Robbie Q. Telfer, program director for Young Chicago Authors, cofounder and cocurator for The Encyclopedia Show, braves the cold for:
Live literature We’re currently experiencing a renaissance in Chicago in the live literary scene. Perhaps it can be traced to Chicago’s invention of long-form open-source lit performance formats such as Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind and the Uptown Poetry Slam (both of which are still great and still happening). But their bastard children are running rampant all over the city. From Funny-Ha-Ha to Write Club, these shows’ curators have a firm grasp on the fact that live audiences very rarely want to see an author merely read from their latest works. These shows ask authors to adhere to an entertaining format that favors the audience’s enjoyment over the ego of the artist. Write Club, for instance, assigns authors opposing ideas (e.g. open vs. closed, yes vs. no, bananas vs. pajamas) and the audience votes on who better represents their arbitrary topic. Literature is not dead here.
Barbara Scharres, director of programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center, loves to ride:
The holiday el train Last Friday after work, I let Santa Claus take me home, something I do each December as often as he’s going my way. That is, I checked the schedule online and caught a northbound run of the CTA’s glorious, gaudy, winking, twinkling, singing holiday train, with a real-live Santa riding on a flatcar. I recommend this as the most irresistible happiness-making machine that our tax money has ever paid for. Age, ethnicity, or belief system can’t hinder the joy that greets this eye-popping extravaganza as it pulls into the station. Once on board, you savor the reactions of bystanders along the route. They laugh, cheer, take pictures, jump up and down, and pump their arms in the air.
In the dim red-and-green-lit, tinsel-bedecked car I watched a CTA “elf” rip the cellophane off a miniature candy cane with her teeth and hand it to a toddler in a stroller. Grounds for a lawsuit? Nope, just happy smiles all around.
Michael Balzer, creative director for iO Theater, is reading:
Vultures’ Picnic by Greg Palast I’m in the middle of Vultures’ Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates, and High-Finance Carnivores by fedora-clad investigative reporter Greg Palast and, like every book of his, part of me wishes I never started. It’s a joy to read—witty, brash, and suspenseful. It’s just that the stories he tells are, you know, terrifying.
Vultures’ Picnic is Palast at his muckraking best, revealing everything you don’t want to know about the Deepwater Horizon, Fukushima, vulture funds, the Greek debt crisis, and more. Horrifying connection after horrifying connection is made, sleep is lost, and yet you’re compelled to keep reading. It’s your worst nightmares about global finance come true in a delightful, riveting way; a solid reminder of what a treat it is to experience levity and dread simultaneously.