November 21, 2014

Book Review: "Does Not Love" by James Tadd Adcox

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Does Not Love, by James Tadd Adcox

Does Not Love
By James Tadd Adcox
Curbside Splendour
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

James Tadd Adcox's first novel, Does Not Love, is a number of things, all of which revolve around the phrase "satisfyingly weird." If you've got a taste for the bizarre, you absolutely have to check this guy out, because he's pretty much written the craziest reinterpretation of the thriller since DeLillo got up on that in the mid-'70s. There's a lot reminiscent of that great, great writer here: bizarre circuitous dialogs full of deadpan humor, a crumbling relationship that reflects upon wider social disaffections, and a conspiracy that's at once capitalist and cabalist in its nature. Adcox's prose isn't as wondrous as DeLillo's, but then, there are very few living prose stylists on DeLillo's plane. I'm going back and forth on whether I would've preferred Adcox use more dazzling language. On the one hand, pretty sentences certainly never hurt a work of fiction, but on the other, Does Not Love moves forward just fine without them.

It's the sense of mystery that kept me reading this book, basically. There are a variety of other good things on display -- the humor, the weirdness of the story, the odd but effective modes of characterization (it's strange how Robert and Viola and the FBI agent are so peculiar and yet feel real) -- but what really makes it work out is the shadowy style. Does Not Love begins as an offbeat domestic drama with hints of something sinister, and as it gets rolling, it gets stranger and stranger, until it hits a bizarre and jarring and yet utterly appropriate climax. Which is to say that there isn't a lot here for fans of realism. This isn't quite deserving of my "I'd recommend it to everyone" rating mostly because it's too odd to recommend to everyone, not because of any lack of quality or failing on Adcox's part. He's just into his own thing.

I suppose that, if I were to complain about anything, it's that some of the novel's odder turns could've been foreshadowed a little better. That's not to say that I have to be perfectly set up for everything, but the escalation from a rather realistic if oddly portrayed romance into the complete insanity of what follows could've used a bit more of a breadcrumb trail. Perhaps flashes of news reports would've made the piece seem less like Adcox was saving the strangeness for the end. Then again, there is an FBI agent involved from early on, so maybe that's enough. I'm not sure. I am, however, quite sure that Does Not Love is a memorably odd and often hilarious read. The "good cop, bad cop" exchange is particularly brilliant, but really, it's the most fun you'll ever have with shadowy pharmaceutical conspiracies.

Out of 10: 9.0

Read even more about Does Not Love: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari |

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 9:50 AM, November 21, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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The last CCLaP Weekender of the year is here!

CCLaP Weekender for November 21, 2014

The last 2014 edition of our new e-magazine, The CCLaP Weekender released every Friday morning, is now online for your free downloading pleasure. It features a new piece of original fiction by Matt Rowan; a photography feature highlighting the work of Russian artist Masha Demianova; and our usual look at the upcoming week of Chicago literary events. Use the links below to access it right now.

Right-click here for PDF / Voluntarily donate 99 cents
Online version at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above if you're seeing it)

CCLaP Showcase: Patricia Ann McNair

And don't forget about the November edition of our new reading series and open mic, the CCLaP Showcase being held at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie). Being held this Tuesday the 25th at 6:30 pm, it will feature local author Patricia Annn McNair. There will also be room for six open-mic slots, for performances of five minutes apiece (strictly timed); if you'd like to sign up in advance for one of these slots, drop us a line at cclapcenter [at] gmail.com. (Don't forget that the entire thing will be recorded for our podcast as well.) Do make sure to go by the event's Facebook listing for more, and we hope to see all you Chicagoans there.

Don't want to keep coming by the website for all this stuff? Then sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which will send you not only a reminder every Friday morning about each new issue of the Weekender, but also a recap of everything that has happened with the center in the last seven days (including news about recent author features and events from around the US, a look at all our latest eBay rare-book auctions, links to each book review we posted at the blog that week, and a lot more). To subscribe, simply sign up using the box below. We never sell your information nor send more than one email a week, and you can quit at any time!

Thanks to all of you for a great 2014, and we look forward to presenting another 50 stories and photo features through the magazine in 2015!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:32 AM, November 21, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Photography | Profiles |
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November 14, 2014

Come out to our last two events of the year!

Well, we're getting close to the date that CCLaP shuts down every year for the holidays (we pare down our activities to a bare minimum from Thanksgiving to New Year's every year, for those who don't know, just to give our hard-working staff some much-needed time off), but I wanted to remind you about two more live Chicago events we're squeezing in before that happens...

Chicago After Dark University of Chicago contributor party, with Memoryhouse Magazine

First, I'm happy to say that we're doing yet another campus-specific contributor party to celebrate the "city all-star" student anthology we put out earlier this fall, the hugely popular Chicago After Dark; this newest one will be down at the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park this coming Monday, November 17th, starting at 7pm, in the south lounge of the school's famous Reynolds Club (5706 S. University Avenue). And even better, this time we're doing it in conjunction with a campus literary magazine, the excellent Memoryhouse Magazine which actually shares a contributor with us (Eric Shoemaker, who was the one who made this event happen in the first place); Memoryhouse actually runs a professional performance ensemble on top of doing their paper magazine, so they will be doing a multimedia performance on Monday night, as well as short performances from CCLaP contributors Shoemaker, Phallon Perry, Angie Flores and Alicia Hauge. The whole thing is free, and there will be food and drinks as well, so I hope all of you down there on the south side will have a chance to make it out, and do make sure to check out the event's Facebook page for more.

CCLaP Showcase: Patricia Ann McNair

And then the Tuesday after that, November 25th, we're extremely proud to be presenting the last CCLaP Showcase of 2014, this time with revered local author and Columbia College professor Patricia Ann McNair. Patricia is a hugely popular teacher and writer here in the city, and we're expecting this to be our biggest reading of the year (our open mic is already completely filled, just to give you one indication), so it's going to be a nice way for us to officially end our active performance schedule for the year, and a great chance to see some amazing Columbia writers sharing their most recent work. As always, it's at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie), starting promptly this time at 6:30 pm, and with free drinks there as well. Stop by the event's Facebook page for more, and I hope you'll have a chance to come by and celebrate the end of another successful and productive year with us.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:51 AM, November 14, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Chicago news | Events | Literature |
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The CCLaP Weekender for November 14th is here!

CCLaP Weekender for November 14, 2014

This week's edition of our new e-magazine, The CCLaP Weekender released every Friday morning, is now online for your free downloading pleasure. It features a new piece of original fiction by Joseph G. Peterson; a photography feature highlighting the work of Italian artist Tiberio Frascari; and our usual look at the upcoming week of Chicago literary events. Use the links below to access it right now.

Right-click here for PDF / Voluntarily donate 99 cents
Online version at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above if you're seeing it)

CCLaP Showcase: Patricia Ann McNair

And don't forget about the November edition of our new reading series and open mic, the CCLaP Showcase being held at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie). Being held on Tuesday the 25th at 6:30 pm, it will feature local author Patricia Annn McNair. There will also be room for six open-mic slots, for performances of five minutes apiece (strictly timed); if you'd like to sign up in advance for one of these slots, drop us a line at cclapcenter [at] gmail.com. (Don't forget that the entire thing will be recorded for our podcast as well.) Do make sure to go by the event's Facebook listing for more, and we hope to see all you Chicagoans there.

Don't want to keep coming by the website for all this stuff? Then sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which will send you not only a reminder every Friday morning about each new issue of the Weekender, but also a recap of everything that has happened with the center in the last seven days (including news about recent author features and events from around the US, a look at all our latest eBay rare-book auctions, links to each book review we posted at the blog that week, and a lot more). To subscribe, simply sign up using the box below. We never sell your information nor send more than one email a week, and you can quit at any time!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:20 AM, November 14, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Photography | Profiles |
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Book Review: "Taxidermy Art" by Robert Marbury

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
 
Taxidermy Art, by Robert Marbury
 
Taxidermy Art: A Rogue's Guide to the Work, the Culture, and How To Do It Yourself
By Robert Marbury
Artisan
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
 
For meat dishes, few things compare to venison. One of my favorite game meats comes from deer. Fortunately I come from a family of avid hunters. But coming into possession of venison will involve someone wearing blaze orange and dispatching the deer with a rifle. The death of an animal and my enjoyment of its meat is a troubling situation. It's hard to come to terms with this carnivorous dilemma when one only sees sterile sections plastic-wrapped in the Meat Department of your local supermarket. The meat remains, but the process has been erased. One's curiosity gets stifled by the warning, "Don't ask how the sausage gets made."

With hunting, gun ownership, meat eating, and animal rights, things can get simplified, people get hysterical, and everyone loses sight of things like context, tradition, and caloric intake. Social media doesn't help matters. For addlepated false equivalence by the truck load, look no further than a Facebook feed. One on side you have the animal rights advocates, caricatured with a phrase like, "You cruel bastard! You can't kill deer." (The cuteness of deer also helps the emotional sentimentality of their rhetorical attacks.) On on the other side, you have people like Joe the Plumber uttering this marvelous chestnut, "Your dead kids don't trump my constitutional rights." (Is he really a Family Values icon? He sounds like he's auditioning for a role in a Marquis de Sade novel.)

All these complex issues and the fun-house mirror of social media bring me to Taxidermy Art: A Rogue's Guide to the Work, the Culture, and How To Do It Yourself by Robert Marbury. Marbury is one of the founding members of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermy (MART). He curates a book showcasing several other rogue taxidermists, a selection spanning the globe. But what is Rogue Taxidermy? Marbury defines it as "A genre of pop-surrealist art characterized by mixed-media sculptures containing traditional taxidermy materials used in an unconventional manner." The traditional taxidermy mount can be seen in such settings as a relative's house or a museum. In one case the mounted deer head celebrates the triumph of the hunt. A trophy. For the museum the taxidermy specimen is used as a tool for research and education. During the Renaissance and Baroque eras, aristocrats and natural philosophers constructed intricate Wunderkammern (curiosity cabinets). The Milwaukee Public Museum has a modern interpretation of a curiosity cabinet when you walk into the main entrance. An exhibit, dense with specimens, hits the viewer. Skeletons of ancient mammals, mounted taxidermy specimens, pinned beetles and butterflies, and so on. One can experience a similar experience walking through Woolly Mammoth Antiques & Oddities. Victorian medical kits, a mounted giraffe head (and neck!), quack cures, bookshelves crammed with skulls, and so on.

Marbury curates the book's selection of artists, providing the reader with a fascinating convergence between contemporary art and the curiosity cabinet. The book's structure is also a bit of a chimera. It begins with a history of taxidermy, highlighting the taxidermists, artists, and scientists instrumental in the medium. The bulk of the book is examples taken from rogue taxidermists. The concluding section is a detailed how-to for aspiring rogue taxidermists. It includes instructions on dry and wet preservation. (Wet preservation can be seen in sideshows with "pickled punks" and the "human head in jar" trope in the horror and science fiction genres.) It also includes more advanced lessons on things like brain tanning.

The rogue taxidermy runs the gamut of styles and techniques. Marbury is a practitioner of "vegan taxidermy." He re-purposes stuffed animals. One of the tenets of rogue taxidermy is not using animals that have been intentionally killed. Marbury advises on using roadkill or feeder animals (pre-killed and refrigerated animals used to feed snakes). All artists confront the issues of death, meat consumption, and environmental ethics, although finding a commonality among the artists approaches impossibility. Some are art school trained. Some were traditional taxidermists. Others were untrained amateurs until they discovered rogue taxidermy.

A couple noteworthy examples include Mother's Little Helper Monkey by MART founding member Sarina Brewer. A winged monkey wearing a fez and holding a martini glass stares out with fangs bared. Elizabeth McGrath pieces "have dark back-stories ... and wear their adversity like drag performances." Truth Lights Cougar looks like a wall-mounted head of a hairless cat, but its skin is a pale blue. On its skin are dozens of gorgeous tattoos and icons from Catholicism. Peter Grondquist, from Portland, Oregon, has work that dons the cover. His work is a darkly satirical riff on luxury and loot. He has deer heads sporting gold machine-guns or gold fashion logos. Finally, there is Kate Clark from Brooklyn. She creates taxidermy pieces straight out of the Uncanny Valley. Her pieces have realistically sculpted human faces. They are beautiful, but also deeply disturbing. Other artists have dealt with legal issues. German law forbids the use of roadkill in art.

Taxidermy Art is fun, informative, and educational. One can browse the artistic pieces, marveling at the variations of technique and opinion. And if one is so inclined, Marbury's taxidermy lessons at the end of the book prove easy enough to follow. The directions and illustrations make it user-friendly as with any good cook book.
 
Out of 10/9.0; and 10 for fans of pop surrealism, DIY culture, and aspiring rogue taxidermists.
 
Read even more about Taxidermy Art: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, November 14, 2014. Filed under: Karl Wolff | Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |
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November 12, 2014

Book Review: "Phoning Home" by Jacob M. Appel

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Phoning Home, by Jacob M. Appel

Phoning Home
By Jacob M. Appel
The University of South Carolina Press
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Jacob M. Appel's Phoning Home is the type of essay collection I really love, which made it a welcome sight when arriving in my mailbox earlier this year. A doctor, lawyer, and ethics professor based out of New York, as well as a veteran fiction writer (both of novels and short stories) and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, he puts all of these experiences to good use in this newest book, penning personal yet analytical non-fiction pieces on such varied subjects as his Jewish upbringing, the morality of playing pranks, and a lot more, combining the flair and style of a creative writer with the fastidiousness and attention to detail that you would expect from such an academe. Always entertaining while often also being quite thought-provoking, this is a book for those who like their literature smart, compelling, yet not too terribly dense, and it comes enthusiastically recommended today for a general audience, and especially those interested in Jewish-American history and the practical complications of theoretical ethical decisions.

Out of 10: 9.3

Read even more about Phoning Home: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:37 AM, November 12, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |
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November 10, 2014

The CCLaP Weekender for November 7th is (belatedly) here!

CCLaP Weekender for November 7, 2014

This week's edition of our new e-magazine, The CCLaP Weekender released every Friday morning, is now online for your free downloading pleasure. It features a new piece of original fiction by Bruce Douglas Reeves; a photography feature highlighting the work of Italian artist Riccardo Bandiera; and our usual look at the upcoming week of Chicago literary events. Use the links below to access it right now.

Right-click here for PDF / Voluntarily donate 99 cents
Online version at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above if you're seeing it)

CCLaP Showcase: Patricia Ann McNair

And don't forget about the November edition of our new reading series and open mic, the CCLaP Showcase being held at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie). Being held on Tuesday the 25th at 6:30 pm, it will feature local author Patricia Annn McNair. There will also be room for six open-mic slots, for performances of five minutes apiece (strictly timed); if you'd like to sign up in advance for one of these slots, drop us a line at cclapcenter [at] gmail.com. (Don't forget that the entire thing will be recorded for our podcast as well.) Do make sure to go by the event's Facebook listing for more, and we hope to see all you Chicagoans there.

Don't want to keep coming by the website for all this stuff? Then sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which will send you not only a reminder every Friday morning about each new issue of the Weekender, but also a recap of everything that has happened with the center in the last seven days (including news about recent author features and events from around the US, a look at all our latest eBay rare-book auctions, links to each book review we posted at the blog that week, and a lot more). To subscribe, simply sign up using the box below. We never sell your information nor send more than one email a week, and you can quit at any time!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 4:39 PM, November 10, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Photography | Profiles |
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Book Review: "Playmates," by Jess C. Scott

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Playmates, by Jess C. Scott

Playmates: Wilde Twins, Book 1
By Jess C. Scott
jessINK
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

I have to confess, I don't have much to say about Jess C. Scott's new dark bizarro novel Playmates, book one of a coming "Wilde Twins" series, because there's simply not much to say about it in the first place -- a transgressive noir in the style of Kathy Acker, like many of these books it is cartoonish in the level of abuse and degradation on display (in this case, by a set of dysfunctional parents towards their twin children), which serves as the catalyst for a series of ultra-violent, Tarantinoesque adventures (involving the Wilde Twins of the book's title, who go off on a streak of chaos when older that is so over-the-top as to be deliberately ridiculous). And that's...well, you know, it is what it is, and those who like these kinds of books (you know who you are) are sure to like this one as well, although for general readers be warned that this follows a well-worn set of easily guessed tropes and doesn't really contain much more of interest besides that. A book tailor-made for the hardcore bizarro fans it was designed for, but that likely won't appeal to anyone else, it is getting the middle-of-the-road score today that such an assessment deserves.

Out of 10: 7.2

Read even more about Playmates: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, November 10, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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November 6, 2014

CCLaP Rare: "The Lion Tamer" by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

(CCLaP is now selling rare and unusual books through the main website, shipped to customers through USPS Priority Mail and with full refunds always guaranteed. To see the latest full list of volumes for sale, please click here).

The Lion Tamer
By Carroll E. Robb (1925)
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: Every once in awhile, a book collector will randomly come across something during their adventures that turns out to be really unique and interesting from a visual standpoint, but for which almost nothing in the collective online universe is known; take for example the 1925 novel The Lion Tamer, which appears to be the first and last novel ever published by Carroll E. Robb, and which came out with little fanfare from the revered Harper & Brothers back when such companies churned out simple morality tales like these by the dozen. And make no mistake, from the standpoint of writing quality, this is nothing more than a mediocre morality tale: a melodrama about a young man in a small town who has been known for years by the nickname "Lion Tamer," because of once standing down a circus lion that had gotten loose rather than let it attack his girlfriend, this courage is suddenly called into question when there is a steamboat full of recent school graduates that crashes and sinks one night on the edge of town, with our hero Mart Bannister surviving but many of his chummy pals not. Did he really abandon his friends to save his own skin, like his shell-shocked girlfriend contends? Will he move away in shame? Or will the love of a mysterious new woman allow him to get on with his life? It's not to find out the answers to these questions that a 21st-century collector might want to own this book; it's instead for the beautiful but delicate Expressionist woodblock dust jacket, for its excellent condition despite being almost a century old, and simply for its memorable, one-of-a-kind nature. Admittedly, a volume like this is never going to be worth much to a full-time dealer; but it serves as an amazing decorative object for book lovers who wish to have a few front-facing punctuations in the library they show off to guests at dinner parties, and it is being priced today specifically to appeal to such customers. A wistful acquisition simply because of its nearly completely obscure status within the history of American literature, don't let this hard-working little book slip into complete abandon, especially because of its pristine condition relative to its super-low price.

CONDITION: Text: Very Good (VG). In great shape for its 90-year age, except for one smudge mark on the yellow fabric spine, and a few fold marks at the spine's bottom. Dust jacket: Good Minus (G-). Although it's a minor miracle that a book this old still even has its delicate dust jacket to begin with, please be aware that it's not in very good shape, with big chunks missing from the spine and the whole thing really only being held together anymore by its protective mylar cover. Contains an ink signature on the inside front cover that reads, "To Mother, from Arthur, Ellen, Roslyn and Janice, Christmas 1927." As confirmed by the McBride Guide to the Identification of First Editions, a stated "First Edition" on the copyright page, and lack of additional printing notices, makes this a true first edition, first printing.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at the Hyde Park Book Fair, Chicago, October 2014.

eBay auction
MINIMUM BID: US$15 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $30
(If coming across this in the future, see CCLaP's main page at eBay for the relisted auction URL)

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, November 6, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Rare | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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November 5, 2014

Book Review: "Misdirection" by Austin Williams

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Misdirection, by Austin Williams

Misdirection: The Rusty Diamond Trilogy, Book 1
By Austin Williams
Diversion Books
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Austin Williams' crime thriller Misdirection has one very interesting thing going for it -- and that's main character Rusty "The Raven" Diamond, a former Las Vegan magician who has since burned out and moved back to the small Eastern Seaboard town where he was born and raised, reluctantly forced into private-eye mode after his elderly landlord is brutally murdered by an addict strung out on bath salts, and who cleverly uses the tricks of his trade to help in his investigation. Unfortunately, though, the rest of Misdirection is an only mediocre, by-the-numbers supermarket potboiler, and suffers from the exact kinds of problems you would expect from such a book -- stilted dialogue, clunky exposition, uneven pacing, cardboard-thin characters who loudly announce their goodie or baddie status from a mile away, etc. Just an okay read even for those who are heavy crime fans, it does not really come recommended to a general audience today, despite the admittedly compelling character at the center of it all.

Out of 10: 7.5

Read even more about Misdirection: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, November 5, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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November 4, 2014

Book Review: "Death Metal Epic, Book 1: The Inverted Katabasis" by Dean Swinford

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Death Metal Epic, by Dean Swinford

Death Metal Epic, Book 1: The Inverted Katabasis
By Dean Swinford
Atlatl Press
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Dean Swinford's Death Metal Epic, Book 1: The Inverted Katabasis is both exactly what you would expect from a book with this title, and nothing like what you'd expect -- it is in fact a rather sweet coming-of-age tale about a Florida teen in the early '90s enmeshed in the "death metal" culture so prevalent at the time, exploring both the humiliating lows that he goes through in his pursuit of being a "dark one" and a heartfelt look at why he feels it's so important anyway. And that's really the key to this book working as well as it does, because it neither takes itself too seriously nor is it a "Spinal Tap" deliberate comedy about losers; it is instead merely a clear-eyed look at the trials and triumphs (okay, mostly trials) of our put-upon, mall-working hero "Azrael," as his band Valhalla first breaks up, then reforms under the influence of a Tolkien-worshipping hippie who "doesn't believe in percussion," and then is finally sent by his exasperated record label on an ill-funded and non-promoted tour of small college towns in northern Europe, where he eventually falls under the spell of thinly-veiled versions of real-life death-metal veterans Oystein Aarseth (a.k.a. "Euronymous") and Varg Vikernes (a.k.a. "Burzum"), setting things up nicely for the coming part 2 of this legitimate saga. (For more on the '90s death-metal scene in northern Europe, and the violent extremes it eventually devolved into, a necessary primer for enjoying Swinford's work at its fullest, see the still excellent 1998 book Lords of Chaos by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind.)

I mean, obviously "legitimate saga" is being used here in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way, with the majority of this book's fast-moving plot being about the small indignities Valhalla (now known as Katabasis) must endure on a daily basis while pursuing their dreams (their drunken adventures with a group of Norwegian undergraduates on holiday break is a great example, and one of the highlights of the book); but ultimately Death Metal Epic fits squarely in the tradition of such now classics as Joe Meno's Hairstyles of the Damned or Abram Shalom Himelstein's Tales of a Punk Rock Nothing, a plain-spoken and moving ode to outsider art and its transformative effect on bored teens across the planet, no matter what age or what scene you're talking about. A brisk read that is always entertaining, and brutally honest about its subject's shortcomings where other books wouldn't be, volume 1 of Death Metal Epic comes strongly recommended whether or not you're a metal fan yourself, and I'm now highly looking forward to volume 2.

Out of 10: 9.1

Read even more about Death Metal Epic: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, November 4, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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November 3, 2014

CCLaP Podcast 123: "Chicago After Dark" release party

CCLaP Podcast 123: 'Chicago After Dark' Release Party

It's Monday, which means it's time for another episode of the CCLaP Podcast. Today, it's a special half-hour live recording from last week's Chicago After Dark release party, featuring performances from five of the book's authors. Recorded at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood.

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:05 AM, November 3, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Podcast | CCLaP Publishing | Chicago news | Events | Literature |
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Stalking the Behemoth: Don Quixote

Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha
By Miguel de Cervantes (1605)

In the coming months, I plan to review a series of my favorite long books, "long" here defined as "six hundred pages or longer," in my "Stalking the Behemoth" series. I can't think of a better behemoth to start on than Don Quixote, considered by many to be the first modern novel. Of course, it could be argued that Quixote had a few forebearers--the Tale of Genji and Satyricon are the most famous--but the common argument is that Quixote was the first novel to grant its characters interiority and complex arcs. Now, since I haven't read either of Quixote's forebearers, I can't judge where this stacks up historically, but I can say that Don Quixote and especially Sancho Panza's developments are pretty remarkable. Panza in particular fascinates me, moving as he does from the comedic cowardly sidekick to a man with cunning (always used for good, of course), and even wisdom.

You probably know the summary, but for those who have spent a better part of the past four hundred years under a bridge, it works like this. Don Quixote reads too many books of chivalry, gets it in his head that he's a knight, and sets off on a string of comic adventures. Along the way, he picks up a squire, the simple farmer Sancho Panza, and claims he's doing it all in the name of Lady Dulcinea, whom we hear a lot about but never actually see. He also jousts with windmills, mistakes inns for castles, frees a group of convicts, beats the stuffing out of a priest, and just generally makes the most endearing fool out of himself imaginable. At least for a while.

See, you're invited to develop a complex relationship with Quixote, which I think is part of the reason why he's endured in the public imagination. You laugh at him at first, because let's face it, he's a ridiculous guy, and for the first hundred pages, I was comfortable with thinking of him as just a ridiculous guy. The fullness of Quixote's character doesn't kick in until you've read a little, until you see how other characters react to him and treat others, and then you realize that he's got a heart of gold and is out for what's best for everyone. At that point, the whole novel becomes a remarkably poignant allegory for just how hard it is to find a good person, and how anyone who charges out there in the name of good will be treated like a madman; "Quixotic" is almost never used as a compliment, but maybe it should be.

Which is all remarkably sophisticated for a novel published between 1605 and 1615, when narrative was just beginning to divorce itself from Homer, whose whole idea of character motivation was "because the gods said so and you can't fight the gods" (this, incidentally, is why I'll never be a classical scholar). It gets even more crazy modern when you consider how meta it all is: part one was meant to be cobbled together from a variety of sources, and in part two, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza have become famous for their exploits reported in book one; complicating the hall-of-mirrors effect further, book one of Don Quixote exists within Don Quixote's universe, and both Quixote and Panza are aware of it. Cervantes even takes a moment to subtly insult a writer known as Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, who wrote a sequel to Don Quixote in the interim between the first and second book's release. That's right, fanfiction has been around since Shakespeare's time. Again, book one came out in 1605. Book two? 1615.

Now, it's easy to see how Cervantes was working without a net here, which means the occasional flaws are easy to excuse, but they're there, and they're glaring enough for me to detract half a point. They come in the form of the tangents. As anyone who follows this project long enough will learn, I love tangential novels like Gravity's Rainbow to death, but here's the thing: Pynchon's tangents are a lot more interesting than Cervantes'. He'll pick and throw a side character into the mix seemingly for the sake of having a side character in the mix and launch into this elaborate three-chapter discussion of who they are and how they got where they are, but will somehow do so without the charm and wit and intelligence that defines Quixote's exploits. Granted, anyone curious about the mores of seventeenth century Spain will find a lot to mine in them, but if you can make it through "The Tale of Inappropriate Curiosity" and not start to lose feeling in your brain, you're a stronger reader than me.

Still, it's a terrific read, and not just for the history: Quixote and Panza's arcs are the stuff literary legends are made of. It's still looked at as one of the greatest books ever written four hundred years later, and let me tell you, that did not happen by accident. By all means, read this.

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 7:00 AM, November 3, 2014. Filed under: Chris Schahfer | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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October 31, 2014

Book Review: "By Way of Water," by Charlotte Gullick

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
 
By Way of Water, by Charlotte Gullick
 
By Way of Water
By Charlotte Gullick
SFWP
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
 
Justy lives with her family in a small cabin in the woods of California timber country. Her father is Jake: of Native American heritage, unemployed, alcoholic, a violent drunk, but a master of the fiddle. Her mother is Dale: quiet, a devout Jehovah's Witness, and once a wonderful singer. Her older siblings are Lacee, a voracious bookworm, and Micah, excited for his impending baptism. It's 1977, there's no timber jobs, and the outlook is bleak. Then one day Justy decided not to talk, perplexing her teachers. We see the world through Justy's eyes in By Way of Water by Charlotte Gullick.

Unlike her depressed father and devout mother, Justy sees the world through its natural wonders. She identifies with the nearby Eel River, wanting to be one with it. Despite the paranoia instilled by her Jehovah's Witness upbringing, she befriends a boy named Ochre in her first grade class. Ochre is the son of Sunshine, the local hippies. When Jake's father Kyle returns, home life gets even more complicated. Employed by the local mine owner to dig up the graves at a proposed mine site, Jake and his father end their day in a fist fight.

Charlotte Gullick has been compared to John Steinbeck and it is easy to see the comparison. The cast of characters ride that fine line between lived-in individual and stock caricature. Each character feels real despite their tendency to make your blood boil. The mine owner, Gaines, is rich, racist, and arrogant, but in a charming down-home way. Justy's first grade teacher is a cheerful hippie-type who speaks her mind against the mining and timber industries, seemingly oblivious to the fact that most of her students are children of lumberjacks. Jake and Dale seem engineered to infuriate the reader, each with their own brand of personal stubbornness. Dale came to the Witnesses when Jake became violent and abusive, yet she gave up her gift as a singer. One of Jake's first acts in the novel is an act of poaching, illegally hunting a deer. He does so to feed his family. Despite such Jean Valjean-ish acts of heroic theft, he also refuses to apply for welfare. (It's one thing when there is an ideological ax to grind, it's another when children are involved.) Under other circumstances, one could see Jake and Dale as a musical duo. Sometime one endures suffering that is self-inflicted.

Gullick's description of nature, especially through Justy's eyes, recall Steinbeck. Nature is not the benevolent Earth Mother of hippie mythology, but a thing containing both beauty and cruelty. Justy observes the field dressing of a deer in all its anatomical evisceration. (Remember the pig slaughtering scene from Grapes of Wrath?) Even though the scene traumatized her, she is hungry. Later Kyle tells her sad stories about the Native American side of her family. Deep down Justy wants one thing: to escape. Her family history contains more personal despair than can be endured and within the framework of the Witnesses, she simply does not fit. During a day of service, she goes to Ochre's family and marvels at their tipi, drinks flavorful tea, and smells the richness of herbs. Joella, Dale's friend and leader of the expedition, writes them off as pot heads.

Make no mistake, this is a bleak read. Shameless or Trailer Park Boys minus the jokes. While Gullick is a gifted writer, a master of both descriptive scene and realistic characters, there are occasions where the novels sounds too "writerly." A few of the more polished sections could have been pared down and made plain. There's the rub. One has to balance the craft of writing with the demands of the story. The beautifully crafted sections just seemed out of place in a novel filled with relentless poverty and bleakness. These passages inadvertently sugar-coated the situation. In a story of this type, I don't want to stop and say, "Wow, that was a well-wrought sentence." But this is purely a subjective assessment. For those interested in California timber country and its controversial politics in the early days of the Carter Administration, By Way of Water offers a unique view through Justy's eyes.
 
Out of 10/8.0
 
Read even more about By Way of Water: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, October 31, 2014. Filed under: Karl Wolff | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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The CCLaP Weekender for October 31st is here!

CCLaP Weekender for October 31, 2014

This week's edition of our new e-magazine, The CCLaP Weekender released every Friday morning, is now online for your free downloading pleasure. It features a new piece of original fiction by Oliver Zaradi; a photography feature highlighting the work of Russian artist Ruslan Varabyou; and our usual look at the upcoming week of Chicago literary events. Use the links below to access it right now.

Right-click here for PDF / Voluntarily donate 99 cents
Online version at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above if you're seeing it)

CCLaP Showcase: Patricia Ann McNair

And don't forget about the November edition of our new reading series and open mic, the CCLaP Showcase being held at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie). Being held on Tuesday the 25th at 6:30 pm, it will feature local author Patricia Annn McNair. There will also be room for six open-mic slots, for performances of five minutes apiece (strictly timed); if you'd like to sign up in advance for one of these slots, drop us a line at cclapcenter [at] gmail.com. (Don't forget that the entire thing will be recorded for our podcast as well.) Do make sure to go by the event's Facebook listing for more, and we hope to see all you Chicagoans there.

Don't want to keep coming by the website for all this stuff? Then sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which will send you not only a reminder every Friday morning about each new issue of the Weekender, but also a recap of everything that has happened with the center in the last seven days (including news about recent author features and events from around the US, a look at all our latest eBay rare-book auctions, links to each book review we posted at the blog that week, and a lot more). To subscribe, simply sign up using the box below. We never sell your information nor send more than one email a week, and you can quit at any time!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, October 31, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Photography | Profiles |
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October 29, 2014

Book Review: "Summer of the Long Knives" by L.S. Bassen

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Summer of the Long Knives

Summer of the Long Knives
By L.S. Bassen
Signal 8 Press
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

By now, of course, alt-history novels are nothing new, although unfortunately most of them suffer from the same problem; given that the majority of them are written by genre veterans, they tend to be heavily focused on their overly complex and action-oriented plots, and for the most part are lacking in other traditional literary elements such as character development and style. And that's what makes L.S. Bassen's Summer of the Long Knives so refreshing, because it actually does take the time to get all the little literary details right, creating a balanced and nuanced book by the end that just happens to be a mind-expanding "what-if" thriller as well. Presented to readers as an obscure modern historical tale, about a crazy military leader from the dark days of Germany's past named "Hitler," who scholars agree might've been a real threat if he hadn't been assassinated soon after coming to power, the novel itself plays out this scenario in a traditional three-act format, including such interesting characters as a Catholic priest who is actually heading up the assassination cabal, and a beautiful young woman who accidentally gains psychic abilities after being caught in a brownshirt beatdown in the Jewish section of town, imparting crucial information to the resistance group that helps them carry out their successful plot. But like I said, of equal interest is simply the complex, well-rounded looks at these characters that Bassen (a fiction editor at the prestigious Prick of the Spindle) provides, as well as the very real history lessons she imparts about all the Germans who violently disagreed with Nazi ideas during their rise to power, and how a big part of why they managed to take over was simply that they slaughtered the millions of liberals who disagreed with them. Briskly paced and always a fascinating read, this isn't the best book you will ever read on this subject, but certainly is a higher-than-average look at a classic scenario from the alt-reality chest of tricks, and it comes recommended to those who enjoy this genre and are looking for an especially smart example of it.

Out of 10: 8.8

Read even more about Summer of the Long Knives: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, October 29, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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October 28, 2014

Join us tonight for the "Chicago After Dark" release party!

Chicago After Dark Release Party

Hey, tonight's the night for the big release party for CCLaP's new "city all-star" student anthology, Chicago After Dark! It's from from 6 to 8 pm tonight at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie); it's the only such party we're throwing this year that involves all 31 contributors to the book, so this is definitely the one to make it out for if you're going to make it out to any of them. Lots of free drinks, both alcoholic and non-, and a random selection of six contributors will also be performing tonight, so I hope you'll have a chance to come out. See this event's Facebook listing for even more.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 1:11 PM, October 28, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Chicago news | Events | Literature |
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CCLaP Podcast 122: Author Ryan Kenealy

CCLaP Podcast 122: Ryan Kenealy

It's Monday Tuesday, which means it's time for another episode of the CCLaP Podcast. Today, it's a 45-minute talk with local writer Ryan Kenealy, author of the story collection Animals in Peril. Also featuring the music of Kamp and White Like Fire.

Links to the things and people mentioned in today's episode:
Animals in Peril
Temperance Beer Company
Bridge Magazine
Danny's Reading Series
Open City
Kamp
White Like Fire

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, October 28, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Podcast | Chicago news | Literature | Profiles |
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October 27, 2014

Say hello to CCLaP's newest book, Hussein Osman's "The Wounding Time!"

The Wounding Time, by Hussein Osman

Well, after a quiet summer here at CCLaP of getting our ducks back in a row, I'm happy to say that our publishing program is back in full force, with a whopping four new original books that will be coming your way over the next eight week; and I'm extremely proud today to announce the first of those books, the fascinating character study and metaphorical "War on Terror" portrait The Wounding Time, the explosive literary debut of London author Hussein Osman. As always, the book's dust-jacket synopsis does a better job of explaining it than I can off the cuff here, so let me just paste it in below...

Jamie has lost his brother Matt to the war in Afghanistan. What he finds harder to deal with is that he soon starts to lose a sense of Matt. Hurt and confused, Jamie decides he must travel to the place where Matt was killed--he must go to Kabul. There he finds a surreal landscape of mercenaries and soldiers, violent teenage terrorists, diaspora-trained lawyers in a land currently without law, and where he strikes up a friendship with a beautiful, headstrong local woman. As Jamie's life descends into a series of unwelcome encounters, and Afghanistan descends further into chaos, things reach a climactic head for the British blue-collar slacker antihero, and it soon becomes clear that his rash trip to a land he doesn't understand may end up holding deadly consequences. A major new literary achievement, and one of the most metaphorically astute looks yet at the Millennial "War on Terror," The Wounding Time is a darkly poetic contemporary masterpiece, and marks the brilliant literary debut of London author Hussein Osman.

Yeah, I know, right?! I was flabbergasted when this book first came in to our offices over a year ago, it's so amazing and unsettling; and after several delays because of the financial troubles we had earlier this year, I'm very excited to finally release this to all of you for your reading enjoyment. This is literally one of the best contemporary war novels I've ever read, even more astounding for this being Hus's first novel, and I'm sure you'll agree with me after you read it that it's one of the most thought-provoking and well-written books we've ever published in our history.

The Wounding Time at Amazon

As always, the electronic version of The Wounding Time is completely free to download if you choose, over at the book's main online headquarters, in the usual four formats (PDFs for both American and European laserprinters, EPUB for most mobile devices, and MOBI specifically for Amazon Kindles); or if you're a Kindle owner and prefer having the book directly sent to your device, you can purchase it at the Kindle Store for $9.99. And as always, we have a sharp looking paperback that you can order for $14.99, plus $3 shipping, by using the button below...

Options

Although in this case we have a special situation to deal with, since Hus is British and so many of his readers will be ordering copies directly from the UK. If that's the case with you, I instead encourage you to purchase the paperback from Amazon.co.uk, so that you will only have to pay local shipping costs and will receive the book just a few days after your order. (Although we appreciate everyone who orders books directly from us, since we get to keep a lot more of the cover price that way, in this case British readers will have to pay an extra $13 in shipping and wait about a week and a half for their copies, which is why in this case I encourage you to instead purchase it through Amazon.) And of course don't forget that this book has its own listing at Goodreads.com; if you're a regular there like I am, I'd like to ask you to please add the book to your library there, and especially to post a few thoughts about it once you've read it. Word-of-mouth is far and away the number-one way that indie presses like ourselves generate new customers, and your mention of this book online can and does make a legitimately huge difference in how many copies it will eventually sell.

We've got another book coming your way in just another three weeks, the Elmore-Leonardesque crime thriller and black comedy The Links in the Chain by Fred Russell; but for now, I hope you'll have a chance to download or purchase The Wounding Time soon, and see for yourself why this is one of the most exciting releases CCLaP has ever put together. It's sure to blow you away, just like it did for me, and I look forward to hearing what you thought of it.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:14 AM, October 27, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Profiles | Reviews |
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CCLaP Rare: "Penrod" by Booth Tarkington (1914), 1st Edition 1st Printing

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (1914), First Edition First Printing

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (1914), First Edition First Printing

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (1914), First Edition First Printing

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (1914), First Edition First Printing

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (1914), First Edition First Printing

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (1914), First Edition First Printing

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (1914), First Edition First Printing

(CCLaP is now selling rare and unusual books through the main website, shipped to customers through USPS Priority Mail and with full refunds always guaranteed. To see the latest full list of volumes for sale, please click here).

Penrod
By Booth Tarkington (1914)
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: Booth Tarkington is of course no stranger to CCLaP's readers; an Indianapolis native who was once the biggest selling author in the entire United States, he is part of that group that the center holds a special candle of vigilance for, which for lack of a better term might be called "Former Midwestern Titans of Early Modernist Literature Who Have Now Been Nearly Completely Forgotten By Mainstream Society At Large." (See also from this club: Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, Arthur Meeker, Harold Bell Wright, and more.) Here in the 21st century, Tarkington is remembered for only two books from his long and popular career, when he is remembered at all -- the Pulitzer-winning The Magnificent Ambersons (which like Anderson's Winesburg Ohio or Meeker's Prairie Avenue tells the history of a Midwestern's city's transition during the early 20th century from a sleepy rural town to an industrial powerhouse); and today's book up for auction, the massively popular childhood-hijinks tale Penrod, so popular in fact that it spawned two equally bestselling sequels and a whole host of blockbuster movie adaptations (including a musical version in 1951 that helped launch the film career of Doris Day). Essentially a ripoff -- or, er, I mean "loving homage" -- of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, and a book series that actually outsold Twain among Tarkington's contemporary audiences, Penrod is basically a series of genteel, humorous vignettes about the preteen scamp of the book's title, many of them centered around his ongoing complications and peer humility over being chosen as Lancelot for his school's coming stage production of the King Arthur legend. Now, granted, Tarkington's actual writing style here leaves a lot to be desired among 21st-century readers (among other troubling details, this book is filled with casual racism, thrown out so offhandedly that it ironically becomes an important teaching lesson in why racist stereotypes were so endemically accepted back then); but the book itself remains a hugely important historical document from the transitional time between Victorianism and Modernism, a title celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and one of the most popular books of its entire times. Being sold today at the premium price it deserves (copies in better condition and with the dust jacket sell for literally ten times as much), this is sure to be one of the jewels in the library of any collector of early 20th century American literature, a seminal title from a time in history when the American arts was still trying to decide what exactly it was going to be.

CONDITION: Text: Good Plus (G+). Although the binding of this copy is still in good, strong shape, there are unfortunately several issues with the fabric cover -- including wear and tear on all edges, several stains, and a spine that is starting to lose its color -- with a price today that reflects this. Dust jacket: Missing. Includes an ex-libris sticker on the inside front cover from "Franklin W. Kohler, Number 3T-1." (Interestingly, public census records show that Kohler was thirteen when acquiring this book, and lived in the Chicago-area town of New Trier.) As confirmed by the McBride Guide to the Identification of First Editions, an agreement date of 1914 on the title page and copyright page, as well as a lack of any additional printing notices, makes this a true first edition, first printing.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at the Hyde Park Book Fair, Chicago, October 2014.

eBay auction
MINIMUM BID: US$75 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $150
(If coming across this in the future, see CCLaP's main page at eBay for the relisted auction URL)

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, October 27, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Rare | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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