Happy Sunday! I am currently sitting at The Book Cellar, enjoying an iced mocha and a copy of Kathleen Rooney’s “Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.” I don’t live a charmed, aspirational life of Instagram-worthy vignettes, but when I take a nice photo that may suggest that sort of existence, I will syndicate that shit on all of my social channels. I never think to take carefully curated photos of my life, and it’s not out of some misplaced superiority over people who “live their life on their phones.” I absolutely live my life on my phone, and of course it’s a problem, and of course this commitment to my screens is chipping away at my self-esteem and my social skills and my eyesight. We all know this. It’s been repeated in the media ad infinitum.
This lack of participation on Instagram is more about my “complicated” (lol) relationship to art. I don’t possess the art gene or the carefully attuned sensibility that would allow me to discern between good and bad art. In middle school I learned how to use Adobe Photoshop so that I could create fan art for Neopets and online book forums, and I’ve been able to parry those photo manipulation skills into school projects and internships with some success. But actual art eludes me entirely.
There was a time in my freshman year of college that I considered majoring in graphic design because I did have that technical background. I even took a few of the required classes for that degree, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t for me. I loved the idea of being a package designer (inspired by The Dieline), but I can’t “concept” or “compose” for shit. I don’t know how to draw. I did the absolute bare minimum in all of my art classes. Once, we were in the ceramics unit of my 11th grade art class, and a classmate declared that she was planning on making a vase to give as a gift to her mom. This blew my mind, because it had never occurred to me that I could create something valuable or lasting beyond this one-week lesson. People were trying because this was their creative outlet–their home within the rigid 7-period school day–and my apathy and incompetence stood in stark relief.
I don’t know how to curate an Instagram feed or maintain anything resembling an “aesthetic,” and perhaps that shouldn’t be considered a virtue when Instagram is the de-facto highlight reel to our behind-the-scenes lives (or however that quote goes). But it is a real insecurity I have in the 21st century that I’ve apparently decided to dedicate 400 words to in what was supposed to be a gentle intro to the actual content of this post. Comment below if you can relate.
Yesterday I went to the Printer’s Row Lit Fest! It’s an annual literary festival in Chicago that brings together the city’s readers, writers, booksellers, and publishers in one really fun orgiastic weekend. Just kidding about the orgies though, people who like these kinds of events are notoriously awkward. See: me.
I attended Q&As with authors David Levithan, Joyce Carol Oates, Audrey Niffenegger, and Eddie Campbell. In particular, I really enjoyed David Levithan’s talk and was able to get a book signed and a picture with him (right). I’m a huge fan of “Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares,” which he co-wrote with author Rachel Cohn. It’s a really fun, earnest exploration of young love set against the playground of New York City, and I’ve been reading it every Christmas since it came out 7 years ago. It’s also what made me fall in love with indie bookstores and NYC’s The Strand in particular. I’ve read many of his collaborations (including “Will Grayson, Will Grayson” with John Green), so I’m excited to finally read one of his solo novels.
Over the course of the day, I accumulated more books to add to my pile. That’s what my TBR books have become—not a collection, but a pile. I borrow and buy books at a far faster rate than I can read them, so I hope I can get to these before the summer is up and a new crop of books have come to supplant them. Here’s a snapshot of what I bought.
“Every Day” by David Levithan
“Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.
There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.
It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.”
“Bizarre Romance” by Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell
“Internationally bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger, and graphic artist Eddie Campbell, of such seminal works as From Hell by Alan Moore, collaborate on a wonderfully bizarre collection that celebrates and satirizes love of all kinds. With 16 different stories told through illustrated prose or comic panels, the couple explores the idiosyncratic nature of relationships in a variety of genres from fractured fairy tales to historical fiction to paper dolls. With Niffenegger’s sharp, imaginative prose and Campbell’s diverse comic styles, Bizarre Romance is the debut collection by two of the most important storytellers of our time.”
“The Cliff-Dwellers” by Henry Blake Fuller
“Originally published in 1893, The Cliff-Dwellers was the first “Chicago novel” to win national acclaim, written by Chicago’s first LGBTQ novelist, Henry Blake Fuller. In 2010, Chicago magazine ranked it the sixth-best Chicago novel of all time.
Set in the fictional Clifton building on LaSalle Street (based on Chicago’s earliest skyscrapers like the Monadnock and the Tacoma), The Cliff-Dwellers “shocked and outraged” Chicagoans at the end of the 19th century for its unflattering depictions of the city’s cutthroat industrialism, violence, and preening upper class.”
Note: This book is of particular interest because it’s the Chicago Review of Books‘ first foray into small-press publishing. They do a lot of exciting, important work in the Chicago lit scene, and I’m eager to see what they release next!
“Storm for the Living and the Dead” by Charles Bukowski
“Charles Bukowski was a prolific writer who produced countless short stories, novels, and poems that have reached beyond their time and place to speak to generations of readers all over the world. Many of his poems remain little known since they appeared in small magazines but were never collected, and a large number of them have yet to be published.
In Storm for the Living and the Dead, Abel Debritto has curated a collection of rare and never- before-seen material—poems from obscure, hard-to-find magazines, as well as from libraries and private collections all over the country. In doing so, Debritto has captured the essence of Bukowski’s inimitable poetic style—tough and hilarious but ringing with humanity. Storm for the Living and the Dead is a gift for any devotee of the Dirty Old Man of American letters.”