Wednesday, December 26, 2007

2007 Recap - Printed Words

Modern Fiction Novels Read

The Road - Cormac McCarthy
He thought each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins. As in a party game. Say the word and pass it on. So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not.
The Emperor's Children - Claire Messud
Herded out of the subway and into the harried steam of suited men and women that flowed along the early morning canyons of the business district, Julius held himself upright and strove to maneuver with his usual grace.

Classic Fiction Novels Read

All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque

Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut

Sirens of Titan
- Kurt Vonnegut
[NOTE: How cool am I? I bought a used copy of Sirens of Titan BEFORE Vonnegut died.]

Sort-of Fiction Novels Read

What is the What - Dave Eggers

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
He had merely fallen face down across the bed, as though sleep were a weapon that had struck him from behind.


Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote

How to be Good - Nick Hornby

Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
- Barry Miles
John later complained that Paul took over and led the Beatles after Brian [Epstein, their manager] died, but no doubt if John had come up with some suggestions of his own instead of drifting in a haze of heroin and LSD, then the others would have been equally responsive.

Attempted and Abandoned

Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

Portnoy's Complaint - Philip Roth

[NOTE: I am not an anti-Semite.]

Non-novels Read

Loser Goes First - Dan Kennedy

Love is a Mixtape (Audiobook) - Rob Sheffield

Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006 - Dave Eggers (editor)

Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon - Chuck Palahniuk

The Areas of My Expertise - John Hodgman

I live in New York City, yet I am surprised almost every day by the number of people here who want to talk about Chicago all the time.

These people tell me that they once passed near or through Chicago, and some claim to be living there, even as we speak. This is strange enough. But what really surprises me is how many of these self-appointed Chicago experts seem to believe that Chicago actually exists. Not as an idea or as an allegory. They really believe that the city stands there, in all its legendary green-rivered, fire-prone glory, and that once every 100 years, when it rises out of Lake Michigan, you can visit it.

Now, I understand why the concept of Chicago is so alluring. It has been sung to us, like a lullaby, by our culture in story and song for nearly as long as there has been an Illinois.

Most of the novels of Charles Dickens were set in a fictional Chicago so vividly realized that it truly did seem real. Who can forget Fagin's immortal line from Oliver Twist when instructing that eponymous orphan on the pickpocket's code: "They pull a knife," said Fagin, "you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital. You send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago Way."

For many years, Hugh Hefner presented Chicago as his snowy, rainy pleasure dome, before revealing his true location in Los Angeles, living in a hyperbaric tube. And most recently the musical Chicago was adapted to great acclaim for the screen under the title Uncle Buck.

Undoubtedly there is something in us that needs Chicago as an idea: a dream as fanciful as the notion of an elevated train. But when you attempt to bring the train to ground, to put it on a map and say this exists, it is not merely insane, it threatens to make what is magical merely banal.

So perhaps it would be wise at this point to review what we know about Chicago. The fables, of course, are numerous and varied...

1. Depending on whom you believe, Chicago first appeared to either American soldiers stationed at Fort Dearborn, or a Haitian fur trapper named Jean-Baptiste Point du Sable. It was 1772 when Du Sable supposedly saw the city rise out of the lake, named it Eschikagou, and founded a fur-trading settlement there, right in the shadow of the Sears Tower.

2. In 1892, word spread of a fantastic "Columbian Exposition," to be held in Chicago, a glowing white city-within-a-city built in anticipation of the glorious twentieth century to come: a carefree future of civic corruption, gang rule, and innovative public housing. Twenty-seven million people, a quarter of the population of America, left their homes to visit the exposition. They were never heard from again.

Still, the exposition provoked so much heated discussion that New York Sun editor Charles Dana legendarily dubbed Chicago "The Windy City." This is, of course, a misremembering of Dana's original wording, which was "Blow Town." But in fact the New York Sun did not even start publishing until 2002, and one now wonders if Mr. Dana even existed.

3. Then, in 1900, it is said that the Chicago River actually reversed direction. Some accounts say that this was followed by a hailstorm of snakes and that the river turned bloodred in honor of St. Patrick. In any case, I say: creepy and improbable.

(Which, by the way, will be the title of my new reality television program about human oddities and unusual stunts, each week featuring clips of me having dinner with a man sporting a beard of bees: Creepy and Improbable.)

4. The poet and explorer Carl Sandburg asserted in his poem "Chicago" that the city was populated by half-naked, white-toothed, magnetic dog-men who had enormous shoulders. At first it was believed that Sandburg was merely a dope fiend. Later, it would be learned that he was in fact speaking of Omaha. Also, he didn't exist either.

Time and again, the Chicago-is-real theory simply does not stand up to scrutiny. There are no man-eating vines on the wall of Wrigley Field. No Al Capone. No John Wayne Gacy. These are stories invented to frighten children.

This is not to say there are not Chicagoans. But I would suggest that they are a nomadic people, whose lost home exists only in their minds, and in the glowing crystal memory cells they all carry in the palms of their hands: a great idea of a second city, lit with life and love, reasonable drink prices at cool bars, and, of course, blocks and blocks of bright and devastating fire.

1 comment:

Nicolas Frisby said...

That Cormac McCarthy quote is beautiful.

Yesterday I remembered a dream I had when I was 12. It was a striking recollection, but the moment was overcome by doubt regarding whether I had actually ever had that dream. Was I playing telephone by myself?