Joyce Carol Oates in Chicago March 15

If you’re a fan, you’ll have two chances Monday, March 15, 2010, to see–and maybe even ask a question of–Joyce Carol Oates at the Chicago Public Library.  At 2:30, British Oates scholar Gavin Cologne-Brooks moderates a question and answer session with  the author.  Then, at 6 p.m., Donna Seaman, an associate editor of Booklist and Chicago Public Radio book critic, engages  Oates in conversation about her wide-ranging body of work.  These events are presented by the Columbia College Fiction Writing Department as part of their Story Week 2010.
Among Oates’s more than one hundred books in every genre imaginable, are the Oprah Book Club selection We Were the Mulvaneys, National Book Award finalists Blonde and The Gravedigger’s Daughter, New York Times best seller The Falls, and her latest suspense thriller, A Fair Maiden.

“Writing English as a Second Language”

William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well has been a great resource to writers around the world for over 30 years. Recently, he spoke to incoming international students at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism about “certain principles of writing good English.” While his original audience included writers for whom English is a second or perhaps even third or fourth language, the principles he talks about are helpful for anyone interested in writing well in English.

Happy Birthday, Ogdred Weary

It is hard to imagine a better day on which to celebrate the birth of Edward Gorey than this past Monday, February 22nd. Looking out the library windows one couldn’t help but think that the cold, gray, gloomy, windswept day with the black tree branches shrouded skeletally with fresh snow would have pleased Mr. Gorey immensely. The author and artist behind such ghastly amusements as The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Doubtful Guest, and The Epiplectic Bicycle was born in Chicago 85 years ago this week. In honor of the man, his life, and his charmingly disgusting and horridly bemusing body of work, I’d like to take this opportunity to offer some suggested reading to help you celebrate all things grim and Gorey. Continue reading

A Little Birthday Cash

Johnny Cash a San Quentin, 1969.

Johnny Cash performing at San Quentin State Prison, February 1969. Click on the photo to watch footage from the show.

On February 26, 1932, he was born to poor Southern Baptist sharecroppers in the tiny town of Kingsland, Arkansas.  In 1950, he was stationed in West Germany to eavesdrop on Soviet radio traffic for the U.S. Air Force.  By 1956, he was perched atop the Billboard charts with his song “I Walk the Line” and well along the road to becoming an American legend.  He was Johnny Cash, and today would have been his 78th birthday. 

Over a career that spanned nearly 50 years, Cash’s distinctively deep baritone and “freight train” rhythm resonated with fans of country, rock, blues, folk, and gospel music and carried him to the pinnacle of musical success.  He won 17 Grammy Awards, sold over 90 million records, hosted a successful primetime T.V. show, and was inducted into both the Country Music and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame.  But along with these great heights there also came devastating lows.  Cash’s struggles with drugs and alcohol cost him his first marriage, wreaked havoc upon his health, and saw him jailed for smuggling amphetamines across the U.S.-Mexico border.  Through it all, however, Cash remained true to his humble roots while singing both to and for the downtrodden, downhearted, and down-and-out.  He was a rebel, a reformer, and above all, a relevent artist who continued to reach new audiences up until his death in 2003 from complications with diabetes. 

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LA Times Book Prize includes Two New Awards

In addition to a deeper shortlist than ever before, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize announces two new awards. One is the first-ever Graphic Novel Prize, making the LA Times Book Prize the first major book award in the United States to bestow this honor in a category that has for years included a rich and varied body of exciting titles.  

The second is the Innovator’s Award. Mad props to Dave Eggers who is the inaugural recipient of this award. Eggers is the author of What is the WhatA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and the recent book Zeitoun, a quintessentially American story about Abdulrahman Zeitoun’s experiences in New Orleans during and following Hurricane Katrina, the contradictions at the heart of our country and Zeitoun’s reconciliation of hope with devastation and profound beauty with a stew of sewage, death and destruction. Zeitoun is a 2009 LA Times book prize finalist in the Current Interest category.
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I Feel Like a Million Books!!!

Thursday, February 25, 2010 marks a very special occasion. Sometime tomorrow, one lucky patron will check out the 1,000,000th item to circulate at the library this year. For the first time ever we’re going to hit the one million (!) mark for items checked out from Evanston’s three libraries (North, South, and Main Branches) in the past twelve months. And it wouldn’t have happened without all you good folks in Evanston and the Chicagoland area recognizing and appreciating the wonderful (and money-saving) resource of your local libraries. So a hearty and heartfelt “Thank You” to everyone for making us here at the library feel so necessary, especially in these difficult times. Be sure to stop by your favorite Evanston Public Library branch (or, if you can’t pick just one favorite, go nuts and stop by all three!) on February 25th to help us celebrate. The lucky patron who checks out the 1,000,000th item this year will win a handy-dandy EPL tote bag stuffed to the gills with library goodness. Inside are great prizes including free tickets to Ravinia, a punch-card for 10 free DVD rentals at the library, a Caldecott Medal winning book, commemorative EPL note cards, and more. And if you’re lucky enough to be our winner, we promise not to embarrass you. Well, not too much, anyway. So get on into the library and make use of the coolest card in town. You’ll be glad you did. And thanks again, Evanston, you’re truly a swell and well-read bunch.

Simple Rules for Writers

A few years back Elmore Leonard wrote a brief piece for the New York Times (later published as a short book) detailing his 10 Rules of Writing. His list included many practical tips: avoid prologues, keep your exclamation points under control, try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip. Inspired by his list, the UK’s Guardian newspaper has solicited writing tips from a veritable who’s who of contemporary authors. Speaking to everyone from Margaret Atwood to Jonathan Franzen, Neil Gaiman to Joyce Carol Oates, and many, many more fiction and non-fiction writers, the Guardian has compiled a lengthy list of helpful tips for writing that manage to be practical, profound, funny, and motivational in equal parts. Below is a sampling of our favorites culled from the lists. For the Guardian’s complete “Rules for Writing Fiction,” click here.

Rose Tremain: Never begin the book when you feel you want to begin it, but hold off a while longer.

David Hare: Write only when you have something to say.

Annie Proulx: Write slowly and by hand only about subjects that interest you.

P.D. James: Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft.

Will Self: Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.

Geoff Dyler: Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.

Jonathan Franzen: It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

Helen Dunmore: Finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue.

Zadie Smith: When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.

Roddy Doyle: Do not place a photograph of your ­favorite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.