Medieval historian-turned-mortician Caitlin Doughty brings a unique blend of historical perspective, practical training, and newbie experiences to her exploration of modern death in the U.S. The essays in Smoke Gets in Your Eyes include some gory details, but also honest accounts of a new mortician sometimes fumbling her way in the space after death.
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Sufjan Stevens made the gimmicky claim he would write an album for each of the fifty states, but only made two. Luckily, Come on Feel the Illinoise was one. The album includes an anthem to “Chicago,” but he mined the state for subjects from Jacksonville to Highland Park resulting in a lyrically interesting and musically rich trip through the Land of Lincoln.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is the ultimate high stakes adventure in the ultimate virtual world. When the creator of that world dies, his vast estate is willed to the first to complete his challenges. Coalitions form, corporations create armies and a few, like teenage Parzival, go solo. You don’t have to know or like gaming to enjoy this classic underdog hero story with a bonus level of 80s references.
Vivian Maier was an area nanny whose ubiquitous camera captured life in Chicago in the mid-century. Her rich, evocative work remained unnoticed until 2007 when thousands of negatives were purchased at a storage unit auction. Curiosity in the woman and appreciation for her work have since skyrocketed. Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows offers a glimpse at her talent, and the new DVD Finding Vivian Maier attempts to shed light on the artist.
Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother deftly challenges ideas about food, success, and loyalty. Pandora puts a lot on the line when her older brother, an NYC jazz musician, shows up in Iowa having gained a shocking amount of weight. His large presence shakes her status quo and leads to a spur of the moment decision.
With its chilly upper-midwest setting (accents included), Fargo is the classic Coen brothers’ film. A botched kidnapping planned by a bungling William H. Macy is met with the polite, small-town-smarts of a pregnant police chief (Frances McDormand). This is dark humor at its best balanced with warm humanity.
He’s been dumped, and she’s squatting with innumerable roommates. Twenty-somethings Tim and Daisy figure the obvious solution is to pretend to be a couple to get a flat. British comedy series Spaced is full of quirky references, characters, and situations you’d expect from Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead fame.
As a teenager, Michael Hainey found an obituary claiming his father died After Visiting Friends. As an adult, journalist Hainey treads lightly, but persistently, asking those who may know – what friends? This is an engrossing, mysterious story with a local connection – Hainey is a Park Ridge native and his father worked for the Sun-Times.
Mary Karr says her third memoir, Lit, is about “leaving home to find home.” It is a hard look at her early adulthood wrought with insecurity, denial, and alcoholism. Fortunately, she tells her story with sharp observations and a sometimes dark humor that helps make this a powerful story of redemption.
Michael C. Hall can’t seem to escape death. Before he was Dexter, he was a mortician in Six Feet Under. He’s part of a quirky family whose lives are entwined with the funeral home their father left after suddenly dying. Although the setting seems maudlin, the show is about relationships, expected and unexpected, and their complications.