personal indulgences
Par Lagerkvist:
Herod and Mariamne
Joseph Heller:
Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man
Kurt Vonnegut:
Franz Kafka:
The Metamorphosis and Other Stories
Howard Zinn:
A People's History of the United States
Azar Nafisi:
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Ben Katchor:
Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District
Barbara Freese:
Coal: A Human History
Barbara Ehrenreich: Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
Roy Emerson Stryker:
In This Proud Land: America, 1935-1943, As Seen in the FSA Photographs
Stuart Dybek:
Childhood and Other Neighborhoods
Stuart Brent:
The Seven Stairs
Jim Thompson:
The Nothing Man
Studs Terkel:
Talking to Myself
Philip Levine:
The Mercy
Dave Eggers:
You Shall Know Our Velocity!
Peter Matthiessen:
At Play in the Fields of the Lord
Upton Sinclair:
The Jungle
Ben Hecht:
Erik Dorn
John Dos Passos:
Manhattan Transfer
Travis Hugh Culley:
The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power
Aleksandar Hemon:
The Question of Bruno
Kristina Borjesson (editor):
Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press
Roddy Doyle:
A Star Called Henry
Bill Ganzel:
Dust Bowl Descent
Gordon Baldwin (editor):
In Focus: Eugene Atget
Jack Gelber:
The Connection
Nelson Algren:
The Neon Wilderness
Calvin Trillin:
Deadline Poet
Clifford Odets:
Golden Boy
James Thurber:
Thurber Country
F. Richard Ciccone:
Royko: A Life In Print
Joseph Heller:
Knut Hamsun:
Judy Blunt:
Breaking Clean
Tess Slesinger:
The Unpossessed
Richard Condon:
The Manchurian Candidate
H.E.F. Donohue and Nelson Algren:
Conversations with Nelson Algren
Harper Lee:
To Kill A Mockingbird
Bill Bryson:
I'm A Stranger Here Myself
David Benioff:
The 25th Hour
Ben Katchor:
Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer
Studs Terkel:
Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith
John Colapinto:
About the Author
Aleksandar Hemon:
Nowhere Man
Jack Conroy and Curt Johnson (editors):
Writers in Revolt: The Anvil Anthology
John Steinbeck:
The Grapes of Wrath
Kate Jennings:
Moral Hazard
James Agee and Walker Evans:
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
Michael Collins:
The Keepers of Truth
Walker Evans:
Simple Secrets
Ernest J. Gaines:
A Lesson Before Dying
Robert Reid and Larry Viskochil (editors):
Chicago and Downstate: Illinois as Seen by the Farm Security Administration Photographers, 1936-1943
Jonathon Raban:
Passage to Juneau: A Sea and its Meanings
Galen Rowell:
Poles Apart: Parallel Visions of the Arctic and Antarctic
Raymond Chandler:
The Big Sleep
Ralph Ellison:
Flying Home and Other Stories
Studs Terkel:
Nick Hornby:
How To Be Good
Alfred L. Brophy:
Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Riot of 1921
Robert Gordon:
Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters
Kenn Harper:
Give Me My Father's Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo
Jim Thompson:
Wild Town
Michael Martone (editor):
Carl Hiassen: 
Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World
Ian Frazier:
The Fish's Eye: Essays About Angling and the Outdoors
Richard Rayner:
Drake's Fortune
Olov Isaksson & Soren Hallgren: 
Bishop Hill: A Utopia on the Prairie
Calvin Trillin:
Tepper Isn't Going Out
John Cassidy:
Dot.con: The Greatest Story Ever Sold
Erik Wahlgren:
The Vikings and America
Robert J. Casey:
Chicago Medium Rare
Mike Royko:
Up Against It
Wayne F. Miller: 
Chicago's South Side, 1946-48
Simon Winchester:
The Map That Changed the World
Rockwell Kent:
N by E
The Onion:
Dispatches from the Tenth Circle: The Best of the Onion
Alex Kotlowitz:
The Other Side of the River: Two Towns, A Death, and America's Dilemma
Nelson Algren:
Frank McCourt:
Angela's Ashes
Art Speigelmann:
Ben Hecht: 
A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago
W.C. Heinz:
The Professional
Michael Azerrad:
Our Band Could Be Your Life
George Ade:
John Griesemer:
No One Thinks of Greenland
Ralph Ellison:
Lealan Jones and Lloyd Newman: 
Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago
Frank Harris: 
The Bomb
Jim Thompson: 
After Dark, My Sweet
Alan Ehrenhalt: 
The Lost City: Rediscovering the Virtues of Community in 1950's Chicago
Jim Redd: 
The Illinois and Michigan Canal: A Contemporary Perspective in Essays and Photographs
Art Shay: 
Album For An Age
Bill Bryson: 
In A Sunburned Country
Knut Hamsun: 
William Least Heat-Moon:
River-Horse: A Voyage Across America
David Sedaris:
Me Talk Pretty One Day
Terry Evans:
Disarming the Prairie
Jon Krakauer: 
Into the Wild
Ralph Ellison:
Invisible Man
Carl Sandburg: 
Chicago Poems
Mike Royko: 
Sez Who? Sez Me
Nelson Algren: 
Chicago: City on the Make
Husker Du: Zen Arcade
(Buy it at Insound)

This is a double album without any filler material. But saying it has no filler doesn't necessarily mean that it's start-to-finish essential. One of the maddening things about Husker Du was their habit of alternating magnificent epics with unlistenable (overplayed or underproduced) noise. Side Two is nearly a complete waste, its melodies obliterated by the sheer force of the band's power. Side One, despite the twin highlights of "Something I Learned Today" and the rare (for its era) acoustic "Never Talking to You Again," is still a disappointment. Bob Mould's vocal on "Chartered Trips" is lost due to poor miking, and "Broken Home, Broken Heart" is stunted by indifferent production. At times, the band seems in too much of a big hurry to get things recorded and move on to something else.

But the shortcomings and occasional lapses can't prevent Zen Arcade from attaining greatness. Just as the depths of a valley accentuate the grandeur of a neighboring mountain, the misses and duds of Zen Arcade make you appreciate the magnificence of the album's second half. Endure the difficult Side Two, and you will be rewarded. The odd, slighly mis-tuned bass intro to "What's Going On" starts the album's transformation, and Mould and Grant Hart's dual shouted vocals (a rarity for them, other than on this album) are clear and true. It's followed by Hart's overdose tragedy "Pink Turns to Blue" which alone is worth the price of the album. Greg Norton's rolling bass line introduces "Standing by the Sea," perfectly imitating the incessant wash of waves on a lonely beach. Angry, wordy rockers "Somewhere," "Whatever" and "Newest Industry" are interspersed with odd instrumentals, loosening things up before "Turn on the News" hits with an overwhelming fury. Hart's vocals vainly question how the world ever got to be such messed-up place--when it could just as easily be Eden--while Mould's pummelling guitar hits you in the chest, leaving you gasping for air.

The twelve-minute instrumental opus, "Reoccuring Dreams," finishes the album as a defiant statement of purpose, expressing the band's refusal to be pegged as just another hardcore band. That may have been the case earlier in their career, but on Zen Arcade, Husker Du gloriously breaks free.
I would have loved it when I was nine. This would have sent my childhood in an entirely different direction. Real buried treasure. Even if the kid didn't believe the Moroccan part, still it would be so expanding, would open their minds to such possibilities--this act alone could keep a child--and his or her friends, and theirs--from the grey low-slung sky of adolescence; whenever they would feel that they'd seen everything, or, conversely, that the extraordinary was not possible--and how funny that those two things, diametrically opposed, are always both found in the jaded brain--whenever that happened they'd remember the treasure, the Moroccans on the run, the fact that they'd found the money here, in this ragged forest by the tracks on the edge of their tiny town--

I wanted this so badly when I was young. With this my ceiling would have been higher.

-- Dave Eggers, You Shall Know Our Velocity!
Angeline, Angeline, darker nights I've never seen
I don't love these East Texas pines
Where I can't find my sleep in the shadows so deep
And dark as the doubts in my mind

Freight train on the trestle rolling east towards the Natchez
Like the one I got off of so long ago
Outside of a small town where I didn't mean to settle down
Not knowing the seeds I would sow

Barefoot in the autumn weeds, cotton dress hanging to your knees
To the eyes of a stranger you offered a smile
Took a job in your daddy's fields, didn't seem like such a bad deal
At least it would do for a while

We were both young and unabashed, we took what life offered
While your folks were distracted or too tired to care
As the cold gripped the land the fates forced our hand
Your dresses fit tighter with the spring in the air

Now I watch the trains rattle on from the seat of the tractor
Your daddy's old harness still hangs in the barn
And your mama don't like it that our children all scattered
She says it's my blood, it was not meant to farm

And you and I don't talk a lot, we don't really have to
We've spent many a year reading each other's minds
We gave up the lightning, now we don't bother fighting
These things will happen in time

Angeline, Angeline, darker nights I've never seen
I don't love these East Texas pines
Where I can't find my sleep in the shadows so deep
And dark as the doubts in my mind

-- James McMurtry, "Angeline"
""Writing can't be taught, but you can coax it out."
-- ZZ Packer

"The day that news (of poet Richard Brautigan's death) was published I cried myself to sleep out of some sense of helplessness of the individual in the face of the great American culture machine. Seven weeks later, I finally stopped the worst of my own bad habits, alternating glasses of Jack Daniels with bottles of beer every evening. I havenít had a drink since."
-- Ron Silliman

"We must for dear life make our own counter-realities."
-- Henry James

"If you really want to hurt your parents, and you donít have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. But do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show youíve been to college."
-- Kurt Vonnegut

"The law represents what people thought right some time ago, because it takes time to enact a law. When circumstances change, what was right ceases to be."
-- Bertrand Russell

"Literature has been the salvation of the damned, literature has inspired and guided lovers, routed despair and can perhaps in this case save the world."
-- John Cheever

"I'm kind of running out of steam. But I'll always do books...There's a chance I won't finish the book, but that's what I do. I'll have my two martinis daily. I tell my cardiologist, 'I have two martinis a day, but what about my cholesterol count?' He says, 'At your age, cholesterol count is about as relevant to you as truth is to George W. Bush.' And that's about the ticket. I keep going, of course. Otherwise, I'd fade out. I don't intend to fade out, I intend to check out."
-- Studs Terkel

"The security of the Nation is not at the ramparts alone. Security also lies in the values of our free institutions. A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know."
-- Judge Murray I. Gurfein, in 1971

"If these Mount Everests of the financial world are going to labor and bring forth still more pictures with people being blown to bits with bazookas and automatic assault rifles with no gory detail left unexploited, if they are going to encourage anxious, ambitious actors, directors, writers and producers to continue their assault on the English language by reducing the vocabularies of their characters to half a dozen words, with one colorful but overused Anglo-Saxon verb and one unbeautiful Anglo-Saxon noun covering just about every situation, then I would like to suggest that they stop and think about this: making millions is not the whole ball game, fellows. Pride of workmanship is worth more. Artistry is worth more."
-- Gregory Peck, in 1989

"A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for the coffin."
-- H.L. Mencken

"In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable."
-- John Steinbeck

"I do not object to people looking at their watches when I am speaking. But I strongly object when they start shaking them to make certain they are still going."
-- Lord Birkett

"Let thy speech be better than silence, or be silent."
-- Dionysius the Elder

"I have great influence with homicidal women. Woman who are halfway between homicide and just general unrest, I influence toward homicide."
-- Nelson Algren

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them."
-- Mark Twain

"We now have cultural machines so powerful that one singer can reach everybody in the world, and make all the other singers feel inferior because they're not like him. Once that gets started, he gets backed by so much cash and so much power that he becomes a monstrous invader from outer space, crushing the life out of all the other human possibilities. My life has been devoted to opposing that tendency."
-- Alan Lomax

"Democracies die behind closed doors."
-- Judge Damon J. Keith, in a ruling declaring that the Bush administration acted unlawfully in holding deportation hearings in secret.

"Great records don't need anyone's permission to be great."
-- John Darnielle

"Reading is a private, often quietly subversive activity. To make it public, and citywide, and unitary, is in a way against the whole spirit of reading."
-- Joseph Epstein, Northwestern University professor, on the "One Book, One Chicago" reading program.
Literary Excerpt: Manhattan Transfer
Sebadoh, Bubble and Scrape
Literary Excerpt: A Star Called Henry
Morphine, The Night
Ten Best Books Personally Read In 2002
Literary Excerpt: Will the Circle Be Unbroken?
Literary Excerpt: The Grapes of Wrath
Joel Phelps, Warm Springs Night
Observation - new music bewilderment