July 19, 2017

Book review: “Joan of Arc: A Self-Portrait,” compiled by Willard Trask

As Willard Trask notes in the Foreword to his 1936 book Joan of Arc: A Self-Portrait, we know the Catholic saint and liberator of France today — 600 years after she was burned at the stake — in a deep and telling and very unusual way. That’s because her actual words and phrases were captured by clerks in two voluminous court records. The first was from her rigged heresy trial. The second was from her nullification trial, held a quarter of a century after her martyrdom at the hands of the English and their allies. The record of the trail contains Joan’s responses to the prosecutors and judges, and the two records hold the recollections of her contemporaries regarding what she said to them or in their hearing during her short 19-year-long life. Trask writes: The possession of these documents places us in an unique position with respect to Joan: we can hear her speak. We have not only what she would tell us, but her very words, in a way that we cannot be sure we have the words even of those who live for us chiefly in what they have spoken — Socrates, say, or Saint Francis. The […]
July 17, 2017

Book review: “The “Dead Sea Scrolls”: A Biography” by John J. Collins

The discovery of 2,000-year-old Biblical and other religious scrolls in a cave near Jericho, just west of the Dead Sea, in 1947, caused a sensation. The excitement only grew as other caves with other ancient writings were found over the next decade. By 1956, some nine hundred documents — some full manuscripts, many only fragments — had been located. Together, they were called the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls may seem to be an unlikely candidate for inclusion in a series on “biographies” of books. The Scrolls are not in fact one book, but a miscellaneous collection of writings…written mostly in Hebrew, with some in Aramaic and a small number in Greek. They date from the last two centuries [BC} and the first century [AD]. So writes John J. Collins, a Yale University expert on the Scrolls, in the preface to The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography, one of 15 books published so far in the delightful Princeton University Press series called Lives of Great Religious Books. Among the spiritual classics that have already been examined in the series are The Tibetan Book of the Dead and The Bhagavad Gita, as well as Mere Christianity by C. S. […]
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 […]