July 14, 2017

Book preview: Pat Reardon reading his work-in-progress about the Loop on July 21 in Forest Park

Happy 120th birthday to Chicago’s Elevated Loop — the city’s savior! Savior? Yeah, really. The Elevated Loop is a big reason why, during the great social and demographic changes of the last hundred years, Chicago didn’t go the way of Cleveland and Detroit. The unrecognized importance of the Elevated Loop, which turns 120 in October, is the subject of Patrick T. Reardon’s work-in-progress: THE LOOP How the “golden circle” of elevated tracks gave shape and power to Chicago’s downtown, united Chicagoans and saved the city. Reardon will be reading from his manuscript during an appearance on Friday, July 21, from 7 pm to 9 pm at Centuries and Sleuths bookstore at 7419 Madison St, Forest Park, IL 60130. For info, call (708) 771-7243. The reading will be part of a series of programs that the store will produce that weekend during the annual Forest Park Music Festival, July 21-23, on Madison Street between Des Plaines Avenue and Circle Avenue. Here’s how it’s described: “The three-day fest boasts an amazing line-up, two beer gardens, food, fun, and yes…lots of music!”
July 13, 2017

Book review: “Che — A Revolutionary Life” by Jon Lee Anderson

Nikolai Metutsov was an important guy in the Kremlin. He was an aide to Party Secretary Yuri Adropov (who later ruled the Soviet Union as General Secretary), and he was responsible for overseeing relations with non-European socialist nations. In early 1964, Metutsov was in Cuba to figure out just whose side Ernesto “Che” Guevara was on. At the time, there was a savage tug-of-war between the Soviets and the Chinese over who would have priority in international Communism. Metutsov’s job was to get Che, one of the three top Cuban leaders, to toe Moscow’s line. The problem, though, as the Russian explained decades later to Jon Lee Anderson, was that he was “falling in love” with Che. Make no mistake, this was no gay flirtation. Metutsov was falling in love with the man who was seen by Socialists around the world, including those in the Soviet Union, as the perfect image, the personification, of a revolutionary. “He had very beautiful eyes. Magnificent eyes, so deep, so generous, so honest, a stare that was so honest that somehow, one could not help but feel it…and he spoke very well; he became inwardly excited, and his speech was like that, with all […]
July 11, 2017

The Loop: How the “golden circle” of elevated tracks gave shape and power to Chicago’s downtown, united Chicagoans and saved the city.

Happy 120th birthday to Chicago’s Elevated Loop — the city’s savior! Savior? Yeah, really. The Elevated Loop is a big reason why, during the great social and demographic changes of the last hundred years, Chicago didn’t go the way of Cleveland and Detroit. The unrecognized importance of the Elevated Loop, which turns 120 in October, is the subject of Patrick T. Reardon’s work-in-progress: THE LOOP How the “golden circle” of elevated tracks gave shape and power to Chicago’s downtown, united Chicagoans and saved the city.   Reardon will be reading from his manuscript during an appearance on Friday, July 21, from 7 pm to 9 pm at Centuries and Sleuths bookstore at 7419 Madison St, Forest Park, IL 60130. For info, call (708) 771-7243. The reading will be part of a series of programs that the store will produce that weekend during the annual Forest Park Music Festival, July 21-23, on Madison Street between Des Plaines Avenue and Circle Avenue. Here’s how it’s described: “The three-day fest boasts an amazing line-up, two beer gardens, food, fun, and yes…lots of music!”
July 9, 2017

Poem: “Present Tense”

(I) He plots movement, holds forces, makes strategy, wants high ground when the time comes.   (II) You make a date.  You place an order.  You sit.  You wait for the heavens to open, the bricks to crack.  You climb. You avoid the rabid dog.  You take your pulse.  You open your eyes underwater. You find a coin in the dirt by the tree.  You cut your hand on the edge of the box.  You sleep late.  You look for something to do.   (III) My bones fill with smoke. It is night along the edge. There is no way to know.   Patrick T. Reardon 7.9.17   Written 8.11.81
July 8, 2017

Poem: “Theodore Roosevelt”

    I smell the dust of the ranch and the smoke of the hill still as I sit here and listen to congressmen.   I feel the bruise of the bullet, the slam of it, into the folded speech.   I see her sometimes in the corners of mirrors. I see her dead and smell the room.   Part of me is watery and dark and filled with tinny echoes.     Patrick T. Reardon 7.8.17   Written @ 1980.
July 6, 2017

Book review: “Children of Saigo” by Glenn Jeffers

The term “graphic novel” calls forth comparisons with novels in general. The two forms, after all, are about stories told on paper between covers of some sort. A better description, though, would be “movie book.” Think about it. Most of the story in a graphic novel is told through the colorful images that accompany a fairly small amount of text. It’s a lot like a movie in which the visuals usually are paramount, with dialogue and narration secondary. This is especially true for action movies, and many, if not most, graphic novels are action movies on paper. Consider Children of Saigo, written by my former Chicago Tribune colleague Glenn Jeffers with Jethro Morales as the artist/inker, Andy Dodd as colorist, Kel Nuttall as letterer/editor and Bill Farmer as the one responsible for the front cover colors.   Rollicking story It’s a quick-step, rollicking story about the four adult children of Masaki “Mike” Iwanaga, a Chicago cop dying of cancer and the descendant of the last samurai. Mike’s ancestor was the only survivor of the 1877 battle in Kagoshima, Japan, that wiped out the last remnants of the samurais under the leadership of Saigo Takamori. He was ordered by Saigo to […]
July 5, 2017

Book review: “Junk Type: Typography, Lettering, Badges, Logos” by Bill Rose

Junk Type: Typography, Lettering, Badges, Logos is an odd book that’s oddly compelling. True, you might look at it and think that it is of absolutely no interest for you, and you’d be wrong. Pick it up, and I’ll bet you can’t stop paging through its 300 images of what might be called industrial typography. There, that’s a term that’s likely to drive you away from the book, but it simply means the company logos and other identifications of one sort or another that are printed on or stamped on or bolted into the sides, tops or bottoms of products ranging from oil cans to fuses, from chewing tobacco to typewriters, from radio tubes to needles to nails to shoe polish to car polish to fans to ball bearings to, well, on and on and on.     A low-key visual epic poem What makes Junk Type enchanting and delightful is that it is a collection of images that comprise in their humble yet colorful way a low-key visual epic poem about America of the 20th century. That’s not how Rose, a professional photographer, describes his book in his very short foreword. For him, it’s “striking typography” that he began […]
June 30, 2017

Poem: “July 10, 1981”

    July 10, 1981   On this porch, on this cool summer day, when the moon is benign in afternoon sky, when birds sing from wire to wire, I have no argument. This may be the milk-and -honey time, the fulcrum, the equator. I may be on my way down or past or into. This will change, and I will change, and the wood of this porch will rot. The birds will die, and I will die, and new leaves will grow under other summer suns. I have no argument.   Patrick T. Reardon 6.30.17   This poem appeared in Requiem for David, published in February, 2017, by Silver Birch Press.
June 28, 2017

Book review: “Lincoln’s Lieutenants: The High Command of the Army of the Potomac” by Stephen W. Sears

In May, 1864, during the Battle of the Wilderness, when Ulysses S. Grant was new  in command of the Northern troops facing the Rebels of Robert E. Lee, an irate General Charles Griffin stormed into Union headquarters. Griffin complained loudly that he’d pushed back the Confederates but, getting no support, had had to retreat. Condemning by name several officers including his immediate superior, he then stomped away again. Grant, sitting nearby, whittling and smoking, growled to General George Meade, his top aide, “Who is this Gen. Gregg? You ought to arrest him.” Meade came over, and, noticing that Grant’s uniform coat was unbuttoned, began buttoning it up “as if he were a little boy,” an aide remembered, while also saying calmly, “It’s Griffin, not Gregg, and it’s only his way of talking.” Homey and human There is something so homey and so human about this scene which says so much about Grant and Meade and their close working relationship, focused entirely on beating the Rebels. Meade, the victor at Gettysburg, was the commander of the Army of the Potomac, and he could have sulked and moaned when, just a short time earlier, he’d been superseded by Grant. Instead, for the […]
June 19, 2017

Book review: “Architecture by Birds and Insects: A Natural Act” by Peggy Macnamara

Some birds and bugs construct nests by sewing or weaving strands of material together. And some fashion nests out of various kinds of paper-like stuff that they create using their saliva. And some form nests out of mud. And in depressions they make or find. And in mounds they raise. And some carve nests out of wood. Sometimes, nests — at times, many by the same individual — are constructed as part of a mating ceremony, but, much more often, they’re created to be the home of incubating young and to serve as their birthing room and as their childhood playhouse. But not always. The uglynest caterpillar builds a nest for its eggs in rose bushes or in cherry or hawthorn trees. But, then, when the eggs hatch, the larvae themselves build a web nest, also called a tent nest (often seen by humans as unattractive, hence, the insect’s name), in which they go through various stages until they come out as moths.   “Homes and safe places” Nests are little works of art, built with care and precision, confident and complete. They work!…Best of all, they are of use, providing a service. They are natural materials recycled to create […]
June 14, 2017

Book review: “You Suck: A Love Story” by Christopher Moore

You Suck: A Love Story, published in 2007, is a sequel to Christopher Moore’s 1995 novel Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story. It was then followed, in 2010, by Bite Me: A Love Story. You may notice a pattern here. The temptation with sequels — it’s something that’s good and bad — is to regurgitate the plot and characters of the first book in a slightly different (but pretty much the same) way. It worked the first time, right? The good part is that fans of the first book tend to lap up (if you’ll excuse the image) the slightly different (but pretty much the same) sequel. It was, after all, fun the first time. The bad part is that, well, it can come across as stale. For Christopher Moore, though, “stale” is a word that hasn’t been invented. His comic sense transcends triteness because I’m not sure he knows the meaning of “boring.” (I mean, I’m sure he knows the meaning of the word “boring,” but I don’t think that he’s able to write a boring page if he tried. [Well, maybe if he tried, all in the service of a higher comic purpose. So, in that case, he would […]
June 12, 2017

Book review: “Galactic Derelict” by Andre Norton

Galactic Derelict, published in 1959, is the second in a series of Andre Norton novels that began a year earlier with Time Traders. After stumbling onto a long-lost alien technology that permits time travel, two groups of humans — the Reds (i.e., the Soviet Union), originally, and then the United States, trying to catch up — endeavor to go into the past in a search for other scientific miracles. In order to fit in, the Americans masquerade as traders. It’s not clear how the Reds present themselves, and, by the end of the first novel, it doesn’t matter since they’ve gotten their comeuppance from a group of aliens that are discovered lurking thousands of years ago.   Runaway space ship Galactic Derelict, set in the late 1970s, starts off immediately after the first book and centers on a large ball-like space ship that’s found 12,000 years back in time in what is now the arid stretches of the American Southwest. All those thousands of years ago, however, the land is a lush green place where sabretooth tigers and huge mammoths are threats, as are some primitive humans. The plan is to set up machinery to send the entire ship back […]
June 8, 2017

Signing (and selling) books on Sunday morning at the Printers Row Lit Fest

I nabbed the coveted 10 am-noon slot on Sunday, June 11, at the Printers Row Lit Fest in the South Loop, and I’ll be signing and selling copies of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated poetry collection Requiem for David in tent RR, three tents west of State Street on Polk Street. I’m sure there will be billboards pointing to the place. Come on down and say hi!  
June 7, 2017

Like politics, all faith is local

There is a common phrase in American democracy asserting that “All politics is local.” It’s most often attributed to Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, the masterful Massachusetts Democratic Congressman who, from 1977 to 1987, was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Those four words are a cautionary tale to any politician who, caught up in high-flown ideals or the high status of office, forgets to take care of his or her constituents. In 1979, Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic learned this to his chagrin. After a January blizzard dumped 35 inches of snow in a two-day period, he failed to clear the city’s streets and keep the elevated trains operating in all neighborhoods. The result: Bilandic was voted out of office a month later.   All faith The same is true for belief: “All faith is local.” As with politics, the believer has to have ideals. That means working — on a citywide and statewide and national and international level — for moral policies and programs that benefit everyone, particularly those on the margins of society. It’s important to be an activist for peace and justice by voting in a sober, thoughtful way and by taking part in the political dialogue by […]
June 5, 2017

Book review: “The Book of Joan” by Lidia Yuknavitch

In her new novel The Book of Joan, Lidia Yuknavitch creates a central character Joan of Dirt who shares some parallels with the fifteenth-century French heroine and Roman Catholic saint Joan of Arc. Both are named Joan and grow up in Domrémy, France. Yuknavitch calls it by its modern-day name, Domrémy-la-Pucelle, which means Domremy of the Maid, a reference to Joan of Arc. This, though, goes unremarked by Yuknavitch. Indeed, despite the parallels between Joan of Dirt and Joan of Arc, there is no mention in the novel about the historic figure. Joan of Dirt’s story is told by Christine Pizan, a contemporary, while one of the chroniclers of the life of Joan of Arc was her own contemporary, Christine de Pizan. Both Joans, as young girls, begin to hear otherworldly sounds that give direction and meaning to their lives. For Joan of Arc, the sounds were the voices of saints, angels and God. For Joan of Dirt, they were a song — “a hum, like a thousand children hitting the same low note.” Both, as teenage girls, lead armies and win battles, are captured, labeled by the authorities as heretics and burned at the stake.   Killing and dying […]
June 1, 2017

Book review: “Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story” by Christopher Moore

The key scene in Christopher Moore’s 1995 comic novel Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, comes at the end of the first of three sections. In the aftermath of making love for the first time, Jody is trying to convince Tommy that she is a vampire. But he’s not buying it. “I’m a vampire.” “That’s okay,” Tommy said. “I knew this girl in high school who gave me a hickey that covered the whole side of my neck.” “No, Tommy, I’m really a vampire.” She looked him in the eye and did not smile or look away. She waited. He said, “Don’t goof on me, okay?” It goes on like this for another page or so as Jody keeps coming up with ways to show him that she’s, well, not quite human any more, and Tommy isn’t getting it. Then, to prove to him that she can see in the dark, Jody has Tommy open one of Jack Kerouac’s books — Tommy is a would-be writer living in San Francisco, so, of course, he has a copy of Kerouac — and proceeds to read half a page in the total dark of the bedroom. The light starts to dawn in Tommy’s […]
May 30, 2017

Book review: “Called Out: A novel of base ball and America in 1908” by Floyd Sullivan

August Herrmann, president of the Cincinnati Reds, arrived early for a meeting in the New York office of the National League, and he made himself at home. He sat down at a rolltop desk, and, as he chatted with Lenore Caylor of the league staff, he folded back the corners of his parcel “to reveal four long chunks of cooked meat on thick hooflike bones.” Lenore stepped back and put her hand over her mouth. He rubbed his hands together in two quick motions. “Can you believe I had to teach the cook at the Waldorf-Astoria how to properly prepare pigs’ feet? Now let’s see.” He reached into his coat and produced a silver fork, a small wood-handled carving knife, and a bottle of beer…Two brown eggs completed Hermann’s morning feast. He rolled one on the table and began to peel it, dropping the bits of shell onto the butcher paper… Picking up the knife and fork he carved a morsel of meat from one of the pigs’ feet. He closed his eyes as he savored his first bite. He wedged a thumb under the metal collar that held the beer’s cork stopper in place and popped open the bottle. […]
May 26, 2017

Chicago history: The guerilla mural that was The Wall of Respect

The community-based outdoor mural movement, now international in scope, began half a century ago when a collective of African-American artists created “The Wall of Respect” on the side of a two-story tavern building on Chicago’s South Side. That artwork, created in August, 1967, featured the images of more than 50 black heroes and was a revolutionary act that echoed the Black Power rebellion in the streets. “It was a guerilla mural,” said artist Jeff Donaldson in an interview a few months before his death in 2004. “It was a clarion call, a statement of existence of a people. It became a rallying point for a lot of radical things.”   An exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center The Wall is the subject of an exhibit that opened February 25 at the Chicago Cultural Center at 78 E. Washington St. and will continue through July 30. I visited the exhibit recently, and, as you can see, there’s a half-size version of The Wall of Respect covering an entire wall of one room. This image looks real enough that you can easily take a photograph that makes it seem like you’re standing in front of the real thing. Alas, the real Wall is […]
May 22, 2017

Chicago History: Johnny Lindquist update

In response to my op-ed piece in Sunday’s Tribune, I received a number of questions about Johnny Lindquist’s parents. Here’s what I have found out: His biological father Jimmy Lindquist, 57, died in Peoria on March 16, 1999. It appears that he and Johnny’s mother were divorced. His foster father Robert Karvanek, 72, died in Wittenberg, Wisconsin, on February 8, 2003. He and Johnny’s foster mother Florence Karvanek were divorced. His biological mother Irene Lindquist, 60, died in Peoria on January 20, 2007. Robert Karvanek Jr., the other foster son of the Karvaneks, died in Panama City, Florida, on January 27, 2010. Patrick T. Reardon 5.22.17
May 22, 2017

Book review: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

The Women’s Prayvaganzas are for group weddings which is to say arranged marriages. In this one, there are twenty Angels — that’s a military designation for men who are soldiers in units such as the Angels of the Apocalypse and the Angels of Light — and twenty daughters, dressed in white as if for First Communion, behind white veils, some of them as young as fourteen. The leaders of this politico-religious American regime, called Gilead, are known as Commanders, and the Commander in charge recites a prayer that is more of an assertion than anything sacral, although it’s framed as something scriptural, deeply meaningful: “I will that women adorn themselves in modest apparel with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array. “But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. All. “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. “For Adam was first formed, then Eve. “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. “Notwithstanding, she shall be saved by childbearing, if they continue in faith […]
May 16, 2017

Book review: “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin

For twenty-one days in 1959, John Howard Griffin, a white journalist and novelist from Texas, moved through the Deep South as black man. Under a doctor’s care, he took drugs to darken his skin, he laid under a sun lamp and he used dye on the most visible parts of his body: his face, arms and legs. From November 8 through November 28, he spent his days and nights as a black man in Louisiana (New Orleans), Mississippi (Hattiesburg and Biloxi), Alabama (Mobile and Montgomery) and Georgia (Atlanta). Then, for 16 days, he moved back and forth between the black and white worlds, finding ways to tinker with his coloring so that he could pass for white or pass for black as he needed. On December 14, a little more than five weeks after he’d started, he resumed his white identity a final time. I felt strangely sad to leave the world of the Negro after having shared it so long — almost as though I were fleeing my share of his pain and heartache.   “Tenth-rate citizen” Griffin started his experiment in New Orleans, and, initially, he thought that the city’s whites were nicer to blacks than he’d expected. That […]
May 15, 2017

Book review: “The Time Traders” by Andre Norton

Andre Norton was a woman (Alice May Norton), writing as a man in a field dominated by men whose readers were generally teenage boys and young adult men. She knew how it felt to be a misfit, operating in an alien world. During her long 93 years, Norton wrote more than 200 novels of science fiction and, to a lesser extent, fantasy. Her central characters were always misfits of a sort. Such as Ross Murdock, a young troublemaker and minor criminal with a chip on his shoulder about authority.   “A bad little boy” Norton’s 1958 novel The Time Traders begins with Murdock coming before a judge in late 20th century America and, because of his incorrigible nature, facing the likelihood that he will have to undergo “the treatment.” He doesn’t know exactly what “the treatment” is, but he’s heard enough rumors to be afraid of it. Although Murdock is anti-social, he’s far from stupid, and, as he stands before the judge, he’s ready to go into his act: It never paid to talk back, to allow any sign of defiance to show. He would go through the motions as if he were a bad little boy who had realized […]
May 8, 2017

Book review: “The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words – 1000 BC – 1492 AD” by Simon Schama

There is a lot that Simon Schama wants to say in The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words: 1000 BC–1492 AD, the first of a three-volume history. And maybe there’s too much. What I mean is that Schama, a noted historian who is Jewish, is may be too close to his subject. British-born, Schama is an expert in art history, French history and British history, and has written wonderfully erudite and insightful books about such subjects as the French Revolution (Citizens, 1989), the interaction of landscape and culture (Landscape and Memory, 1995), Rembrandt (Rembrandt’s Eyes, 1999), the history of Britain (a three-volume set, 2000-2002), and the slave trade (Rough Crossings, 2005).Here, though, the subject is clearly very personal to him — his people. There are a great deal of penetrating, eye-opening observations in this first volume of The Story of the Jews, and I’ll get to some of those in a bit.   Baroquely intricate and idiosyncratic My problem is that these intriguing understandings of who the Jews have been and what they’ve done and what’s been done to them were often lost, for me, in a text that seemed increasingly to turn in on itself. Schama isn’t the […]
May 1, 2017

Book review: “Joan of Arc and Spirituality,” edited by Ann W. Astell and Bonnie Wheeler

Joan of Arc was a mystic and a saint with a sense of humor. George H. Tavard — the great Catholic theologian and one of the first to take a deeper look into the role of women in the history of the Church — recalls two of her quips in his essay in Joan of Arc and Spirituality, edited by Ann W. Astell and Bonnie Wheeler. It was just after she’d come to the Dauphin to tell him that she would lead his troops to drive back the English and get a crown on his head at Rheims as Charles VII. Understandably, His Royal Highness wanted to be sure he wasn’t being duped by this teenage girl with all her talk about hearing voices. So he convened a meeting of churchmen, one of whom was a Dominican friar. The friar, writes Tavard, “reported that la Pucelle had made fun of his provincial pronunciation when she said that her voices spoke French with a better accent than his.” Three months later, as she and the French army came to Troyes, a Franciscan approached her, made the sign of the cross and splashed her with holy water, to which Joan replied: Approach […]
April 24, 2017

Book review: “Motherprayer: Lessons in Loving” by Barbara Mahany

Kids go to school and learn things like geometry and the Magna Carta and chromosomes and similes and square roots and Franklin D. Roosevelt, but none of their textbooks has much to say about parenting. If educators and the American society that hires them ever see the light and recognize the need for children to learn how to grow up and take care of children, one of the first textbooks in the classroom should be Barbara Mahany’s new Motherprayer: Lessons in Loving. Consider this insight about what it means to take on the job of mothering a child: Motherhood is not for the faint of heart, and the heart needs to triple its size, so it seems, to pack in the requisite vast and infinite wisdom — and patience and sheer calculation and imagination and stamina and worry and second-guessing and, yes, full-throttle pangs of remorse when we get it wrong, time after time. “Mother-ing Day” Yes, we, parents, do get it wrong a lot, but it’s not for want of trying. Motherprayer is a primer on how to think about being a parent, and that’s what’s really important. It’s not a manual for how to raise the brightest or […]