Notes from the Now

Posts Tagged ‘2009’

Armageddon in Retrospect (Vonnegut)

In literature on September 27, 2009 at 11:23 am

Let me first give Kurt Vonnegut (wikipedia) his due respect, he’s one of the most influential writers of the past 50 years, with a voice that’s clearly distinct and uniquely American.

Slaughterhouse Five remains one of the great “gateway” pieces of literature, it opens up the entire world of literature, and for many youth might represent the first time that their schooling asks them to think critically and imaginatively about their world.  Incidentally, reading Slaughterhouse 5 in the 9th grade was the first time I was made aware of the University of Chicago, which has since had a significant impact on my life.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve read (or reread) quite a few of Vonnegut’s books:  Timequake, Hocus Pocus, Sirens of Titan, Breakfast of Champions, Galapogos, Wompeters, Foma & Granafalloons, God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian, Man Without a Country, and just now, Armageddon in Retrospect.

Armageddon in Retrospect is a posthumous collection of otherwise unpublished short stories, artwork, letters, and a commencement speech.  Perhaps just as interesting, is the foreword written by Kurt Vonnegut’s son Mark, which serves to illuminate different aspects of the writer’s life.

As you’d expect from a cobbled together collection, it’s woefully uneven, and even though Vonnegut’s voice is as distinct as ever, it’s simply not in the league of his best work.   I’d say it’s only for real Vonnegut fans, and then too, it’s the foreword by Kurt’s son, the graduation speech, and a few of the stories that will be memorable.  The most notable piece herein is “Wailing Shall Be in All Streets” his early account of his capture after the Dresden firebombing and the work of removing corpses from the ruins (which I’d have to admit is in the league of his best work, and serves to highlight the unevenness of the collection).


Zeitoun & Dave Eggers

In literature on September 25, 2009 at 3:55 pm

I don’t want to jinx this, but I’ve really enjoyed the first 50 pages of  “Zeitoun“.

Zeitoun is the story of a Syrian-American Hurricane Katrina survivor penned by Dave Eggers.  Eggers has a gift for this style of biography, working with the subject to tell the story, as evidenced by his excellent work with Valentino Achak Deng  on “What is the What?”

I didn’t start out a Dave Eggers’ fan, as I didn’t really like “AHWOSG“, but have become one as I’ve read “You shall Know our Velocity“, “How We Are Hungry“, and “What is the What” over the past few years.  I think Zeitoun will continue this trend.

Also: Eggers’ TED Wish was all about supporting public education, a topic dear to me.

Ralph Nader: “Only the Super Rich Can Save Us!”

In Events on September 23, 2009 at 9:44 pm

The next literary event on my calendar is seeing Ralph Nader speak about his new book “Only the Super Rich Can Save Us” on Monday night (9/28) at the University of Chicago.

The science fiction site io9 asks if Nader wrote the “the weirdest sci-fi story of the year”!

I’m generally pro-Nader, even if I’ve never voted for him in a presidential election.   The documentary “An Unreasonable Man” does a great job of putting his complexity in focus, and reminding us just how much impact Nader’s Consumer Rights’ Movement has had in putting some brakes on the extent to which Corporate America can run roughshod over us.

I tend to believe his “both parties are the same now” attitude to be hyperbole, especially today, but  there certainly is some element of truth to his assertions of the corrupting influences on government.

I am somewhat worried when someone like Nader, a driven, nose to the grindstone type is left only with absurdist humor to make his point.

Anyhow, that’s next, if you’re in chicagoland, check it out!

Goodreads & 2009 in Reading (so far)

In Books on September 6, 2009 at 11:25 pm

I’ve been playing around with Goodreads recently… I like that it plays well with Facebook and Twitter and that it you can generally get your data out of the program easily  (my #1 problem with LivingSocial).

I’ve fallen several months behind on writing about books, which unfortunately seems like how these things go.

In the meanwhile, here’s my “Read in 2009” list to date…

2009 Reading List

The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a NationBillions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the MillenniumFAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal FabricationThe Waiting Country: A South African WitnessHiroshima NotesThe Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan JourneyShakespeare Wrote for MoneyOutliersFist Stick Knife GunA Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African DreamWeep Not, ChildBones of the HillsOn Chesil BeachWhatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and AmericaYou Shall Know Our Velocity!Waiting for the BarbariansThe Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International CharityThe Rise of Barack ObamaHarold!: Photographs from the Harold Washington YearsOff the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban PoorRunning to MaputoThe Book of Saladin: A NovelThat the World May Know: Bearing Witness to AtrocityAmerican Scripture: Making the Declaration of IndependenceUnlucky Lucky DaysSound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture

Loot from Newberry Library Bookfair (Chicago, 7/24/2009)

In Events on July 24, 2009 at 7:10 pm

I finally made it to the impressive Newberry library for their annual Bookfair (which continues this weekend)! Here’s my haul of books from the day.

Eleven Pages of Acronyms!

In Africa on July 2, 2009 at 7:17 pm

I’m reading Gerard Prunier’s “Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the making of a Continental Catastrophe“, and have to point out that he lists 11 pages of acronyms of various factions, groups, and agencies in the introduction.


In news on June 29, 2009 at 8:50 am

UCHICAGO 19-Years Olds to Twitterize Classic Literature?!?

Booklog: May 2009

In Africa, History, literature, sociology on June 13, 2009 at 11:29 pm

May 2009 was a remarkably busy month for me reading-wise!

Here’s the list:

Quick Notes:

  • I’ve now read three books by Dave Eggers (AHWOSG, What is the What, Velocity!), and I intensely liked the last two.  It makes me want to reread AHWOSG just in case I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it.
  • I already wrote about the first 50 pages of “Whatever it Takes”, but the rest of the book deserves a deeper reflection as well.  I’ve got an early book by Geoffrey Canada on my list, he’s clearly more than just a cause celebre.
  • Chesil Beach wasn’t my favorite Ian McEwan book (Saturday) but was clearly artful
  • I’ve given up on being bothered by the historical inaccuracies in Iggulden’s Genghis Khan books, and just try to enjoyed them for what they are
  • Weep Not Child is a beautiful tale of how colonialism (and its remnants) took advantage of the worst aspects of human nature
  • Legacy of Liberation — Wow!  What a wonderful book that really reveals the complexities of the characters and relationships in the ANC.  Thabo Mbeki is (rightfully) portrayed as a tragic hero.  More on this soon.

The Book of Ralph by John McNally (June 2009)

In Chicago, literature on June 7, 2009 at 5:48 pm

It’s tough to read John McNally’s “The Book of Ralph” after having read Adam Langer’s “Crossing California” without comparing the two.  Both are nostalgic looks at the late 70s in Chicago, through the eyes of a ragtag group of characters.  “Crossing California“, despite it’s North Side setting, is the better of the two with more thoroughly developed characters and stronger commitment to the time period.

“The Book of Ralph” succeeds in giving us the Southside 1970s, replete with Disco Demolition Night, the Tootsie Roll Factory, and Ford City.  The titular character is reminsicent of “Nelson” from the The Simpsons (rather than the young Wiggum) and remained more of an enigma than anything else throughout the book.

I’d have liked “The Book of Ralph” more if McNally had kept it in the late 70s.  He fast forwards to almost the present-day about two-thirds of the way through the book, ostensibly to show us how things had turned out, but instead breaks the continuity and setting.

“The Book of Ralph” is worth a read, particularly if you enjoy tales of Chicago, but maybe you should consider checking out “Crossing California” first.

Printer’s Row Lit Fest 2009!

In Chicago, Events on June 6, 2009 at 10:38 am

Chicago’s Printer’s Row Book Fair (now “Lit Fest”) is always a grand time!  Unfortunately, I’ve been too busy at work to properly prepare and didn’t make any ticket requests for the big name (Gaiman, Eggers, etcetera) speakers.

Still, it’s always fun to wander about, and try to talk oneself out of buying books!