Tag Archives: Chicago Tribune

Mea culpa. Back with Jack Reacher!

So, for anyone who has missed me:  A)  I’m sorry.  And B) I’m back!

I’m happy to be back  to blogging after a crazy few weeks.  Fortunately, I can report that while I was not reviewing, I was definitely reading, and there is a humongous stack of books on the “to review” list.

childI’ll start off with an easy one:  Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher novel, Never Go Back.  There’s no deficit of reviews out there.  In the Chicago Tribune, Michael Robbins is critical, but “swigs down” the latest Reacher anyway, all while positing that perhaps the time has come for Lee Child to move on to another protagonist.

Meanwhile, at the New York Times, Janet Maslin is an out-and-out fan.  She’s got a few nits to pick, sure, but mostly it’s about the ride.

So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a Reacher fan.  One who has read every single Reacher novel and the few short stories I could find.  One of those people who got super-annoyed when Paramount cast Tom Cruise (Tom Cruise!) in the movie.  (Read more about that here.)  Seriously, Lee Child himself would have been a better choice.  Some of the books are better than others, but they’re all pretty much thumbs up in my book.  My husband, on the other hand, read a couple and then gave up on Jack Reacher.  He demands character development.

Needless to say, I liked Never Go Back.  I agree with every nit picked by both Michael Robbins and Janet Maslin, but that didn’t spoil it for me.  I buy that Reacher wins every fight he’s in, no matter how outnumbered or out-gunned.  I buy that almost every woman he meets is both attractive and romantically available.  I like his way of thinking and his way of talking.  I was even okay with the book where we were not sure at the end if Reacher was killed.  (Spoiler: no, he wasn’t.)  But I do think that Child cheated, big-time, with one of the plot threads.  It kinda bugged me.  I’ll say no more.

Printers Row Subscription: Yeah, I’m kind of a chump

I was all compliments when I noticed that the Chicago Tribune was beefing up its pages on books and literary happenings.  And then, look!  They’re doing live programs and podcasts.  This is kind of cool.  It’s not as good as the old days, when they had a separate book section, but it’s pretty neat.  Makes me glad I’m a subscriber.  Little did I know that they were just softening me up.

Building on the brand awareness of the Printers Row Lit Fest (which is fun, I admit, a literary extravaganza of authors, publishers, bookstores and readers), the Trib has launched the Printers Row Journal, a “weekly collection of smart and accessible literary reviews, fiction, author interviews and commentary” paired with some live and online events.  The print version comes out weekly and will be delivered with my Sunday Tribune.

Of course I subscribed. I’m a book nut, an early adopter, and have enough income that 99 bucks is no big deal.  (It’s only $99 since we subscribe to the newspaper, it’s $149 for anybody who doesn’t.)

In one way, it’s an awesome opportunity – a weekly print publication all about books, with a bit of a Chicago slant.  The Printers Row brand is a positive connection.  I like the publishing perspective, the columnists and the reviews.  AND it includes original short fiction – so few places to get that these days, and maybe I could even get a story published.  (A gal can dream).  So, good.

But looking at it another way, the publishers have carved out the people who care about books and are socking it to them, big-time.  It’s the splinter-ization of publishing.  Imagine if the Trib covered sports a little bit in the paper, but you had to pay more to get the Sunday sports section!  Movies.  Opinion pages.  The triumvirate of Tribune advice columnists (don’t you take my Dear Amy).  Or heaven forfend, the funnies!   So maybe I, and my ilk, are making it easier to marginalize readers.  We’re a buncha chumps.

Still, I ponied up.  The paper pinky-swears that it is NOT cutting coverage in the regular Tribune.  This is all add-on content.  And since Elizabeth Taylor, Chris Jones, Rick Kogan, and my personal fave, Julia Keller are all contributing, I just hope they are all being given a big salary bump or are being paid by the piece for the new endeavor.

You can learn more about the offer here.  The preview issue is available for your perusal online and it includes an article by my neighbor Elizabeth Berg, a piece featuring Sara Paretsky, an article about Nicole Hollander of Sylvia fame, reviews, and some original fiction.   In trying to get used to the navigation system, I find myself grateful that it’s not online-only.  There’s lots of add-ons to make participation more engaging, and the Tribune seems a little confused about whether this is publishing venture or a membership community – the sizzle is about the community, but when it comes time to sell the steak, it’s all about the publication.

One note of amusement:  the preview edition of the Printers Row Journal includes a link to Olive, the software platform on which the publication is delivered.  Unfortunately, the home page sales pitch for Olive says “turn your old news into new revenue,” which kind of undercuts the Trib‘s preferred brand position. Of course, I immediately began to think of the myriad of ways that my own employer could use Olive to good advantage… which is good for Olive, but I can’t see the benefit for the Tribune.

Tribune posts 2011 book picks

I read a lot and a read a lot about reading.   Newspapers, magazines, blogs, events: it’s all a giant funnel of info.  Still, you can’t read everything (or even remember everything you read!).

That’s why it was great to see that today’s Chicago Tribune includes a wrap-up by literary mavens Julia Keller and Elizabeth Taylor of the year’s “best reads.”  Twenty books – fiction, nonfiction, and even one graphic novel – to move the top of my reading list.

Not quite 20, though.  I had already added Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel The Marriage Plot to my list.  In fact, my husband is reading it now and I am anxiously pacing to get my mitts on it.


And I had already read, loved, and blogged here about Mo Hayder’s Gone.  So count my enthusiastic thumbs up on this novel, as another endorsement.

Both Keller and Taylor selected Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hedrickson for inclusion on their “recommended” lists, so although it’s nonfiction and I’m more of a fiction gal, I’ll probably head in that direction soon.  And Keller’s pick of A Death in Summer by Benjamin Black – and her description of it as a “gloomy and hypnotic mystery” is intriguing.  I read another Black book in 2010 and found it confusing at the end – you can read that blog post here – so a recommendation by Keller is encouraging me to try again.

Check out the full listing in the Tribune (go ahead!  Buy a copy if you don’t get it delivered!) or click here to see the article online.  For those of you who are still floundering for Christmas gifts, it’s way better than wandering, unmoored and confused, through Barnes and Noble.

So, I’m a giant Nicole Hollander fan

I mean it, I love Nicole Hollander.  I love her comic strip, Sylvia, so much that I went on a total rant and complained nonstop to the Chicago Tribune when they dropped her strip.  (Well, not nonstop.  But you know what I mean.  I complained a bunch.)

So, on Sunday I saw she was having a show and sale at an art gallery on Damen, and off I went.  And she was great.  Tinier than I knew, but very interesting and sociable.  I’m going to write some more about this and post some pictures of the stuff I bought.

But the purpose of today’s post is to just demonstrate how dang funny she is.  I subscribe to her daily newsletter, which gives me a comic and usually a blog post, too.   And she really made me snort coffee this week when she posted about the New York Times‘ column in the Sunday Styles Section, “What I Wore.”

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I get the NYT every day and I read the Sunday edition cover to cover except for sports and the marriage section.  (However, I do scan the pictures of engaged couples to test my hypothesis that people are usually marrying people who are their same level of hotness.  This almost always true, even when it’s a gay wedding.)

But even I get exhausted when some fashionista whose name I don’t know writes a 500-word column about one of their days, hour by hour, and what they wore, especially the brand names.  Nicole’s post lampooned this with a post of her own, sort of a comic-maven version of What I Wore.  So this made me snort in agreement and cheered me up on the el.

To me, the amazing thing is how many times people in New York change clothes every day, at least according to the Times.  Here would be my column:

I got up late  – what a crazy night! – and put on my trusty Gap jeans (dark blue wash),  a white Jones New York lycra blend t-shirt, an asymmetrical black sweater (also from the Gap), and my well-worn New Balance tennis shoes with crew socks that sort-of matched. I threw on a chunky faux-gold stretch bracelet from Chico’s and a pair of twisted hoop earrings, real gold, given to me by my husband and purchased at Oak Park Jewelers.  He’s so romantic.  I wore them all day long and then at 9:00 pm, I dashed upstairs to put on a vintage faded blue nightgown. (Purchased circa 2004 from Marshall Field’s, and likely some house brand but who knows because the label has been gone since about 2006.)

Anyway, I went through her blog (Bad Girl Chats) looking for a particular post and couldn’t find it, but just spent half a hour wandering around in there and I encourage you to do the same.   Also fun is her cat stuff at Cafe Press.  Take cattitude and add caffeine.

Lit Fest: D’Amato, Hellmann, Keller shine at Grace Place

Grace Episcopal Church in Chicago’s South Loop is an amazing place… beautiful, unusual architecture that leads to a feeling of community and contemplation.  In short, an amazing place for Lit Fest’s session where the Tribune’s Julia Keller interviewed Barbara D’Amato and Libby Fischer Hellmann.  Of course, the photo here – from the church website – features more sacred use of that place!

Barbara D'Amato

Both Barb and Libby have been president of the national organization Sisters in Crime, founded by Sara Paretsky and others to bring attention to the clear preference among publishers, reviewers, and others for male authors.   The movement began with a letter from novelist Phyllis Whitney to the Mystery Writers of America re: sex discrimination in the awarding of the Edgar Awards.  At that time, in 41 years, only seven women had received Edgars.

Libby Fischer Hellmann

Asked by Keller about Sisters in Crime, the panelists shared that the organization still monitors reviews, reporting that a full 70% of books reviewed have a male author.  By pointing out the lack of balance directly to the reviewers, some progress had been made (60/40), but backsliding has definitely occurred.  SINC looks at published reviews, and everyone agreed that although these are highly visible and very important, the growth in reviews on the internet, through blogs, Amazon, and the like, has become a big factor in recent years, and this is more egalitarian.

I’m a member of both the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and support them both.  But it is interesting to see the trajectory of various authors, and there does seem to be a “pecking order” that places thrillers above police procedurals above cozies, for example.

But there’s no doubt Barb D’Amato and Libby Fischer Hellmann are masters of the craft, and they shared some pearls with the audience, many of whom were aspiring authors:

  • Libby makes sure to put a clue in the first few pages; she likes to “play fair” with the readers and thinks that withholding all the clues until late in the book is not doing so.
  • Barb uses a couple of sheets from a legal pad to plot out all the “surprises” in the book… mostly “to keep them all from showing up in chapter 3.”
  • Both women have experienced “pauses” – it hasn’t all been success and roses.  Barb had two books published, then six fallow years.  Libby said her first book sold was actually the fourth book written.  She didn’t want to revisit, though she has cannibalized characters!
  • Although both Barb and Libby are almost constantly writing, they agree that “the book you’re not writing yet is the best one.”  Julia commented that Iris Murdoch said that “every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.”
  • What authors do these authors enjoy reading?  Agatha Christie, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Marcus Sakey, Kent Krueger, Sean Chercover, Declan Hughes, and Dennis Lehane were all mentioned.

The conversation was very ably moderated by Julia Keller, who writes for the Tribune and is a published author herself, with two previous books and her first mystery coming out in the coming months.  She’s articulate and insightful, and listening to her in conversation is as pleasurable as reading her work in print.  

E-Reader options laid out in Tribune – Update!

Bitten by the e-reader bug, but can’t make up your mind which option is best for you – especially now that the iPad is coming out?  Make haste to buy today’s Chicago Tribune, where the Trib has dedicated most of page 13 to giving you the details on the iPad, the Kindle (both versions), the Nook, and three versions of the Sony Reader.  Don’t try to find the article online – I already looked, it’s not there.


Information provided:  initial cost, size, display size, battery life, storage GB/MB, resolution, recurring costs, as well as who the option is best for.

Very compelling:  the iPad’s 9.7 in display size, the color screen, and 1024 X 762 resolution.  Downside to the iPad is the cost, the 1.5-1.6 lbs. weight, and recurring costs for access to the Internet.  The Tribune’s Amy Guth says the iPad is best for multimedia users, and that’s definitely true.  If you’re planning to use the iPad as a platform to read books, it’s like buying a Ducati when you need a Schwinn.  Still, it’s very sexy.  The Apple website says it’s the best way to experience the web, email, photos and video, and they make a great case.

Looking at the more vanilla options – Kindle(s), Nook, and Reader(s) – I breathe a sigh of relief to see that the Kindle 2 is the best choice for me.  Always good to see that you made the right decision!  The Kindle’s bottom line is “best for high-volume readers,” Barnes & Noble’s Nook is “best for social book lenders,” and the three Sony options are “best for news junkies,” “best for geek chic,” and “best for budget-minded casual readers.”  I appreciate the Kindle’s focus, it meets my needs.

One option that Ms. Guth missed is the iPhone.  I haven’t used it yet, but my techie husband found an app called Kindle for iPhone in the app store on his phone.  It’s free!  And it turns your tiny iPhone screen into an e-reader, you can purchase all Amazon Kindle titles to go to your iPhone.   The Kindle 2 was on his 2009 Christmas list, so now he can read on the Kindle while seated comfortably on our couch… and read the same book, synced to where he left off, while he’s sitting in the car waiting for me to get off the train or standing in line at the post office.  To me, the screen is just too small.

Happy shopping!