road or at least, said they have read it. I found Kerouac difficult at first and the writing did not seem to flow right. A friend suggested I read it like the beat performers spoke and suddenly On the Road was very readable. The Town and the City: A Novel needs no special reading and is an excellent place to start for a reader wanting to pick up Kerouac. It flows well and tells the story Peter Martin a local boy who was unsure of himself until a day at football practice changes him. Peter (Jack Kerouac) is compared and contrasted with his brothers. Joe is the easy going trucking driving, beer drinking older brother who makes no more of his life than what it is and is content with it. Francis the wine drinking intellectual who longs for bigger and better things who finds himself in “his own cocoon of tormented adolescence.” He does, however, have one of the most emotional encounters in the book.

Kerouac in his earlier days loved to compare and contrast. InThe Town and the City it is not only the brothers that are examined but the town of Galloway, Massachusetts and New York City. Also compared are the character in both Galloway and New York. In New York Kerouac, as always, remembers his friends. Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs are present with a host of renamed beat friends. War and bankruptcy help drive the story.

Kerouac’s earlier work is much different from his more well-known later works. The writing is much more standard in format and the storytelling is more traditional than his later works. In a previously unreleased book, The Sea is my Brother(1940) many of the same writing mannerisms can be found. In The Sea is my Brother two brothers are compared and outgoing one and a safe one. They make a composite of Kerouac. In The Town and the City, we can also see this in Peter who like Kerouac was a football play and merchant marine. In Joe, we see a bit of the Dharma Bum and traveler. In Francis, we see the wine drinking cynic. There may even be a bit of Ginsberg in Francis who voluntarily commits himself to avoid an unpleasant alternative. Kerouac, even in his early fiction, writes about what he knows and lives. He lived an interesting life with interesting friends and what was not interesting could be changed by writing. The Town and the City provides not only a great story but insight into the so to be famous writer and Beat generation icon.

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Book Review –Frankenstein: with Illustrations by Nino Carbe

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I received the new Dover edition of Frankenstein: with Illustrations by Nino Carbe written by Mary Shelley. It is being released as a hardcover with the un-Dover like price tag of $40. What is gained in this edition from free PDF versions is the proper formatting and book that is worth keeping on your shelf. Also, what makes this a worthwhile edition is the inclusion of the original drawings by Antonio Carbe from the 1932 edition of this book. The monster is drawn as more a deformed man with human emotions than a stitched-together creature. Carbe’s daughter provides the foreword for this edition with a brief biography of her father.

I can’t recall how many times I watched the 1931 Frankenstein movie and Bride of Frankenstein and Frankenstein meets the Wolfman. The actual creation of the “monster” is the highpoint of the movie — The doctor and Igor in the electrical storm. The ending where we see the now stereotypical torch and pitchfork mob wanting vengeance. In the book, there is none of that. The monster’s creation is told as an after the fact story and aside from Felix and the ship’s captain Victor Frankenstein is the only living person to see the monster. No “It’s alive !!!” and no angry mobs. There have been many retellings of the story from Hollywood. Some loyal to the book others not. Even the writing of this book was made into a movie, 1986 Gothic starring Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley.

A friend hearing I was reading this book a few years ago asked me to think about something while reading. What if the monster is not real and is really a demented Victor Frankenstein? The monster does move about with perfect stealth and reads Paradise Lost (which becomes an important theme), Goethe, and Plutarch, quite an accomplishment for a non-speaking, at the time, illiterate monster. Victor is also ill and his illness follows the deaths of his family and friends. Perhaps man is the ultimate monster, but there is so much literary history behind the commonly held beliefs of the story.

Maybe it’s time to pick up a new, old book and look at the story from a different angle. Discover something new. Relive a bit of your childhood and see how the movie versions of your favorite Universal Studios’ monster holds up to the original text. Yes, it is a monster book, but it is also a classic. It is the best of both worlds.

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Poetry Review — Sightlines

Sightlines by Henry Beissel
Sightlines by Henry Beissel is his seventeenth collection of poetry. Beissel had a long teaching career in English literature, and later in creative writing, which started as a teaching fellow at the University of Toronto. He taught at the University of Munich (1960–62)), the University of Alberta (1962–64) and Concordia University (Montreal) (1966–96), from which he retired as distinguished emeritus professor of English.

2016 has been an outstanding year in poetry and Sightlines earns itself a spot among the best of the year. The poems start with the poet’s old home in the woods and fills the reader’s mind with imagery of nature. There is an easy connection with the poet’s words and experience in nature. It is a poetic Walden. The reader is simply left in awe of the descriptions and experience. Sightlines is more than the trees and nature too:

For more than three decades Orion visited our sleep with his star-spangled sword, Jupiter and Mars wander up and down the shingled roof while Sun and Moon painted fleeting patterns across the pond.

Poems that focus on nature also include our intrusion on the land:

Profit is the world’s executioner. Cats and dozers erase forests, steel traps eliminate wolf and beaver, rifles exterminate bear and moose. We poison and plunder all habitats as if we owned them…

The poems change geographically but maintain the same descriptive force. Venice, Mexico and space are covered as well as a few passing references to dinosaurs. Beissel has grandchildren he writes for in this collection and there is no noticeable difference in the poetry’s composition, just the subject. Retirement has allowed Beissel to recall and share some fond memories of his life. The collection is open verse and welcoming to readers of either poetry or prose. This is a collection that any reader can fall into and enjoy the comfort of well-written poetry.

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Book Review — Experiencing the Rolling Stones: A Listener’s Companion

Experiencing the Rolling Stones: A Listener’s Companion by David Malvinni is a musical biography of the Rolling Stones. Malvinni a professional classical guitarist with a Ph.D. in musicology, whose passion is string instruments. In addition to Classical music, he has studied Gypsy violin music for the past ten years, which resulted in his book The Gypsy Caravan: From Real Roma to Imaginary Gypsies in Western Music and Film. He is also the author of Grateful Dead and the Art of Rock Improvisation.

It was summer 1978, I was 14, and grew up on AM Rock and Roll. I remember Bob Dylan and Lou Reed… David Bowie reading Peter and the Wolf and as well as being Major Tom. Suddenly everything changed. All the older kids listened to the “Stones” and I knew a few of their songs but now I had a new portable 8-track player my copy of “Some Girls.” Me, Bill, his sister Trina, Becky, and Dave listened to it. Dave was an FM guy and knew far more than we did. I do remember his irritation that the 8-track version “Shattered” cut out “Bite the Big Apple. Don’t mind the maggots.” It was that summer that the Rolling Stones became a permanent part of permanent music collection.  Later that year I watched mesmerized as the Rolling Stones played on Saturday Night Live. I always had “Some Girls” in some format from that time on — vinyl, cassette, CD, MP3.

The Rolling Stones have been making music for over fifty years now and, as a band, they have been pretty stable through the years. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have been there since the beginning and Charlie Watts almost from the start. Ronnie Wood since the mid-1970s. Rather than write another band biography, Malvinni writes a biography of their music. The Rolling Stones perform as a rock and roll band but record as a blues band. They have twenty-four studio albums and yet, for their Rock and Roll fans, can condense that to “40 Licks.”

Malvinni discusses how the band started by reintroducing Americans to their own blues music. From their start as a cover band and throughout their history they have re-released and re-interpreted many American blues and African-American traditional song. There is a discussion of the individual songs with details of chords, riffs, and technical information that can only be delivered by someone with a doctorate in music and to be fair he does have one of the most interesting guitarists to work with. The Stones have been chameleons in the music scene and to survive fifty years one needs to be. They changed with society, and at times fueled change in society, yet remained a guitar-centric band.

Experiencing the Rolling Stones is an excellent companion for the complete Stones’ fan. The examination of the music and its form gives a unique look at the band putting the concentration on the music rather than the personalities, drugs, and controversy. There is much more to the Rolling Stones music than the opening riff of “Satisfaction.” Malvinni rounds out even the most devoted Stones fan education.

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Book Review — What Is Subjectivity?

Sartre was a well-known existentialist, author, and philosopher. He came to Marxism later in life in the 1950s and brought with him his existentialism. France’s Marxist community embraced and accepted Lukac’s version of Marxism. This book concentrates on Sartre’s 1961 speech at the Gramsci Institute — ‘La Conference de Rome, 1961: Marxisme et subjectiveté’. This speech was an attack on the views held by Lukac and Sartre’s attempt to merge existentialism and Marxism.

The speech is rather short and surprisingly easy to read. I would suggest reading that first followed by the interviews, and then the preface. The preface assumes the reader is familiar with Sartre, Lukac, and Marxist philosophy, not just the political philosophy but a complete theory.

A worthwhile read for those interested in the evolution of Marist Theory, Sartre, or philosophy in general. It is a fairly difficult read for those with only a basic understanding of either of the above. Definitely not a book for everyone.

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