The best part of buying a used book is the history that comes with it. Tucked in the pages, one finds photographs and letters used as bookmarks; on the inside cover and in the margins, long inscriptions to, from, about. It's true the printed text pulls us into the life of the author, but it's … Continue reading The book’s private journey through many hands and homes
In June 2016, I attended the annual conference of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature (SSML). There I read my fiction and presented on “The Space and Place of Western Minnesota Writers.” Since I had just been accepted into law school, throughout the conference I kept drifting to the question of how I could combine my passion for literature with my interest in law. (Though, of course, as every good lawyer knows, good legal writing is also good creative writing). Then an idea came to me: I could study judicial references to dystopian literature.
With the presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump, it shouldn't surprise anyone that there's been a renewed interest in Sinclair Lewis' novel It Can't Happen Here (1935). For those unfamiliar with it, it's about the rise-to-power of a Depression-era demagogue named Sen. "Buzz" Windrip who becomes president with a campaign based on religious zeal, patriotic fervor, and … Continue reading “American Dystopia”: Read My Review of Claire Sprague’s “It Can Happen Here.”
As my regular readers know, I write a lot about Sinclair Lewis. For example, there's the anecdote about him drinking with Gov. Floyd B. Olson, his advice on writing, and how those overseas understood his work. I also write about poetry, and recently I published here translations of Norwegian-American poet Julius B. Baumann. Well, here's where … Continue reading Translating Sinclair Lewis into English (Two Poems)
Many months ago I tried my hand at the pantoum form, using lines pulled from "last letters," to produce a series of poems that are simultaneously haunting, anxious, and desperate. I'm proud to say that on April 20 all four were published in Chicago's Literary Orphans magazine (Issue 24: Audrey). Here's the title poem: “The sun … Continue reading My poetic sequence “The Sun is Leaving the Hill Now” in Literary Orphans
My review of Bill Berkson's latest book of poems, Expect Delays (Coffee House Press, 2014) was published in the Fall 2015 online edition of Rain Taxi Review of Books: There are few poets writing today with the range and talent of Bill Berkson. The author of more than thirty books of poetry, collaborations, and criticism, his latest … Continue reading My review of Bill Berkson’s “Expect Delays” in Rain Taxi Review
As part of our "research" for an upcoming trip, my friend Elliot and I decided to read Alison Winfield Burns' Ivy League Bohemians (2015), a self-published memoir of her time at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. While failing to deliver, it is a book I think ought to be on every Beat aficionados' radar … Continue reading Read my review of “Ivy League Bohemians” on Empty Mirror
After being recommended to me by a friend, I just finished reading Rana Dasgupta's Tokyo Cancelled (Black Cat Press, 2005). Checking out the reviews online, though, there seems to be contention as to whether it fits the standard definition of "magical realism" or (something I've only now discovered) "irrealism." Of course, a distinction like this means nothing to most … Continue reading Reading Rana Dasgupta’s “Tokyo Cancelled” (2005).
On this day in 1885, writer Sinclair Lewis was born. Author of Main Street (1920), Babbitt (1922), and Elmer Gantry (1927), Lewis was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1930). So to celebrate his 130th birthday, I'm sharing his writing advice from when he taught briefly at the University of Wisconsin (1940) and University of Minnesota (1942). ...
Ever since I read Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities (1972) and David Eagleman's Sum (2009), I've been interested in magical realism -- a playful, imaginative curiosity that, lately, has even snuck into my own writing. Shortly after reading their work, it did not take long for me to find Jorge Luis Borges and Alan Lightman (whose Einstein's Dreams I reviewed last year). Lightman's perspective on the genre I've particularly enjoyed given his background as an MIT physicist. So, I was excited when, once again prowling the stacks of Half Priced Books, I came across Mr. g: A Novel About the Creation (Vintage, 2012). ... Mr g is a first-person-except-when-it's-not narrative about God's creation of the universe (or rather a universe). Tolerating the squabbles and input of his Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva, Mr g introduces space and time to "The Void" (the non-dimensional realm they inhabit), deciding thereafter to create a universe merely to keep himself occupied. Beginning with a few "organizing principles" (natural laws), he spends most of his time fawning over the harmony of the cosmos' as they effectively create themselves. In the book as in nature, it is rules that govern and build not a spirit's hands. Thus emerge stars and the fusion of basic elements to create more, which in clicks of the atomic clock form the richness of planets, solar systems, galaxies. The way Lightman lies out this natural progression -- leading to the emergence of life -- was where I found his prose most engaging. Unfortunately, when this life becomes intelligent, moral, that his writing slipped away. ...