Thursday, September 8, 2022

Book event this weekend

By Barbara Kruger

     Drama and literary talks do not, as a rule, go hand in hand. Public appearances of authors are typically sunk into the realm of scripted routine, half photo op, half marketing ploy. The free coconut shrimp on a card table at Costco only with books and they're not free.
     You know what to expect: the tweedy writer, flushed from his hidey hole, shorter, older, more timid than his publicity photo would suggest, in his miserable corduroy jacket, blinking in surprise at discovering a handful of actual human people assembled before him (or, more typically, not assembled before him). The audience, should there be one, prim, skewing even older, faces set in judgment, unease and anticipatory boredom. The birdlike host, eyes darting about the room, wondering if she will be held personally responsible for scheduling this fiasco, warbling an introduction, sometimes read off a card in a plummy voice as if the speaker were not only unfamiliar with today's guest, but unaccustomed to language itself. The inert pile of books, sooooo expensive without the expected discounts, waiting to be sold. Or, more typically, not sold.
     Despite these norms there is nevertheless a bit of drama building behind my scheduled appearance this Sunday at 2 p.m. on the Plymouth Court Stage at the Printers Row Lit Fest, the first event supporting my new book, inspired by this blog: "Every Goddamn Day: A Highly Selective, Definitely Opinionated, Alternatingly Humorous and Heartbreaking Historical Tour of Chicago" being published by University of Chicago Press. It's billed as a conversation with Shermann Dilla Thomas, the "viral Chicago TikTok historian." 
    I've never met Thomas, nor have we yet conferred about how Sunday should unfold.  What if we don't get along? What if we just sit there, gawping at each other, waiting for the other to begin? Or, worse, what if Shermann simply starts talking and doesn't stop? Never pausing, nor even looking at me. The audience, spellbound, eats it up. They lean forward, hanging on each word. Rapt. At some point, about 40 minutes in, I silently stand up, edge my way around the table and leave the room. Nobody notices. 
     There's more. I've never even seen a copy of my new book, and can't honestly say for certain whether any exist, or will by Sunday. If the books do arrive, I picture a white van from the vast University of Chicago warehouse in Pullman screeching to a halt on West Polk Street and before the frame has a chance to rock back on the wheels the back doors fly open and a single box is expelled, tumbling to the curb like a hurled bundle of newspapers, then rushed through the Lit Fest crowds looking for vintage cookbooks. I'll be still settling in, looking around at the audience, puffing out my cheeks and wondering, "Where IS everybody?" when I'll be handed a book, have just enough time to register its heft and the fact that the cover is put on upside down and backward, and then be called upon to speak about the history of Chicago, which I'll promptly trace to 1491 and the expulsion of the Bohemians from Spain.
     Were I you, I would not want to miss it. There's the whole Lit Fest going on all weekend, a sprawling carnival of reading material and assorted ephemera, like those old books cut up into sculpture and velvet-lined storage boxes. They make good Christmas gifts, and it isn't often that you have the chance to sit with a real author and talk for an hour, one-on-one. Not that I'm expecting that to happen. I'm still holding out hope that Shermann Dilla Thomas shows up and is joined by audience members in addition to yourself, and maybe even an appearance by the physical book that is responsible for this whole thing, an effort that I've been working on like a plow horse for the past two years.
     But there is a chance. See you Sunday. Maybe. Admission is free.


  1. Judging from Shermann Dilla Thomas's appearances on WBEZ, I would say that he might even have done his homework and looked over a few of Neil's columns and blogs and will be a worthy co-host introducing the new book.


  2. Shermann has some interesting youtube videos. Here is one where he narrates a history of Humbolt Park. I bet he could give Geoffrey Baer a run for his money in a Chicago trivia contest. The Printers Row Lit Fest is only half a block away from my office, I should be able to be there.

  3. It was called the Printer's Row Book Fair (I think) when I went there for the first and last and only time in the summer of '92. It was south of Van Buren and there were rows of book sellers and authors...and plenty of used books for sale.

    Is it still like a kind of literary street fair? A veritable carnival of books? Wow! The carnival of books...something I haven't thought of in years. "Carnival of Books" was the name of a Saturday morning radio show for kids on WGN in the Fifties. A woman with a mesmerizing voice read from books like "Pippi Longstocking" to loyal young listeners (like me), who never missed a show.

    At the '92 event, I found a used copy of "The Sterile Cuckoo" by John Nichols, the book that was the basis of Liza Minnelli's first movie, and I was able to get it signed by the author. Left town and moved to Cleveland just weeks later. Still have the book.

    If this Chicago native and Chicago history junkie still lived in Chicago, I'd be there on Sunday, Mister S. Damn betcha I would. And I'd buy your newest book in a heartbeat, and have it signed, and maybe engage in a little one-on-one. But it's a six-hour ride each way, and the Browns are playing on Sunday (Not that I care about the Browns all that much anymore, but it makes for another good excuse).

  4. I've seen you at the Lit Fest before, back when it was called the Book Fair, the name I prefer. Twice, I think, actually. As well as at the Poetry Foundation. Maybe a bookstore -- you have so many books, it's not like I can keep track! Looking forward to this, though that doesn't necessarily mean that I'll manage to show up. ; ) I expect an overflow crowd.

    The cleverness of this little prod, by itself, is worth the price of admission. I've certainly seen many references to Mr. Thomas, and am curious to see how the two of you handle the occasion. Uh, since I'm pretty sure either of you could speak uninterrupted for an hour with no problem, I doubt there will be any awkward pauses...

    "The birdlike host, eyes darting about the room ... warbling an introduction, sometimes read off a card in a plummy voice as if the speaker were not only unfamiliar with today's guest, but unaccustomed to language itself." Hilarious. I wouldn't want to be the one tasked with that role on Sunday!

    1. I'm not a fan of the "Lit Fest" name. I think I made fun of it in print one year. I'll have to dig that up.

  5. Did you finally have some bookshelves made for your office?


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