January 2009 Archives

Obama's bro-in-law writing a book

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First brother-in-law Craig Robinson is taking advantage of the presidential momentum and is working on a book to be published next year by Gotham.

Robinson, big brother to first lady Michelle Obama and men's basketball coach at Oregon State University, says the book, titled A Game of Character, will be part tribute to his family and part inspirational guide. No doubt Chicago will play a big role in the book, as both Robinson and his famous sis grew up on the city's south side.

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson chats with his sister, first lady
Michelle Obama, on inauguration day.
(Jae Hong/AP)

"I've been privileged to know some extraordinary people in my life," Robinson said. "I've watched as my sister Michelle, a rock of a mother, became a leader in her own right. My brother-in law, President Barack Obama, who I knew from the first time I met him had something special, continues to inspire all of us."

Local literati on John Updike

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The death of John Updike yesterday had book lovers buzzing. Updike's work was so vast and varied that it's unlikely there's an adult out there that hasn't read something written by him. He wrote novels -- the Rabbit series by far the most popular -- and poetry and essays and literary criticism.

I asked my predecessor, novelist Henry Kisor, who was literary editor here at the Sun-Times for 30-plus years, for his thoughts on Updike as a writer:

"For my generation, his Rabbit novels were a beacon into our striving souls. He got us right. He told us more about ourselves than we ever knew was there. He was probably the finest 'man of letters' of his time, being not only a prolific -- and first-rate -- novelist but also a thoughtful critic, accomplished poet and all-around writer on an enormous range of subjects. I don't think anyone has ever written a better baseball essay than his 'Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu' piece on the retirement of Ted Williams."

Here are some more thoughts from local literati:

"I was a passionate Updike fan, especially of the four Rabbit novels, which I thought offered an unequaled portrait of the way the mind meets the present and rivaled Tolstoy in their breadth and their unsparing lack of sentimentality about a man who had grace within his grasp and repeatedly fumbled it away. When the last of the Rabbit books
appeared I wrote Updike a euphoric letter, which he was kind enough to answer. I met him once after that. He was kindly but remarkably aloof. A mutual friend talked about setting up a golf date for the three of us, but I never got to Massachusetts with my clubs. I made the mistake of thinking there was time. He was our greatest living man of letters and should have won the Nobel Prize long ago. As a novelist, he was like the girl with a
curl -- but his greatest work stands beside the very best books of the twentieth century." --Scott Turow

"His novels never really spoke to me, but I very much admired him as a
critic and an essayist and I thought more than almost any other person in
the world of letters he understood the interplay between fiction and culture
in the way that he wrote about it. It feels like a real loss, even though I
never knew him personally." --Sara Paretsky

"[Updike] has this great sense of humor; he never takes himself too seriously that he can't discuss issues of sexuality really frankly. That is part of his legacy as well. So much of his work deals with male sexuality. He was a pioneer in some ways." --Joe Meno

To write a single book is like climbing a steep mountain. A writer needs courage, discipline and devotion to one's craft. John Updike mustered these qualities fifty times, a feat few other writers will ever manage to accomplish. --Harry Mark Petrakis

I remember when I first read Rabbit Run, at the time a very searing indictment of the suburban landscape. Updike's ability to get under the surface of things, to get at the nub of frustration of middle class life was something I aspired too. I think he gave permission to writers to take on the suburbs and look for meaning. He is certainly one of our greats in that line of Mailer and Bellow. We are slowly losing a rich literary heritage. --William Elliott Hazelgrove

John Updike dies

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John Updike, 76, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, died today, according to an e-mail from his publisher.

John Updike
John Updike at Book Expo America in 2006.

"It is with great sadness that I report that John Updike died this morning at the age of 76, after a battle with lung cancer. He was one of our greatest writers, and he will be sorely missed," wrote Nicholas Latimer, VP of publicity at Knopf.

A prolific writer, arguably most known for his Rabbit novel series, Mr. Updike wrote more than 50 books in as many years, the most recent being The Widows of Eastwick, the sequel to his 1984 hit The Witches of Eastwick.

No 'Idol' hands for Sanjaya -- he's been busy!

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Sanjaya -- he of the "faux-hawk" hairdo -- is back and he's written a memoir. The "American Idol" season six sensation has been busy developing himself "as an artist."

In an ABC interview he talks about how much he's learned about the music business, among other things.

Joe Meno
Joe Meno
(Photo by John H. White/Sun-Times)

Chicago author Joe Meno is a finalist in the fifth annual Story Prize for outstanding short fiction for his most recent collection, Demons in the Spring (Akashic Books, $24.95).

Sun-Times theater critic and frequent book reviewer Hedy Weiss said Meno's stories were "thoroughly modern -- at once quirky and accessible."

Meno is in good company. The other finalists are Jhumpa Lahiri for Unaccustomed Earth (Knopf, $25) and Tobias Wolff for Our Story Begins (Knopt, $26.95).

"Short fiction of this caliber should be on everyone's reading list," wrote Sun-Times book reviewer Mary Houlihan of Lahiri's collection. Reviewer John Barron wrote that Wolff's book "offers both greatest hits and evidence of Wolff's continued prowess."

The winner, who receives $20,000, will be announced March 4.

Read full reviews of Demons in the Spring; Unaccustomed Earth; Our Story Begins.

Demons in the Spring Unaccustomed Earth Our Story Begins

Chris Rock to write another book

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Chris Rock is writing a follow-up to his 1997 book Rock This! It will a book full of "comedic observations," to be released next year. Rock's observations are the basis for his cutting-edge comedy, so it should be entertaining reading.

Books Chris Rock

Deb Futter, vice president and editor-in-chief of hardcovers at Grand Central Publishing, said: "We are so excited to be publishing Chris Rock, especially because he hasn't published a book in many years so this one will be highly anticipated."

Grand Central's other celebrity authors include Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Conversations with fraud

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Neale Donald Walsch, who's made himself a nice living off his "conversations" with God, has been outed as a plagiarist and kicked off Beliefnet.com, where he wrote a spiritual blog.

Apparently Walsch tried to pass off another writer's Christmas anecdote as his own -- a story about his son's kindergarten pageant where the kids were supposed to hold up letters spelling out the words "Christmas Love," and the kid holiding the "M" held it upside down, so the message read "Christwas Love." Turns out, an author named Candy Chand first wrote the story a decade ago for the spiritual magazine Clarity.

Walsch's lame excuse is that he told the story so many times over the years and "somewhere along the way, internalized it as my own experience."

Chand doesn't buy it, and quite frankly, neither do I.

"If he knew this was wrong, he should have known it was wrong before he got caught," she told the New York Times.

Amen, sister.

Mystery master Donald E. Westlake dies

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Donald Westlake
Donald Westlake in his Greenwich Village home. (Louis Lanzano/AP)

Prolific mystery author Donald E. Westlake died of a heart attack while vacationing in Mexico. He was 75. Westlake reportedly wrote more than 100 books in his career, under both his own name and a variety of pseudonyms. Fans can look forward to one more novel, Get Real (Grand Central, $23.99), to be released in April.

Get Real