Review: North and Central by Bob Hartley

34748200We had a Zenith television when I was a kid. It was big, bigger than me. When we wanted to change the channel, we had to get up and turn the dial. When the plastic dial broke, or at least the part that connected it to the channel mechanism on the TV, then we superglued the broken bit of plastic back together. We used the dial until it broke, again. We superglued it again. This kept going on until the plastic dial couldn’t be repaired anymore. Then we just risked cutting our fingers against the sharp-edged plastic of the now-exposed channel changing mechanism. We pressed our fingers against it, twisted our wrists and changed the channel. There were only 13 stops on the dial, and only four stations: ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. We made do and we kept that TV long after friends started to buy Sony Trinitrons. Eventually, we got something from Panasonic.

Bob Hartley’s second novel, North and Central (Tortoise Books, 240 pages, $16), is set in a Chicago bar whose clientele consisted mostly of Zenith factory workers and who, no doubt, would mock my use of “clientele” to describe them. “Drinkers,” perhaps, is better? “Strugglers,” perhaps, too, as Zenith is on the decline due to competition from Japan—the entire neighborhood is rough shape. Another name for those workers could be “Trump voters,” which is more about when I read the book than when it was written or its setting a few decades ago in the 1970s.

Continue reading “Review: North and Central by Bob Hartley”

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Review: Following Tommy by Bob Hartley

15826921 Following Tommy by Bob Hartley is a gem of a book: hard, brilliant and valuable.

It tells the story of Jacky O’Day, a bookish teen who lives in a changing Irish neighborhood in 1962 Chicago with an alcoholic father and a troubled older brother, Tommy. All of them live in the devastating aftermath of the early death of the woman in their life, the clear-headed mother and wife who had kept the three on the straight and narrow.

Without her, Jacky follows Tommy into his forays of petty crimes, as if that is the only viable path through their hardscrabble world. When Tommy’s crimes grow more violent, though, Jacky begins to question their relationship and himself.

Hartley delves into questions of identity and race, and offers a dramatic portrait of how a specific kind of Chicago neighborhood operates, with and against the law.

Through it all, Hartley’s clear, concise prose remains unflinching and cutting at times.

The slim volume from the independent publisher Cervena Barva Press is highly recommended.

2017 Year in Review in Reading

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I always feel like I’ve never read enough.

These are the covers of the 30 books I completed reading in 2017, though some I may have started the year before. Some of the books are important. Some of them are fun. Some are both. Continue reading “2017 Year in Review in Reading”

About those seven words (not George Carlin’s seven)

I guess it could seem silly, how fascism works—from the micro to the macro—that seven reasonable terms would become forbidden for the CDC to use. That’s the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The Atlanta-based federal agency that the U.S. turns to when during vulnerable times, when there’s a need for evidence-based and science-based research so that the diversity of the whole population can stay safe from things like Zika virus or an Ebola outbreak or zombies (see also: Season 1 of The Walking Dead; and Max Brooks’ World War Z).

These are the seven words, as reported by The Washington Post, that the Trump Administration is forbidding policy analysts at the CDC from using:

Continue reading “About those seven words (not George Carlin’s seven)”

A short history of Twitter

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2006: The first tweet: just setting up my twttr

2007: Twitter finds users: Everyone at SXSW is doing it, and now #hashtags

2008: Barack Obama blows up Twitter: #YesWeCan

2009: Finding followers becomes a thing followuback #ff fun

2010: One of the most popular accounts becomes @shitmydadsays (it later becomes a short-live sitcom starring William Shatner)

2011: Political activism found a voice in #ArabSpring

2012: Clickbait tweets arrive and you won’t believe what happens next (remember seeing tweets like this? They’ve all but disappeared)

2013: Twitter adds photos, and the #Oreo Cookie Superbowl power outage may have been the greatest of the year

2014: Then came Ellen Degeneres and the famous #OscarSelfie

2015: #LoveWins

2016: Remember when people thought 2016 was the worst year EVAH!

2017: We don’t need 280 characters to say “WE’RE ALL DOOMED!!!”