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Local Book Notes: Langford, Liberace & Chicago's Teen Whisperer

1. Jon Langford at Printers Row Lit Fest on Saturday.

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2. The Teen Whisperer's Chicago Connection.

"In late 2006, the writer John Green came up with the idea of communicating with his brother, Hank, for a year solely through videos posted to YouTube," Margaret Talbot writes for the New Yorker.

"The project wasn't quite as extreme as it sounds. John, who was then twenty-nine, and Hank, who was three years younger, saw each other about once a year, at their parents' house, and they typically went several years between phone calls. They communicated mainly through instant messaging.

"Hank was living in Missoula, where he'd started a Web site about green technology. John was living on the Upper West Side while his wife, Sarah Urist Green, completed a graduate degree in art history at Columbia. He had published two young-adult novels, Looking for Alaska, in 2005, and An Abundance of Katherines, in 2006, and was working on a third. Like the best realistic Y.A. books, and like The Catcher in the Rye - a novel that today would almost certainly be marketed as Y.A. - Green's books were narrated in a clever, confiding voice. His protagonists were sweetly intellectual teen-age boys smitten with complicated, charismatic girls. Although the books were funny, their story lines propelled by spontaneous road trips and outrageous pranks, they displayed a youthfully insatiable appetite for big questions: What is an honorable life? How do we wrest meaning from the unexpected death of someone close to us? What do we do when we realize that we're not as special as we thought we were?

"Green was more forgiving toward adults than Salinger was, but he shared Salinger's conviction that they underestimate the emotional depth of adolescents. Green told me, 'I love the intensity teen-agers bring not just to first love but also to the first time you're grappling with grief, at least as a sovereign being - the first time you're taking on why people suffer and whether there's meaning in life, and whether meaning is constructed or derived. Teen-agers feel that what you conclude about those questions is going to matter. And they're dead right. It matters for adults, too, but we've almost taken too much power away from ourselves. We don't acknowledge on a daily basis how much it matters.'

"Y.A. novels are peculiarly well suited to consideration of ethical matters. It seems natural when a high schooler like Miles Halter, of Looking for Alaska, is depicted struggling to write essays on topics like 'What is the most important question human beings must answer?' Miles is equally preoccupied with girls and with collecting the dying words of famous people. (His favorite: Rabelais's 'I go to seek a Great Perhaps.') Though Looking for Alaska sold modestly, it won the Michael L. Printz Award, the American Library Association's honor for best Y.A. book of the year. At the time, Green was living in Chicago, working at the association's magazine, Booklist, where he had reviewed books in a peculiar constellation of subjects: conjoined twins, boxing, and theology."

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"Upon graduating, he moved to Chicago, where he eventually ended up at Booklist. He was hired to do data entry, but he found mentors in the editor-in-chief, Bill Ott, and Ilene Cooper, a staff editor who also wrote children's and young-adult books. Cooper said of Green, 'He was a horrible slob, and he didn't do his job all that well,' recalling that he failed to send out checks to freelancers. 'He was smoking but trying to quit, so he was chewing tobacco, which was kind of gross. But he was so engaging, and he would want to talk about things like our place in the universe.' Green's older colleagues chided him for what Ott called 'some of his outrageous young-person pronouncements,' such as the claim that black-and-white movies are a waste of time. Ott said that he and Cooper, who are now married, saw him through a 'Sorrows of Young Werther-like downturn' after a girlfriend dumped him; Green told me that Ott ordered him to watch the profoundly silly 1950 film Harvey, which both lifted his spirits and cured him of his antipathy toward black-and-white. Eventually, Ott started assigning Green reviews, and Cooper did several edits on the manuscript of Looking for Alaska, which she passed along to her publisher, Dutton.

"When Green was twenty-six, he met Sarah Urist, who was managing an art gallery in Chicago. She had been three years behind him at Indian Springs, and they became reacquainted through the woman Green was then dating - Sarah's sparring partner at a boxing gym. After Green and the girlfriend broke up, he and Sarah started a friendship with a large epistolary component. 'We e-mailed back and forth for a year and talked about everything,' Green said. 'It was one of the most invigorating conversations I can remember having.'"

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3. Stories From Canaryville And Beyond.

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4. Book Bindery Service In Chicago And Wisconsin.

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5. Liberace: An American Boy.

"A piano prodigy becomes a wildly popular middlebrow entertainer with an innovative show in television's early years. He packs houses in concert halls around the world and tries to keep his gay sexuality hidden within his glittery persona, famously going to trial to protect the secret. Our free e-book for June, Liberace: An American Boy by Darden Asbury Pyron, is as entertaining as the man himself, and an extraordinary window into gay and American culture in the midst of change."

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6. It's Time To Get Angry About AIDS Again.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on June 12, 2014


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock.
TV - Cricket vs. Brexit.
POLITICS - An Odd Call From Bermuda.
SPORTS - All Is Not Forgiven, Bears.

BOOKS - Turning Points Of The Civil War.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Baxter's IV Bag Shortages.


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