Sunday, December 25, 2005


It's the Reader's annual fiction issue again, and once again it's an exercise in small-pond-ism. The idea of a Chicago-centric fiction issue sounds OK at first. But the Reader manages to make it virtually unreadable. They start with a groundless assumption: that Chicago writers will inevitably produce 4-7, and only 4-7, stories per year that the rest of us will want to read. In fact, Chicago writers produce a varying number, but the Reader only bothers to find and publish 1-2, padding the issue with 2-5 that aren't worth reading.

I'm assuming the authors are Chicago-based. The Reader doesn't bother to run an editor's letter or any biographical info for the authors, so I have to infer that they're Chicagoans. Actually, one of the authors got a bio: Hillary Frank, whose story "Arachibutyrophobia" is (coincidentally?) the only good one. Why does she, and she alone, get a bio? I got the feeling the editors stuck it in because they needed to fill up a few extra lines. Either way, it doesn't seem to have crossed the editors' minds that readers might want to look up other stories by these authors or just have a general idea of where they're coming from.

That said, there's no need to provide a bio for many of these people, since they're well-known members of the Reader's crumbling stable of regulars. The editors' lazy reliance on the same people year after year is infuriating considering how many bright young writers are out there, desperate to be published.

It would be so easy to fix this problem. They could make the issue regional in scope, publishing authors from Champaign-Urbana, Ann Arbor, Madison, etc. They could solicit stuff from the numerous local writers who have established national reputations. They could put the word out to the heads of creative writing programs at AIC, Columbia College, etc. Hell, they could even have a local first-time fiction contest.

But for any of these to work the editors would have to devote some time to putting the issue together. Since it seems to exist for the sole purpose of keeping the ad revenue flowing while the editors take a holiday vacation (raising the inescapable question: "Vacation from what?") I can't see that happening.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

I have chosen to stay and suck

A flurry of scrappy contentiousness whipped up by a recent post reminded me of something that's confounded me for a while now: the irrational loyalty that low-to-medium-level Reader staffers cherish for their employer. I really feel for these people. Clearly they've internalized the ideology of their oppressors, and their careers are paying the price.

Look, if you're one of the non-sinecured non-dinosaurs on the staff, you have absolutely no reason to feel loyal to the Reader. Take a look around: How much turnover do you see among the higher-level positions? I haven't scrutinized the masthead, but if Rosenbaum/Joravsky/Margasek/etc are any evidence, there isn't a whole lot of turnover.

Low turnover in the upper ranks = few opportunities for advancement. So even if you're terrific at your job, you're never going to snag one of those top-level sinecures. Even if you're better than Rosenbaum/Joravsky/Margasek/etc -- and let's face it, it's hard not to be -- you're never going to rise to their level. Because they've got those jobs for life, or until a better opportunity comes along -- which it never will, because they suck.

Just something to think about.

Monday, December 12, 2005

A fun game

Q: How do you tell the difference between this story and this story?

A: One is parody; the other is self-parody.

(Also acceptable: The first was a timely critique when it was written five years ago; the first is entertaining and trenchant; the first has a clever illustration.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Rosenbaum raves!

It's no secret that Jonathan Rosenbaum is a tough critic to please. Especially when it comes to mainstream Hollywood fare. The Hours? It "reduces Virginia Woolf and her art to a set of feminist stances and a few plot points, without reference to style or form." Grosse Pointe Blank? "An unholy mess that becomes steadily more incoherent--morally, dramatically, and conceptually."

But Rent... that's another story. Here at last is a film worthy of his precious regard. Those melodramatic plasticky pop songs that insult the aesthetic of the mid-80s East Village? They're "nicely realized, and fondly reminiscent of dopey early-70s musicals like Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar." And how can you go wrong when "the property itself is a knockout, with great tunes and engaging portraits of bohemians"?

Those bohemians were just so exotic, weren't they? Seriously, I can see why he likes it. It was an homage (that means "rip-off") to a highfalutin opera, La Boheme. And it reminds us that AIDS is, like, bad and stuff. And you get to see Idina Menzel's pale white ass. What a hibrow treat!

You just know Rosey was tickled pink when the traveling production came here a few years ago. I can just picture him tapping his foot and doing the white-boy head-bob during "La Vie Boheme."