June 20, 2014

The Pelican’s Portrait

Sir Reginald Reginaldson, the son of a Danish merchant, grew up in the well-to-do mercantile community of Houndstooth-upon-Tweed on High Street in London during the second half of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. An inveterate hanger-on with the minor figures at the edge of the royal court, Reginaldson came to the notice of Elizabeth when he broke his nose dancing into a pillar during a ferradingo celebrating the eve of St. Thurstide’s Day. (The ferradingo, an import from Italy, involved a series of intricate steps, some of which were to be done with the eyes closed.) “Methinks the gallant’s nose flowed not had his leaps only ebbed,” the Queen said. Thereafter, Elizabeth frequently referred to Reginaldson has “my pelican.” This miniature portrait by Isaac Oliver, which now hangs in the Stuart M. Wedlow Museum of Fine Art in the Silver Dollar Casino in Reno, Nevada, was executed shortly before its subject’s execution in 1615 for what was believed to be an attempt on the life of Elizabeth’s successor James I. Reginaldson was accused to attempting to push the monarch off a parapet, allegedly out of anger for the habit of James to refer to him with a corruption of […]
June 4, 2014

Book review: “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War” by Mark Harris

A book about five Hollywood directors in World War II? Well, OK. It was a book selected by one of my book clubs so I got a copy of Five Came Back by Mark Harris, but I didn’t expect much. After all, there have been thousands of books written about the Second World War. Books about D-Day, books about Hitler and the Nazis, books about Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Bulge and George Patton and Winston Churchill and the Russian front and U-boats and the occupation of Paris. And books about the Final Solution. What could a book about five well-to-do, American movie-makers add? Actually, a lot.
June 3, 2014

Book review: “Chimera” by John Barth

I suspect that anyone writing a review of a John Barth book is tempted to Barth Barth. Which is to say, to try to be as inventive and witty and playful and erudite and literary and subtle as Barth is. Which is to say, is tempted to certain failure. From his third novel The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) to his 17th book-length work of fiction Every Third Thought (2011), Barth has caroused in the funhouse of metafiction. Few have delighted so much in playing the game or sparked so much delight in those who have taken part. And probably no one has done it so well. The term “metafiction” I’ve never liked the term “metafiction.” I know, “meta” is from Greek, meaning “above” and “beyond,” and it indicates a type of fiction that looks at itself from the outside. Sort of. (After all, writing from an outside perspective about the act of creating fiction as part of a piece of fiction turns the “outside” into the “inside.” There’s no full objectivity. In addition, the autobiographical and writing-as-mechanics details that an author, such as Barth, weaves into this kind of fiction isn’t done for how-to reasons. Rather than clarifying things, this complicates […]
June 2, 2014

The Last Four Miles: Completing Chicago’s Lakefront Parks

Virtually my first freelance job after being laid off by the Chicago Tribune in April, 2009, was to edit (and write portions of) a report for the Friends of the Parks titled “The Last Four Miles: Completing Chicago’s Lakefront Parks.” The aim was the fulfill the dream of Daniel H. Burnham and generations of Chicagoans by creating a lakefront park spanning the city’s entire thirty-mile-long shoreline. The report was a call to action. When “The Last Four Miles” was published on June 9, 2009, I wrote about its vision and implications in the Burnham Blog for the Burnham Plan Centennial. (Five years later, much remains to be done.) Here, in slightly edited form, is the opening challenge from the Friends of the Parks plan: “The Lake front by right belongs to the people.” Daniel Burnham, Plan of Chicago, 1909 The time is now. A century after Daniel Burnham boldly proposed parkland for Chicago’s entire lakefront — essentially a single linear park for everyone’s use — the moment has come to commit ourselves as a city, as a region and as a generation to finish his work.