October 27, 2014

Book review: “Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife” by Francine Prose

In Amsterdam, on the sunny and otherwise quiet morning of Friday, August 4, 1944, a car pulled up in front of the Opekta warehouse at 263 Prinsengracht. That is all one needs to write, and already the reader knows who was hiding in the attic and the fate about to befall them. These might easily have been the opening lines of American novelist Francine Prose’s complex, ferociously affectionate and tough-minded 2009 book Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife. This non-fiction book is a work of reportage, literary analysis, cultural criticism and biography. It is a work in which Prose details her profound respect for Anne Frank’s brilliance as a writer and delves deeply into the troubled and often troubling history of her diary. But these lines don’t come until page 63, and, by this point, Prose has already written about Anne Frank’s birth in Frankfort and her Jewish family’s flight to the Netherlands to escape the rise of the Nazis in Germany. She has written about the decision of Anne’s family and four other Jews to go into hiding in the attic of the warehouse on Prinsengracht. And about how Anne’s diary recorded their daily life in the […]
October 19, 2014

Book review: “Rocka Million: A Manifesto for the Gutsy Micropreneur” by Sue Reardon

When I was laid off by the Chicago Tribune five and a half years ago, I lost my desk and my byline, but also the community of smart, curious and generally wacky people who had surrounded me in one way or another for more than three decades. Not just surrounded me. But supported me, encouraged me. Gave me answers to knotty questions that came up. Opened doors for me to new avenues of thought, new perspectives on the world. Told me stories, listened to my stories. And gave me the feeling that, no matter what I was doing for Mother Tribune, I wasn’t alone. That’s the message at the core of Sue Reardon’s Rocka Million: A Manifesto for the Gutsy Micropreneur. As you might guess from Sue’s last name, she’s a relative, my sister-in-law. But, regardless of family ties, hers is a book with great advice for anyone who is freelancing, consulting and/or attempting to get a one-person business off the ground. I wish it had been written five and a half years ago. I certainly would have  looked into finding the sort of coworking space — and coworking community — that Sue writes about.
October 15, 2014

Book review: “Neverhome” by Laird Hunt

It was maybe an hour after I finished reading Laird Hunt’s new novel Neverhome that the gears of my mind suddenly shifted and fell into place.. Up until that point, I had been alternately impressed by the novel’s quietly dazzling language and irritated by much else, with irritation predominating. There was so much about the book that didn’t seem to fit together. Neverhome is the story of a young woman who calls herself Ash Thompson and goes off masquerading as a man to fight for the Union Army in the Civil War. But it’s not a historical novel — too much happens to Ash, she meets too many outlandish characters (even a trio of one-armed jugglers), her story takes too many sharp turns (as if it were a retelling of “The Perils of Pauline”). It’s clear that Hunt isn’t striving for realism. And it isn’t chick lit, even though Ash and her husband Bartholomew can seem to be 21st century people stuck back in the Victorian era. After all, Ash is making her way with success in a man’s world while her stay-at-home husband, described by one character as a “little fellow,” keeps the home fires burning. Ash is stronger […]
October 14, 2014

Book review: “Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy” by Viktor E. Frankl

Sigmund Freud once said that, if you take a widely diverse set of people and starve them, soon all their differences will fall away to be replaced by “the uniform expression of the one unstilled urge” for food. That didn’t happen “in the filth of Auschwitz,” writes psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. There, the “individual differences” did not “blur” but, on the contrary, people became more different: people unmasked themselves, both the swine and the saints.” Frankl’s short, powerful book, rooted in his three years in Auschwitz and other German concentration camps, is an argument against the view that human life is simply biological responses to stimuli. In some ways, the Holocaust can be seen as the epitome of this mechanistic view. Prisoners were stripped of identity and became, as Frankl notes, simply numbers in a system of slave labor and mass murder. This genocide was carried out by the nation of Beethoven and Goethe, of Freud and Einstein. And it has been seen as proof that great science, great art and great thinking are insubstantial and unimportant in the face of power. Could life have any meaning for any person living […]
October 12, 2014

Poem: “Rose Red”

. I answer the door. The bear is there. He says, “Fear not.” He is cold and wants a fire to sit by. In he comes. Snow White raises her eyebrow as we brush the snow off his fur. We play with him. We tickle him. We cover his eyes with our small hands. He leaves in the morning. And comes back each night during that long winter. Mother likes him. “I must go away,” he says in summer. “A wicked dwarf is trying to steal my treasure.” Some days later, my sister and I find the dwarf caught in a tree by his beard. We cut the beard and free him. “My beautiful beard!” he yells. All summer, we find the dwarf in one danger or another in the forest and save him. He is always angry with us. Now, he tells us the bear is going to kill him. The bear appears. The dwarf says, “Eat the girls!” The bear kills the dwarf with a single swipe of his claw. Snow White raises her eyebrow as the bear turns away. Patrick T. Reardon 10.12.2014
October 3, 2014

Poem: “The Birth of the Buddha — 11.22.1949”

(A) New born, I shine as gold. My blue eyes glow. Seven steps I take, a lotus in each footprint. Pointing to the sky, I say: “I am born for the welfare of the entire world.” . (B) The shock again. The pain, weight, edge of body. Seeing. Trek again. Find again the balance. Find again the rhythm. Find again. Chuckle at the impossibility. Chuckle at the simplicity. Chuckle. . (C) Let go. Patrick T. Reardon 10.3.14 NOTE: I’m Catholic, not Buddhist. Nonetheless, I found Little Buddha to be one of the most spiritual movies I’ve ever seen. It contains a charming and transcendent scene of the birth of Siddhartha, who became the Buddha. That story is repeated in a book I happen to be reading right now, Women of the Way: Discovering 2500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom by the wonderful writer Sallie Tisdale. These are descriptions of what those present saw. But what was it like for the baby himself? And how was his experience like mine, like everyone’s? (I was born on 11.22.1949.) I also find endearing the many descriptions of Buddha laughing and smiling.
October 2, 2014

Book review: “1776” by David McCullough

Give David McCullough credit. After a hugely successful career as a historian, he set out, in his late 60s, to write a book that was a far cry from his earlier bestsellers. McCullough had made a name for himself by writing big books that told big stories —- stories about monumental projects, such as the Panama Canal and the Brooklyn Bridge, and about major historical figures, such as John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman. These averaged about 700 pages each although his book on Truman was more than 1,100 pages long. With 1776, though, he was attempting something that, for him, was new. First of all, he didn’t try to tell the story of the entire Revolutionary War, just a single year, the first full year of the eight-year conflict. Then, he narrowed his focus even more to look only at the ragtag army under George Washington. Finally — and this is the greatest difference — he rooted his book in the words of a multitude of eyewitnesses on both sides of the battles. Rather than provide a sweeping saga, McCullough produced an intimate look at the experiences of the soldiers and others who lived through that year. The […]