Monday
Jan072013

The Wall Street Journal on the ebooks slowdown 

An interesting essay by digital media pundit Nicholas Carr on the slowing pace of ebook adoption--one I admit to favoring because it pretty much tracks my own ideas about the ultimate place of the ebook in our media ecosphere.

E-books, in other words, may turn out to be just another format—an even lighter-weight, more disposable paperback. That would fit with the discovery that once people start buying digital books, they don't necessarily stop buying printed ones. In fact, according to Pew, nearly 90% of e-book readers continue to read physical volumes. The two forms seem to serve different purposes.

Wednesday
Dec262012

Laying low

So apparently most of the rest of the nearby states to the south and east of us are being pummelled with snow, and we may be due for a bit ourselves. It's going to be pretty quiet around here until we're into the new year. Until 2013!

Tuesday
Dec112012

Jali Becker on opinion, race, guns, politics, and books

David Sirota over at Salon.com recently addressed the controversy Bob Costas caused when he spoke out about gun control during the halftime of an NFL game. Costas was responding to the tragic murder-suicide of Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher. His comments raised some ire from those who argued that a football game was no place for “political” commentary, especially from a man whose role was to be a sportscaster. Sirota’s main argument is that in a democracy, those entitled to express an opinion should not be decided on the basis of so-called “expert” status. He also touches briefly on the interconnected roles of sports and politics in our society.

This immediately brought to my mind Agate Midway’s upcoming March 2013 release, Ramblers, which focuses on the 1963 Loyola Chicago Ramblers basketball team and the NCAA men’s basketball championship tournament. The Ramblers fielded what was then an extremely progressive lineup of four African-American starters, and their opponent in the championship game, Cincinnati, had three African-American starters. This was at a time when opportunities for African-Americans in sports (and elsewhere, of course) were extremely limited. Indeed, one of Loyola's opponents in the NCAA tournament, the Mississippi State Bulldogs, had to sneak out of town just to participate due to a longstanding "unwritten rule" forbidding Mississippi teams from playing against integrated teams.  

Author Michael Lenehan does an excellent job of painting the political and social pressures these teams faced while trying to play their game. Sports are one arena where talent always wins out, regardless of race, class, or creed. Ability earns respect, challenging assumptions about supposed inferiority. In 1963, the Loyola Chicago Ramblers were quite simply the best, and their success, as well as the success of other integrated teams, would go on to break down preconceptions about African Americans and their abilities.

Ramblers includes a wonderful anecdote that illustrates the power of sports to change people’s prejudices. In 1944, there was a game between the all-black North Carolina College Eagles basketball team and the all-white Duke University Medical School intramural team, which that year was reportedly better than the Duke varsity team. The game had to be carried out in absolute secrecy to avoid conflict in racially segregated Durham, North Carolina. The Eagles demolished the med students 88–44. Then the teams switched up and played a mixed game for fun, and afterward went back to the Eagles players’ dorm for refreshments. One of the Duke players wrote a letter to his parents a few days later:

Oh, I wonder if I told you that we played basketball against a Negro college team. Well, we did and we sure had fun and I especially had a good time, for most of the fellows playing with me were Southerners…. And when the evening was over, most of them had changed their views quite a lot.

Tuesday
Dec042012

Ladies and gentlemen--Eric Felten!

Making an encore performance in last week's Wall Street Journal was our favorite chronicler of cocktail culture, whose How's Your Drink? was Agate Surrey's first serious foray into publishing cocktail books. He's returned from his long absence from the spirits beat to address a topic that is dear to my heart--we drink better cocktails when we drink smaller cocktails. Vintage Felten.

Thursday
Nov292012

Copyediting and life

From Granta--one of the best personal testaments I've ever read about living with the mind of an editor.

Friday
Nov162012

How the sausage is made, latest installment

At the release party for Kate Moss's new book, the venerable supermodel modestly revealed the truth of her role in the book's creation: “Well, I didn’t actually have to write anything.”

Thursday
Nov012012

Is the Penguin Random merger good for indie publishers?

In England, at least, some say yes.

Saturday
Oct272012

Ta-Nehisi Coates on magazines and diversity

For some time I've been meaning to link to this typically excellent post by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a young(er) black journalist whose work I've admired for years now, most of which I've encountered in that venerable but persistently vital organ, The Atlantic. In this job I read a lot about race in America, and I think Coates's recent work is about as thoughtful and honest as it gets.

 

Sunday
Oct142012

Bill Gates, in his own words

We recently asked Lisa Rogak, the editor of the new Agate B2 release Impatient Optimist: Bill Gates In His Own Words, a few questions about Gates and what went into creating this new book, which is made up of quotations drawn from Gates's public statements and interviews over the past 30-odd years.

What were some of the themes of Bill Gates’s life that came through when you were researching and compiling this book?

The first thing I noticed as I researched Gates's early years was his ability to focus and never waver once he set his mind—and will—to accomplishing something. Another theme I realized was that despite appearances to the contrary, this is a guy who does indeed work well with others. Plus, he has been able to forge alliances with some pretty uncommon bedfellows through the years, from Warren Buffett and Bono to Bill Clinton.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about Gates during your research?

I was surprised to see how much he has mellowed over the years. And also that he has a keen, dry sense of humor. But probably most of all, that his philanthropic efforts are incredibly diverse—they run the gamut from technology to social causes—and that he's been able to make a significant difference for many individuals and charities since launching his foundation, particularly since leaving Microsoft and concentrating his efforts on his philanthropy full-time.

Do you have any insights as to why people are so fascinated with tech CEOs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs?

Because they see that in a world filled with extremely successful businesspeople and CEOs, tech entrepreneurs like Gates and Jobs have ventured so far beyond everyone else. Their efforts have exerted a powerful and very close influence on the daily lives of millions of people throughout the world. And they have a spillover effect, as we have clearly seen how the products introduced by newer tech entrepreneurs like Zuckerberg and the founders of Twitter have actually helped to topple dictatorships and effect real change in some heretofore sketchy political regimes around the world.  

What do you think will be Gates’s most lasting contribution?

I think Gates's most lasting contribution is twofold. For one, his technological brilliance and foresight, and his ability to blast out to the front of the pack when he declared that it was his goal to have a computer in every home and on every desktop. Second, his charity, which even his fans would never have picked up on in the early days when he was growing Microsoft. His philanthropy will likely affect the world for centuries to come. 

What should readers take away from Impatient Optimist?

Several things. First, from a business standpoint, perusing the quotes in Impatient Optimist will reveal instances where Gates faced a number of seemingly insurmountable dilemmas and was able to overcome them with the tools at hand. This should inspire readers to deal with the problems and challenges in their own business lives. Second, they'll be able to learn more about Bill Gates as a person and what makes him tick in his private life—something that is rarely explored.

Tuesday
Oct092012

The future of cookbooks?

So, cookbooks are dying. But they are most likely going to survive the deaths of every other sort of book, this author tells us. But die they will! And the sun will eventually burn out, too. Let's enjoy them while they last, especially during this remarkable period when print cookbooks and digital cookbooks seem to be coexisting just fine.

Friday
Sep282012

The realities of 2012 ebook technology

If this sort of thing can happen to the world's most high-profile writer, with her very high-profile new book, it can happen to any author, any book, any publisher. In fact, I can tell you it is happening to a great many ebooks bought and sold at this point in time. For good or ill, this is the general state--i.e., not particularly dependable--of this technology at this moment in time. It's getting better, but I think everyone involved should be realistic about where things stand at this moment, and mindful that publishers and retailers are trying to improve things.

"Yesterday the eBook file for The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling was released to all U.S. eBook retailers. There were issues with that file, including the adjustability of font color and size and adjustability of margins. As soon as Hachette was made aware of these issues, a replacement file was uploaded to all eBook retailers. Hachette has requested that each retailer contact their customers directly about reloading their eBook.

J.K. Rowling's new ebook had a few problems

Saturday
Sep152012

Lawrence Norfolk on writing about food

Longtime Friend of Agate Lawrence Norfolk has just published another characteristically brilliant novel, called John Saturnall's Feast, his first in twelve years. Norfolk has traveled a somewhat fitful journey to global literary stardom, one that's set him a little apart from his cohort of mid-career British novelists. He's probably better known on the Continent than he is in his native England, and he's steeply underappreciated here in the U.S.; this should be remedied, as his work is at least as accomplished as that of American contemporaries like Chabon, Egan, Eugenides, et. al. He's coming to America later this month for a brief tour. The new novel is terrific, like all of Lawrence's books--just ask Agate's associate publisher, Diana Slickman, as the Chicago Reader did this week.The title character in John Saturnall's Feast is a gifted 17th-century chef, and Lawrence recently wrote a brief investigation of the challenges involved in writing about food, cooking, and (especially) eating, which is defiinitely instructive stuff for us cookbook publishers.

Monday
Sep102012

Q.&A. with Natasha Korecki

Natasha Korecki, creator of the famed "Blago Blog" and longtime reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, has just published Only in Chicago: How the Rod Blagojevich Scandal Engulfed Illinois; Embroiled Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, and Jesse Jackson Jr.; and Enthralled the Nation with our stand-alone ebook imprint, Agate Digital. An excerpt from the book appeared earlier today on the Sun-Times website, and we invited Natasha to share her thoughts about the book.

Natasha Korecki

First things first: What was he thinking?

As the feds closed in, Blagojevich was struggling to raise money, and his inability to do so was costing him his political power. He arguably began crossing the line as he grew more frustrated and desperate.

Could this be considered just a case of “Chicago politics as usual” wherein Blagojevich was unlucky enough to be caught? What makes this case different from other Illinois corruption scandals?

Blagojevich came up as part of the “Chicago Machine,” in that his father-in-law, powerful Chicago Alderman Dick Mell, helped launch his political career. But as the ex-governor alienated more and more people—including Mell—it was as if the Machine chewed him up and spat him out. What made it different was that the blatant conduct caught on the recordings took place after two of his closest fundraisers had been criminally charged.

In a story full of shocking, seemingly inexplicable twists, what stood out to you as the most bizarre?

Seeing Rod Blagojevich enter the federal courtroom wearing a jogging suit as an in-custody arrestee is an image I won’t soon forget.

What was it like to have a front-row seat to this story, day in and day out?

It was incredibly dramatic, particularly during the first trial. The testimony was explosive, but then the tapes were even more entertaining. On top of that, the lawyering in the case was sharp and humorous. I relished my front-row seat.

Is Blagojevich as out of touch with reality as he seems? Is it possible to find any sympathy for him?

He continued to have incredible faith in himself even when it appeared obvious that he was headed for defeat. He believed he could win over a jury just like he won over tens of thousands of voters. People are complex and, as in most cases, there’s more than one side to him. It’s a sad situation for his two daughters.

How do you think the other players in this saga fit in, most notably Blagojevich’s wife, Patti?

It was an incredibly tragic tale for some, particularly Christopher Kelly. Others were politically harmed, including Roland Burris, who chose to accept Blagojevich’s appointment to the Senate seat even after the governor was criminally charged. As for Patti, she was caught on numerous embarrassing phone recordings and was accused of being a ghost payroller for Tony Rezko. Ultimately though, the charges involving Patti were not proven in court.

Were you surprised at the national reaction to and interest in “The Blago Blog”? Why do you think people are so fascinated by his story?

I was surprised that it stretched so far beyond Illinois. I think the tapes were the biggest reason people were so captivated by the trials. There was no shortage of incredible conversation caught on tape and there always was the prospect of another major politico being caught on a recording. 

Among the other players singed in this scandal, who's been most negatively affected?

Without question, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. The scandal has dogged him for the last four years and ended up exposing not only a questionable relationship with a fundraiser but also the fact that he was having an affair.  As far as his recent health struggles go, I think that as with most things that have transpired in this case, there’s likely more to the story.

Saturday
Sep082012

Mike Sula on squirrel

I am a little late to the party regarding this terrific article by the Chicago Reader's Mike Sula about eating squirrel. It's just too good, though, not to take note of it. Agate is based in an older suburb/college town full of large trees and vulnerable garbage receptacles, and squirrels are omnipresent. We have more than our fair share of pigeons, too, and the open green spaces--parks, golf courses, and the like--have significant semipermanent goose populations. I can't help but look at these abundant creatures and wonder, as Sula does, why and how we lost our sense of them as food sources.

As Sula points out, it's not like these animals weren't very common fare right up until the mid-20th century or so. The argument for eating squirrel, and pigeon and goose, is not like the argument for eating insects or worms. So what happened over the past 60–70 years or so that led Americans away from this sort of "small game," as the Evanston writer John Blades referred to squirrels in his novel of the same name from about 20 years back? Sula has some interesting thoughts about that, among other things. Recommended.

Wednesday
Sep052012

Guest Post - How Divorce Court Saved My Marriage

Judge Lynn Toler is the author of the newly released Making Marriage Work (Agate Bolden 2012) and My Mother's Rules (Agate Bolden 2007). She's also the featured judge on Divorce Court, the longest running court program on television. A longer version of this essay previously appeared on Huffington Post Weddings.

Judge Lynn Toler

As the judge on Divorce Court, I am familiar with the thematic mistakes made in marriages. Yes, I know the show is often a little silly, but when my husband and I were staring into the marital abyss, I learned a valuable lesson from Divorce Court that helped me out at home.

I learned this particular lesson from couples who couldn’t figure out how they had gotten to Divorce Court in the first place. They had marriages that went awry in such small increments they didn’t know what had happened. But before me they were forced to compress years' worth of trouble into a short presentation. Each telling me a different story the other was usually surprised to hear, they often found that they were coming apart not because one or both were wrong, but because of unexamined needs. Seeing that scenario play out before me over and over again helped me figure out what was going wrong in my own home.

Lynn and Big E on their wedding day

By year 19, my husband, Big E, and I were off the road and deep in the weeds. Having become a father at 19, my husband married his first wife and had four children by the time he was 26. As a result he never got to do as he pleased because he did so much for others. When he looked at me he saw new and unencumbered. He saw me as the first installment in a lot of choices he was owed. 

I, on the other hand, was raised in a house that rocked and rolled on the rhythm of whatever was wrong with Dad, who was brilliant, principled, and also bipolar. Stuff was jumping off at my house all of the time and you never knew when or why. When I looked at Big E, I saw stable, safe, and secure.

Once we married, however, every time E didn’t get his way it was another drop in a bucket of sacrifices. By being willing to give me the children I sought—which, when you think about it, is huge—he took everything else off the table. Any desire I had that didn’t match his got me a little static. Though E was just ordinary, everyday annoyed about things, I didn’t see it that way. Even the mildest objection he raised prompted that voice in the back of my head to say, “Shut it down; it could go bad.” So instead of engaging in any meaningful exchange, I capitulated, repeatedly.

If you keep selling surrender like that, eventually the other person buys. Over time I taught my husband that by merely furrowing his brow he could get me to back off my position. And once you start that nonsense, the person whose pardon you are continuously begging begins to believe that you are, in fact, a perpetual problem. 

Of course, the hardest thing in the world for anyone to see is oneself. I didn’t know all this was what we were doing until I stepped back from where we were and looked at it as if I were on the bench. That’s when I saw all of the small stupid that landed us where we were. Once I got past the anger I started to address my own fears and learned how to communicate effectively. He followed suit because he saw that I had changed in a way that was in his best interests. We then decided to fight the problem instead of fighting one another.

Lynn and Big EOf course, this does not guarantee we’ll get to happily ever after. Marriage is quite the journey and things change all of the time. But our marriage is better now because it is a mindful one. We keep an eye on our competing needs. We no longer act on that right-now feeling without considering long-term consequence.  We have made a conscious decision to be consciously married. We also have our fingers crossed.

Tuesday
Jul242012

Wings of desire--a love story

I consider myself to be, in large part, a son of Buffalo. It’s true I was not born there, but my parents were, and lived there until after their marriage, and throughout my boyhood we made frequent trips to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I moved there in the summer of 1979, right before my senior year of high school, lean and hungry and open to new experiences. I’d sampled wings (as they are known in Buffalo—also, occasionally as “chicken wings” or maybe “hot wings,” but never as “Buffalo wings”) before but they’d never really compelled me until I moved there. Buffalo was surprisingly rich in distinct little foodways unique to Western New York, and at the time wings were just one of a number of regional specialties I devoted myself to exploring. I lived in a small town at the outermost edge of Buffalo’s eastern suburbs, one which at the time had an abbreviated rim of suburban development beside an expanse of farmland that rolled almost uninterrupted north and east to Lake Ontario and Rochester. Near the outer edge of this development, hard by the main town park, was Teso’s Pizza Café, a still-new establishment that had swiftly become a favorite of the town’s high school students. A favorite, that is, until we turned 18, which at that time was New York’s legal drinking age. Until then, Teso’s was it.

            At this remove I can’t hope to remember how many dozens of wings I ate that year. I never got to the Anchor Bar, the birthplace of the hot wing, which was deep in Buffalo proper; my family, which had dispersed out of North Buffalo to a variety of suburban towns ringing the city, favored the wings at a place called Duff’s, which now claims that “everyone in the world knows the Anchor Bar, but everyone in Buffalo knows Duff’s.” I ordered wings pretty much everywhere I went out to eat, and it was hard to find bad ones, but Teso’s became the place I ate them most often. I went there with my family, I went there with my friends, but best of all, I went there with my new girlfriend. She was a junior, a very serious girl with green eyes and a great laugh and tastes far more cultivated than mine in almost every respect. She merely condescended to wings. I would order a dozen and they would come (as they always came) to the table with a quantity of celery sticks and a small cup of chunky blue cheese dressing. She might have a wing or two, but it amused her to watch me cover the lower half of my face in orange hot sauce while she crunched through the celery, with an occasional dip into the blue cheese. Perhaps this was the reason I’ve largely eschewed eating wings with blue cheese or other embellishments over the intervening years—I looked at it as hers, not to be poached on our sullied by a dip from one of my wings.

            At the time, I thought this was a nearly perfect arrangement—I got the wings, she got the celery, and we each had what we preferred. I was, it turns out, wrong—it was not actually a nearly perfect arrangement, as much as I wished it were so. But at the time, I couldn’t get enough—they were hot, sharp, overwhelming, even. Addictive. I had no self control, and I had no desire for self control. Many nights at Teso’s, a mere dozen would not be enough.

            Flash forward six years, most of which I spent in St. Louis, a pleasant town with a few nice places to eat but for the most part a culinary backwater. Through most of the early 80s, wings remained what they’d always been, a local phenomenon confined to Western New York, but things were starting to change. The country was becoming more prosperous and people were starting to eat out more, and regional specialties began to appear on the menus of both fast-proliferating chain restaurants and those local places willing to broaden their bill of fare. This became vividly apparent when I left sleepy St. Louis, with its sole sushi bar and one lonely Thai restaurant, and came to Chicago in January of 1986. Another woman was involved—in this case, a slim architect eager to find work in one of the world’s great centers of architecture. I joined her in her large bi-level studio at State and Ontario, in a historically significant building. We each found work in our chosen fields, and we dove into our life together the way eager, ambitious, and mostly broke young people always have. There was a premium on finding good cheap places to eat, and these were plentiful in River North. We ate lots of great Thai (no shortage of that in Chicago—there were four Thai places in a two-block radius around our apartment) and lots of deep dish. We spent a great deal of time together, which is not hard to do in a one-room apartment, however large that room. A fantastic neighborhood Mexican place opened up a few blocks away, right across the street from her office on Clark Street, and we went there several times for chips and margaritas—until it got written up in the New York Times, and suddenly Frontera Grill became much tougher to get into after work.

            Around the corner, though, on Hubbard, was a bar and grill marked by a big sign featuring a big pair of disembodied lips being wetly licked by a big tongue. This fit right in on that stretch of Hubbard, which leaned heavily toward peep shows and strip clubs. It was called Hot Licks, and it was the first place I found in Chicago that served hot wings like the ones I remembered from Buffalo. My girlfriend didn’t particularly like hot wings, but she was OK with celery and blue cheese, and she liked a good burger, which Hot Licks also did well. We spent many evenings there after work, eating and drinking beer with our new friends, and I rekindled my passion for wings. Theirs were the hottest I ever remember eating—I would reel into the men’s room, dizzy, sweating, my lips and tongue on fire, and splash cold water on my face. And go back to the table for more.

            Hot Licks is long gone now. Its sister joint, Frankie Z’s, used to serve the same wings for a while out of its space around the corner on Clark, but then it too succumbed to the relentless upscaling of River North. The architect and I parted ways, and I learned (I hope) more about relationships in general and the challenges posed to young couples by living in one-room apartments in particular.

            I moved to the north side. I met a few more women, none of whom I recollect having an opinion on wings. Before long I got a new job in Evanston, working out of the Fountain Square Building at Davis and Sherman. Wings were starting to crop up on still more menus, but in Evanston I found something new. Something special. A place opened just south and west of the Northwestern campus that proudly claimed the chicken wing as its specialty of the house. I mean, of course, Buffalo Joe’s, which now boasts a quarter-century heritage of feeding college and high school students from its storefront on Clarke Street west of Sherman (and later its outposts on Green Bay Road and Howard Street).

            As the years unfolded, Buffalo Joe’s went from a phenomenon to an institution. It set an admirable standard, adhering to a traditional, unadorned Buffalo-style wing that found a large, enduring, and very partisan following. At the same time, across the country, as the 80s turned into the 90s, and then the twentieth century into the twenty-first, the lowly wing—essentially, tavern food from a small and not particularly distinguished Rust Belt city—began to ascend to unprecedented heights of popularity. It became (as it remains) a staple of the appetizer lists at most casual or bar and grill-type restaurants. As the chain restaurants flourished, they extended the wing’s reach even further. Beyond that, a few chains began to establish themselves that, like Buffalo Joe’s, built their identity around the wing. One called itself BW3 and followed the time-tested Domino’s business model of opening up outlets near college campuses. As it grew, it changed its name, becoming known as Buffalo Wild Wings. By the time the 2000s came along, the wing had become ubiquitous--as had the much-mocked sobriquet “Buffalo wing.”

            While working in Evanston, I met another woman, a schoolteacher who worked at Evanston Township High School and who had grown up very nearby. As it turns out, she doesn’t much care for chicken wings, though she has nothing against celery and can kind of take or leave the blue cheese. We had a rocky courtship, but I’d accumulated enough experience by now to realize that what we had was worth enduring a pretty considerable quantity of rockiness. Reader, I married her, and since then have devoted myself to exploring everything necessary to make a relationship happy and successful. I left that Evanston-based job, and with it my easy access to Buffalo Joe’s, but after starting a family, we moved to Evanston in 1998, and a few years after that I started Agate here as well. Since then, I have had occasion to eat plenty of chicken wings—my daughter likes them, and my son loves them. Fortunately for us, Evanston has become something of a wing oasis. Buffalo Joe’s is going strong. A few years ago, southwest Evanston was graced with the opening of a Wingstop franchise on Main just east of McCormick. Buffalo Wild Wings opened a massive outpost just north of the Century 16 theater on Maple. And most recently, Wings over Evanston opened at Emerson and Ridge. That’s four wing places in a town of under 80,000. What riches are ours to celebrate! And that doesn’t even include all the great wings served at non-wing-dedicated places.

            As we prepare for the 2012 Evanston Wing-off, it seemed appropriate to reflect on what brought me to this moment, and this opportunity. When I sit at the judging table, tasked with my fellows to determine the best wing in Evanston, I will bring almost 30 years of devotion to the effort. I can’t wait. After all these years, the heat—and the responding passion—is unabated. Love is served by the dozen.

Friday
Jul202012

Agate announces judges for Evanston Wing-Off 2012

Agate Publishing is proud to announce the esteemed judges for the Evanston Wing-Off 2012. After a long and careful search, we have an expert panel whose background, credentials, and genuine love of Buffalo chicken wings make them uniquely qualified to help us crown the best wing establishment in Evanston. We are honored to welcome the following experts on Tuesday, July 24th:

 

  • Janet Rausa Fuller – Former Chicago Sun-Times food editor and 2012 James Beard Award nominee
  • Parneshia Jones – Poetry editor at Northwestern University Press, publisher of the 2011 National Book Award winner for poetry, Nikki Finney
  • Martha Bayne – Former Chicago Reader food editor, founder of Soup & Bread night at the Hideout, and author of Soup & Bread Cookbook
  • Andrew Brochu – Executive chef at Graham Elliot, former executive chef of Pops for Champagne and Kith & Kin, and former Alinea cook

 

These four aficionados will join the judging table alongside Agate’s own cookbook editors, producers, and several other wing cognoscenti on staff.

The Evanston Wing-Off 2012 will be a blind taste test where all entrants (Wingstop, Wings Over Evanston, Buffalo Joe’s, and Buffalo Wild Wings) will be anonymous to the judges, who will rank the Buffalo chicken wings in the following areas: Best Sauce, Best Meat, Best Texture/Mouthfeel, and Best Overall.

“The most important thing with something like this, other than it be run competently,” says Ashlee Humphreys, a Northwestern assistant professor whose research focuses on consumer behavior, “is that consumers perceive it as a fair and legitimate contest.” Agate employees are frequently subjected to Competency Aptitude Testing (CAT), which can involve tests ranging from basic reading comprehension to quickly locating the best cat photos on the Internet, as well as a test of making the perfect artisanal cup of drip-brew, fresh-ground coffee. When asked to comment on the legitimacy of Agate’s blind taste test methodologies, Humphreys said, “Rest assured you have my full endorsement.”

While this year’s Wing-Off will be a closed event, Agate invites the public at large to participate in Wing-Off 2012-related discussion on Facebook and Twitter (hashtag #WingOff2012). Agate is also assuring the complete legitimacy of this contest by making a solemn oath by the Lost Eye of Odin to uphold the rigorous academic and scientific standards of the blind taste test (this is traditionally the most binding promise an Agate employee—or any publishing professional—can make).

Please help us in spread the word about the Evanston 2012 Wing-Off by participating in the online discussion and telling us your thoughts on the art of Buffalo chicken wings.

Thursday
Jul122012

Agate Publishing to host Evanston Wing-Off

On Tuesday, July 24th, we are hosting a blind taste test with one goal: to determine the best purveyor of Buffalo chicken wings in the City of Evanston. Our cast of judges, including local chefs, media personalities, Buffalo natives, and impassioned wing devotees, will sample Buffalo chicken wings from the four Evanston restaurants that specialize in this delicacy: Wings Over Evanston, Buffalo Joe’s, Wingstop, and Buffalo Wild Wings. The judges will determine Evanston’s best overall wing as well as winners in several important subcategories.

Winners will receive this buffalo statue, currently residing in a local park in Evanston...Wyoming.  

For a town of less than 80,000 people, Evanston benefits from a remarkable plenitude of tremendous wing options. This is our chance to recognize and thank these worthwhile establishments, not to mention provide a noble service to the community by offering our definitive judgment on Evanston’s leading wing establishments.

"Judge not, that ye be not judged." -- The biblical equivelant of a yield sign.

Though the Evanston Wing-Off 2012 will not be open to the public (in order to limit potential bias or corruptive elements), Evanstonians and wing enthusiasts are encouraged to participate via Facebook and Twitter (#WingOff2012). We will look to you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the best way to assess wing quality, your preferred methods for wing cleanup, and your opinions on wing-complementary beers from local area breweries, among other pressing questions that keep us up at night.

"Who wants to lick a messy baby?" -- Homer Simpson 

We have long had a private concern in forging a consensus on Evanston’s best Buffalo chicken wing—in fact, we first sponsored a much smaller-scale wing-off in 2008.  Informal internal debate and taste-testing has led us to conclude that we owe it to the greater Evanston community to go public with this concern in an official, objective, and statistically sound blind taste test.

The discovery of the Higgs boson, or "God particle," was actually an incredibly important precursor for conducting our scientific study of wing quality.  

In addition to Evanston's rich history as a fine-dining and cultural epicenter, our fair city just north of Chicago birthed many organizations that sponsor open and intelligent debate, such as the  Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Illinois Republican Party, established by city father (and personal friend of Abraham Lincoln) John Evans. Evanston is also home to the Rotary International Headquarters, a Masonic Temple, and this one time Tina Fey worked at our local YMCA. We hope to contribute to these esteemed traditions—albeit without the aforementioned organizations’ proclivity for prohibition and politics—by sponsoring a civic event designed to rouse pointed, productive exchanges as well as practical results.

A meeting of the Women's Christian Temperance Union that, scientists surmise, may have been about Buffalo chicken wings.
Pictured from left to right: Abraham Lincoln, John Evans, and Frances Willard, all of whom may or may not have enjoyed a meal of Buffalo chicken wings together in Evanston, Illinois.

Thursday
Jun142012

What editors do...or don't do

This seemed like a nice complement to yesterday's post on critics. There are a lot of ways to edit well, and almost as many ways to edit poorly; editing is as little understood as any other task in the various fields of creative work. Here's a little glimpse beneath the covers.

Wednesday
Jun132012

What critics do

The estimable Ruth Franklin, whose work appears most frequently in The New Republic, just won the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism. This was taken note of at the famed litblog The Literary Saloon, which offers up this choice quote from Franklin's acceptance speech:

It's the task of the critic to champion books that deserve to be championed, and to take a stand against those that have the power to harm. And anyone who doesn't believe that books have the power to harm is not taking them seriously enough.