Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

811wT2-uD8L

By Caitlyn Ward, contributor to the Underground

Clay Jannon, hit with the hard times of the recession, has been shuffled away from his life as a San Francisco corporate drone and has been plopped right down into the tall and daunting aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Working the night shift, Clay soon discovers that this strange and dusty store is more curious than he could ever have imagined. The customers are few and far between, and while there are some random passers-by, there is also a small community that frequents the store often. These eccentric customers borrow from a mysterious, and quite tall, section of the store, habitually checking out large and strange volumes that Clay has been warned not to read. As it becomes more evident that these regulars belong to some strange kind of book club, Clay’s interest in these bizarre volumes grows. Succumbing to his suspicions, Clay engineers an analysis of the bookstore and the behavior of its clientele. With the help of his romantic interest, a data analyst for Google, his roommate, a special effects artist, and his best friend, a successful designer of a “boob-simulation software,” Clay sets out on a quest to discover the secrets that lie far beyond this bookstore’s walls.

In a world where the book is threatened by advancements in technology, the author, Robin Sloan, takes on the intersection between old and new media. Sloan crafts a warm and enjoyable novel, while also raising questions about the power that books and technology contain in today’s society. He does this by bringing these issues to attention, but never pushes these thoughts rudely to the head at the expense of the story. Sloan creates a quirky constellation of characters, such as Clay Jannon and Mr. Penumbra himself, as they work together to solve the 500-year-old puzzle that lies within these peculiar texts. The many references to technology places the novel firmly in the present day. Although Clay and his friends encounter setbacks, they live in a world that provides the answers in one simple Google search. Sloan seamlessly marries these new ideas of technology with old-school paper and ink and the cleverness of it all makes the story hard to put down. By creating a novel that is simultaneously a love letter to books, a meditation on technology and its limits, a mysterious adventure, and a requiem, Sloan is able to tackle the cohabitation of old and new media in today’s world. Rendered with irresistible language, interesting characters, and dazzling wit, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore creates an intriguing world in which you have to enter, and will not want to leave.

Advertisements

Event Review: Career Panel on Editing

books-2463779_1920

By Caitlyn Ward, contributor to the Underground

On Wednesday, October 18 in Arts and Letters Hall, the English department held a career night featuring a panel of editors. Wendy McClure, senior editor at Albert Whitman and Company, Kate DeVivo, VP at Agate Publishing, and Donna Seaman, editor for Booklist and the recipient of the James Friend Memorial Award for Literary Criticism, shared what it takes to make it in the world of editing and publishing.

Wendy works in children’s publishing, Kate in developmental publishing, and Donna in the world of book reviews; each career requires passion and creativity. Seeing these women talk about the love they have for their jobs reassured me that this was a field in which I want to work, and hearing about their different backgrounds inspired me to think about all the different career paths an English major can take. Each woman spoke highly of the challenges that come with editing and how each day was a small puzzle in making sure that this book, magazine, or textbook goes out into the world to positively impact readers.

Donna spoke about the need to be inventive, critical, and curious when evaluating any piece of literature. The panel also touched upon the importance of dabbling in different areas of publishing. For instance, you might go from working on cookbooks to working on children’s books, and each experience will add to your understanding of the publishing process. After listening to this panel of women, I took away a valuable lesson: have passion. Whether it’s love for an author, a genre of literature, or a project you hope to work on, a love of English is a must. Seeing three publishing professionals so enthusiastic about their work was inspiring and has made my love of literature, as well as my respect for those who work to bring new books and ideas to readers, grow.

Spring English Conference Tomorrow!

7417085_orig

A reminder that tomorrow is the 8th Annual Spring English Conference in DePaul’s Arts and Letters Hall! You’re welcome to drop in for part of the day or stay for all. The conference is always a fun, supportive time when writers and literary critics come together to celebrate new writing and research.

This year’s keynote speaker is WBEZ’s South Side reporter, Natalie Moore, whose book The South Side: A Portrait of American Segregation, traces the long history of segregation in Chicago and contemporary policies that maintain racial separation.

View this year’s program.

Crook & Folly Open Mic Night, Submission Deadline Extended

By Robert M. Keding
contributor to the Underground

crook-and-folly-night

On a rainy Thursday night in the University Center for Writing-Based Learning, over twenty-five DePaul students and alumni gathered to share their work—poetry, fiction, flash fiction, and dramatic literature. Almost everybody who attended ended up sharing a piece for the group, with many of the readers being members of Crook & Folly or the Writing Center, the two organizations which collaborate to host such open mic nights every year. Many of the attendees, in fact, are repeats from previous open mics, finding past events so beneficial that they can’t help but come back.

Crook & Folly, DePaul’s own award-winning literary magazine, is accepting submissions for their 2017 issue through March 8th. They accept poetry, fiction, and flash fiction, and are seeking dramatic lit and creative nonfiction submissions in particular. This is a great way for aspiring or accomplished writers to get their work published and read within DePaul and the broader Chicago literary community.

To submit your work and learn more about Crook & Folly, visit their Facebook page.

Event Spotlight: Visiting Writers Kathleen Rooney, Martin Seay

lillianmirror-thief

by Robert M. Keding
contributor to the Underground

Packed in to a small meeting room in DePaul’s Richardson Library, a large audience gathered to hear authors Kathleen Rooney and Martin Seay read selections from their newest novels, and then answer questions on their creative processes and experiences within the literary world.

Martin Seay’s book is entitled The Mirror Thief, and follows three different con artists working in sixteenth-century Venice, 1950s Venice Beach, California, and modern-day Las Vegas in the Venice Casino. This bold debut novel, weaving together these three seemingly separate but mysteriously linked narratives, is a masterfully written tale, evoking comparisons to such work as Cloud Atlas.

Seay’s advice to aspiring writers is to do a lot of background research, especially for period pieces like The Mirror Thief. “Even if you have the facts and details right, you still have to make sure the dialogue flows correctly too. Otherwise you might just end up with characters that sound like the people faking British accents on the subway,” he told the crowd. To get the sixteenth-century portions of the story sounding right, he found himself reading a lot of literature of that time—especially Shakespeare.

Kathleen Rooney spoke about her recent novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. This is her second novel, and was just published by St. Martin’s Press in the first weeks of 2017. The story chronicles an aging Lillian, going for a stroll around New York City and recounting various moments during her life, from humble beginnings to a career as the highest-paid woman in American advertising.

Rooney’s advice touched on the differences between writing prose and poetry, another realm of literature which she is invested in. “It’s possible to accidentally sit down and write a great poem. It’s a task so durationally shorter and full of so many chances for happy mistakes… It is, however, much more difficult to sit down for an hour or two and come up saying, ‘Whoops, I just accidentally wrote a really well-crafted novel!’” The room, undoubtedly filled with aspiring writers, could certainly relate.

Be sure to look for The Mirror Thief and Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, in bookstores now.

Event Spotlight: Curbside Splendor’s Book Fort Fair

by Robert M. Keding
contributor to the Underground

Upon entering the Revival Food Hall, visitors feel the cold and snowy outside world fade away. Long aisles filled with people spread as far as the eye can see, encompassed by a warm glow of laughter and conversation. The Food Hall is filled with over a dozen different stations run by some of Chicagoland’s best restaurants, serving up their most popular dishes in all tastes and styles. The Food Hall is packed even on their slowest days, but things are especially hopping today. And that is because Curbside Splendor’s pop-up Book Fort Fair is currently underway.

Curbside Splendor is a Chicago-based independent book press, based out of Humboldt Park. In 2014 they were named the “Best Chicago Indie Publisher” by CHICAGO magazine. Curbside is the home of such fantastic work as Steve Himmer’s Scratch and Toni Nealie’s The Miles Between Me. Recently, they opened a book and record store in the Revival Food Hall, where they sell their work, the work of other independent presses, and hold events such as novella contests, literary readings, and book fairs like this one, to engage the public with Chicago’s ever-growing and prospering literary scene.

The Book Fort Fair, at first glance, seems to be their biggest event yet. Many tables line the already-crowded aisles towards the hall’s center, their surfaces packed with an unimaginable array of overlooked and underappreciated novels from Midwest authors. Representatives from Curbside stand beside their tables, speaking enthusiastically about the work, making connections and recommendations with the Hall’s visitors. The air is electric, as diners not only share the food on their plates, but also stories.

As the weather gets colder, and the days grow shorter, consider visiting the Revival Food Hall, located at 125 S. Clark Street in downtown Chicago’s Loop. Grab some friends, grab some food, and stop by Curbside Splendor’s shop to grab a good book to top the day off.

The shop is open from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM on weekdays. They are closed on weekends, except during special events such as the book fairs. Visit their website for more information.

Much Ado About an English Major Career

by Robert M. Keding
contributor to the Underground

It’s a dreary Tuesday evening on DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus when Annette Hobbs Magier, Abby Saul, and Naomi Hoffman take the stage for a panel discussion on finding careers in publishing. Before them, in the small lecture hall, sit approximately fifty English majors, each with the same question on their minds: What in the world am I going to do when I graduate?

“I became the world’s best folder of children’s polos.”

For Magier, the answer was simple: “I’d always wanted to be [a magazine] editor, no doubt in my mind.” So how, then, did she go from that near-certain future to working in the boiler room of a Staten Island Ferry, then the children’s clothing section of Marshall Field’s, and now to the top of the marketing department for the publishing house Albert Whitman & Company? Well, to be frank, she doesn’t quite know herself.

Magier’s first inkling that editing was not in the cards came during a post-undergraduate NYU summer publishing program. “Have you all seen The Devil Wears Prada?” she asks the crowd. “Well the magazine [editing] world is exactly like that, not even kidding—absolutely cutthroat.” So Magier changed her plans and began to think creatively. She set her sights on New York City, home to the ‘Big Five’ publishing houses. But she couldn’t just get up and settle down halfway across the country overnight. “My father was a ship captain, so he was able to get me a job working below deck on a boat they were moving from the Great Lake to use in New York as a ferry… I told him how great of a story this was gonna make, and how it’d get my foot in the door… I was totally gonna make it—I didn’t make it.”

She did find herself in job interviews, however, with employers intrigued by her atypical resume. And it was in one such interview, at HarperCollins, where she learned the most useful lesson of her entire career—never limit yourself. She accepted a position in rights management, the kind of place where “nobody wants to be,” clearing the use of book excerpts for school textbooks. She eventually rolled on up into the Marketing Department, finding herself working with children’s books, no less, the very sort of thing she’d taken a liking to at her part-time job in the youth clothing section of Marshall Field’s. “It wasn’t a likely path, and it wasn’t what I planned, but I love what I do now,” she tells the room, a large smile spreading across her face. It seems that in life, just like in our favorite novels, the best endings are often the most unpredictable ones.

“I spent my senior year of college freaking out.”

Abby Saul had an unusual entry into the publishing world. Also wanting to be an editor, Saul enrolled in the same NYU program as Magier, with equally uncertain results. She recalls that by the final event of the summer, a job fair, she didn’t even bother attending. “I decided to just start being an online pest… I emailed literally everyone I could, looking for an opening.” An opening which she got when offered a small role working production: “It was my job to take the book from its finalized manuscript form, and to turn it into an actual finished product—something you could hold in your hands.” Saul had never before considered this part of the publishing process, let alone conceived it as something she might be interested in. “The first thing I worked on was doing touchup and Photoshop for a textbook entitled Structural Concrete,” she recounts, chuckling to herself along with the rest of the audience. “Not very interesting, I know.”

Fortunately, Saul soon moved her way up from Structural Concrete to such work as the Betty Crocker cookbooks. She found doing color correction on chocolate chip cookies much more enthralling than highway overpasses, but there was still more ladder-climbing to do: “Sometimes, in order to progress, you have to leave the place you’re at, jump over into some other publishing house or capacity, and then start working your way up again there.”

Eventually, Saul decided the next best move was to strike out on her own path. Just this past year she has become a freelance agent, a liaison between authors and publishing houses. “The slush pile is a real thing,” she tells the crowd. “Agented manuscripts get seen first in the business… Even as just a new agent I receive around 200 queries a week to sort through.” Although her path forward is not grounded, Saul is optimistic, quite liking the freedom that being her own boss affords her. Unlike other career paths which are clear and predetermined, publishing seems more about doing your own thing. Perhaps it is quite fitting that in such a creative industry, it is so often up to authors to write their own chapters in life.

“I ate peanut butter sandwiches for an entire summer.”

Naomi Hoffman starts off her tale by reminiscing about the time not so long ago when she would have been one of the students listening in the audience. As her senior year drew to a close, her parents kept asking what the plan was for life after graduation, a question all of us English majors have undoubtedly heard a few dozen too many times. Her response? “I’m not sure yet… I’m an artist, Mom.”

Her first summer after graduation was rough. She was strapped for cash and “just sort of listed about.” But, much like Magier and Saul, it was only because of this struggle that opportunities developed. Among other odd jobs, Hoffman found herself babysitting. And even though such work seems far from applicable on an English major’s resume (much like working the boilers on a ferry), she found it one of the most relevant experiences of her career: “Taking care of three kids at one time told me more about publishing than anything else in the world.”

One of Hoffman’s first industry jobs was redeveloping the literary section of Newcity magazine, then in its infancy. The path wasn’t easy, however. The magazine had few resources, and Hoffman found herself working very part time for little, sometimes no money. The hope was that if her new literary section was successful enough, the company would grow as a result, opening up space for her. In the meantime she worked more odd jobs, including “mindless” office work, but eventually she was brought onboard. She is also currently the Editor in Chief of Curbside Splendor, a small indie publishing house in Chicago which recently opened its own bookstore in the South Loop. In these capacities, Hoffman is able to spread her love for literature. It seems that ‘off-the-beaten-track’ is right up her alley.

But it was the final piece of advice that night which was perhaps the most poignant, echoed by all three members of the panel. That is—once you find a job, once you find a position which pays the bills and gets your foot in the door, ask yourself, “Is this where I really want to be?” As all three publishers proved, it is oh so easy to get stuck within your own headspace when it comes to what the future holds. But the most important thing we can do is to trust our gut, pursuing not necessarily what pays the most in money but what lends the most in love. Because even though publishing is an industry and writing novels is a business, we can’t lose sight of what drew us to literature in the first place—our hearts.