June 2008 Archives

Just plain wacky

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If you were a kid in the mid-'70s, it's likely you collected Wacky Packs, as we all referred to them. (Officially they were/are Wacky Packages.) They came packaged like baseball cards — complete with the not-so-fresh, sugar-coated stick of bubble gum — and for a short time were more popular.

The famed Series One through Series Seven (from 1973-74) have been put together in book form to celebrate the phenomenon's 35th anniversary. Wacky Packages (Abrams, 239 pages, $19.95) will perhaps take you back to a time when you started looking at life askance — and never looked back.

wacky2 wacky1

wacky4 wacky3

As you can see here, the Topps company tapped into our most depraved sensibilities with their product parodies. And the accompanying artwork by guys like Norm Saunders, Bill Griffith, Kim Deitch, Art Spiegelman and Chicago artist Jay Lynch became embedded in our brains.

Spiegelman and Lynch provide the introduction and afterword, respectively. "The dopey gags came easily. This was a dream job," writes Spiegelman. "Yessirree — I am proud to have been a worker in the debased basement of the great temple of commerce that is America's popular culture."

Lynch sums it up: "Thirty-five years later, they're still funny. What more could we hope for?"


Shawn Colvin writing memoir

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Shawn Colvin, the Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, is working on a memoir, A Few Small Repairs, named for her best-known album and tentatively scheduled to come out in the fall 2009.

According to HarperCollins, the book ‘‘will finally allow all of the fans that have followed her career over the past 19 years to further connect with her on a personal level that only a book could allow.

Shawn Colvin
Shawn Colvin (left) will trade her guitar
for a pen as she writes her memoirs.

| Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

‘‘In concert Shawn is known for engaging the audience and interweaving dialogue ranging from the very personal to the truly hilarious, so the book will be a natural extension for her,’’ the publisher said in a statement.

Colvin, 53, is known for such records as ‘‘Steady On,’’ ‘‘Fat City’’ and ‘‘A Few Small Repairs,’’ which featured the hit single ‘‘Sunny Came Home’’ and won Grammys for song and album of the year.


Queen knights Salman Rushdie

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LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II conferred a knighthood on The Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie on Wednesday, a year after the announcement of the knighthood provoked protests from the Muslim world.

Some Muslims accused Rushdie him of blasphemy in the book and Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini pronounced a death sentence on him in 1989.

‘‘I really have no regrets about any of my work,’’ Rushdie told reporters after being asked about The Satanic Verses. ‘‘This is, as I say, an honor not for any specific book but for a very long career in writing and I’m happy to see that recognized.’’

Salman Rushdie
British author Salman Rushdie
after receiving his Knighthood
at Buckingham Palace.

(John Stillwell/AP)

Rushdie, 61, published his first novel, Grimus, in 1975.

Success came with his next book, Midnight’s Children, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 1981.

Rushdie was forced to accept round-the-clock protection after The Satanic Verses was published in 1988. The Iranian government withdrew the death sentence in 1998 and Rushdie has gradually returned to public life.

‘‘It’s been a long time — my first novel was published 33 years ago but I think the thing you hope to do as a writer is leave behind a shelf of interesting books and it’s great just to have that work recognized,’’ Rushdie told reporters.

He added: ‘‘At this stage ,you know, it’s certainly not a day to talk about controversy, it’s a day for myself and my family to celebrate this.’’


Military historian Allan R. Millett will receive the Pritzker Military Library's 2008 Literature Award for Lifetime Acheivement. Millett will receive the $100,000 prize at the library's annual Liberty Gala on Oct. 4 at the Drake Hotel.

"The selection committee has honored an in dividual whose life's work in the area of understanding and wirting about military history is at the highest scholarly level," said James N. Pritzker, the library's founder and president. "Allan Millett's written work, teaching and other pursuits have educated and informed us all in a most profound way."

Allan Millett
Allan R. Millett

Millett's books include Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps; The Politics of Intervention: The Military Occupation of Cuba, 1906-1909; The General: Robert L. Bullard and Officership in the United States Army, and In Many a Strife: General Gerald C. Thomas and the U.S. Marine Corps.

Millett, a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, had this to say about the Pritzker award: "The award is especially satisfying since it is decided by a group of distinguished historians. I share this honor with my two co-authors, Peter Maslowski and Williamson Murray, and with our loyal legion of graduate students at the Ohio State University."

Trash find turns into literary treasure

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Chicago native Lily Koppel went Dumpster diving in her Manhattan neighborhood and came up with a treasure trove of memories in the form of a diary from the 1930s. Koppel tracked down the writer of the diary, Florence Wolfson, who is now 90 and living in Florida. Through interviews with Florence and entries from the diary, Koppel has crafted The Red Leather Diary (Harper, 336 pages, $23.95), a story of a curious, creative Upper East Side young woman in Depression-era Manhattan.

Red Leather Diary

Check out the video of Elizabeth Brackett's conversation with Koppel on WTTW-Channel 11's "Chicago Tonight" last week.

Win the Tony, write a memoir

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Hot off a big Tony win, actress Patti LuPone announces she's going to write a memoir. The untitled book is scheduled to come out in 2010, according to the publisher, Harmony Books, an imprint of Random House.

In her acceptance speech Sunday night, LuPone gave a shout-out to the Ravinia Festival for their continued summertime collaborations with her, specifically in regard to her pre-Broadway work on "Gypsy," for which she won this year'sTony Award. Maybe the book will feature a chapter on Ravinia (hint, hint). LuPone's only other Tony win came nearly 30 years ago when she won for originating the title role in "Evita."

Broadway star Patti LuPone just
after winning the Tony for her
role as Mama Rose in "Gypsy."

According to the publisher, LuPone will write about "her beginnings in Northport, Long Island, where she discovered that being onstage was the one place she couldn’t get into trouble, she takes us on the roller-coaster of professional highs ... and emotional lows (her humiliating firing from ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ nightclub work in the Catskills to pay the bills).’’

No word on how much she'll be paid for the book.

Rawi Hage wins IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

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DUBLIN, Ireland — Beirut-born writer Rawi Hage won one of the world’s most lucrative literary prizes Thursday for his debut novel De Niro’s Game, about two childhood friends who take different paths to survive amid civil war in the Lebanese capital.

Five judges from Ireland, Britain, Spain and the United States selected Hage for the $155,000 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His work beat 136 other books from 45 countries, all works published in English in 2006. All the books had been nominated by libraries worldwide.

Hage, 44, fled war-torn Beirut in the early 1980s, studied at the New York Institute of Photography and settled in 1991 in Montreal, where he has built a career as a photographer and essayist.

Rawi Hage De Niro's Game
Author Rawi Hage

The judges praised De Niro’s Game as ‘‘an eloquent, forthright and at times beautifully written first novel. Ringing with insight and authenticity, the novel shows how war can envelop lives.’’

Hage received the prize in a ceremony at Dublin City Hall and declared himself ‘‘a fortunate man.’’

‘‘After a long journey of war, displacement and separation, I feel that I am one of the few wanderers who is privileged enough to have been rewarded, and for that I am very grateful,’’ he said.

Hage said he sought to follow a tradition of authors ‘‘who have chosen the painful and costly portrayal of truth over tribal self-righteousness.’’

The other finalists were The Attack, by Yasmina Khadra; Let It Be Morning, by Sayed Kashua; The Woman Who Waited, by Andrei Makine; The Sweet & Simple Kind, by Yasmine Gooneratne; Dreams of Speaking, by Gail Jones; The Speed of Light, by Javier Cercas, and Winterwood, by Patrick McCabe — the lone Irish finalist.

The prize is run by Dublin’s public library system and financed by a Connecticut-based management consultancy called Improved Management Productivity and Control. IMPAC has its European headquarters in Dublin.


Tribute to fathers

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If you haven't picked up a Father's Day gift yet, my suggestion would be to head out to the closest bookstore and see if they have a cop of Tim Russert's Big Russ & Me or the follow-up, Wisdom of Our Fathers.

Russert's death last Friday sent shockwaves through the world of anyone interested in politics and good journalism. The longtime host of NBC's "Meet the Press" and the network's Washington bureau chief will be remembered as a tough but fair-minded interviewer and moderator. But above and beyond his life's calling Russert was a family man, the son of a sanitation worker and truck driver who knew the value of hard work, education and opportunity. He was also a husband (to Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth) and the father of one son, Luke, who recently graduated from college.

He will be missed.

Big Russ & Me is a tribute from Russert to his own father, and Wisdom of Our Fathers is the outpouring of letters and e-mails Russert received from sons and daughters after writing the first book.

Big Russ & Me Wisdom of Our Fathers

Madonna's brother, Christopher Ciccone is writing a memoir about his famous sister — titled Life With My Sister Madonna — and it's coming out next month, Simon & Schuster told the Associated Press.

Simon Spotlight Entertainment, an S&S imprint, had been promoting a mysterious "celebrity memoir" without identifying the author or subject. No details on how much little brother will make on the reported tell-all. The book will have a first printing of 350,000.

The 47-year-old Ciccone has worked with Madonna before, most notably as artistic director on her 1991 documentary, "Madonna: Truth or Dare," but the two are not close these days, according to Madonna's spokeswoman Liz Rosenberg, who told the AP: ‘‘Madonna has not cooperated with any biography about herself.’’

Christopher Ciccone
That's Christopher Ciccone on the left,
posing with his famous sister and film
director Alek Keshishian back in 1991
at the premiere of "Madonna: Truth
or Dare."
(AP photo)

Marlee Matlin working on a memoir

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Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin, hot off the last season of ‘‘Dancing With the Stars,’’ is working on a memoir, scheduled to come out next year.

Many folks might not know this about the 42-year-old Matlin, but she's no newbie to the literary beat. She wrote a novel in 2002, Deaf Child Crossing, and two children's books, Nobody’s Perfect and Leading Ladies. The tentative title for the memoir, to be published by Simon Spotlight Entertainment, a Simon & Schuster imprint: I’ll Scream Later.

Marlee Matlin
Marlee Matlin

‘‘As a young girl, I imagined myself as Marcia Brady who just happened to be deaf, skating down the street saying hi to everyone I knew,’’ Matlin said in a statement issued by the publisher. ‘‘But today, as a mom of four, I’m no longer Marcia. I’ve morphed into Alice, the Maid. Goodbye, Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.’’

Matlin made a big splash in the movie world when she won the best actress Oscar for her role in the 1986 film "Children of a Lesser God," opposite William Hurt, who became her off-screen lover as well. Will she tell all? Reportedly, she will ‘‘delve into her loves and life in Hollywood’’ and will write about her ‘‘unresolved issues and battles with addiction and abuse, many of which she kept hidden from the public and her family.’’

What your stuff says about you

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A coworker of mine has a miniature curling stone on his desk. Next to that are four fake ice cubes. I'm not sure what that says about him but if I started scrutinizing all the other things on his desk — toy Tigger, "Star Wars" characters, rubber creepy things, press pass to David Letterman appearance (not that I'm snooping while he's on vacation or anything) — I could probably come up with some kind of psychological profile.

Author and noted psychologist Sam Gosling says the stuff we own and how we arrange it can say more about us than even our most intimate conversations with our closest friends. And he's written a book about it: Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You (Basic Books, 250, $25).

What Your Stuff Says About You

Gosling and his team of researchers looked not only on desk tops but also through closets, iPods, refrigerators, Facebook profiles, underneath beds, in purses, bookshelves and more. Through their snooping, we readers should be able to figure out things like how committed our co-workers are and how reliable our new boyfriend or girlfriend is.

Good luck!

Rose Tremain wins Orange Prize

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LONDON — English writer Rose Tremain won Britain’s Orange Prize for fiction by women Wednesday with a novel about an Eastern European migrant in Britain.

The Road Home is Tremain’s 10th novel and follows the character of Lev, who arrives in Britain with no English and little money.

Kirsty Lang, the judges’ chair, said the novel was a ‘‘fantastic exercise in empathy.’’

‘‘She succeeded in putting herself in the head of an Eastern European migrant in contemporary Britain. She managed to tell the story in a very powerful way. It’s a male character ... in his 40s. She absolutely gets inside his head,’’ she said.

Orange Prize: Rose Tremain
British author Rose Tremain poses with her prize winning book at the Orange
Broadband awards ceremony in London Wednesday.
(Max Nash~Getty Images)

Tremain beat five finalists including two North American writers nominated for their first novels. Montreal-based Heather O’Neill was nominated for Lullabies for Little Criminals; Patricia Wood, a Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaii, was nominated for Lottery.

Tremain wins $60,000 and a bronze statue by artist Grizel Niven. The award’s full title is the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction after its sponsor, telecommunications company Orange, and is awarded only to women authors.

The prize is in its 13th year. Previous winners include Zadie Smith for On Beauty in 2006, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Half of a Yellow Sun last year.


'Dear American Airlines'

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I've heard a lot of buzz about the debut novel Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles, whose protagonist gets stuck at O'Hare Airport (who hasn't?) and decides to vent his frustrations on paper.

Dear American Airlines

Here's a review:


There could never be a debut novel more perfectly timed to enter the world than Jonathan Miles’ Dear American Airlines (Houghton Mifflin, 192 pages, $22).

The book is a novel-length complaint letter written by one angry American Airlines passenger who has been stranded in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and may miss his daughter’s wedding in Los Angeles.

Sound familiar? Just a few months ago, hundreds of thousands of actual American Airlines customers were stranded in airports across the country when the airline was forced to cancel 3,100 flights to check or redo something called ‘‘wiring bundles.’’ The universe, or at least the Federal Aviation Administration, has apparently gift-wrapped a marketing campaign just for this book.

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