November 28, 2013

Love and the giving of thanks

By Sarah Reardon, David Reardon, Cathy Shiel-Reardon and Patrick T. Reardon Originally published in the St. Gertrude parish bulletin about 10-15 years ago It all comes back to love. Gratitude does, like everything else that is good in the world. Thomas Merton writes that gratitude “takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder….” His subject is the relationship that human beings share with God, but he could just as well be talking about the relationship that two people share when they love each other. Young lovers can’t get enough of each other. They want to be together all the time, share every experience, know everything there is to know about the beloved. They are intensely aware of the goodness and richness in the loved one — the humor, the compassion, the beauty, the intelligence, the sweetness. They can’t help but feel wonder — and gratitude. Imperfections And the imperfections of the loved one? These are recognized, of course. He may be moody or lazy or, well, a little overweight. She may be a couch potato or high-strung or spend too much on clothes. Knowing each other so well and learning more and more each day, […]
November 27, 2013

Book review: “One Summer: America, 1927” by Bill Bryson

This review originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on October 13, 2013 You probably had no idea that Al Jolson, the star of the first talkie movie, “The Jazz Singer,” enjoyed urinating on people as a joke. Or that, once, in the middle of a conversation in the White House, President Warren G. Harding got up from his chair for a moment to urinate into a fireplace. Both stories are in Bill Bryson’s new rollicking, immensely readable popular history One Summer: America, 1927, and they’re indicative of his approach and tone. As a historian, Bryson is the antithesis of stuffy. He’s a storyteller, pure and simple, and One Summer is a collection of a great many tales about people and events, centered on (but not limited to) a single season in a single year. Many nonfiction books today are weighed down with an overblown subtitle (such as “The Secret History of…” or “The [Fill-in-the-blank] That Changed the World”), but Bryson avoids that pomposity. He isn’t arguing that 1927 was much more important than any other year, even though he does provide some insights into how life changed because of events then. I’m sure Bryson could have written a book just […]
November 27, 2013

Small gestures

This essay originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on October 25, 2013 A couple years ago, when my sister Mary Beth was working a part-time job at a local health club, she was asked to care for a three-month-old infant while the girl’s mother got some needed exercise. She cradled the infant for a few minutes. Then, quietly, the child died. Mary Beth was shocked, of course. But she is someone who is deeply grounded. She later learned that, from birth, the baby had suffered from a condition that made her susceptible to death at any moment. Her mother knew that. It was happenstance that the infant drew her last breath when my sister was holding her. I was glad for the baby that my sister was there. We are from a large family. I am the oldest child. Mary Beth, two years younger, is the oldest girl. For more than a half century, she has held baby after baby in her arms — her brothers and sisters, her children, her grandchildren. I think my sister is pretty special. But, really, she’s not. Each of us have moments like Mary Beth when we are able to touch someone’s life for […]
November 27, 2013

Creaking up and down the court

This essay originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on October 2, 3013 I started playing basketball when I was 11-years-old. That’s more than half a century ago. I still play, twice a week, but, more and more, there are times, when I stink to high heaven. My hook shot won’t fall. The guy I’m guarding gets around me with ease. I’m unable to dribble without getting the ball stolen out from under me. George, a friend from high school and a teammate on the basketball team, died in August out in Seattle where he’d long lived. George had had hip problems in recent years, but, from what I knew, his health was fine. Then — bang! — he was felled by a cerebral hemorrhage. I didn’t learn of George’s death until a month after it happened, and I had a particularly frustrating time on the court that night. I’d hoped that basketball would clear my head. Instead, I ran around the court, clumsily trying to do too much. This made my game even worse than it usually is.
November 27, 2013

No expert, just a do-gooder

This essay original appeared in the Chicago Tribune on August 25, 2013 Edward Paul Brennan was one of us. A nobody. Born in 1866, he made deliveries for his father’s grocery store, then worked downtown at the Lyon & Healy Co. music store as a bill collector and later as building superintendent. Yet, few individuals in Chicago’s history have had as much impact — for the good — on the daily lives of Chicagoans, suburbanites and visitors to the city. That’s why, on Friday (8/30), a little before noon, a small ceremony will be held to officially unveil the honorary street designation of the corner of State and Madison as Edward Brennan Way. On hand will be Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), who sponsored the designation ordinance, and Brennan’s daughter, Adelaide, who will turn 99 that day. No intersection is more central to the identity of Chicago as State and Madison, and it’s an apt location to honor Brennan since he’s the one who gave the corner its prominence. In the summer of 1901 when he turned 35, Brennan took an armload of maps with him on vacation to Paw Paw, Mich., and came back, like a prophet from the desert, […]
November 27, 2013

Hope, baseball and A-Rod

This essay was originally published in the Chicago Tribune on August 7, 2013 I took my first baseman’s mitt to U.S. Cellular Field Monday night for the opening game of a three-game series between the White Sox and the Yankees. I probably should have been a bit sheepish about doing so, but baseball fans seem to have a great tolerance for a guy in his 60s channeling his inner 10-year-old. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that bringing my mitt to the game was something other than childish. In some way, it goes to the heart of why anyone is a fan of any sport. It also goes to the heart of the betrayal of Alex Rodriguez and the steroid era. It’s about hope. The little girl a few rows ahead of me brought her mitt to the Sox-Yankees game for the same reason I did. We were hoping to catch a ball. We were looking for a relic of the institution that is baseball. Actually, “institution” isn’t quite right. For a fan, baseball is something a religion. (I’m sure it’s the same for fans of other sports.)
November 27, 2013

Book review: “Burglars Can’t Be Choosers” by Lawrence Block

I’m not exactly sure why I liked Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr crime novel Burglars Can’t Be Choosers.
November 18, 2013

Book review: “Memento Mori” by Muriel Spark

Guy Leet, aged 75, stooped with various ailments, picks up the phone and hears a schoolboy say: Remember, you must die. He tells the boy to go to hell. Some days or weeks later, he is having a bitter literary argument with his irate poet-friend Percy Mannering, aged 74, when the phone rings and the same voice conveys the same message. “Oh, it’s you…Well, now, sonny, I’m busy at the moment. I have a poet friend here with me and we are just about to have a drink.” The voice asks if his guest is Mannering. Guy gives the receiver to Percy who hears an identical message. But, for Mannering, the voice isn’t a schoolboy’s. It sounds like one of the great poets of the 20th century, William Butler Yeats. Muriel Spark’s masterpiece In Muriel Spark’s 1958 novel Memento Mori, Guy and Percy are among a group of about a dozen elderly mid-century English people who are recipients of this call. Most of them are affluent Londoners and most are related to each other by love, blood, friendship or past romance. Spark was 40 when she published Memento Mori, her third of what would eventually number 22 novels and her […]
November 11, 2013

Book review: “Bitter River” by Julia Keller

Bell Elkins has just left Joyce’s Diner in the town of Aker’s Gap in Raythune County, West Virginia. She is the prosecuting attorney for the county and has a lot on her mind. Still, she can’t help but stop and look around, taking in the streets where she grew up and the peaks looming nearby. She knew the people who struggled to make a go of it here. Knew, too, the mountains piled up in the near distance, the jagged slabs of solid rock that always threatened — or so it had seemed to Bell, when she was a little girl — to gradually close over the top of the town, like a lid on a soup pot… She’s tried to describe it once to a big-city friend, tried to put into words the singular feeling of living in a place presided over by a watchful mass of black rock, by a permanence you couldn’t push back against. Well, you could try — but it wouldn’t matter. Bell is the central character in Julia Keller’s second mystery Bitter River as she was in the first one A Killing in the Hills. I was deeply impressed last year with the high […]
November 4, 2013

Book review: “Pudd’nhead Wilson” by Mark Twain

Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson is a wonderful mess. Or, maybe better put, a messy wonder. As Twain explains elsewhere, the 1894 novel started life as a much different story, focused on conjoined twins with different morals. If one twin is bad, can you punish both? But, as he was writing, he brought in other characters, as novelists are generally required to do: Among them came a stranger named Pudd’nhead Wilson, and a woman named Roxana; and presently the doings of these two pushed on into prominence a young fellow named Tom Driscoll, whose proper place was away in the obscure background. Before the book was half finished those three were taking things almost entirely into their own hands and working the whole tale as a private venture of their own — a tale which they had nothing at all to do with, by rights. Literary conjoined twins He finished the book, and it was bad. The two stories were literary conjoined twins, and very awkward page-fellows. So Twain did the necessary surgery. The original story didn’t come away from the operation in very good shape. Twain found a way to use it, however, by publishing it as the novella Those […]