Silly hats

About four years ago, Logan introduced me to Daniel Pinkwater’s books, and to their characters who spend time in funky older city neighborhoods where artists and other talkative eccentric folk live, and as much as I have liked the stories and the characters to my surprise I find myself living in a kind of slightly twisted version of just such a neighborhood, with monks who stand upon a rooftop to ring bells and a guy who makes wooden whales and chickens in his backyard and people who all have known each other for years and even the charming clusters of lawyers in charcoal-gray suits Monday through Friday (yes such places do exist outside fiction, just escape the suburbs to live in a place that might be a little less safe but far more real). Maybe you’ve read Daniel Pinkwater’s young adult novels and his Young Adult Novel, and if you have I think you’ll understand this question: What’s up with all his references to Chicago? True it is the great city in the United States, but. I mean. Chicago. You don’t get book contracts writing about Chicago or about any other midwestern city or indeed about any city that even vaguely resembles Chicago or the midwest, although heaven knows we already have far too many books set in Manhattan and L.A. and Boston and Dodge City and even Seattle. Of course if you live in the suburbs and haven’t read any of Daniel Pinkwater’s books, you can correct that situation. Or if you’re not a fundamentalist you really must read The Last Guru so you can find out about a fourteen year old guru who points out, “The Silly Hat Monks practice in a spiritual way by wearing the silliest hats possible. The more spiritually advanced a person is, the sillier the hat he wears. This prevents other people from getting the idea that he is anyone to take seriously.”

5 thoughts on “Silly hats

  1. Bill Baar

    When the Cardinals die in Chicago, their hats are hung from the ceiling of Holy Name Cathederal.

    New ideas so worn by the time they get to Chicago, we can see right through them.

    My favorite Chicago writer and poet of the moment is Stewart Dybek. He’s sort of my Chicago generations answer to Isaac Bashevis Singer.

  2. CDS

    Silly Hat Monks? Why has no one told me of this order before now….

    My ministry is less unique than I had once thought.

    How sad.
    How delightful.
    How silly.

    (Dreaming my next hat– the one I’ve been waiting to purchase for 20 years.)

  3. JH

    Yes – Stuart Dybek (not Stewart) is a great writer.
    And, um, you actually DO get and CAN get a book contract for writing about the midwest.
    Read any Scott Russell Sanders lately? Or Michael Martone? Or Charles Baxter?
    Or, she says, shamelessly self-promoting, how about the writer Jean Harper?
    It doesn’t really count as the midwest, because he writes about rural Colorado, but the flavor
    of Kent Haruf’s novels is Midwest and the writing is fantastic.
    Oh, and Susan Neville!
    And Mary Fell!
    so, hey, yeah, there’s a LOT of good writing out here. But you are right: there should be MORE.

  4. Administrator

    Hi, midwest writer Jean Harper whose book about the midwest, Rose City, should be purchased by every reader of this blog (full disclosure: Jean’s my sister).

    Yes, there’s lots of good fiction and creative non-fiction from the midwest, but it mostly isn’t on the NY Times bestseller list. It seems to me that regional writing in general is dismissed by the literary establishment. And unfortunately, too many of the regional writers buy into that notion, with the sad result here in New England that regional writing sometimes gets reduced to “can I sell it to Yankee magazine?” So what happens? The regional writers of New York and of faceless suburbia (and perhaps those of California) are assumed to represent our national literature. But of course they don’t.

    When you turn to poetry, the situation is a little different. It seems lots easier to find books by regional poets, perhaps because poetry is already marginalized in United States culture. So I’d guess that (surprise) market forces have a lot to do with the fact that regional writers of fiction and creative nonfiction are on the margins.

    By the way, readers can make a difference. Buy locally written books from local independent publishers. Read regional blogs. Support local everything.

    Oh, and wear silly hats.

  5. JH

    Good call — yes, readers can make a difference. And, read good literary journals that DO
    publish so-called regional work. Like: Fourth Genre, Iowa Review, River Teeth, Ninth LEtter.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think of myself as a “regional” writer.
    I’m a writer who writes about the place I live. And that happens to be
    Indiana. Those guys who write about New York? Los Angeles? Now *they’re* the
    regional writers…

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