Sunday, June 7, 2015

A day at Lit Fest

This past weekend marked the gathering of Chicago's annual Lit Fest.

My dad and I had originally intended on attending on Sunday, but we ended up pushing our plans up to Saturday because of the possibility of grim weather (which did, in fact, arrive this morning despite Chicago's schizophrenic forecasts). All in all, I'm glad we made Saturday the day, because you couldn't have asked for a more pleasant afternoon for book browsing.

This was my second Lit Fest experience, though I classify it as my first real one. I was in attendance last year, but, admittedly, I'm not sure I was fully immersed in literature yet at that point. I didn't even buy a book, which seems like a sin at something as large and as substantial as Lit Fest. (I did, however, come away with a fantastic Marx Brothers Horse Feathers movie poster, so it wasn't a total loss.)

This time, I made darn certain that I came away with some books.

I find it unbelievably odd that I haven't yet read George Orwell's Animal Farm.

It seems to me that every English program in the history of high schools has assigned this book at one point or another. Every high school, that is, except mine, apparently. Orwell's 1984 was part of the curriculum from my 20th Century Fiction class last semester, and, since I enjoyed the dystopian novel so much, I made a mental note to myself to get going on Animal Farm. I found this nifty little pocketbook copy in a dusty box for a mere two dollars.

It seems almost counterintuitive to say, but the so-called "classics" often seem to be the cheapest books out there.

Some books are just in the right place at the right time.

Last week, I finally watched Penelope Spheeris's infamous Decline of Western Civilization film after years of it sitting on my "must watch" list. The movie depicts a unflinchingly first-hand glimpse into the early '80s west-coast hardcore scene, with a focus on Black Flag, The Germs, and X. (The arguably superior sequel of DOWC, which I also viewed last week, is centered around the late '80s heavy metal movement.)

As fate would have it, a copy of Thorn Kief Hillsberry's What We Do Is Secret (which takes its name from the title of the first and only Germs album) stared back at me from a bookshelf on Saturday. The novel, as far as I can tell, is set around a group of young L.A. punks in the time directly following the suicide of Germs singer Darby Crash (who, coincidentally, died on the same night John Lennon was assassinated).

Admittedly, I'm more a fan of early '70s punk (Ramones, Sex Pistols, etc.), and, save for a small handful of bands/songs, I've never been big on hardcore. Even so, the west-coast scene itself absolutely fascinates me.

I'm hoping it translates well into novel form.

This was one of those unplanned, last-minute pickups that collectors of any sort know all too well.

My dad and I were actually leaving for the day when I spotted several copies of Kevin Kaduk's Wrigleyworld sitting on a passing bookshelf. I picked it up, flipped through a few pages, and knew I had to leave with it.

Baseball is a huge part of my life, and the Cubs are by far my favorite team in all of sports. Purchasing this was basically a reflex. Wrigley Field, in many ways, lends itself to books because so many of the fans, for better or worse, read like characters in a fictional novel. Heck, the stadium itself is probably the main character.

I found Lonnie Wheeler's Bleachers: A Summer in Wrigley Field in a thrift store bin for a buck a couple months ago, and I'm sure Wrigleyworld will make for a nice accompanying read.

A good chunk of the books I've read (or are planning to read) are due to rave reviews from my dad.

You can add John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces to that list. My dad says it's one of the best books he's ever flipped through, which meant that it instantly catapulted to the top of my "want to read" list.

This is one of those novels that I'd heard rumblings about, but never really investigated. Turns out Toole committed suicide eleven years before the work was even published, and ACOD likely wouldn't have been published at all had Toole's mother not found a manuscript of the novel lying in the bowels of her house.

There's a certain amount of risk in a lot of the books I buy, knowing full well that they might not turn out to be as good as I'd expected. But, on the other side of the coin, some books have that kind of understated certainty to them, ones that I'll know I'll like before I even start them.

A Confederacy of Dunces has that certain kind of certain feel.

On a larger level, Lit Fest makes it very clear to me that books are still alive and well in today's society. Saturday's gathering was almost too crowded, in fact, as I seemed to be bumping into innocent bystanders with every step I took.

As somewhat of a cynic by trade, I sometimes think that actual books themselves are on their way out with people my age, the nervous, early-to-mid twenties, just-about-to-graduate college students. Nope. I couldn't be more wrong. Books are alive and well, people.

If you don't believe me, do yourself a favor and attend Lit Fest this time next year.

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