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 […]