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Lileks has had a wide-ranging career as a columnist, radio personality, author, and prominent blogger.
Lileks began his writing career as a columnist for the Minnesota Daily while he was a student at the University of Minnesota. At that time, his byline was "James r. Lileks", with his middle initial, for "Ralph", in lower case.
After college, he eventually got a regular job writing for City Pages, a Twin Cities alternative tabloid. He served as a general columnist for City Pages until 1988, when he was hired as a columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, which led to a columnist job with Newhouse News Service and thence The Washington Post for a period in the early nineties.
In the mid-nineties, Lileks returned to the Twin Cities for a job with the Star Tribune, retaining his Newhouse column until late 2006.
The Star Tribune discontinued Lileks's column in 2007, eventually naming him editor of the now defunct community website buzz.mn.
Lileks's first foray into radio came in 1987, while he was a writer with City Pages. He became a regular guest on the Geoff Charles show, an afternoon talk show on KSTP. When Charles left the Twin Cities, Lileks was tagged to fill the slot, and served as an afternoon-drive host on KSTP for a time in the late eighties; his show was a fairly traditional talk show, with topics, callers, and guest interviews.
In the mid-nineties, after returning from Washington DC, Lileks reappeared on KSTP with a new program, The Diner – a less traditional show set in a fictional fifties-era diner. The program featured a running loop of kitchen sound effects in the background and verbal interplay with "cook" (and producer) Jeremy "Kodiak" Kienitz, and was in many ways a precursor of Lileks's later written ventures.
The show, unconventional by mid-nineties talk radio standards, lasted several years on weekday evenings and then a few more as a weekend-evening program before leaving the air in the late nineties.
In late 2006, The Diner was revived in podcast form. Selected original Diner programs and new original Diners are available on Lileks's website. Lileks is also a weekly guest on the Hugh Hewitt show, Pajamas Media.com's weekly PJM Political'' show on Sirius-XM Satellite Radio's POTUS channel, and a frequent guest and guest host on the Northern Alliance Radio Network program.
As of October 23, 2013, The Diner was revived on Ricochet.com.
Lileks's blog, the Daily Bleat, began in 1997. The Bleat covers many topics in his personal life (including his daughter Natalie ("Gnat") and his dog Jasper), politics from a conservative viewpoint, and cultural points of interest ranging from art and architecture to movies and music (one perennial topic is the Minnesota State Fair). Known for dry humor and an engaging writing style, Lileks especially grew in fame in the blogosphere following 9/11 and the subsequent explosion in the popularity of blogs for spreading both news and general punditry.
Lileks's Web site also hosts a vast repository of vintage advertisements and other ephemera from the 1920s to the 1970s. Lileks displays creative, irreverent and politically incorrect (by today's standards) advertisements, photographs, pamphlets, comic strips, matchbooks, currency, postcards, cheesecake drawings, and architecture, usually accompanied by wry analysis and commentary. His section dissecting the works of cheesecake artist Art Frahm, for instance, observes the devastating effects of celery on the gravitational pull of women's underwear.
Star Tribune controversy and resolution
On May 7, 2007, Lileks announced that his home paper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, was ending his column in the interest of budget cuts and putting him on a straight local news beat:
- My column will end a week from this Friday. (There’s a series of pieces I can’t wait to write.) After that, it's just-the-facts-ma'am - and I'll no longer be telecommuting, either. This means I will start burning my share of hydrocarbons like a good American. Hell, I may leave the vehicle running all day outside the building just to make up for lost time. Maybe I will put a green roof on the car to balance things out. Some turf, some switchgrass. It's murder on the paint but we all must do our part.
The move, which was forced by cuts in other parts of the Star Tribune's newsroom, drew criticism from many, including Dave Barry. Mike Argento, president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, said in reaction to the news:
- It's just a reflection of the sad state of the newspaper industry. Many of the people running newspapers don't have a vision. They're concerned with dollars and cents, and the bottom line. They should look at the future, not just slash and burn.
On June 5, 2007, the Star Tribune changed course and announced Lileks would serve as editor of buzz.mn, a new community site featuring content from Lileks and members alike. Buzz.mn ceased publication of new content in July 2009.
- Falling up the Stairs (1988, ISBN 0-525-24655-X)
- Mr. Obvious (1995, ISBN 0-671-73705-8)
- Graveyard Special (2012, ASIN B00962GFES)
- The Gallery of Regrettable Food (2001, ISBN 0-609-60782-0)
- Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible '70s (2004, ISBN 1-4000-4640-8)
- Mommy Knows Worst: Highlights from the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice (2005, ISBN 1-4000-8228-5)
- Gastroanomalies: Questionable Culinary Creations from the Golden Age of American Cookery (2007, ISBN 0-307-38307-5)
- RiffTrax: - Spider-man 3 with Mike Nelson - special guest riffer <http://www.rifftrax.com/rifftrax/spiderman-3>
- Hugh Hewitt Guest List
- The Daily Bleat
- Visitor. "James Lileks". Ricochet.com. Retrieved October 17, 2012.
- LILEKS (James) :: The Bleat
- World's stupidest newspaper decision - Crunchy Con
- Hot Air » Blog Archive » Lileks could use a hand
- American Thinker Blog: Death wish at the Star-Tribune
- Dave Barry's Blog: INCREDIBLE
- Ladies and gentlemen, I has a bucket., The Bleat, June 5, 2007.
- The Quirk - Star-Tribune column
- The Blog of Things - Lilek's blog on Star-Tribune site
- Twitter account