July 24, 2015

Book Review: Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes: Decoding the Jargon, Slang, and Bluster of American Political Speech, by Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
 
Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes, by Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark
 
Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes: Decoding the Jargon, Slang, and Bluster of American Political Speech
By Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark
ForeEdge / University Press of New England
Reviewed by Karl Wolff

The eighteenth century satirist and moralist the Marquis de Sade began The 120 Days of Sodom with these words, "The extensive wars wherewith Louis XIV was burdened during his reign, while draining the State's treasury and exhausting the substance of the people, none the less contained the secret that led to the prosperity of a swarm of those bloodsuckers who are always on the watch for public calamities, which, instead of appeasing, they promote or invent so as, precisely, to be able to profit from them the more advantageously." If this hadn't come from French fiction, one could see it as an accurate description of the United States Congress, K Street lobbyists, and the Beltway media punditocracy. (Pundit being Greek for "dingbat.")

It should come as a surprise to exactly no one that politics anger people. It leaves people exasperated, bored, and frustrated. Part of this stems from the behavior of our elected representatives. Another part of this frustration has to do with the language they use. Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes: Decoding the Jargon, Slang, and Bluster of American Political Speech by Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark seeks to make plain what usually is not. And like related slang dictionaries, it becomes necessary to write new ones every few years, simply to catch up. Language changes over time, but slang and jargon change at a much faster rate. In the ensuing years, we have the seen the explosion of the Internet, YouTube, and social media. This has made incumbents and aspiring candidates hyper-conscious of gaffes. It has also made people more aware of where the money is coming from to fund these cash-bloated acts of public glad-handing.

McCutcheon and Mark, both veteran political reporters, have divided the book up into six sections: personality types, only-in-politics expressions, people, places, and things, the legislative process, campaigns and elections, and the media and scandals. The comprehensive overview gives the reader a wide range of words and expressions. The authors sought to limit the scope, throwing out words either too common or too jargony. There isn't a definition for cloture in here and the majority of terms are of recent vintage, although a few trace back to the nineteenth century. Despite my abhorrence of modern political reporting, I'm currently watching The West Wing on Netflix. Dog Whistles was useful on those occasions when the dialogue or plot mystified me. Making the legislative process entertaining presents a challenge to both fiction and non-fiction writers. Aaron Sorkin and Robert Caro can spin the everyday monotony of bill passage into high drama.

As a reader, Dog Whistles leaves me conflicted. I'm no fan of politics, especially the social media variety. Nothing is more insufferable than having your Facebook page smeared with an endless stream of daily outrages, endless scandals, and commonplace corruption. This is set against my love for language, languages, and the English language. Politics, like Hollywood and many other industries, has systemically degraded the English language. But unlike the perpetually outraged on social media, I understand the simple fact that language is not static. It reflects the times. What characterizes our particular time is a hyper-mediated, information-addicted, prurient-leaning but easily offended, social media aficionados who can't seem to get our eyes unglued from our smartphones. Every scandal is amplified, every microscopic gaffe is turned into a scandal, and the political class tries its hardest to stay relevant and hip.

I'm giving this a lower score, not for lack of craft, but due to its status as a dictionary for specialists. While I would recommend this highly to anyone purporting to be an "informed voter," it remains a challenge to actually derive pleasure from a book about political speech.

Out of 10/8.0, higher for political junkies, journalists, and voters.
 
Read even more about Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Karl Wolff at 8:00 AM, July 24, 2015. Filed under:
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July 10, 2015

The CCLaP Weekender for July 10th is here!

CCLaP Weekender for July 10, 2015

It's Friday, which means it's time for the newest issue of the Pushcart-Prize-nominated CCLaP Weekender! This week's issue features a new original piece of fiction by Kevin Munley; a photography feature by Isabella Cruz Chong; and a look at the next seven days of literary events happening all across the city. The PDF is completely free to download, using the links below, or can be viewed online in its "flippable" form at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above, if your particular device is able to display it).

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 11:54 AM, July 10, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Photography | Profiles |
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American Odd: "The Manson File," edited by Nikolas Schreck


The Manson File, edited by Nikolas Schreck

The Manson File
By Nikolas Schreck
Amok Press (1988)
Review by Karl Wolff

The era commonly known as The Sixties ended with three notorious events: the My Lai Massacre, Altamont, and the Tate/LaBianca murders. The Age of Aquarius ended in spattered blood, a concert gone awry, grisly murders, and a military atrocity. Lieutenant Calley participated in a war crime but was later pardoned, transfigured into a hero for the Silent Majority. Charles Manson, another icon, became a symbol of a Counter-culture now slavishly devoted to murder and evil. The literature and pop culture ephemera centered around Charles Manson is voluminous. It's no secret America possesses an endless capacity to co-opt and repackage any atrocity, natural disaster, or personal calamity. Another phenomenon also occurred with Manson, he became a punch-line. The cult sketch comedy show, Mr. Show ran a sketch called "Manson." It parodied "Lassie," starring Bob Odenkirk as Charles Manson. This time Manson became the faithful family pet, always helpful to his family. (Mr. Show also had a sketch about downtrodden Hitler clones.)

Of all the various books about Charles Manson, very few actually plumb the depths of the man himself. The Manson File, edited by Nikolas Schreck, seeks to explain the man by giving the reader a look into his work. The book, published by Amok Press, collects his court-room testimony, poetry, music, a novella, and art work. (This essay will focus on the Amok Press edition, not Schreck's more recent expanded re-issue.) Unlike killers in American culture, Charles Manson did not kill anyone. His charge was "conspiracy to commit murder." Schreck, a musician, artist, and author with Satanist street cred, asserts Manson was railroaded. He regards Manson as a martyr of a botched justice system and as a modern gnostic philosopher. If only. The intent of this essay is to neither praise nor bury Manson. It's less about Manson, the figure, than about The Manson File, an oddity of American literature.

Manson, like Gary Gilmore, spent most of his life in and out of prisons. Unlike Gilmore, Manson possesses a dark charisma. Comparisons to Hitler aren't out of place. There's something about him that draws us to him, whether in awe or disgust (or a combination of the two).

The Manson File is a fascinating collection, frightening and comical, sometimes on the same page. During the trial Manson became a rallying point for both the Right and the Left. The Left abandoned Manson when it became apparent he was a racist and Anti-Semite. The book traces his connections with the Process Church, a pagan cult worshiping both Christ and Satan. We learn about Manson's connections with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Included in the book are several songs Manson wrote. While Manson's musical tastes centered around bluegrass and country, there exists a yawning abyss in his words:

This town is killing me
Got to put an end to this restless misery
I'm just one of those restless people
Can never seem to be satisfied
With living in this sick old sick old
Sick city

(from "Sick City")

On occasion, Manson has flashes of gnostic brilliance. Collected under "Philosophy," Manson comes across like a psychopathic William Blake or a cheapened Friedrich Nietzsche:

"Paycheck whore wears a dollar bill gown to the funeral of hope and love."

"The truth is a knife and cuts sharp."

"The government of the U.S. is at war with their children and the powers of nature and God, and have grown so far above their own judgments that the Waffen SS are coming back from space left over in dreams."

"All the churches of all the religions of the world are NOT thoughts in God's mind. I use the word "God." Hitler was Christ. A coming and a going. Humans need gods, gods don't need humans."

Manson's justifications for his acts involve the acronym ATWA: air, trees, water, and animals. His philosophies converge with environmental fascists. The war to save the Earth's ecology will also be a holy race war. Schreck includes two letters from James N. Mason, member of the Universal Order, an American Neo-Nazi group. Mason's tag line was "Where Rockwell stops, Manson begins." George Lincoln Rockwell was the head of the American Nazi Party and later assassinated in 1967.

While Charles Manson has become a cliche, The Manson File remains an odd little book. But it serves an important educational purpose, allowing readers access into the mind and zeitgeist surrounding Manson. The book brings together disparate strains of American culture, from Nazis to the occult to pop culture. For any interested in Manson as pop culture phenomenon, the final section on "The Merchandising of Manson" is informative. When it comes to murderers, terrorists, gun-toting racists, and violent cults, the best thing we can do is let them talk! By talking, they incriminate themselves, but they also reveal motivations, philosophies, and the underlying systems of thought.

Read even more about The Manson File: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia
 
Coming next: California Crazy and Beyond: Roadside Vernacular Architecture, by Jim Heimann

Filed by Karl Wolff at 8:00 AM, July 10, 2015. Filed under:
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July 9, 2015

Stalking the Behemoth: "Women and Men," by Joseph McElroy

Women and Men, By Joseph McElroy

Women and Men
By Joseph McElroy, 1987
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

It's funny how things work - the deeper into the twentieth century I stalk the behemoth, the more it changes. The first few entries in my series are, it's safe to say, widely known books. Not everyone's read Don Quixote, Moby-Dick, the Brothers Karamazov or Ulysses, but at minimum, most people are aware of the books and their reputations. Even if you're not, you've at least heard white whales or tilting at windmills used as idioms. But then around the middle of the century, something happened, and now what we see are less cultural touchstones and more cult classics. Sure, books like Gravity's Rainbow and the Sot-Weed Factor and Dhalgren - not to mention my future entries, which I won't spoil for you - have influenced future authors and have earned their place at the table of academia, but they don't have anywhere near the same public presence as that first set of books. Plenty of them don't have public presence at all.

Still, here's the thing: while the more modern books in my series aren't as widely known as the earlier ones, they're still widely known in the right circles. Gravity's Rainbow is considered a cornerstone of twentieth century literary development, Dhalgren was a bestseller that sent shock waves all up and down the sci-fi community, and a Sot-Weed Factor miniseries has been caught in development hell for the last few years. Women and Men, however? Women and Men's been out of print for years. Even the Dalkey Archive, which reprinted it in the '90s and which generally doesn't let books fall out of print, pulled this one from circulation when its first print run ended. Which makes sense when you think about it - even for a business on a mission, you have to wonder what you stand to gain if you leave a twelve hundred page book no one's buying in print for too long. I guess it was too expensive to keep up. Its author, Joseph McElroy, is revered among certain circles of the internet and referred to as "the lost postmodernist" elsewhere. I myself had to turn contortions to get my hands on this beast, eventually participating in a book swap because it sure beat shelling out the hundred-plus dollars required to find a copy.

So why review a book no one's reading? For one, it's on its way back into print. Dzanc Books has been kind enough to bring this and several other McElroy titles back to life in ebook form. So keep an eye on McElroy - with his internet following in full swing (search for this on Goodreads and you'll find more glowing reviews than you ever saw in one spot for a book you might never have heard of), I wonder if he won't slide his way into the peripheral of our literary consciousness yet. My other, more personal reason is that I loved this book to death, even though there were moments where I swore it hated me. There's no way around it: Women and Men is a hard book. Part of this is for the same reason a lot of the other big postmodern books are hard: serious length, frequent digressions, enormous cast of characters, abstract prose, events that might not take place in a recognizable reality. On top of all that, McElroy sprinkles his own special McElroy difficulties - sentences that wind into multi-page paragraphs and jump from perspective to perspective with an alarming speed. He's an utter natural at the movement, only shifting when it makes narrative sense to shift, but the whole thing can be hard to keep track of.

The difficult sentences reflect on the novel's most noteworthy structural aspect, which in turn reflects on the novel's most noteworthy philosophical aspect. Its plot ostensibly concerns the lives of feminist Grace Kimball, who runs sex-positive "body-self" workshops and reporter James Mayn, who reports on economic trends and finds himself wrapped up in an ancient cycle of reincarnation. These two live in the same apartment, know many of the same people, and have been affected by many of the same events but never manage to meet at any point in the novel, and much of their lives are played through - emphasis is placed on James' mother's suicide, he and his brother's efforts to recover from it, and what comes out about the family after her death. Kimball's workshops are also described in intensive detail, and we get a sense of who the participants are, what brings them there, and what they make of their singular leader. Naturally, quite a few of the participants are connected to Mayn, and quite a few of Mayn's friends know Kimball.

However, McElroy's real concern throughout this massive book is to chronicle what we might call the American age: his vision spans from the 19th century to a vaguely defined "future" that doesn't seem too far removed from the book's 1977 setting. While moving through this huge timeline, McElroy makes stops pretty much everywhere, lending the mythology around Arizona's landmark Ship Rock and a conversation between two friends at a café the same levels of detail and significance. McElroy's switches between the enormous social-historical view and the minute details of day-to-day life with astonishing ease, and he tends to do so at a speed that set my brain swimming.

So why put the reader through such an ordeal? It's all part of McElroy's broader program. Like many postmodern novels, Women and Men is less organized around a classic plot structure and more built around the development of a central idea. Here, the idea is the conflict between two different statements: that people are matter, and that people matter. McElroy admits that people are small on any sort of cosmic scale, little more than parts of a broader whole, and that their lives are short and the systems they are part of continue without them. Yet, argues McElroy, no one lives their life that way. While the mundane occurrences of daily life might not look like much on a cosmic scale, the cosmic scale of humanity is made up of several billion individuals living through mundane events, which confers an enormous amount of significance onto those events. Since anything as large as human society and human history is made up of small events, the small events have to be looked at with historical significance, since they are significant as part of McElroy's broader view.

You might've picked up on a duality here: large-scale history vs. small-scale life. It's not the only one McElroy invites us to consider. Doubling has been a key point of literature since Achilles first duked it out with Hector, but McElroy takes it to extremes unseen by even Dostoevsky, the widely acknowledged master of characters in opposition with each other. As befits the novel's broad view, McElroy looks at his doubles on a large scale: not only women and men, but also communists and capitalists, colonizers and colonized, infinite and infinitesimal, natural and artificial, traditional and modern. Even the neutron bomb, which destroyed people but left property intact, is given a fascinating mirror-image in a terrific passage toward the end.

Yet he also takes a more personal look at it, as evidenced by the friendships of two mythic figures whose stories are traced among the others: an Anasazi medicine man and a hermit-inventor of New York. Further evidence is given through speculation about Mayn's future children, a boy and a girl who serve as foils to each other during a chapter that offers a look at his marriage. And, lending the novel some high-intellectual paranoid-thriller points, communism and capitalism are portrayed through a vicious and eventually violent intrigue between a pro-Castro Cuban exile and an anti-Castro Cuban exile.

A word also has to be made about McElroy's prose, which is not only incredible but also unique. His long multi-clausal sentences shouldn't be anything new to a reader schooled in postmodernism, and it's hard to imagine someone who isn't schooled in postmodernism coming to Women & Men. McElroy sets himself apart not just through the perspective switches I discussed earlier, but through all matters of self-interruption. Punning interpolations, abrupt switches into and out of dialect, moments of intense self-reflexivity and even direct interrogation of the previous sentence via an unseen set of characters who may be supernatural occur throughout this book, creating an endless flow of dialog within dialog and allowing McElroy to nest whole hosts of ideas, contradictions and complications within his prose. It's often overwhelming, but it's too well-suited for the novel's broader goals and too well-done for me to complain about at all.

That's all just the outer shell of a work with layers I'm sure I don't understand yet. Sex is had and deconstructed, whole lives play out with the detail and sympathy of biographies, an opera based on Hamlet is chased after and eventually performed, tapeworms and angels and interrogators and Mayn's friends in the prison all drop by to have a few words. McElroy projects an entire universe into this novel, one like ours but with an almost supernatural feel to it. It's a wonder that he pulled this monster off at all; that he did so in such a coherent and unified and gorgeous style makes it worth the tremendous effort it took me to read. So while I could say more, this is the eighth-longest novel in the English language, which means it has all sorts of secrets buried in it. Why not try to uncover a few?

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 7:00 AM, July 9, 2015. Filed under:
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July 3, 2015

The CCLaP Weekender for July 3rd is here!

CCLaP Weekender for July 3, 2015

It's Friday, which means it's time for the newest issue of the Pushcart-Prize-nominated CCLaP Weekender! This week's issue features a new original piece of fiction by Jim Wrona; a photography feature by Gioia Zloczower; and a look at the next seven days of literary events happening all across the city. The PDF is completely free to download, using the links below, or can be viewed online in its "flippable" form at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above, if your particular device is able to display it).

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 8:11 AM, July 3, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Photography | Profiles |
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July 2, 2015

Book Review: "On Immunity: an Innoculation," by Eula Biss

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

On Immunity, by Eula Biss

You might expect a book called On Immunity to be a little dry, or else too esoteric for its own good. I know that was what I thought when I first heard about it - the sort of book that's great for someone with a vested interest in immunology and impenetrable for everyone else. This didn't end up as the case at all. Sure, Biss did a mountain of research into the history of immunity - she discusses the rise of and reactions to germ theory, outdated and frankly disgusting vaccination methods, and the current debate about vaccines and autism - but with one eye on the larger cultural conversation and another on her personal experience.

Like Sontag, frequently referenced in this book, Biss digs for the root of our metaphors of the diseased body at war, offering alternative discourse and discussing instances in which the analysis holds up. Vampires also come into play, on similar terms - Dracula is read as a bringer of disease and an out-of-control capitalist in addition to the standard handsome seducer. She's interested in how fear of disease fits in with our general culture of panic. On Immunity therefore analyzes a frightening dilemma: that both vaccines and the anti-vaccine movement are rooted in a broader culture of fear.

However, On Immunity also shines in when Biss turns the conversation to herself. The birth of her child is especially important to this book; she tells stories about his early childhood shots and wonders how his birth might've made her more inclined toward fears she otherwise wouldn't have had, thus pulling herself in and looking at herself with the same honesty as she looks at anyone else. She, in short, recognizes herself as part of a fearful culture and uses this position to better and more empathetically analyze it. In short, not exactly your standard history book: it's honest and even-handed and gets the brain working.

Out of 10: 9.0

Read even more about On Immunity: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 7:00 AM, July 2, 2015. Filed under:
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June 26, 2015

Book Review: "Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution," by Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
 
Uncertain Justice, by Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz
 
Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution
By Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz
Picador
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
 
The Supreme Court of the United States is the least understood branch of the government. Like the Federal Reserve, it is an elusive institution the general public either knows nothing about or knows only what could charitably be described as misinformation. If people knew more about how the Supreme Court works (and the Federal Reserve, for that matter), it would be less likely to pop up in conspiracy theories or partisan bloviations.

Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution, by Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz helps illuminate the inner workings of the Court. Tribe and Matz also give succinct portraits of all nine justices, their histories, personalities, and individual interpretation of how justice works. Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard, and Matz, a Harvard Law School graduate and SCOTUSblog writer, team up to offer a sober assessment of the Roberts Court and its major rulings. (It should be noted that Uncertain Justice came out in July 2014. Certain cases, including Sibelius, popularly known as "The Hobby Lobby case" had yet to be decided. This does nothing to detract from the material in the book though.)* The great thing about this book is one doesn't have to be a legal scholar, attorney, or political junkie to appreciate it. The law effects all of us.

Laurence Tribe's students included Barack Obama, John Roberts, Elena Kagan. This adds a fascinating relevancy to the book. Tribe has also argued in front of the Supreme Court, avoiding the caricature of a professor sequestered in the Ivory Tower, isolated from society-at-large. As a Harvard Law Professor, Tribe offers the reader not only the historical background of major cases, but the specific legal, ideological, and cultural baggage each case carries. All the greatest hits are here: gun control, abortion, free speech, healthcare, privacy, and presidential power.

Uncertain Justice is an early assessment of the Roberts Court. Chief Justice John Roberts is the 17th Chief Justice of the United States, nominated by President George W. Bush in 2005. He took over as Chief Justice after the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Like Rehnquist, Roberts is a conservative jurist. While the general public's attitude towards the law has moved slowly to the left, the Supreme Court remains a conservative bulwark.

President Obama has nominated two justices to the Court, but Republican presidents have had the opportunity to nominate four Chief Justices (Earl Warren, Warren Burger, William Rehnquist, and John Roberts). I bring this up not to provoke partisan squabbling, but for readers to take the long view. Despite the imperious title, the Chief Justice is more of an administrative role in the Court. He - until history proves otherwise - assigns cases to specific justices. Although the Chief Justice lacks the authority to write decisions, unless he assigns the case to himself, it is his name in the history books. The Warren Court is now known as a time of liberal change and increased rights. The Taney Court (of Dred Scott v. Stanford) is remembered as the most detested in United States history. Ten years in, where does the Roberts Court stack up?

While characterized as a liberal law professor, Tribe doesn't let his personal ideology overshadow the proceedings. One of the wonderful things about reading Uncertain Justice was how Tribe and Matz articulated arguments from both sides. In some cases it was a challenge to bring myself to make a judgment call. Not because of personal ambivalence, but because each side presented valid arguments. And unlike trial law, an arena of emotions and lurid details, when one argues in front of the Supreme Court, one is intellectually parsing language and wrestling with abstract concepts. Then one applies these to the case at hand. The stakes are huge and the consequences are either revolutionary or devastating, depending what side you are on. Luckily law operates in a more complex yet simple fashion than basic partisan divisiveness. Upon reaching this plateau of jurisprudence, at least ideally, one hopes it doesn't get reduced to "the Republican side" versus "the Democratic side." The questions argued before the Court shouldn't boil down to knee-jerk party tribalism. Leave that for the campaign trail.

In the book, Tribe and Matz discuss a test used by elite law firms: "if you had to eliminate half of the amendments in the Constitution, would you eliminate the odd- or even-numbered rights?" A knee-jerk response would include saying odd, because of the First Amendment, or even, because of the Second Amendment. The authors go on to explain how this is actually a trick question, but use it as a thought experiment. While each amendment is important, the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and additional amendments is a living "machine" with interrelated parts. Amendments are dependent on each other and cannot function alone. While freedom of expression is very important, so is equal protection. But how they interrelate becomes dependent on the individual justice's interpretation of the Constitution itself as it applies to the case at hand.

Tribe and Matz examine each case through two perspectives. The first is the narrative. The story of the individual and their claim. The second perspective is case genealogy. Supreme Court cases, like constitutional amendments, are interrelated. Brown v. Board can be traced back to Plessy v. Ferguson and Dred Scott v. Sanford. Though not immediately apparent, Brown also has roots in Korematsu v. United States, a case involving the wartime internment of Japanese-Americans. The Court upheld the racial segregation of Korematsu in 1944 on the grounds of "national security." Since racial segregation of "separate but equal" had no national security component, it weakened the justifications for the practice. When it comes to matters of free expression, privacy, gun control, and abortion, a working knowledge of case genealogy is very important. Both to understand what is being argued and to observe the trends occurring in American jurisprudence. In the case of abortion, the Right has abandoned the fight for the wholesale repeal of Roe v. Wade. Instead the fight has evolved into creating legislation that limits access.

Nine people make up the Supreme Court, but unlike the other branches, the arguments are ideological not partisan, a crucial distinction. The Court is very small and its important decisions are not televised. In today's hyper-mediated, image-saturated culture, one would think this means they are secretive. Tribe argues to the contrary, noting that there are no cameras because of what the justices write, not what they say. While some justices have been notorious for their public appearances (Justice Scalia most notably), during their session on the Court, they keep away from the public eye. It would be devastating to the process of American democracy if we had Supreme Court justices show-boating to the camera. Some cases involve incredibly pivotal decision-making. This would be ruined if they had to act like a lowly member of Congress or the President.

The "balance of powers" works because each branch has different strengths and weaknesses. The Supreme Court, unlike the President and Congress, is notable as a deliberative body and issuing decisions based on interpretation. Ideally, Congress and the President represent the nation's popular opinion, the Supreme Court should not. The challenge becomes issuing decisions whose time have come, but not making rash decisions based on the whims of public opinion. In the end, Supreme Court is about rendering a judgment, making a decision that will effect everyone.

Right now the Court is challenged by "political gridlock, cultural change, and technological progress." Just as the Federal Reserve is the lender of last resort, the Supreme Court is final arbiter of justice. The Roberts Court continues the conservative interpretation of jurisprudence, but making that interpretation effective relies on a majority of justices. Unfortunately the present Court, like our other branches, is divided. Supreme Court reporting has devolved into answering one question, "What will Justice Anthony Kennedy say?" Kennedy has become the reliable centrist between the Court's conservative and liberal wings. Hence the abundance of 5-4 rulings.

What has typified this Court is its disdain for "judicial overreach" and its preference for "legislative redress." If the Court has ruled against you, talk to your Senator or Representative about drafting a law to counter it. (Cue hysterical outbreak of words like inequality, oligarchy, and Citizens United references.) This is a cautious Court, one that doesn't seek to create new sweeping new law. It is the antithesis of the Warren Court. With that in mind, there are other ways to seek redress besides the Supreme Court. Protests, boycotts, awareness campaigns, lobbying, and elections are all means to an end. The end being: a law that changes things. Whether that law is constitutional? Well ...

Why am I including a Supreme Court book on a literary website? Because judicial decisions are like book reviews, judgment is rendered through interpretation and this can be controversial and divisive. Unlike book reviews, Supreme Court decisions should not be about "personal taste." Deeming a statute constitutional or not depends on the interpretive framework of the nine justices. Things get more tricky when ideology enters the fray.

For those interested in the Supreme Court (its history, personalities, major decisions, etc.) I would highly recommend Jeffrey Toobin's The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices by Noah Feldman, and The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong.

*While Uncertain Justice could easily fall into the category of Current Affairs, it possesses the academic rigor and easy readability that pushes it above the Current Affairs category. Current Affairs is a motley mongrel category, embracing everything from cogent analyses of topical subject matter to the latest ghostwritten swill written by a morning political talk show host. Current Affairs usually means Immediately Obsolete. In the case of Uncertain Justice, it is legal commentary aimed for a popular, non-specialist audience.

Read even more about Uncertain Justice: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, June 26, 2015. Filed under:
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The CCLaP Weekender for June 26th is here!

CCLaP Weekender for June 26, 2015

It's Friday, which means it's time for the newest issue of the Pushcart-Prize-nominated CCLaP Weekender! This week's issue features a new original piece of fiction by Joseph G. Peterson; a photography feature by Andreas Till; and a look at the next seven days of literary events happening all across the city. The PDF is completely free to download, using the links below, or can be viewed online in its "flippable" form at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above, if your particular device is able to display it).

Make a voluntary $1 donation then download the issue
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Are you a fan of the CCLaP Weekender and want to help us keep it going? Then please consider an annual voluntary subscription! At $25, that is a mere 50 cents per issue, half as inexpensive as a Kindle Single with the same amount of content.

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:25 AM, June 26, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Photography | Profiles |
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June 18, 2015

Book Review: "Women" by Chloe Caldwell

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Women, by Chloe Caldwell

Women
By Chloe Caldwell
Short Flight/Long Drive Books
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

When is it a romance novel and when is it a novel about romance? You've got your Nicholas Sparks and your Danielle Steeles, whose work most would agree isn't great literature, on one side of the equation. But then, you've got everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Lorrie Moore using romance as a center of widely lauded works on the other. So where's the dividing line? How do we distinguish between high art and harlequin romance?

If you ask me, it's all about interiority, which is the whole center of Women. It's built around what might look like a fairly standard romance-novel setup: two characters meet, attraction develops, they fall in love, and complications ensue. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Ah, except there are a couple of key points here that make Women well worth your time. First of all, it's narrated by a writer and presented as an account of the relationship's breakdown, which allows Caldwell to ask about boundaries. With so much talk these days around how writers portray their subjects, this couldn't have come at a better time.

"But wait a minute," you may ask, "Is this a novel or a how-to manual?" Fair enough, so let me sweeten the pot. Not only does the writing-about-writing aspect raise those questions, it also contributes to this novel's remarkable characters. Finn and the narrator, who is never named specifically, are imbibed with an uncommon amount of life. The effect is one of being told a story of a failed romance by a close friend, so much do you come to believe these characters. Not just as two women in love, but as two people who lived before they met and would continue to live afterward. So you could call it a romance novel, but I prefer to think of it as an intensive character study that happens to feature a romance.

Out of 10: 9.0

Read even more about Women: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 7:00 AM, June 18, 2015. Filed under:
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June 17, 2015

Rejoice! Ben Tanzer's collected "The New York Stories" is finally here!

The New York Stories, by Ben Tanzer

I'm happy to say that CCLaP's newest book for 2015 is finally out today; and it just so happens to be a book a lot of us have been waiting for a whopping nine years now. That's right, it's the triumphant release of Ben Tanzer's The New York Stories: Three Volumes in One Edition! Don't know what I'm talking about? Check out the book's dust jacket synopsis for more...

In 2006, celebrated author Ben Tanzer began working on a series of short stories all set in the fictional upstate New York town of Two Rivers, most of them published in various literary journals over the years and eventually collected into the three small volumes Repetition Patterns (2008), So Different Now (2011), and After the Flood (2014). Now for the first time, all 33 of these stories have been put together into one paperback edition, highlighting the long-term planning of themes and motifs that Tanzer has been building into these pieces the entire time. Featuring dark character studies of childhood, middle age, and (lack of) grace under pressure, these stories are considered by many to be among the best work of Tanzer's career, and voracious fans of his short work will surely be pleased and satisfied to have these small masterpieces collected together into one easy-to-read volume. So take a stool at Thirsty's, order another Yuengling, and be prepared to be transported into the black heart of the American small-town soul, as one of our nation's best contemporary authors takes us on a journey across space and time that will not be soon forgotten.

Whoa nelly! I'm proud to say that this particular book holds a special personal importance for me -- Repetition Patterns was the very first book CCLaP published, in fact, so I'm grateful and relieved to finally see this process come full circle here seven years later, and all these small books finally gathered up into one bookstore-friendly trade paperback for the first time ever. As always, you can go by the book's online headquarters to download a free ebook version, or purchase it at Amazon if you want it directly delivered to your Kindle; or for those who prefer a more traditional reading experience, you can order the paperback edition for $14.99 by using the button below...

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And of course don't forget that The New York Stories has its own listing over at Goodreads.com, so I hope my fellow GRers will have a chance to add it to their library over there, and especially to post a few thoughts about it after you're done reading the book. Word of mouth is the number-one way a small press like ours gains new fans, so your mention of our titles online can and does have a legitimately huge impact on the total number of copies we sell.

That's it for awhile with CCLaP and new books -- our next new title, the "city all-star" student anthology The View From Here, won't be out until September 15th, although at that point we'll be back to once-a-month releases from then until Christmas -- but don't forget that our authors will be out and about all summer long, doing plenty of live events, the next of which will be the release party for The New York Stories, taking place this coming Friday evening at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood, 2523 N. Kedzie. (And speaking of upcoming Tanzer appearances, he'll also be reading from this book over at Quimby's Bookstore in Wicker Park [1854 W. North Ave], on Tuesday, July 7th. It's a Tanzer Summer and we're all invited!) For now, though, I hope you'll have a chance to stop by the book's online headquarters right this moment, and see why this has already become one of Chicago's most talked-about books of 2015. I'm extremely proud of and happy about this book, and I hope you'll grow to become a fan as well.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, June 17, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Chicago news | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Profiles |
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June 12, 2015

American Odd: "Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle," by Nancy Spector


Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle, by Nancy Spector

Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle
By Nancy Spector
Guggenheim Museum Publications
Review by Karl Wolff

Over a decade ago I had the rare opportunity to see The Cremaster Cycle, a series of five interrelated films by Matthew Barney. The Cremaster Cycle included other material, everything from sketches, photographs, music, and sculpture. When I first saw the films, I marveled at their visionary power, epic scope, and esoteric symbolism. The Cremaster Cycle takes it name from the cremaster muscle, a muscle that regulates the temperature of the testicles. The five films chart, among many other things, the progression from an undifferentiated state to a differentiated state. From the pre-natal and pre-genital to that of a gendered being. It was rewarding to reread Nancy Spector's introductory essay, "Only the Perverse Fantasy Can Still Save Us," as the United States grapples with the issue of trans awareness (and its legal, cultural, and political ramifications). To be clear, The Cremaster Cycle isn't about trans issues per se, but it would make an excellent vehicle for intelligent discussions about gender and trans awareness. This will become clearer when I examine more specific aspects of Barney's epic undertaking.

The Cremaster Cycle includes five films, of varying lengths, filmed out of order. They are:

Cremaster 1 (1995, 41 minutes)
Cremaster 2 (1999, 79 minutes)
Cremaster 3 (2002, 179 minutes)
Cremaster 4 (1994, 42 minutes)
Cremaster 5 (1997, 55 minutes)

Unlike The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, these films trace their cinematic genealogy back to avant-garde cinema. Films like Un chien andalou by Luis Bunuel and Chelsea Girls by Andy Warhol cater to a specific audience and bring along a certain set of aesthetic expectations. The Cremaster Cycle is also really odd, hence my inclusion of it in this essay series. The oddness comes from its outre subject matter, glamourous-yet-creepy visuals, and massive scale.

While it would take much longer to elaborate the intricacies of plot, symbolism, and interpretation, I'm going to provide a brief overview of each film. (But for those genuinely interested in Barney's work, I would highly suggest checking out The Cremaster Cycle book put out by the Guggenheim Foundation. Even if you aren't one to read the occasionally impenetrable introductory essay, the book is worth pursuing simply to gaze at the lavish visuals.)

The Cycle's five films are:

Cremaster 1: A spectacle reminiscent of Busy Berkeley dance numbers, the film has highly choreographed dancing girls while two Goodyear blimps hover around a football stadium. The imagery recalls testes or ovaries. Overall, the ambiance of the film is one of cold, calculated precision, and a hermetic utopia.

Cremaster 2: The film traces the 1977 execution of Gary Gilmore, supposed descendant of Harry Houdini. It brings together Mormon symbolism, a Victorian seance, desert and glacier imagery, and Norman Mailer as Harry Houdini. (Mailer wrote The Executioner's Song about the execution of Gilmore.) In the film, Gilmore is ritually sacrificed in a stadium made of salt sculpted on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Cremaster 3: The longest film of the series is a Masonic gangster picture. The Entered Apprentice seeks to gain entry into the Lodge, but does so through devious means. The Syndicate, an Irish organized crime group, take on the trappings of a Masonic lodge set amid the construction of the Chrysler Building in 1930. Below the building, Seventies-era Chrysler Imperials play demolition derby with a Thirties-era Chrysler Imperial. In the Thirties-era car is the gender-switched reincarnation of Gary Gilmore, seen as a zombified corpse. The Apprentice competes in The Order, a kind of Masonic game show/sports competition set in the Guggenheim Museum. The Apprentice vies for power against The Architect Hiram Abiff (played by sculptor Richard Serra). At the conclusion of the film, the Apprentice succeeds the Architect, but only through a double-murder/double-sacrifice as the Chrysler Building becomes complete. (Paralympic athlete Aimee Mullins plays multiple roles in the film.)

Cremaster 4: The first film shot, Cremaster 4 can best be summarized as a fairy tale road movie. Set on the Isle of Man, the Ascending and Descending Hacks race in opposite directions to complete the race. Symbolizing the ascending or descending sex organs, the race also involves a dandified satyr attempting to burrow through the island and three muscular androgynous "fairies" (Barney borrowing Manx folkloric terminology) acting as a Greek chorus. The race is never completed.

Cremaster 5: The film stars Ursula Andress as the Queen of Chain and it is set in Budapest. Staged as a seven-act opera, the lavish neorenaissance Budapest Opera House and the Chain Bridge follow a tragic narrative. The Queen of Chain pines after The Diva (played by Barney). Amid the operatics, Barney also recreates a Houdini-like escape from the bridge. The tragic end was either a dream or a fairy tale, although it is hard to figure out which.

While watching the films or looking at the pictures, it would be easy to get frustrated or bored. Part of the challenge with Barney's work is following the intricate associative connections. It is best to simply absorb the work, taking in the visuals and the soundtrack. Sometimes "not getting it" is beside the point.

In terms of trans awareness, I'm not going to turn this work into a piece of ideology. But at a more abstract and intellectual level, The Cremaster Cycle engages the viewer to contemplate gender, transformation, and resistance. Is gender about "being" or "becoming"?* Nancy Spector asserts that Barney's main obsession is artistic creation through resistance. His work seeks to exist in a constant conflict between two zones: the first is a zone of pure desire (undifferentiated, chaotic) and the second is the zone of production. But he also seeks to short-circuit the zone of production, because when something is produced, the resistance ends. The interplay (both literally and metaphorically) between chaotic desire and productive resistance drive his work.

How is this an example of the American Odd? Where to begin? While Barney is the product of the American arts scene, he brings to this piece a wild melange of influences, obsessions, and subject matter. His artistic use of resistance and spectacle harken back to his days as a high school football player in Idaho. He also brings together biology, geography, history, geology, religion, and sexuality to create a massive personal artistic monument.

*As a side-note, gender plays an important role in Mormon dogma. According to Mormons, one has a gender even before birth. Gender was determined when one as a pre-mortal spirit and one will have gender as a post-mortal spirit. The rigid concept of gender offers another reading into Cremaster 2 with Gary Gilmore's desire to escape. Like Angels in America by Tony Kushner, Cremaster 2 uses Mormonism as raw material to create an epic pantheistic theatrical experience.

Read even more about The Cremaster Cycle: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia
 
Coming next: The Manson File by Nikolas Schreck

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, June 12, 2015. Filed under:
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The CCLaP Weekender for June 12th is here!

CCLaP Weekender for June 12, 2015

It's Friday, which means it's time for the newest issue of the Pushcart-Prize-nominated CCLaP Weekender! This week's issue features a new original piece of fiction by Tony Lindsay; a photography feature by Terry Suprean; and a look at the next seven days of literary events happening all across the city. The PDF is completely free to download, using the links below, or can be viewed online in its "flippable" form at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above, if your particular device is able to display it).

Make a voluntary $1 donation then download the issue
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Are you a fan of the CCLaP Weekender and want to help us keep it going? Then please consider an annual voluntary subscription! At $25, that is a mere 50 cents per issue, half as inexpensive as a Kindle Single with the same amount of content.

Buy a voluntary annual subscription to the CCLaP Weekender

Don't want to keep coming by the website for all this stuff? Then sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which will send you not only a reminder every Friday morning about each new issue of the Weekender, but also a recap of everything that has happened with the center in the last seven days (including news about recent author features and events from around the US, a look at all our latest eBay rare-book auctions, links to each book review we posted at the blog that week, and a lot more). To subscribe, simply sign up using the box below. We never sell your information nor send more than one email a week, and you can quit at any time!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:12 AM, June 12, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Photography | Profiles |
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June 11, 2015

Stalking the Behemoth: "Dhalgren," by Samuel R. Delany

Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany

Dhalgren
By Samuel R. Delany, 1974
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

Samuel R. Delany has never quite had that same household name status as other sci-fi authors. Everyone knows Robert Heinlein and Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guinn, but not so much Delany. Yet he's still a big name in the right circles - he just made his fame with a different crowd. See, unless you count Gravity's Rainbow, Dhalgren is the first sci-fi book to find a spot in my "Stalking the Behemoth" series. Now, there's a reason for this - excepting my sideline into the Brothers Karamazov, which was just too good to pass up, I wanted this series to loosely track the development of the postmodern novel from Don Quixote to the present day. Make no mistake, Dhalgren slots right into this discourse, and probably fits more into it than conventional sci-fi, which might explain why sci-fi heavyweights like Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison loathed the book when it was released; meanwhile, the book's praises have been sung to an exulting degree by cyberpunk kingpin William Gibson, whose efforts to modernize the genre are still being felt.

So let me just throw this one out there: while Dhalgren is a pretty well-known sci-fi novel, anyone looking for a more conventional sci-fi experience might not be satisfied here. As I see it, much of this novel's sci-fi credentials come from two sources: earlier Delany novels like 1966's Babel-17, which while by no means conventional fits the genre better, and the presence of speculative technologies like the holograms gang members use to disguise themselves. For whatever it might be worth to you, Delany's speculations on technology are always impressive, and these shields are no exception. Mostly, Dhalgren's aims are more in surrealistic social commentary, sexuality, and a journey of self-discovery whose end doesn't by any means come easy. The self-discovery might not come at all, if you interpret the novel as circular, which is possible based on the ending.

Summarizing Dhalgren's plot is difficult, as it always is with these novels, but here goes. A young man identified only as "the Kid" (or kid, or Kidd, depending on when you catch him) arrives in a city in the Midwest known as Bellona. An amnesiac, he arrives with no idea of what might've driven him toward this city, which has become the center of bizarre unexplained events; gangs and prophets who wrestle for control over the city, buildings that never stop burning but remain unconsumed by these fires, ominous red moons, and so forth. During one memorable chapter, horrific violence is heard but not seen just outside of a rich family's apartment while they keep up idle and ultimately inane chatter. Through all this, the Kid moves through a series of identities - wanderer, worker, gangster, poet and hedonist - but comes no closer to any sort of self-discovery. Identity is key to this book; the Kid's race (he's part black and part Native American) and fluid sexuality both come into play throughout his changes.

The other center of Dhalgren, besides the mysterious city, is an equally mysterious journal the Kid wanders across toward the beginning of the novel. This journal repeats the events of the first chapter, a sexual encounter, and predicts and parallels later developments as well; it's to the point where it could have been written by the Kid himself, working from either a future or alternative timeline. The journal invites all sorts of complicating questions to an already complex novel, raising ideas of identity and warping reality - it becomes arguable in points that the book switches from its own reality to the events recorded in the journal, and the final chapter is a textual labyrinth built around the journal; its fragmented approach and play with the formatting of text must've been an influence on House of Leaves.

Delaney's treatment of Bellona itself is a wonder to behold. The book is often compared to a labyrinth, and looking at how this city is treated, it's no wonder; it gets knottier and knottier as the novel progresses, revealing more violence, more portents, more wild surreal imagery. Furthermore, the city's character seems to change as the Kid passes through his various identities. When he's a gangster, it's violent and chaotic. When he's a poet, it's ancient and hushed and as close to romantic as it gets. When he's a hedonist, it cloisters itself off. When he works with a family, it's a den of denial and distance from reality. So Bellona becomes one with the Kid's arc, and in many ways becomes the kid's arc. No matter what mode the Kid's in, the place teems with life.

It's also striking how the people in this novel react to the weirdness around them. Most of them only seem to care about what effects them directly, whether it's the church's power trip or the security of the rich family. This makes for strong and compelling social commentary, but it also works excellently on an aesthetic level. Not only is Delany free to plunge deeper into the lower depths of human consciousness and the good old human experience, he's also allowed to create even more bizarre of a city, a city where the bizarre has become expected. For as strange as things get in Bellona, life in many ways is allowed to go on. There are a lot of vignettes about how ordinary life works in a city such as this, and it's fascinating to see them play out. Still, I have to admit this aspect is sometimes the slightest bit overdone. You get plenty of conversations that run in circles about what given characters make of a new phenomenon or what they might do on a particular day. I see what purpose these exchanges serve, but I feel they could've been tightened up just the tiniest bit.

Let's also take a moment to look at the Kid's character, because Delany hits a nice balance here. As I mentioned above, his racial and sexual identities are key to this book. Yet for all the sex (and there is a lot of sex in Dhalgren, between whatever configurations of genders you can imagine) and talk about race (also frequent; the Kid identifies himself as all sorts of things over this book's course), the Kid is also allowed plenty of character that has nothing to do with race or sexual preference. In fact, that's sort of his motive; an attempt to find himself as himself and not as a mascot or spokesperson.

But enough story, how's the prose? Plenty of sci-fi novels with intricate storylines have been sunk by prose that ranges from indifferent to poor - much as I love a good Philip K. Dick book, he's guilty as anyone. Luckily for prose-hounds like me, Delany can write. He has a way of riffing on words and sounds, letting syllables and vowels slip into each other, leaving us with a smooth and often energetic glide of words. For example, take the passage "a prism nipped my wrist." Simple as it may seem on the surface, look at how he makes those words dance. It's not just pretty language, either: it also lends to the novel's dreamlike tone.

So how do we take all this? The possibility of it being a book about America can't be ignored. Racial tension runs rampant through this novel, especially at a party held by the cult figure George "Not That George Harrison" Harrison, whose influence and power are feared by Bellona's white community. I read this book in April of this year, and I don't think I need to tell you how that scene is relevant to today's world, not to mention how relevant it was in 1974. Couple that with the indifferent-rich scene that has struck me so much, and you've got a pretty striking condemnation of America's class divides. This is part of what makes Dhalgren a classic of postmodern lit - I've talked about systems novels earlier in this series, and Dhalgren fits the bill.

Yet this novel also makes all sorts of challenges to the sci-fi institution . Its ambitious length and formal trickery, which place it in line with the John Barth of Lost in the Funhouse and whatever Borges masterpiece you might compare it to; its use of a protagonist outside the sci-fi square-jawed-male hero we associate with Frank Herbert and co.; and the sophistication of the writing, structure, and character arc make this a blow for the more intellectual sci-fi practiced by the best handful of sci-fi authors. Sci-fi takes a lot of criticism from the literary fiction crowd, and while I'm a card-carrying member of that crowd, I have to admit not all of it's justified. Books like Dhalgren are what keep me coming back to the genre when its more irritating tendencies overwhelm me. So trust William Gibson on this one, not Philip K. Dick.

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 7:00 AM, June 11, 2015. Filed under:
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June 5, 2015

The CCLaP Weekender for June 5th is here!

CCLaP Weekender for , 2015

It's Friday, which means it's time for the newest issue of the Pushcart-Prize-nominated CCLaP Weekender! This week's issue features a new original piece of fiction by TJ Davis; a photography feature by Elina Ruka; and a look at the next seven days of literary events happening all across the city. The PDF is completely free to download, using the links below, or can be viewed online in its "flippable" form at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above, if your particular device is able to display it).

Make a voluntary $1 donation then download the issue
Download the issue for free
View this issue online at Issuu.com

Are you a fan of the CCLaP Weekender and want to help us keep it going? Then please consider an annual voluntary subscription! At $25, that is a mere 50 cents per issue, half as inexpensive as a Kindle Single with the same amount of content.

Buy a voluntary annual subscription to the CCLaP Weekender

Don't want to keep coming by the website for all this stuff? Then sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which will send you not only a reminder every Friday morning about each new issue of the Weekender, but also a recap of everything that has happened with the center in the last seven days (including news about recent author features and events from around the US, a look at all our latest eBay rare-book auctions, links to each book review we posted at the blog that week, and a lot more). To subscribe, simply sign up using the box below. We never sell your information nor send more than one email a week, and you can quit at any time!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:06 AM, June 5, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Photography | Profiles |
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June 4, 2015

Book Review: "Conversations with Beethoven," by Sanford Friedman

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Conversations with Beethoven, by Sandford Friedman

Conversations with Beethoven
By Sanford Friedman
New York Review of Books
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

You might think a book called Conversations with Beethoven is pretty niche. That title's got "reserved for Beethoven fans" stamped all over it, right? Even if it doesn't, the fact that it's built around hypothetical exchanges with the famous composer must put it square in that camp. After all, this novel is built on two biographical tidbits: that Beethoven's friends and family had to communicate with him through writing as his deafness grew worse, and that Beethoven worried about his nephew Karl, whom he perceived as wayward. So what we have here is a book for Beethoven fans and only Beethoven fans, right?

Not so fast. I have to point out the impressive stylistic device that drives this novel forward. I'm not talking about the conversations themselves, although those are pulled off quite well: while no conversation is attributed, each character has their own distinct mannerisms, so it's easy to work out who's who once you have everything together. No, it's the magnificent use of inference this novel makes. See, Beethoven's replies aren't included in the text, although they're easily guessed by the reader. Who, in that sense, becomes Friedman's vision of Beethoven. Yes, Friedman rather leads you through your role, but that's an inevitable consequence of the form; the story still has to move, but the story moves via the reader's guided interactions with the text.

Which has, as such things often go, an effect beyond simple showing off. It brings out the earthier and more unpleasant side of the venerated composer. We barely see Beethoven as the compositional genius at all here; we see him as controlling, fickle, crass, easily upset and suspect to piles of flattery. Not only does this take the composer out of the (cold, borderline-dehumanized) canon and bring him into our world, it also invites the reader to wonder how these unpleasant characteristics might've contributed to the man's music. The relationship between artist's temperament and art is mostly implicit, but it's here, and that's what makes it more than a weekend read for Beethoven fans.

Out of 10: 8.8

Read even more about Conversations with Beethoven: Amazon | GoodReads | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 7:00 AM, June 4, 2015. Filed under:
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May 29, 2015

Book Review: "A Kingdom in Crisis," by Andrew MacGregor Marshall

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
 
A Kingdom in Crisis, by Andrew MacGregor Marshall
 
A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand's Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century
By Andrew MacGregor Marshall
Asian Arguments/Zed Books
Reviewed by Karl Wolff

The revolution won't be televised, it'll be hashtagged. To non-natives the political situation in contemporary Thailand can seem confusing and complex. The nation is notorious for its endemic corruption and its industrialized sex trade. For those curious about contemporary Thai politics and how it relates to Thai history, Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a former reporter for Reuters, has written A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand's Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century. Published by Asian Arguments, an imprint of Zed Books, A Kingdom in Crisis removes the veil of Western stereotypes and Thai government propaganda. This is high stakes muckraking.

Thailand has a reputation for good food, a thriving sex trade, and a fanatical devotion to King Rama IX. Like other nation-states, Thailand created its own mythology, involving a monarch who ruled over his subjects like a parent ruling over his or her offspring. Marshall examines how this myth was created, how it adapted when Western powers intervened, and how the elite (aka business interests, royal courtiers) want to keep the monarchy under their control. Marshall's premise is once King Rama IX dies, there will be a succession crisis. This will have dire political, economic, and foreign policy consequences for Thailand. The blame partially falls on King Rama IX, since he has a track record for stifling democracy at every turn.

Thailand's monarchy draws its power from both Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions. In Buddhist thought, those who have led meritorious lives in the past can be reincarnated at a higher social station. In Hinduism, royalty is bestowed by sacred blood. Both these place the lower classes at a disadvantage. It is only recently that Thailand's subjects have sought to throw off the chains of oppression and demand their rights. The government has cracked down on dissent and political protest with despotic lese majeste law. In theory, lese majeste is used to punish those who speak ill of the King. In practice, anyone voicing dissatisfaction with the government faces stiff prison sentences. The lese majeste law allows for corruption, incompetence, and tyranny to thrive. It helps the Thai government sell the nation as a benevolent monarchy with a happy populace. With the rise of social media, less people are buying this fraudulent package.

As a fan of both Anthony Bourdain food reportage on Thailand and John Burdett's Bangkok 8 series, I came at this book completely ignorant of Thailand's political situation. While reasons abound for despair, Marshall does offer a few glimmers of hope. He tells about the burgeoning political savvy of the peasantry. Used to the bribery involved in democratic elections and the intimidation of partisan forces, they took the brilliant step of accepting money from all political parties and then voting for who they wanted.

A Kingdom in Crisis used a variety of sources, from scholarly texts to news articles. Marshall also used many leaked State Department documents archived at Wikileaks. United States officials working at the Embassy cast a jaundiced eye on Thailand's faux democracy. While much of what the Wikileaks documents say is not news, their public exposure lifts the veil off the political machinations and endemic corruption in the country. This is a must-read for those interested, traveling, or researching Southeast Asian politics.
 
Out of 10/9.5
 
Read even more about A Kingdom in Crisis: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, May 29, 2015. Filed under:
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The CCLaP Weekender for May 29th is here!

CCLaP Weekender for May 29th, 2015

It's Friday, which means it's time for the newest issue of the Pushcart-Prize-nominated CCLaP Weekender! This week's issue features a new original piece of fiction by Matt Rowan; a photography feature by Emily Esperanza; and a look at the next seven days of literary events happening all across the city. The PDF is completely free to download, using the links below, or can be viewed online in its "flippable" form at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above, if your particular device is able to display it).

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:14 AM, May 29, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Photography | Profiles |
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May 22, 2015

The CCLaP Weekender for May 22nd is here!

CCLaP Weekender for May 22, 2015

It's Friday, which means it's time for the newest issue of the Pushcart-Prize-nominated CCLaP Weekender! This week's issue features a new original piece of fiction by Tony Lindsay; a photography feature by Greg Reigh; and a look at the next seven days of literary events happening all across the city. The PDF is completely free to download, using the links below, or can be viewed online in its "flippable" form at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above, if your particular device is able to display it).

Make a voluntary $1 donation then download the issue
Download the issue for free
View this issue online at Issuu.com

Are you a fan of the CCLaP Weekender and want to help us keep it going? Then please consider an annual voluntary subscription! At $25, that is a mere 50 cents per issue, half as inexpensive as a Kindle Single with the same amount of content.

Buy a voluntary annual subscription to the CCLaP Weekender

Don't want to keep coming by the website for all this stuff? Then sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which will send you not only a reminder every Friday morning about each new issue of the Weekender, but also a recap of everything that has happened with the center in the last seven days (including news about recent author features and events from around the US, a look at all our latest eBay rare-book auctions, links to each book review we posted at the blog that week, and a lot more). To subscribe, simply sign up using the box below. We never sell your information nor send more than one email a week, and you can quit at any time!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:14 AM, May 22, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Photography | Profiles |
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May 21, 2015

Book Review: "God Help the Child" by Toni Morrison

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

God Help the Child, by Toni Morrison

God Help the Child
By Toni Morrison
Albert A. Knopf, Inc.
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

I was thoroughly satisfied with the first three quarters of God Help the Child. Not to say it was magnificent like Paradise or Song of Solomon, but I thought of it as another feather in Morrison's already-enviable cap. Good prose, effective rotating narrators, solid characters, and on top of that a good story. Main character Bride, spurned by her mother for her dark skin, finds herself reverting from grown woman to child after being attacked by a woman she put in jail for molesting children. So another one of those great grotesque horror stories with sociopolitical overtones Morrison so specializes in, great mix of the visceral and the cerebral; what's not to like?

Then came part four, and Morrison provided a concrete answer to my rhetorical question. The ending. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but let's say that the conflict resolves too quickly and too easily. With an extra fifty pages or a good toning-down, the ending could've been earned. As it stands now, it comes too swift and cleans up too much. Not even Morrison's efforts to complicate it fully come off, because it's just too bright and shiny to follow from what we've seen. Which isn't to say your ending has to be death and darkness and despair or anything of the sort. But Morrison has ended so many of her books so beautifully. Take the sheer excitement of Song of Solomon's conclusion, the lingering fade of A Mercy, the big question mark of the Bluest Eye. These are all great conclusions. Sad to say it, but I can't rank God Help the Child's among them.

That's not to say, of course, that God Help the Child is to be dismissed because of a dissatisfying ending. Most of it is quite good. Because of its rotating narrators and protagonist, a black girl made to feel disgraced by her race, comparisons to the Bluest Eye are inevitable. Still, the cycle-of-abuse undertones and use of a contemporary setting - a first for Morrison - make it a work with its own identity. It's just that she was quite close to another great novel, but ended it so poorly that it can only hope to be a very good one. Shame, really.

Out of 10: 8.2

Read even more about God Help the Child: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 7:00 AM, May 21, 2015. Filed under:
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May 18, 2015

Say hello to CCLaP's newest book, Joseph G. Peterson's "Twilight of the Idiots!"

Twilight of the Idiots, by Joseph G. Peterson

It's the middle of the month, which means it's time for another new original book from CCLaP! This month I'm extremely proud to announce the release of the story collection Twilight of the Idiots by local author Joseph G. Peterson, the second of two books we're publishing this year based on short stories that originally ran in our weekly electronic magazine, the CCLaP Weekender. Joe's a well-loved veteran of the Chicago literary community, with a series of popular and award-winning full-length novels under his belt; while this particular story collection is...well, perhaps it'd be best to just paste in the book's dust-jacket synopsis instead:

Know thyself and nothing in excess. Just as the doomed sailors of Homer's Odyssey fail to heed one or the other of these maxims, and end up getting turned to swine or lured to their peril by the singing sirens; so too do the doomed characters in Joseph G. Peterson's new collection of stories fail idiotically in one way or another and end up, like those ancient sailors, facing the prospect of their own mortal twilight. Set mostly in Chicago and by turns gruesome, violent, comic, lurid and perverse, these stories are suffused with a metaphorical light that lends beauty and joy to the experience of reading them.

Yeah, I know, pretty great, huh? But don't take my word for it -- check out some of the early accolades this book has already garnered...

"For me Joe Peterson's voice is a fresh pair of feet on the very dusty road of contemporary American literature." --Dan Fante, best-selling author of 86'd

"[C]haracters so alive and potent, their psyches marinate in your bones for weeks after you finish the book. This short story collection is a unique ode to the glimmer of beauty in the ugliness of the world. ...Peterson storytelling at its finest." --Chicago Literati

"Peterson's one of the most underappreciated authors on the underappreciated Chicago scene; I stumbled across him at a local literary event, and picked up one of his earlier books, and felt like I'd been let in on a secret. And this excellent collection sees him firing on all cylinders, crafting a memorable set of stories populated by pathetic and lovable characters who take us great places without ever going anywhere themselves." --Jerry Brennan, owner of Tortoise Books

As always with CCLaP, the ebook version of Twilight of the Idiots is being offered completely for free here at our website, just in the hopes of increasing the book's overall audience (and resulting number of online reviews, hint-hint); or if you're a Kindle owner and would prefer to have the book delivered directly to your device wirelessly, you can pick it up for $4.99 over at the Kindle Store. Or of course, if like me you prefer your reading experiences to be more traditional, we have a snazzy paperback version available for $14.99 as well, which you can order directly from us using the following Paypal button...

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And of course don't forget this book's listing at Goodreads.com; word-of-mouth is easily the number-one way we generate new customers for our books, so your mention of Joe's collection there can and does make a concrete difference in how many copies it ends up selling.

Live in Chicago? Then I hope you'll also have a chance to come out to the book's release party, happening tomorrow, May 18th, over at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie), from 6:30 to 8 pm. I have to say, I'm incredibly proud to have Joe on CCLaP's catalog now, especially with this being the specific book that has pushed us to add such new things in our routine as paper review copies we're now sending out to such bigger publications as the New York Times and Publishers Weekly. This is a darkly funny and moving collection of pieces about various lumpen proletariats in the Chicago area, and I strongly encourage you to download or order a copy as soon as you have a chance.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, May 18, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Chicago news | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Profiles |
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