The wonders of the daily newspaper

As a grade school kid, one of the few things that I found enjoyable about my ordeal by public education was my introduction to wonders of the daily newspaper. This is a habit I have maintained until only recently—my lapse being another story entirely. The best part of my daily perambulation through this school lesson was the sports pages. Chicago, being a full-blooded town, had its share of sports news: 2 football teams, 2 baseball teams, a hockey team, seated in the center of the Big Ten conference and two local Catholic Notre Dame wannabes, Loyola and DePaul Universities. Of course, none of that meant much to me at the time. What did mean a lot was that I lived a few blocks from Wrigley Field, home of the perennially losing Chicago Cubs. My first newspaper was the Chicago Sun-Times, the liberal tabloid owned by the Marshall Fields family and the yin to the McCormack family’s antediluvian Chicago Tribune yang. Years later the Tribune would end up owning the Cubs—for me, a reinforcement of the basic and obvious notion that if you live long enough you will encounter some really unlikely turns-of-events. Anyway, the sports pages in the tabloid were the back pages and often as not it's what I read first, murders and fires being of marginal interest to me. This habit of reading about sports has continued even past my participation or even my viewing of most professional contests. I still find some satisfaction in getting the inside info about sports for reasons that escape me. I would think that this kind of interest would carry over into other areas, like the literary and the publishing worlds that I inhabit, but it doesn’t. I don’t really care if Zadie Smith is dating Eminem. Or who Jonathan Safran Foer is dating. Maybe that fact that Gabe Hudson is reportedly auctioning off his letter from President Bush is mildly amusing (The NY Observer reports Bush wrote Hudson that his book Dear Mr. President was "unpatriotic," "ridiculous" and "just plain bad writing") and the fact is whatever I think of this kind of gossip probably there are many people that find it interesting. Far be it from me to want to legislate the informational marketplace, except as an arbitor. Now, Dennis Loy Johnson’s website, MobyLives.com ("The whale lives") seems devoted to matters of literary import. I say "seems" because as a new devotee of this blog, I haven’t felt it necessary to form an opinion on its place in the cosmos. I am grateful that Johnson gave voice to something that has been troubling me for some time. That is, why photographer Marion Ettlinger has become the darling of the book publishing art director crowd. I asked Johnson if he tried to sell his piece on this photographic naked empress to NY publications. His response, "I did try to peddle that Ettlinger column around, but got no takers because, I figure, most of the editors I was peddling to (in NYC) all dream of having their photo taken by Ms. Ettlinger; it's a real status symbol, which is what makes it all the more interesting/repulsive, in a 'emperor has no clothes' kind of way." Actually far more significantly, Johnson points out a backlash brewing towards the current crop of seemingly successful young writers. Dave Eggers' deals are being scrutinized for their consistency with his initial claims about McSweeney’s books and the benefits for authors who published with him as well as the direction of McSweeney’s (next to be guest edited by Michael Chabon) and its commitment to young unpublished writers. Jonathan Franzen and Rick Moody are being taken to task for applying for and accepting grant money (usually designated for young and penurious writers) despite their own economic good fortunes. And it being award season, the National Book Award finalists are being vetted for who they are connected to and what their provenance is and what publishing houses have been frozen out of this year's awards. This is all seemingly interesting stuff while (if) you are reading it. Maybe like checking baseball box scores in the middle of July. Interesting, but pretty much meaningless…

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