Language “Is Everything”: A Call For Creativity
by Julia Fine

Brain PenI remember the moment I discovered I was guilty of the colloquial verbal tic. Even before the “like’s” and “totally’s” that would define my generation spread their way into my speech, it hit me that I’d sometimes get stuck on certain words. My specific revelation was that I had just used the word “awful” for the tenth time in a twenty minute conversation. Embarrassed, I took note. I expanded my study of preteen dialogue to find that my descriptors came in phases.  Sometimes, I needed to start every sentence with the qualifier “I feel like,” other times it was “no offense, but.” Some months, everything was “awful,” others it all was just “grotesque.” (I was at that age, what can I say.)

The verbal tic remains persistent, even when stripped of its angst, and has stuck around to infect my adult conversation as well. I find myself repeating “that’s ridiculous” or tweeting “just a thought.” My boyfriend goes through catchphrases like “I will say this much” or “at the end of the day” the way P. Diddy (Puffy? Who is he nowadays?) goes through names. Is this slang? Are we channeling some cultural conversation? I’d argue that we aren’t. What keeps the verbal tic from becoming simply slang is how insidiously it creeps into our language. Slang is fun and appropriative, used deliberately to be part of the crowd. The verbal tic is unconscious, unsummoned, sneaking up from the dark recesses of the brain to be chastised moments after it escapes. It is a product of salience — the words are at the top of our minds, so we use them over and over and over.

In medical terms, a tic is an uncontrollable mental “itch” that a symptom-sufferer just has to scratch. I do not want to belittle the struggle faced by those with Tourette’s Syndrome or other neurological diagnoses by implying that cultural linguistics are by any means a similar problem.  (For an eyeopening look at young people with Tourette’s Syndrome, I highly recommend the documentary I Have Tourette’s But Tourette’s Doesn’t Have Me.) I use the word tic because it comes the closest to describing the phenomenon I’m discussing, the curious way that words worm themselves into our brains and demand to be repeated, despite a proliferation of often more appropriate words we might uncover if we only took the time. Continue reading

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Please Don’t Move This Chair: Nina Sankovitch at The Book Cellar
by Jess Millman

Letter Writing

NINA SANKOVITCH. PHOTO COURTESY OF CTPOST.COM.

Banana bread, root beer, and weekday night readings – you’re probably at The Book Cellar. If you were there last Wednesday night, you’d have been sitting with me in the tight, country kitchen geometry of their café, listening to Nina Sankovitch (author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair) read us bits and bobs from her newest book, Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing.

Sleeve the cheese off the title; the veal inside is good. Signed, Sealed, Delivered is not a simple letter collection reprint or a preachy lament about the lost art of honest-to-God handwriting. Sankovitch has written a memoir interlocked with a historian’s desire to discover people by reassembling – piecemeal – their words, memories, ink blots, and willowy penmanship. The book (and Wednesday’s talk) began with the story that in turn began the book: a steamer trunk of old college letters found inside a writer’s new home. She read us passages from inside that trunk, mostly consisting of a homesick freshman’s thoughts to his mother in the early 1900s. They are the peacefully mundane stuff of daily life: someone is cavorting, someone will study tomorrow, someone is about to receive a tuition bill. But one of those keepsakes, not more than a scribble on a loose page, stands out: “PLEASE DO NOT MOVE THIS CHAIR.”

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Mood Surreal: Boris Vian’s L’Écume des Jours

PHOTO COURTESY OF WEARETHEFRONTIER.COM

PHOTO COURTESY OF WEARETHEFRONTIER.COM

Boris Vian’s 1947 novel L’Écume des Jours (either Froth on the Daydream or Foam of the Daze in English, depending on your translation) has been called unfilmable, but on July 25th Michel Gondry’s recent cinematic adaptation will open at the Gene Siskel Film Center at 164 N State St. (Take note: friends of Literary Chicago can get a discounted ticket by using the code “LIT.”)

Despite its reputation, this adaptation actually marks the novel’s third appearance on the silver screen. In 1968, French director Charles Belmont released a version called L’Écume des jour, and a Japanese adaptation by director Gô Rijû, called Chloe, came out in 2001. This time around, Gondry is using the English title Mood Indigo—a textual deviation, but a fitting name for a whimsical story that plays across the page like jazz music.

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Staff Q&A: From Page to Screen

In this regular feature, we ask our staff a literary question that we’re dying to have answered, and we also want to hear from you! Please use the comments section to tell us about your literary tastes, recommend some reading, or even call us out on something if you disagree.

books-vs-movies

PHOTO COURTESY OF PRINCEOFTHEUNIVERSE.WORDPRESS.COM

This time, we want to know:

What is your favorite book-to-screen adaptation? What book-to-screen adaptation is the absolute worst?

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Not All Who Wander are Lost: Finding an Honest Guide in Ben Tanzer’s “Lost in Space”
by Jeff Toth

Lost in Space

“So you also look for signs to provide you some kind of roadmap for where things might possibly be going, because even a sign that is hard to read or navigate is better than none.” — Ben Tanzer, from the essay “The Boy with the Curious Hair”

Full disclosure: despite what may seem like a daunting title, Ben Tanzer’s Lost in Space: A Father’s Journey There and Back Again is neither hard to read nor difficult to navigate. It is, instead, an incredibly honest take on the joys and fears every parent experiences, sometimes long before their children are even a part of the picture. With a blend of humor, inventive structuring, and sometimes sobering truth, Tanzer explores the wide array of influences and instances that continue to shape his journey as a father and as a man. As signs go, Lost in Space is everything a person in need of a guide through the uncertainty of adulthood, manhood, parenthood, personhood, could hope for. At least that was the experience of this reader. I’ll explain.

I first encountered the author and his latest collection of essays in Seattle of all places. We set out separately from our respective homes in Chicago in late February to attend the annual conference for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP)—Mr. Tanzer, no doubt, kissing his wife and two sons goodbye before setting out to share his work with the literary masses, while I was taking the last trip I would ever take on my own before becoming a father myself. Then again, it wasn’t so much a “trip” for me as it was an exploratory mission. Continue reading

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Down-and-Dirty Writing Process: Jen Bosworth

Jen Bosworth

IMAGE COURTESY OF ADAMNNICELADY.COM

If you spend any time exploring Chicago’s live lit scene, you’re bound to run into Jen Bosworth. A graduate of The Theatre School of Depaul University with a number of stage and screen credits, including The Steppenwolf’s adaptation of The House on Mango Street, Bosworth has—for a decade—been combining her love of writing, her theater background, and her personal experiences to tell hilarious and heartbreaking stories in reading series throughout the city, including her own, the sorely missed Stories at the Store. She’s also a damn nice lady. That’s what her website says—adamnnicelady.com—and we know it’s true, because her solo show, Why Not Me…Love, Cancer and Jack White opens this weekend—it runs from July 18 to August 17 at the Heartland Studio in Rogers Park—and yet here she is, in the midst of opening week preparations, sharing the intimate details of her writing process with us at Literary Chicago, in the first installment of our ongoing feature: the Down-and-Dirty Writing Process. Let’s do it.
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The Write Spot: Star Lounge Coffee Bar
by Danette Chavez

Star LoungeI’m not the most disciplined writer: my attention is easily diverted, and I give myself a lot of time to “decompress” from my day job. So I’m often in search of a place to get work done without feeling tied to another desk. Oh, and to  enjoy several cups of delicious (read: strong) coffee. Star Lounge Coffee Bar (2521 W Chicago Ave) fits the bill, with lots of space, a friendly staff (with excellent taste in music), and said delicious coffee. I’m somewhat hesitant to add to their kudos, because I’d rather not fight any more folks for a spot at a table. But since this is one of my favorite spots to work away from home–and work–I’ll give you the rundown. Continue reading

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The Power of Story
by Scott Eagan

Once I Was CoolI have an admission I’d like to get out into the open before moving onto Megan Stielstra’s wonderful collection of personal essays, Once I Was Cool. I know the author. I mean, we’re not besties or anything. There was this time, not so long ago, when I decided, on a whim, to take a class taught by Bobby Biedrzycki and Megan Stielstra called Story and Performance—an experience I hold as one of the high points in my pursuit of an MFA degree at Columbia College Chicago. (Bobby makes a very powerful appearance in Once I Was Cool, in the essay “Dragons so Huge.”) For fifteen weeks I got to learn from Megan, while being exposed to fragments of this collection. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time. And every so often, as I read this book, these small moments would sweep in and leave me with this sense of familiarity, because I heard a part of the story, like with the first line to the essay “Those Who Were There.” Or like with this striking bit of insight on the nature and importance of story, which I highlighted then promptly wrote down in my journal:

Story—when done right—can help you find yourself in others, share realities that can’t possibly be real, and show a person or people a world that you never before imagined.

Here’s the thing: writing, like anything else in life, is a process. Even this review—the approach of which is a bit unorthodox, but who the hell says a review needs to be orthodox—is part of a process. A presentation of my opinion on Once I Was Cool with the intent to persuade—totally the case with this book—or dissuade—not the case with this book—the reader. But, and this is the important part, I need to first understand why I think Once I Was Cool is so good. Is worth both your money and time. Accomplishing that is not just about pinpointing the things that I liked, or admired. It’s also about the distillation of the work into those themes that resonate the strongest with me. And sometimes that can be tricky. So I’m going to walk you through the process I underwent in order to find those themes. Continue reading

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