Vance Bourjaily is back “in print”

It was almost 40 years ago. I was in my mid-20s, prowling around the cramped and labyrinthine aisles of a bookstore on Clark Street in Chicago, a couple blocks south of Diversey Boulevard. And, there on one of the rows of paperback fiction, I saw a title that caught my eye, Now Playing at Canterbury.

Vance Bourjaily in the mid-1960s

Vance Bourjaily in the mid-1960s

It was by Vance Bourjaily, a major American writer whose star, by this time, was starting to set as literary fashions moved along to the Great Next. Now Playing at Canterbury was his wildly inventive modern version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I loved it.

Then, I came across The Violated, his 1958 book about four friends whose lives are twisted and snarled in the aftermath of World War II. It knocked me off my feet.

Over the years, I read everything I could of his. He was, and remains, my favorite author. I even had the chance to review his last published novel, Old Soldier, for the Chicago Tribune.

 

In print

That was a quarter of a century ago, and, in the meantime, all of his books went out of print.

Until now.

Finally, nearly five years after his death at the age of 87, four of his novels are again available to a new generation of readers.

They’re “in print,” and they’re not in print. Which is to say they are available as ebooks only, no printed versions. But I’m not complaining.

bourjaily.combo

As much as I love my hardcover and paperback copies of his books, I know that ebooks have a growing audience, and I’m sure that any ebook reader today who loves good — even great — fiction will find reading Bourjaily a rich experience. Continue reading

Book review: “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics” by David Axelrod

I’ve known David Axelrod for more than 30 years. We were colleagues as reporters at the Chicago Tribune. Then, after he moved across the street to become a political operative instead of a political reporter, I would bump into him now and again as I covered various stories.

Then, in 2008, he was the chief strategist for Barack Obama’s first presidential run, and I was assigned to do a profile of him. My 4,600-word article in the Chicago Tribune Magazine was titled “The Agony and the Agony,” an allusion to Axelrod’s constant fear of failure, even in the midst of great triumph, the inner engine that drove his frenetic pace…and pacing.

Now, here’s his book Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.

Axelrod...Believer

 

Spin

As a reporter, I hated to interview Axelrod because of his ability as a spin doctor. So I found it interesting that, in Believer, he mentions the word “spin” only six times. Continue reading

Book review: “Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Scott Anderson

anderson...lawrenceThere is much to admire in Scott Anderson’s Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2013), but I had my problems with it.

What I especially liked about the book was how, at various points in the narrative, Anderson would step back and explain or put into perspective something that other authors tended to just take as a given. Or were too lazy to look into

A good example is his description of how it feels to ride a camel. I’m not sure how many books about World War I hero Thomas Edward Lawrence or about the Middle East in general ever get around to doing this, but I’d bet it’s few, if any.

In the midst of recounting Lawrence’s return to the Arabian desert and to camel-riding after two years behind a desk, Anderson mentions “the grinding physical discomfort” that the British officer had to endure. And then he elaborates:

Since its pronounced and narrow spine lies just below the skin, riding a camel is a wholly different experience from riding a horse, more akin to sitting atop a swaying metal rod. Even the best Bedouin saddle – little more than a wood-and-leather frame covered in blankets — can only slightly dull the pain for the green rider. Most such riders can rarely withstand the suffering for more than two or three hours without a break, but Lawrence was to have no such luxury on this journey; instead, what lay before him was an ordeal of some thirty hours in the saddle broken by only two short breaks.

Anderson provides this sort of wonderfully helpful insight for readers often in his 505 pages of text, and I’ll give some other examples later in this review. But they aren’t enough to overcome a structural problem that I think is at the heart of the book.

 

A fresh way to tell Lawrence’s story?

Someone somewhere, I’m sure, has developed a list of all the books that have been written about T. E. Lawrence and his role in the Arab Revolt during World War I and his (witting and unwitting) influence on the deadly, tension-filled Middle East we know today. It’s got to be in the hundreds. And, then, of course, there was David Lean’s 1962 movie Lawrence of Arabia, winner of seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Lawrence’s story is well-known. So a major obstacle that Anderson faced was how to find a fresh way to tell a story that has been told so many times already. In other words, why another book about Lawrence? Continue reading

Book review: “The Portrait Now” by Robin Gibson

gibson...portraitRobin Gibson’s book The Portrait Now was published in connection with an exhibition of the same name, organized by Gibson, on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London from November 19, 1993 to February, 6, 1994.

It’s an elegantly produced, compact book that is itself a beautiful object, featuring images of 64 paintings, sculptures and other works with a modicum on useful, helpful commentary.

Most of the artists are British, as are most of the subjects. That may be part of the reason many of the pieces here didn’t resonate with me. I didn’t know the backstory. Still, the impact of art shouldn’t depend on what a viewer “knows” about the subject and/or the artist.

Another problem for me was the small, flat format which made the works all about the same size, far from how they would be experienced in a gallery — and made it especially hard to take in sculptures. Still, Gibson and the National Portrait Gallery went to great pains to present three-dimensional pieces well-lighted and –framed and all the art in rich, accurate color.

No, my difficulties were more rooted in my inability or maybe laziness to decipher the messages or statements the artists were making in their works. This, I think, is why I tend to favor representational art; whether in a landscape or a scene or a portrait, I find myself in a conversation with the artist and the subject.

So I found much of The Portrait Now beautiful to look at but unintelligible, as if written in another language.

 

The take-no-prisoners reality of life

Nonetheless, there were several works that caught my eye, such as Gaia and Dali (1982/3) by Sighard Gille.

gala-und-dali by sighard gille

Elements of this portrait of artist Salvador Dali and his wife in old age — Gaia died during its creation — might be dismissed as caricature. Yet, Gaia’s dark-browed, dark-eyed stolidity and her jutting resolute chin as well as the knobs and wrinkles of her huge hands seem to understand and face fully the take-no-prisoners reality of life.

A short commentary notes, “The portrait is a devastating study of the tenacity of old age, the almost animal-like grip on life tempered by the somber colours of the couple’s fantastic clothes.” Continue reading

Poem: “The bullet enters Lincoln’s skull”

lincolnlastphoto...detail...detailHe dreamed
and saw her under the tree
in the pink dress her mother hated.

He felt a small hand in his
in the darkness
and wanted to escort the boy.

He saw the sun of that afternoon on the circuit
when the horse was lame
and he had a headache.

He heard the voices of the hecklers
for the first time clearly.

He saw the burned city
and the white city
and the prairie town Capitol.

He smelled the market stores
along the river
and the fish there
for purchase.

He saw his father by the woodblock
with an axe in his hands
and the body of an animal at his feet.

He tasted blood.

Patrick T. Reardon
4.3.15

Originally published in the magazine Telephone Book, number 18, in 1983.

Book review: “Turner” by Peter Ackroyd

"Rockets and Blue Lights (Close At Hand)  to Warn Steam Boats of Shoal Water"r

“Rockets and Blue Lights (Close At Hand) to Warn Steam Boats of Shoal Water”r

In Turner, his short biography of Joseph Mallard William Turner, Peter Ackroyd tells of a visit the 19th century British painter made to the estate of his patron and friend Walter Fawkes.

Fawkes later recalled that he asked Turner to draw a man-of-war and

he began by pouring wet paint till [the paper] was saturated, he tore, he scratched, he scrubbed at it in a kind of frenzy and the whole thing was chaos — but gradually and as if by magic the lovely ship with all its exquisite minutiae, came into being and by luncheon time the drawing was taken down in triumph.

That, Ackroyd writes, was a fitting description of Turner’s method and talent:

The emergence of form out of chaos, the man-of-war emerging mysteriously from a mist of color…He created a dynamic and fluid space in which to work, quite unlike the more rigidly defined ground of previous artists. His tactile sense of creating shape and form — scratching and scrubbing as if he were dealing with some recalcitrant material — gives his work a texture of inspired improvisation and magical creation.

 

Continue reading

Book Review: “Creatures of a Day and Other Tales of Psychotherapy” by Irvin D. Yalom

Psychiatrist Irv Yalom is 83.

I call him Irv because that’s what he asks his psychiatric patients to call him. I picture him as a sprightly firecracker of a guy, tooling around San Francisco on his bicycle, stopping into the City Lights bookstore near his office and trading deep and witty thoughts with 95-year-old poet-painter-activist Lawrence Ferlighetti.

I also have the fantasy that, at some time, somewhere, Yalom ran into and became friendly with Sherwin B. Nuland before Nuland’s death last March at the age of 83. It’s a fanciful thought. These two great souls lived across the country from each other. Yet, they seem to have shared common interests.

Nuland is best known for his 1993 book How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter. It’s a transcendently life-affirming work that looks at the mechanics of the human body and the ways the body — our body — breaks down. Its message: Life has an end so live it to the full.

yalom --- creatures

Yalom’s new book Creatures of a Day and Other Tales of Psychotherapy sends the same message but from a different perspective. Whereas Nuland looked at physical things (blood, muscles, cancer, the heart and so on), Yalom deals with the emotions, fears and terrors that human beings — his clients and himself — bring to the subject of death. Continue reading

Book review: “The Language of Clothes” by Alison Lurie

Sometimes, a piece of clothing or an aspect of fashion has a very specific meaning.

In her 1981 book The Language of Clothes, Alison Lurie notes that British officials, following the Irish Rebellion of 1798, regarded green clothing as “a serious, even fatal, political act.” In fact, a popular song of the time mourned that they were “hanging men and women for the wearing of the green.”

In Scotland, earlier in the 18th century, to don a clan tartan was to make a similar political statement, and the practice was banned by an Act of the British Parliament.

Around the same time, a beauty patch was a clear signal of the party allegiance of an English lady (and her husband or father). If she were a Whig, she wore it on her right cheek. A Tory, on the left.

A century earlier, the hair length of men had been the measure. Royalists wore their hair long, as in Catholic France. Puritans, by contrast, were closely cropped and were called Roundheads. Similarly, in 1960s America, the anti-Establishment young men let their hair grow and were called longhairs. Those backing the powers-that-be had crew cuts.

Most often, though, the language of clothing and fashion isn’t as definite. Indeed, after reading Lurie’s book, I’m thinking that its title more properly should have been The Poetry of Clothes.

lurie.language of clothes

 

“Like an ordinary man”

I’ve long been fascinated by the meaning of clothing and fashion — what they say about human nature. Continue reading

Book review: “Lincoln and the Power of the Press: the War for Public Opinion”

For the North, the goal of the Civil War was to reunite the nation. That’s how Abraham Lincoln defined it and why the northern states rallied behind the effort.

Yet, the question of abolishing slavery was always somewhere in the discussion. Many northerners saw it as another, even more important goal of the conflict. Others, though, because of racism or fear of labor competition from free blacks, wanted nothing to do with abolition.

Although personally long opposed to slavery, Lincoln knew as a politician that he could not impose his beliefs on his constituents. Eventually, he was able to sell abolition to the North as a weapon to cripple the war-making ability of the Confederacy. The result was the Emancipation Proclamation.

To get to this point, though, Lincoln had to do what American leaders have always had to do, i.e., shape and shift public opinion step by subtle step. A key moment in that sales job came in August, 1862, when, in a letter to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, the President wrote:

“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”

In Lincoln and the Power of the Press, Harold Holzer describes this letter as “a master stroke” and an example of Lincoln’s “genius for synchronized press manipulation.” Yet, he argues, historians have failed to see the letter for the brilliant political act it was.

 

holzer -- lincoln and press

 

Combination waltz and bar fight

It wasn’t simply a letter. It was a public letter — an element of public opinion strategy that Lincoln had developed to cope with newspapers and their editors. At times throughout his political career, Lincoln waltzed with the newsgatherers. At others, it was a bar fight, and these public letters were the equivalent to an elbow to the face.

The great value of Holzer’s meaty book is that it puts Lincoln’s era and career in the context of that combination waltz and bar fight. The ferocious political and personal battles between the press magnates will come as a revelation to most Civil War students, and so will Lincoln’s often (but not always) inspired handling of reporters and their editors.

Continue reading

Book review: “The Canticles: A Faithful and Inclusive Rendering from the Hebrew and the Greek into Contemporary English Poetry, Intended Primarily for Communal Song and Recitation,” edited by Gabe Huck, illustrated by Linda Ekstrom

Huck --- The CanticlesMany of the books of the Bible are like Hollywood musicals.

In Fiddler on the Roof, for instance, the narrative unfolds as characters interact, and, every once in a while, someone breaks into song, such as Tevye with “If I Were a Rich Man.”

The same sort of thing happens in the Bible.

The author of, say, Judith or Daniel or the Book of Revelations uses prose to tell stories or transmit teachings. But, at various points, the exposition is interrupted as one character or a bunch of people launch forth in a poetic prayer, called a canticle.

Many of canticles were originally hymns. On the page in the Bible, they became poems. And, frequently, these poems have been turned back into hymns for use in religious services.

That’s one of the purposes of this translation of 55 of the Bible’s many canticles, published in 1996 by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, as well as a similar edition of the Psalms, issued in 1995.

The translators wanted to find words and phrases that accurately reflected the original text and were easy to sing. They also wanted to make the language as inclusive as possible. For instance, they used a variety of strategies to avoid employing the male pronoun for God.

Another important goal was to render the canticles poetically in present-day colloquial English, avoiding words and sentence structures that may have been in use in Biblical times but not today.

 

Beautiful and, for some, jarring

The resulting canticles are fluid, accessible, deeply felt and, often, strikingly beautiful.

Even so, they will jar some ears, as they did mine. Continue reading

Book review: “The Gay Place” by Billy Lee Brammer

On the cover of the University of Texas Press edition of Billy Lee Brammer’s 1961 novel The Gay Place is a blurb by David Halberstam:

There are two classic American political novels. One is All the King’s Men…..the other is The Gay Place, a stunning, original, intensely human novel inspired by Lyndon Johnson.

brammer...gay place

 

That’s high praise, especially coming from the author of The Best and the Brightest and nearly two dozen other widely respected books.

I can’t agree. Continue reading

Book review: “ ‘The World of Poo’ by Felicity Beedle’ ” by Terry Pratchett with Bernard and Isobel Pearson

In Terry Pratchett’s 2011 Discworld novel Snuff, Young Sam Vimes has become very interested in poo.

Mainly, this is because Young Sam is six.

It’s also because the only son of Sam Vimes, the commander of the City Watch in Ankh-Morpork, is on a visit to his parents’ country home where, throughout the grounds and nearby fields, interesting varieties of excrement abound.

And because, each night, his father (grudgingly) reads to him from a book by Young Sam’s favorite writer, Miss Felicity Beedle, called The World of Poo. (Vimes doesn’t find all the verbal mucking about very enjoyable, but parenthood requires some sacrifices.)

pearson...poo

Young Sam and his family live on the Discworld, the subject of 40 novels by Pratchett as well as ancillary works produced with the help of collaborators

The Discworld, where technology has reached the equivalent of Victorian times on Earth, isn’t a ball, like Earth. But a flat disc — like a huge DVD — covered with mountains, rivers, plains, oceans, six-year-olds and poo, among other items, resting atop the backs of four elephants, themselves standing on the back of Great A’Tuin, a giant turtle,…and flying through space.

Pratchett has used Discworld as a vehicle to wittily comment on human nature and society (even if many of the characters aren’t technically human, including vampires, dwarfs, golems and such). Even more, he’s employed it for sheer, utter and bald-faced silliness.

Exhibit #1: The World of Poo. Continue reading

Book review: “Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries” by E. J. Hobsbawm

In Sicily in the late 19th century, the Socialists who went out into the rural areas to organize the peasants were hard-headed men. Their aims were economic, and their demands were very specific.

Not so for the peasants.

In rebelling against the oppression of landowners and the government, they were millennial in approach. Their hope was for a just and perfect world, a sort of heaven on earth. Their aims, as summarized by Marxist historian E. J. Hobsbawm in his 1959 book Primitive Rebels, were simple:

All should work. There should be neither rich nor poor. All should be equal. There should be no need to divide estates and houses. All should be put in common and the income should be justly distributed. This would not give rise to quarrels or selfishness because there would be brotherhood…and those who broke brotherhood would be punished.

hobsbawm.primitive rebels

These peasants, like most of the “primitive rebels” in Hobsbawm’s book, were pre-political. Their world was changing and had changed, but they didn’t have the intellectual framework with which to understand that change and respond to it.

They had been living an essentially medieval life, centered on their village, with rights, responsibilities and power dynamics that went back centuries. They were miserable but knew of no way to deal with their misery except with spasmodic rebellions that occurred at regular intervals.

 

“A true Socialist”

In the century’s final decade, though, Socialist organizers appeared and gave focus to that unrest. The peasants went along with them, but within the context of their medieval mindset.

These organizers were seen, Hobsbawm writes, as a sort of divine revelation — “good noble men, whom one peasant in Canicatti described as ‘angels come down from Paradise. We were in the dark and they have brought us light.’ ”

The peasants treated visiting Socialist leaders “as though they were bishops — men and women throwing themselves on the ground and strewing flowers in their path.”

It was, commentators frequently noted, “a new religion” — yet one that didn’t replace Christianity. For the peasants, it stood to reason that Socialists couldn’t be in conflict with the true faith of Jesus. They were a new expression of that faith.

They saw St. Francis of Assisi as “one of the first and greatest of Socialists, who had, among other things, abolished money.” After all, as one peasant woman told an interviewer, “Jesus was a true Socialist.”

 

“To hammer the lords”

Primitive Rebels is a short book — 174 pages of text with 19 pages of appendices — but a demanding read. Hobsbawm expects his reader to have a great knowledge of European labor and political history and a strong familiarity with Socialist, particularly Marxist, ideology. Continue reading

Book review: “Creatures of a Day and Other Tales of Psychotherapy” by Irvin D. Yalom

yalom --- creaturesAs I wrote in Sunday’s Printers Row section of the Chicago Tribune, psychiatrist Irvin D. Yalom’s new book Creatures of a Day and Other Tales of Psychotherapy deals with the emotions, fears and terrors that human beings — his clients and himself — bring to the subject of death.

In ten short chapters, each of which, for the most part, deals with a single client, the fear of the end of life is often hidden in seemingly unrelated behaviors and thoughts.

It’s Yalom’s skill as a therapist as well as the hard work and vulnerability of his patients that gets beyond those initial symptoms to the deeper causes of personal unrest and unhappiness.

In Creatures of a Day, Irvin D. Yalom is up-front about many of his techniques as a psychotherapist. This is likely to be of great help to other therapists, particularly those new to the field.

Even more, these methods can be used by people in therapy and those who are simply trying to examine and improve their lives. They’re various strategies for going deeper and facing essential truths and challenges.

Here are some:
Being there: “The most valuable thing I have to offer is my sheer presence.”
Employing an “old reliable” strategy: “I believe it would help our work today if you’d take me through, in detail, a typical twenty-four-hour day in your life. Pick a day earlier this week, and let’s start with your waking in the morning.”
Being open to learning: “Oh what a pleasure it was to be with Andrew! As he taught himself, he taught me too.”
Using first names: “How would you feel if we went by first names?”
Suggesting free association: “Just free-associate…, by which I mean: you try to let your mind run free and just observe it as though from a distance…almost as though you were watching a screen.”
Being open to the client: “Any questions you have for me?”
Using hunches as a gentle way of putting ideas into the give-and-take: “I have a hunch…”
Being “loose” about the therapist’s own experience: “I knew I was being a bit loose, but that often paid off — patients generally appreciate my sharing something of myself, and it usually works to accelerate more sharing.”
Asking about dreams: “Sometimes thoughts enter the mind involuntarily in daydreams, for example, or night dreams.”
Exploring the therapeutic relationship: “I always teach my students that, when you’re in trouble in a session, you can always bail yourself out by calling on your ever-reliable tool, the ‘process check’ — you halt the action and explore the relationship between you and the patient.”
Seeing therapy as a relationship: “The compelling two-person drama I had engaged in.”

Patrick T. Reardon
2.23.15

Book review: “Time for the Stars” by Robert A. Heinlein

heinlein -- time for the starsBack in 1905, Albert Einstein promulgated his relativity theory. One wrinkle had to do with how time would be experienced by someone on Earth as compared with someone else traveling in a rocket ship at near the speed of light. Twins, say.

I can’t claim to understand the mathematics or physics, but the idea is that time would be slowed down for the one in a rocket ship — to the extent that, on his return to Earth, he would find his twin much, much older than himself.

In his 1956 book Time for the Stars, Robert A. Heinlein took that theory and ran with it.

And ran with a lot of other stuff as well, including telepathy, the search for Earth-like planets, the strategies of family dynamics, psychosomatic injuries, the psychology of siblings, the nature of life on other worlds and the meaning of “alien.”

“How does it feel to be a little green man in a flying saucer,” says one character as a ship from Earth prepares to land on a newfound world.

“What?”

“An oofoe. We’re an oofoe, do you realize that?”

“I suppose we are a U.F.O, sort of.”

No “sort of” about it. Heinlein understood that, just as Earthlings get scared at the idea of an “unidentified flying object” being a ship from space, so would any intelligent life forms on a planet visited by an Earth rocket. Continue reading

Book review: “Notes from a Small Island” by Bill Bryson

There are travel books, and then there are travel books.

One sort, such as Fodor’s, is jammed with facts about hotels, trains, battlefields, subways, mileage, restaurants, museums, exchange rates, airports, safety tips, trails, cathedrals, stadiums, cruises, tours, shopping…. You use this sort when you are going to a place as a tourist, and it functions as a handy, cleverly packaged, compact database to help you maneuver around.

The other type of travel book — such as Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island — isn’t about taking a journey yourself. It’s about going along for the ride without ever leaving home.

And what’s really curious is that it really isn’t so much about the place that’s being visited. It’s about hanging out with someone who is interesting, thoughtful, funny and alert.

That’s Bryson.

bryson --- small island

 

Cringe-producing moments

Certainly, no travel companion is perfect, and Bryson is smart enough as a writer to include a few cringe-producing moments like those that happen on any trip.

In Edinburgh, for instance, a “spotty young man” behind the counter at McDonald’s takes his order and then asks, “Do you want an apple turnover with that?” Bryson, who describes himself at this point as “fractious and impatient,” proceeds to browbeat the poor acne-plagued kid for nearly a full page — and then has the gall to complain that the kid isn’t filling his order fast enough.

Such moments, though, are few and far between. True, Bryson does go on a rant every once in a while — what good travel companion doesn’t have strong ideas and opinions? — but usually he’s just ranting to the reader rather than at someone.

And, even when he does rant, there’s always more than a touch of humor involved, such as when he thunders out his loathing of parking garages where, he notes, “everything about the [parking] process is intentionally — mark this, intentionally — designed to flood your life with unhappiness.”

You can’t help but laugh as Bryson lists all the many unhappy aspects of parking garages — especially when he concludes with this observation:

Did you know — this is a little-known fact but absolute truth — that when they dedicate a new multi-storey car park the Lord Mayor and his wife have a ceremonial pee in the stairwell? It’s true.

Continue reading

Book review: “Harvest” by Jim Crace

Jim Crace has said that his 2013 book Harvest will be his last novel. It’s not that he’s going to stop writing. He promises more books of other sorts but not another novel. We’ll see.

It would be a loss for readers. No novelist creates a world with quite the same intensity and tangibility as Crace does. The forces of Nature and their impact on human beings are always at the heart of his fiction. And so it is with Harvest.

crace --- harvest

It is set in an obscure corner of England in the 17th century — on the Jordan Estate, also called the Property of Edmund Jordan, a manor house, a barn, a dovecote and a cluster of cottages amid farm fields, hills and a forest. The place has no name as Walter Thirsk tells a visitor: “It’s just The Village. And it’s surrounded by The Land.”

Walt, the narrator of this tale, is a middle man, as even his name suggests. (One loutish character giggles with great glee when he realizes that Walt’s name sounds like “Water” and “Thirst.” Ha, ha.)

Walt was born in a town and grew up with Master Charles Kent as his boyhood playmate. Indeed, they both nursed at the breasts of Walter’s mother. As an adult, he worked as Master Kent’s manservant and came along when that gentleman’s wife inherited this property.

During the next dozen years, Walt fell in love with a village woman, Cecily, and left the manor house to live with her and join with the 50 or so other residents to farm the fields in the circuit of seasons as ancestors had done time out of mind.

He has become one of the villagers although he still does special jobs for Master Kent. Both men are now widowers.

 

“A commonwealth of habit”

Harvest tells about a week in the life of the Village when everything the villagers have known is turned on its head, in large part because of the appearance of Master Kent’s cousin Edmund. Continue reading

St. Scrooge

If I call you a “scrooge,” that’s not a good thing. We all know that a scrooge is a miser, a misanthrope, a bitter wasted soul. “Bah, humbug!”

It’s a word that goes back to Ebenezer Scrooge, the central character of A Christmas Carol, published by Charles Dickens in 1843.

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge!” Dickens writes, “A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.

scooge...detail

When asked to contribute to a holiday collection for the needy, Scrooge says such people should go to the workhouse or to prison. In response, he is told, “Many can’t go there, and many would rather die.”

To which Scrooge asserts:

“If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Not a nice guy. And no wonder that his name has become synonymous with a particular kind of mean and prickly greed.

But wait. We do Scrooge a disservice. Think about it. What’s the heart of his story? Continue reading

Book review (1994): “How the Other Half Lives” by Jacob Riis

The five blind men and women lived in the attic room in a rundown tenement in New York City in the late 1800s, and Jacob A. Riis was there to take their photograph.

But Riis was clumsy, and the technique of flash-lit photography was new and still imperfect. And he ended up setting the paper and rags hanging on one wall ablaze.

It was a tragedy in the making. Not only were the other five people in the room blind, but so was nearly everyone else living in the building.

“The thought: How were they ever to be got out? made my blood run cold as I saw the flames creeping up the wall,” Riis later wrote, “and my first impulse was to bolt for the street and shout for help.”

Instead, with great effort, he was able to smother the fire himself.

Afterward, when I came down to the street, I told a policeman of my trouble. For some reason he thought it rather a good joke and laughed immoderately at my concern lest even then sparks should be burrowing in the rotten wall that might yet break out in flame and destroy the house with all that were in it.

He told me why, when he found time to draw breath. “Why, don’t you know,” he said, “that house is the Dirty Spoon? It caught fire six times last winter, but it wouldn’t burn. The dirt was so thick on the walls, it smothered the fire!”

What an irony. Here was one instance when poverty actually saved the lives of the poor. More often — much more often — poverty stunted lives, darkened lives, poisoned lives. It crowded the poor, squeezed, exploited, abused, abandoned and killed them.

This was the urban poverty, in all its oppressing, chaotic and disheartening aspect, that Jacob Riis addressed in his landmark book of social reform, a book of clear-eyed text and starkly moving photographs, How the Other Half Lives, published in 1890.

riis --- How-the-Other-Half-Lives

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Book review (2015): “How the Other Half Lives” by Jacob Riis

There is much to say about Jacob Riis’s 1890 masterpiece How the Other Half Lives, but, first, let’s look at the faces in his book.

faces.....1........l;arger

In our selfie-social media age, a collection like this — a collection of the faces of individuals — is nothing unusual. Yet, 125 years ago, these images were revolutionary.

If you were rich, you could have your portrait painted. If you were middle-class, you could pay for a photographic likeness. You might even buy your own Kodak box camera, introduced in 1888, and take up the expensive hobby of photography, making photos of family members and friends.

The poor couldn’t avail themselves of these options.

But Jacob Riis, newspaper reporter and reformer in New York, could and did. And, in lectures, articles and a series of books, starting with How the Other Half Lives, he bridged the economic, cultural and class gap to link those with solid, comfortable lives to their brothers and sisters trying to eke out a living in poverty.

 

Common humanity

riis --- How-the-Other-Half-LivesHow the Other Half Lives was a major milestone in journalism, in photojournalism and in social reform.

Riis’s text, often overlooked, is hard-edged and filled with a barely restrained anger.

His photos show every crooked board, every crack in the plaster, every smudge and detail of the rooms where poor families and individuals lived and often worked and of the buildings and neighborhoods in which they spent their days.

bandits_roost_1888_jacob_riis

These images were startling and unsettling. And what was most startling and unsettling about them were the highly distinctive faces —- the individual faces — of this Italian and that tough, of this Jewish child and that Street Arab, of this sleeping laborer and that drunken woman.

Jacob-Riis-Five-Cents-Lodging-Bayard-Street-c-1889

Those with solid, comfortable lives generally didn’t look at the poor, and, when they thought of the poor, they pictured the mass of poor people rather than individuals.

The photos by Riis showed the particular room in which this family lived or the particular basement in which this man lived, sleeping atop a barrel — images that gave viewers new insights into the experience of being poor.

And they showed this family and that man — and the common humanity that each of these individuals shared with each of the viewers.

This above all else — showing the faces of fellow human beings with undeniable clarity and directness — was the triumph of Riis in How the Other Half Lives. Continue reading

Book review: “Valdez Is Coming” by Elmore Leonard

Westerns move toward the mythic, but they end up simply formulaic unless they’re peopled by living, breathing characters.

Initially, the mythic underpinning of western films and books was good guys versus bad guys — white hats versus black hats, Us versus Them, Good versus Evil.

Then, starting in the 1950s and accelerating in the 1960s, the trend was toward a muddier moral landscape.  We’re as bad as them.  The good guys were as bad as the bad guys — or, as in the Wild Bunch, they were the bad guys, just bad guys who weren’t as bad as the really bad guys.

Related to this shift was another trend.  It arose during the Civil Rights Movement, especially in the 1960s, when men and women on the margins — African-Americans, Hispanics, prostitutes, for instance — took center stage.  These movies bet that mainstream audiences, overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly middle class, could identify with such heroes, and, generally, they did.  (After all, Native American boys had long identified with the cowboys in movie westerns.)

The story of Valdez in movie and book brought these trends together, and populated the mythic structure with real people. Continue reading

Book review: “Up in Honey’s Room” by Elmore Leonard

leonard --- honeyA character in Elmore Leonard’s 2007 novel Up in Honey’s Room is wondering when he should draw a handgun, hidden in the cushions of a sofa, and shoot it out with this guy pointing a burp gun at him. His inner dialogue goes this way:

All right, when?

When you’re positive he’s gonna shoot.

You’re serious? This guy put on his best dress and makeup and brings along a machine gun and you aren’t sure he wants to kill you?

This scene comes very late in the novel, and the reader, by then, knows why the guy holding the burp gun is in a dress and why he’s pointing it at two men and a woman (the titular Honey) sitting cheek to jowl, so to speak, on a coach in her fourth-floor apartment (the titular room). And why those three are nude. And who that other woman is, the one standing off to the side with a Luger in her hand.

Leonard, who died in 2013 at the age of 87, produced 48 novels in his long career, many of them great. Up in Honey’s Room, his 45th, isn’t great. Leonard was in his early 80s when he wrote it, so maybe he was just tired.

Still, even so-so Leonard can be a lot of fun — for the reader and apparently for the author as well. Continue reading

Book review: “The Arms of Krupp” by William Manchester

manchester --- krupp

 

Nearly half a century ago, The Arms of Krupp by William Manchester was published to several decidedly negative reviews.

The reviewer for Kirkus Reviews wasn’t sure, after going through the book’s 833 pages of text, whether Manchester saw the Krupp family as fierce patriots or whores in their service to the Fatherland over two centuries of armament development and sales. The writing, according to the review, was, at times, leaden and, at other times, afflicted with pedantry.

Historian Alistair Horne complained in the New York Times that the book had many inaccuracies and was tainted by Manchester’s “visceral, anti-Germanism” as well as his “passion and prejudice.” Horne was unclear if the author believed that the final “sole proprietor” of the Krupp firm, Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, was really guilty of war crimes.

Was Alfried responsible for the Krupp firm’s brutal use of 100,000 slave laborers from the conquered eastern nations and from the Third Reich’s concentration camps for Jews? Was he guilty of the deaths of tens of thousands of those people and even their babies? Horne wasn’t sure where Manchester stood.

In another New York Times review, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt asserted:

There are three basic kinds of history, and the historian takes his choice. He can dig up the record and lay it out for others to use — do basic research, in other words. Or he can filter the record through his imagination and write entertainment — popular history. Or he can shape the facts into an argument, prove something — write a thesis. The trouble with The Arms of Krupp is that Mr. Manchester has tried to do simply everything.

This paragraph, it seems to me, explains much, not just about Lehmann-Haupt’s antipathy for the book, but also the antagonism of other reviewers.

 

“No slain, no crime, no war”

But, first, let’s make something clear.

This entire book is an indictment of the Krupp family and the German people — and especially of Alfried.

It is an indictment of Alfried’s establishment of a factory adjacent to the Auschwitz concentration camp and his use of camp prisoners as slave laborers. It’s an indictment of the brutality inflicted upon tens of thousands of imprisoned Jews and other involuntary workers, including beatings and a torture cage in the basement of Alfried’s company headquarters, within earshot of his office. It’s an indictment of the company’s concentration camp for babies born to the slave laborers, babies who died for lack of food and proper treatment or, later, simply disappeared. Continue reading

Book review: “The Green Hills of Earth” by Robert A. Heinlein

heinlein -- green hills of earthSometimes, when he was younger, Robert A. Heinlein would speculate in his stories and novels about the science of space travel, and that could get a bit wonky. Sometimes, when he was older and had had wide success, he would fill his fiction with bombast about how humans should live, and that could get tedious.

In The Green Hills of Earth, Heinlein does what he does best — writes about that endlessly mysterious and endlessly curious thing called human nature.

The Green Hills of Earth is a 1951 collection of nine short stories and a novella, originally published during the previous decade. Here, there’s not much discussion of space hardware or theoretical physics. People are people, albeit in alien settings or in exotic circumstances.

 

“Nothing new”

The novella “The Logic of Empire” is set mainly on the harsh landscape of Venus (which seems very much like equatorial Earth, except hotter and muggier), but the subject is one that has been an aspect of human society from the beginning — slavery.

Through a series of unexpected events, lawyer Humphrey Wingate finds himself as a labor client on the second planet from the sun, which is to say that, since there is no way to buy his way out of his contract and obtain a flight back to Earth, he is a slave. Continue reading

Book review: “American Queen: The Rise and Fall of Kate Chase Sprague, Civil War ‘Belle of the North’ and Gilded Age Woman of Scandal” by John Oller

oller --- american queenMary Todd Lincoln was in her glory.

It was March 28, 1861, and she had hosted her first state dinner at the White House as the nation’s First Lady. She was saying good-bye to her guests, including Kate Chase, the daughter of her husband’s Treasury Secretary, Salmon P. Chase. “I shall be glad to see you any time, Miss Chase,” she said to the tall, elegant 20-year-old woman.

“Mrs. Lincoln,” said Chase, “I shall be glad to have you call on me at any time.”

What effrontery! Yet, two weeks before the start of the Civil War, the battle for dominance of Washington, D.C., society was already well underway between the diminutive, Kentucky-born Mary Lincoln and the queenly Kate Chase. And Chase was winning. Continue reading

Five mythic poems

Rodin photo for 5 mythic poems

 

FIVE MYTHIC POEMS

 

Dullahan

Up Lake Shore Drive, I ride on my charger, black as a deep cave.
You don’t see me, commuter, too dull with science.

Onto Hollywood Avenue, then Ridge Avenue, then onto Clark Street.

Children see me. Ignore me. They know.

If you are a dancer, a painter, a singer,
don’t look my way. You have eyes,
but I will lash them with my whip of human spine.

Onto Granville, then to Paulina.
Up the street.

I arrive. You die.

Note: The Dullahan is a sort of Irish version of the Headless Horseman. I wondered how he’d do in present-day Chicago. Quite well, I discovered.

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Thanks for things that go wrong — then right

During a softball game in the summer of 1981, a lively and otherwise intelligent redhead slid into first base and broke her leg. (Don’t ask.)

Meanwhile, a tall and slightly older newspaper editor, after years of ignoring his health, began to have problems that led him to quit cigarettes, stop drinking coffee and lose 40 pounds.

It was not a very delightful time for either of them. Yet, their temporary infirmities led them to the same religious retreat where they met.

And Cathy and I have been together ever since.

When it comes to Thanksgiving, the focus is usually on the blessings of life, the good things that we have and that we have experienced.

Think of the table set for the holiday meal, with its savory turkey and all the luscious side dishes and diet-be-damned desserts. It’s a reminder that Thanksgiving is about a bountiful harvest.

Think of the grace that’s said at the table. It’s about how good it is for family and friends to gather together in this way. It’s about the goodness of having a decent home, rewarding jobs and strong schools.

 

Things that go wrong

But I’m here today to tell you that, when I think of Thanksgiving, I also think of the things that go wrong — and then right.

The health problems that my future wife and I suffered more than three decades ago were no fun to endure. But they slowed us both down enough so that, when we met, we actually saw each other. We didn’t whiz past in a hurry to get something done or get somewhere else. Instead, we were moving at a more deliberate pace, and were able to take each other in.

And fall in love.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that I go looking for pain and suffering. Life brings enough of that for me without my going out in search of it.

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Pickwick Lane and my mistakes

Ten years ago, I wrote a story in the Chicago Tribune about one of the oddest wrinkles in the Chicago cityscape — Pickwick Lane.

It is a short, nine-foot-wide private alley, hidden in the heart of the Loop, and it dead-ends in a three-story building at 22 E. Jackson Blvd. With its cobblestone paving — at least, that’s the paving it had a decade ago — the byway looked more like Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley than anything one would expect to find in present-day Chicago.

Pickwick Lane (Dennis McClendon)

Pickwick Lane (Dennis McClendon)

In recent months, that three-story building, often vacant over the past half century, has been in the news, opening as an Asado Coffee Co. location.

And, now, well, it’s time for me to set the record straight. In the years since I wrote my tiny 325-word story, I have come to realize that I made several errors. The main one is that the present building is NOT the original stable, and it is NOT a survivor of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

 

The right story, as far as I can tell

Here’s what’s I’ve come to find out through further research, and, as far as I know at the moment, this is accurate: Continue reading

Book review: “Lust” by Simon Blackburn

blackburn.lustMost of us find it uncomfortable to speak about lust. Philosopher Simon Blackburn is no exception, even though he lectured on the subject at the New York Public Library and expanded his remarks into a short, spritely book Lust, published in 2004 by Oxford University Press.

In fact, Blackburn spends five of his book’s 133 pages, explaining why he shouldn’t have to take up the task, including his age (about 60 at the time), his being a male (in an era when women dominate gender discussions) and his British nationality.

We English are renowned for our cold blood and temperate natures, and our stiff upper lips….Other nationalities are amazed that we English reproduce at all. One cannot imagine an Englishman lecturing on lust in France.

Those sentences capture Blackburn’s witty, playful tone in Lust, and so does his discussion of the Cynics of ancient Greece who “thought too much song and dance was made about the whole thing.” Diogenes, one of the leading Cynics, argued that there was no good reason why shame should be attached to sex.

Rising to the challenge, Diogenes’ pupil Crates and his wife Hipparchia are credibly reported to have copulated first on the steps of the temple as they got married, and thereafter repeatedly and happily in public.

Yes, well. One wonders if such copulations should be classified as lust. My guess is that, philosophers being philosophers, any making-whoopee between Mr. and Mrs. Crates on the temple steps had more to do with the Mr.’s reason and desire to make an intellectual point than with desire plain and simple. Continue reading

Book review: “The Night in Question” by Tobias Wolff

A friend of mine is very big on stories having a beginning, a middle and an end.

The 15 stories in The Night in Question by Tobias Wolff don’t fit that at all.

Some have stutter-step endings that seem to go one way and then another and maybe a third, such as in “Casualty.” An American soldier in Vietnam is fatally wounded. A comrade grieves, or thinks he does. A nurse on a C141 med evac has trouble coping when she realizes the soldier she has been caring for is dead.

During a lull later on she stopped and leaned her forehead against a porthole [in the airplane]. The sun was just above the horizon. The sky was clear, no clouds between her and the sea below, whole name she loved to hear the pilots say — the East China Sea. Through the crazed Plexiglas she could make out some small islands and the white glint of a ship in the apex of its wake. Someday she was going to take passage on one of those ships, by herself or maybe with some friends…When she closed her eyes she could see the whole thing, perfectly

Many have endings that don’t really end, but open a new door through which the reader can get a glimpse of what is coming next. Continue reading

Book review: “Women of the Way: Discovering 2500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom” by Sallie Tisdale

A confession: I read Women of the Way: Discovering 2500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom because it was written by Sallie Tisdale. I know very little about Buddhism.

I have been an admirer of Tisdale’s writing for more than a quarter of a century, ever since I wrote a review of her book Lot’s Wife: Salt and the Human Condition for the Chicago Tribune.

That book, like most of her work, was, in essence, a book-long essay — in that case, about a common, everyday object that we don’t usually give much thought to. Others include The Best Thing I Ever Tasted: The Secret of Food (2000) and Talk Dirty to Me: An Intimate Philosophy of Sex (1994).

This book isn’t like those.

tisdale --- women of the way

This book is a sort of Buddhist version of the Lives of the Saints books that, as a Catholic, I’m very familiar with. It contains the thumbnail biographies of 60 or so important women in the history of Buddhism.

Tisdale, who was training for the Buddhist priesthood when her book was published in 2006, writes that she has studied as much of the historical record as she could in order to write these profiles, but, often, much was missing. Women teachers and nuns have been given short shrift by the Buddhist establishment — which is to say, men — for much of the history of the religion. So Tisdale filled in the gaps as best she could.

This is not a work of scholarship itself, but a narrative history, using known facts in historical context to tell the story of a life — of many lives. I have used what facts I can find to place the life of each woman in a proper context of time and culture, using her words and her teachers’ words, the events of their time, wherever it is known. But I have had to use my imagination to find the lives of these women. For the imagining, I don’t apologize.

sallie tisdaleIn her introduction, Tisdale focuses on the many ways that male Buddhists have treated and continue to treat female believers as second-class citizens of the faith. That’s all very familiar to someone like me whose Catholic religion, as defined by its male leaders, does the same thing.

One Buddhist tale, for instance, asserts that women prevent others from achieving rebirth and, thus, are “the source of hell…The dead snake and dog are detestable, but women are even more detestable than they are.”

And there’s the Buddhist saying: “The best thing about Buddhist heaven is that it has no women.”

So, there really hasn’t been a book like Women of the Way before. It’s an attempt to recover lives and stories that have been ignored, forgotten, lost.

As I said above, I don’t understand Buddhism. I have only vague impressions of the faith’s core beliefs. So, to adherents of the religion, I offer my apologies for any erroneous statements I make in this review.

To give a sense of Women of the Way, I have focused on Tisdale’s tales of six of the 60-plus women. Each section involves a longish quote from the book. I don’t know how representative these quotes are of Buddhism, but they resonate with me.

In part, that’s because they portray women who are, at times, fierce and tranquil and searching and finding. And also because their sense of the transcendent echoes, in some way, mine. And also because Tisdale’s writing is so luminous.

Here they are: Continue reading

Book review: “Building Lives: Constructing Rites and Passages” by Neil Harris

Humans name their babies and their pets and their battleships. And their buildings.

I’ve lived in Chicago buildings by the names of 135 N. Leamington Ave. and 7943 S. California Ave. and 1129 W. Wellington Ave. Addresses, after all, are simply another kind of name. We need to be able to tell one from another.

Large buildings, though, are often given fancier names in addition to their street addresses, notes cultural historian Neil Harris in his delightfully eye-opening 1999 book Building Lives: Constructing Rites and Passages.

In the case of office buildings, the name can testify to the size, wealth, and prestige of a major corporation. Speculative structures frequently entice major tenants by the promise of naming the new building after them. As a major space-user, the renting corporation reaps the additional publicity.

The same principle is at work when the naming rights for a publicly financed sports stadium are sold. U.S. Cellular Field where the Chicago White Sox play baseball is an advertisement for a wireless telecommunications network — a corporation that was willing to pay $68 million to turn the baseball park into a kind of billboard for 20 years.

The name given to a baby usually doesn’t have this monetary aspect to it although parents do consider how the name will influence the way wider world views the child.. (“Nathaniel Hawthorne” has a nice ring to it, but Marion Morrison — later changed to John Wayne — isn’t quite as euphonious.)

More commonly, the name given to a baby is a way to remember and honor a relative (e.g., I’m named for one of my grandfathers, and my son is named for one of his) or a public figure (e.g., former football player Roosevelt Grier). And the same, Harris writes, holds true for a goodly number of buildings.

In many cities office buildings bear the titles that previous structures on the same site once bore, or memorialize the owners of houses and homesteads that once stood there. New York’s Everett Building, or 200 Park South, memorializes the Everett House, one of the city’s major hotels, erected fifty years earlier. In Cleveland, a series of Williamson Buildings were opened on the Public Square, on the site of the Williamson family homestead.

In Chicago, the first McCormick Place was named for Robert R. McCormick, the Chicago Tribune publisher who spearheaded efforts for its erection. When it burned down, the structure that replaced it was given the same name.

The original McCormick Place (left) and its replacement

The original McCormick Place (left) and its replacement

And, as with humans, there are names, and there are nicknames. “In Chicago,” Harris writes, “what is now the Amoco Building, once the Standard Oil Building [and now the Aon Building], is familiarly called Big Stan, in distinction from Big John, the John Hancock, a few blocks to its north.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Perhaps the best example of this is the iconic Flatiron Building in New York. Its builders wanted to call it the Fuller Building but were overruled by the public. Indeed — Harris doesn’t mention this — the “Fuller” name never had a chance. People began calling it the Flatiron Building while it was under construction because of its similarity to that household appliance.

The flatiron Building in New York was christened by the public while it was being built even though its owners wanted it to be called the Fuller Building.

The flatiron Building in New York was christened by the public while it was being built even though its owners wanted it to be called the Fuller Building.

 

“Sets of events”

Names are only one way that buildings are like people. Like me or you, a building is created, exists and then disappears. That’s the metaphor at the heart of Building Lives.

This isn’t the usual way we look at buildings, “the largest, most expensive, and most permanent products of human labor.” The tendency has been to view them through an architectural lens, as works of craft or art, or a commercial lens, as profit-making or –losing machines.

Yet, Harris argues that there is great benefit in studying them as “entities with life stories that can be as revealing as individual biographies.”

Further, he writes that “examining buildings through their life stages and modes of representation encourages us to conceive of them not simply as places but as sets of events, affixing a temporal dimension to their existence that is not simply an add-on but fundamental to their nature.”

That idea — that a building is a set of events — is attractive. Continue reading

Book review: “Harold Washington and the Civil Rights Legacy” by Christopher Chandler

chandler.washingtonChristopher Chandler, a former journalist at the Chicago Sun-Times and WBBM-TV (Channel 2), was an important press aide for Harold Washington.

He organized news conferences, planned media strategy and dealt directly with reporters and editors during Washington’s 1983 campaign to become Chicago’s first black mayor and then during the initial two years of his tenure on the fifth floor of City Hall.

Yet, in his memoir Harold Washington and the Civil Rights Legacy, Chandler writes, “I only had one serious conversation about politics with Harold Washington.

Following a news conference on the Southeast Side, as the two men waited for their ride back downtown, Washington asked Chandler who his favorite politician was.

“Bobby Kennedy.”

Washington was surprised. “I never understood the Kennedys,” he said.

As for his own favorite politician, Washington named Paul Robeson, the athlete, singer, actor and political activist who, as it happened, was one of the heroes of Chandler’s mother.

 

Progressive

Christopher Cahndler in 2011

Christopher Cahndler in 2011

Chandler, a white man, came from the sort of mid-20th century American family that described itself as progressive. His father, a clergyman, and the rest of his relatives were committed to the cause of civil rights.

So committed, in fact, that, in April, 1968, his parents and other family members were living on Fifth Avenue in the middle of the West Side ghetto. “They were part of a project by the nearby Ecumenical Institute to plant ‘stakes’ in the neighborhood to help bring about revitalization,” writes Chandler.

When riots broke out following the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his family had some scary moments, including threats by six black men, one of whom carried a gun. Terrorized, the family members eventually found a way out to safety.

Later, his father was among a group of clergy who asked Mayor Richard J. Daley to rescind his infamous order to “shoot to kill” arsonists. “Daley never forgave dad for preaching to him,” Chandler writes. “He referred to my father afterward as ‘that rioter’ and succeeded in forcing him out of town within a few months.”

It’s a bit frustrating that Chandler doesn’t explain how that happened. It’s one of many such incidents in his book that Chandler mentions but fails to elaborate on. As a self-published book, available at amazon.com, Harold Washington and the Civil Rights Legacy is somewhat rough around the edges at times.

 

True-believers

Yet, the book is valuable in providing insight into the experiences of the members of Washington’s coalition whom Chandler describes as progressive whites, black nationalists and political radicals. True-believers, in other words. Continue reading