June 23, 2016

Book review: “Practical Demonkeeping” by Christopher Moore

Okay. Christopher Moore is funny. Silly. Delightfully loopy. Practical Demonkeeping is the story of a man- and woman-eating demon named Catch who descends on the town of Pine Cove with his human master-slave Travis, a former seminarian who…, well, it’s complicated. The story also features Gian Hen Gian, the king of the genies, and enough wacky and goofy characters to fill an entire network schedule of weekly comedies. But these people deserve more than to be homogenized on TV. They deserve Moore, and he does his best by them. Yes, the plot of this comic novel is convoluted, to say the least. To make it into a movie, you’d have to cut out maybe two-thirds of it, and your problem would be to figure out which one-third you wanted to keep. It’s all pretty daffy.   Wonderfully odd But it wouldn’t work. Christopher Moore’s comedy is similar to that of Terry Pratchett — which isn’t to say they’re a lot alike. They are alike in the way their books hinge on their voices, their oddly wonderful and wonderfully odd way of looking at life. Several attempts have been made to convert Pratchett novels into movies, and all of them have […]
June 20, 2016

Book review: “Everything Explained That Is Explainable: On the Creation of the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Celebrated Eleventh Edition, 1910-1911” by Denis Boyles

Pity the poor publisher. Knopf had a great manuscript on its hands from Denis Boyles, but how to market it? The solution was a book cover and title that were tantalizing in their seeming quaintness. The jacket is a sober red with images at the left side and right corners to give the appearance of the physical front of an old book. The text fonts are sober, but not too sober, as befit a title that hints at something not quite evident: Everything Explained That Is Explainable: On the Creation of the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Celebrated Eleventh Edition, 1910-1911. The combination of the title and cover skate right to the edge of implying a book that would be terribly boring, but those words Everything Explained push the possible book-buyer in the other direction. We live in an age when attempts are made all the time to try to explain everything, but they never succeed. In our era, everything is in flux, and our understanding of everything is tentative. Is it good to be skinny or bad? How does the economy work? Whence Donald Trump? Whither democracy? The Boyles book is packaged in the hope that it will intrigue a potential reader […]
June 16, 2016

Book review: “Chicago: The Second City” by A.J. Liebling

A.J. Liebling, that caustic, sarcastic, witty New Yorker magazine writer, was no fan of Chicago as he made clear in his 1952 book Chicago: The Second City. Consider his sardonic description of the cityscape: Seen from the taxi, on the long ride in from the airport, the place looked slower, shabbier, and, in defiance of all chronology, older than New York. There was an outer-London dinginess to the streets; the low buildings, the industrial plants, and the railroad crossings at grade produced less the feeling of being in a great city than of riding through an endless succession of factory-town main streets. The transition to the Loop and its tall buildings was abrupt, like entering a walled city. I found it beguilingly medieval. Not that he was much taken with the Loop which, as a downtown, was too small and too congested for his taste: the heart of the city, as small in proportion of [the city’s] gross body as a circus fat lady’s. He much preferred New York and London with their theaters, stores, banks and office buildings “strung out” over an area a good five miles in length.   A good reporter Even so, Liebling was a very […]
June 9, 2016

Book review: “The Book of ‘Job’: A Biography” by Mark Larrimore

Job is one of the oddest books in the Bible — odd in a scary way, in an unsettling way, in a faith-shaking way. Job is a rich man who is a devout believer in God. But, up in heaven, one of the multitudes in attendance to the Most High — a being called a “satan” (an adversary, a kind of prosecuting attorney) who, in many interpretations, is identified as the Satan — tells the Lord that Job is only devout because he’s received so many blessings. This satan argues that Job will curse the Lord if he loses his blessings, so, as a test, God gives the satan permission to afflict the faithful follower in any way, except taking his life. So, the satan kills all of Job’s children and wipes away his wealth. Job responds: “The Lord has given, and the Lord takes away.” Then, the satan inflicts a terrible disease upon Job. But still the man remains steadfast in his faith in God. Then, a new worse affliction arrives — three friends who, in their turn, tell Job that he must be a great sinner to have suffered so much at God’s hand. Job, knowing his innocence, […]
June 8, 2016

Book review: “Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed” by Charles B. Strozier with Wayne Soini

As 1840 drew to a close and during the first month of 1841, Abraham Lincoln was “crazy as a loon,” according to his law partner and biographer William Herndon. For the second time in Lincoln’s life, his friends feared that he would commit suicide. They “had to remove razors from his room — take away all Knives and other such dangerous things,” recalled his friend Joshua Speed. Twenty years later, in the White House, Lincoln himself referred to that time while discussing with Speed his pride at writing the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in Confederate-held territory: At the time of his deep depression he said to me that he had ‘done nothing to make any human being remember that he had lived,’ and that to connect his name with the events transpiring in his day and generation, and so impress himself upon them as to link his name with something that would redound to the interest of his fellow man, was what he desired to live for. He…said with earnest emphasis, “I believe that in this measure …my fondest hopes will be realized.”   His most important friendship No figure from U.S. history has been studied and analyzed and scrutinized […]
June 6, 2016

Book review: “The Serpent of Venice” by Christopher Moore

The diminutive and aptly named Pocket — court jester of the late lamented (and demented) King Lear of Britain and then consort to the (alas) also late Cordelia, Queen of France, England, Spain, etc., and her envoy to 13th-century Venice to block an effort to launch a Crusade to recapture Jerusalem and rain profits galore on greedy Venetian entrepreneurs — is having a bad day. A really bad day. After has spent weeks of trying to kill himself, a cabal of three said entrepreneurs is trying to do that for him. Not only that, but, first, they feel compelled to tell him that, no, his lovely and beloved Cordelia didn’t die of a fever — they poisoned her. And, now, having doped him with a spiked bottle of wine, they have strung him up by chains in a particularly awkward position on a wall over an open sewer in a deep subbasement of the home of one of the businessmen. Not only that, but, as he’s watched, one of them has taken the time to build a solid brick wall to enclose him in hidden space where he hangs in the soggy dark (the water level rises and falls with the […]
June 1, 2016

Book review: “How to Read the Bible” by Harvey Cox

In How to Read the Bible, influential Protestant theologian Harvey Cox tells about a Biblical scholar who was teaching a course in the books of Exodus and Joshua. The stories of the Israelites rising up out of slavery in Egypt and finding themselves a home in the Promised Land, she told the class, are celebrations of freedom and liberation. “Yes,” said one of her students, “but what about the Canaanites?” Ah, yes, those pesky Canaanites, the people who had been living on the land before the Israelites showed up and took it. And killed them. They were the Bible’s version of Native Americans.   “Gott mit uns” This is an example of the complexity of the Bible, a theme that the Harvard-based Cox emphasizes on virtually every page of his 2015 book. The book of Genesis, for instance, is very different from, say, the Psalms or the Acts of the Apostles. Some books, such as the Song of Songs, are poetry. Others, such as St. Paul’s Epistles, instruct the reader in how to live a good life. That’s not at all the point of the Book of Joshua which is an attempt by the Jewish people to understand their special […]
May 31, 2016

Book review: “Fool” by Christopher Moore

Pocket is a randy fool. That’s not a comment on his intelligence. It’s his job. Well, the fool part is. He’s a court jester. But not just any court jester. He’s the fool for King Lear, and Christopher Moore’s Fool (2009) is a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear. But with laughs. There are certainly a lot of laughs in Fool which is not to say that the blood, gore, betrayal, eye-gouging, storm-raging and all those delightful aspects of the Bard’s play that you know and love are missing. Not at all. They’re there all right, as well as a violent backstory that Moore has developed that involves rape and rape — those royals have something of a one-track mind — and the walling-up of an inconvenient relative. Oh, and a goodly number of bastards. And the witches from Macbeth, and lines from The Merchant of Venice and other sacred Shakespeare works. And even reference to that great work Green Eggs and Hamlet.   Full-blooded slapstick But you’re not going to want to read Fool for Moore’s literary analysis. You’ll want it for its full-blooded, slapstick depiction of life in a 13th century Britain, filled with a doddering old ruler, a […]
May 25, 2016

Book review: “Some Recollections of a Busy Life” by T. S. Hawkins, with an introduction by Dave Eggers

T.S. Hawkins was enamored of the ability of some men to make a bull whip crack like a pistol and keep a team of oxen in order. Accordingly, he watched them closely and figured he’d caught on to the trick. [S]o giving my whip a mighty twirl through the air, I brought it back just as they did, but instead of the wonderful report I was expecting, the lash coiled itself a half-dozen times around my neck. At first I felt sure it had taken my head off, but when I found it still on, I carefully unwound the lash and swore a mighty oath never, never to try again. Hawkins tells this story in Some Recollections of a Busy Life which he published privately in 1913 and now has been reissued by McSweeney’s with an introduction by Dave Eggers, his great-great grandson. Eggers is to be thanked for giving this book new life, but I wish he hadn’t repurposed a New Yorker essay of his as the book’s 27-page introduction. It keeps the reader from getting to Hawkins right away, steals a bit of his forebear’s thunder and isn’t always accurate. For instance, when Hawkins was growing up, his […]
May 23, 2016

Book review: “The Ages of Lulu” by Almudena Grandes, translated by Sonia Soto

What’s striking about the 1989 erotic novel The Ages of Lulu by Spanish writer Almudena Grandes is how old-fashioned it is. Yes, yes, there are all those sex scenes in which the Lulu of the title is involved in dizzying combinations of coupling. And tripling. And so on. But it’s a story with a good old-fashioned moral. Actually three of them: First, husband (who is a brother figure and a father figure) knows best. Second, an adult woman left to her own devices who chases sex for pleasure is going to end up in ruins. Third, a woman just wants to be treated like a child.   “Innocence” On the final page of the novel, after Lulu has been saved by her husband from a fate worse than death or, at least, pretty bad — a dominatrix was coming at Lulu with a red-hot hook to do some mischief Pablo’s troops arrived — she is back in his bed, recovering from the welts and bruises of her final foray alone into the forbidden. I tried to pretend I was fast asleep but my lips gradually curled into a smile of newly recovered innocence. That’s not innocence as in purity. It’s innocence […]
May 17, 2016

Book review: “The Looking Glass War” by John le Carre

Published in 1965, John le Carre’s spy novel The Looking Glass War arrived at and helped bring about the beginning of the end of romantic notions about our spies being better than their spies in terms of morality and righteousness. No one pretends to believe such notions today, more than half a century later. And no one is surprised when, yet again, the sins of one side’s spies are exposed and seem pretty much as bad as the sins of the other side. Choose your poison. The Looking Glass War is a novel of profound disillusionment, As a spy in the book says before leaving on his assignment, operating during the cold war is much different than it was operating in World War II: “Nobody wins this one, do they?”   “Discover God” This is a novel of questions which, at their heart, all come down to: Why do we do it? There is, throughout the book, a lust for a faith that will not tarnish, as in this scene in which the group leader is outlining the plans of an operation: Avery knew he would never forget that morning, how they had sat at the farmhouse table like sprawling […]
May 16, 2016

Book review: “Daybreak — 2250 A.D.” by Andre Norton

I wish I could say that Daybreak – 2250 A.D. by Andre Norton has great literary merit. But it doesn’t. It was one of the first novels in the aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to grapple with the idea of what the world would look like after a global nuclear war. But it’s overlooked and ignored now, although it helped pave the way for scores of books and films that came after, such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I could tell you that, to my mind, it’s the best of the more than 200 novels that Norton published during her 93-year-long life. But that doesn’t say a lot. She was never much of a stylist. No, I love Daybreak – 2250 A.D. because it’s a captivating adventure story with psychological themes that resonated deeply with me when I first read it in 1960 at the age of 10 and that still resonate with me when I re-read the book every few years or so. I refuse to call this a guilty pleasure.  Although no literary gem, it’s not a bad book. It’s a good book.   Opened a door Maybe you have a […]
May 12, 2016

Book review: “SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome” by Mary Beard

One night in Asculum in 91 BC, the crowd at the theater was made up of Romans and people from the town and other parts of Italy that were allied with Rome. That alliance, though, was fraying, and a four-year conflict, known as the Social War or the War of the Allies, was about to break out. Tensions were high. One comic performer took the stage, and, as was his schtick, he made fun of Rome. Bad move. The Romans in the audience got so mad that they attacked him on stage. And killed him. Then, it was the turn of the next comic to come out, a comic whose routine, a great favorite of Roman audiences, ridiculed the country bumpkins outside of city. Fearing that the other part of the theater crowd would take out their own anger on him, he pleaded: “I’m not a Roman either. I travel throughout Italy searching for favors by making people laugh and giving pleasure. So spare the swallow, which the gods allow to nest safely in all your houses!” It worked. The comic did his act and survived. But there was a bloody postscript, as Mary Beard writes in SPQR: A History […]
May 10, 2016

Book review: “Sor Juana’s Love Poems/Poemas De Amor” by Sor Juana Ines de La Cruz, translated by Joan Larkin & Jaime Manrique

On one of the first pages of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Dolly Oblonsky is packing to leave her womanizing husband and is described as taking something out of an open chest of drawers. That’s how one translation has it, but, while researching a story about translations for the Chicago Tribune, I had occasion to compare this scene in six English language versions of the masterpiece. What I found was that other translators identified this piece of furniture differently — variously, as an open bureau, as an open wardrobe, and as an open chiffonier. In the original Russian, it was the same word, but it was transformed into English in these four different ways. Translation is always a dicey proposition. Talk to translators, and they’ll tell you that it’s an art, not a science. It’s not a mathematical equation but an interpretation. And, if one Russian word for a piece of furniture can result in such varied responses by translators, how much greater variance is implicit in the translation of poetry? For instance, how would one translate The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot into another language? Orthese lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins: I caught this morning morning’s minion, king- dom of […]
May 3, 2016

Book review: “The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation” by Natalie Y. Moore

In The South Side, WBEZ reporter Natalie Y. Moore examines the myriad ways in which the lives of African-Americans in the Chicago region are limited, constrained, stifled and lessened by segregation. She focuses on her home territory of the city’s South Side where she grew up, went to school and now lives, but her analysis fits the West Side as well. It’s also relevant for the other portions of the seven-county metropolitan area where blacks live concentrated together and set apart, particularly many near western and near southern suburbs. And, of course, for much of the nation, as her subtitle A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation notes. Segregation [Moore writes] is crippling because it’s the common denominator in innumerable challenges in black communities, from housing to jobs to food access to education to violence. Moore tells the history of how racial segregation came about here and considers a variety of ways through which it might be reversed. Much of what she describes has been detailed many times before by social scientists, by newspaper reporters and by groups, such as the Chicago Urban League, devoted to better race relations.   Back in the local conversation What’s particularly important about The […]
April 29, 2016

Book review: “First Love” & “Look for My Obituary,” two novellas by Elena Garro

The first love in Elena Garro’s novella First Love isn’t exactly what you might expect. For one thing, it isn’t about teenagers nor about the sweaty, fevered lust that love can be. For another, it involves Siegfried, a 20-year-old German prisoner-of-war, still in custody after the recently ended World War II, and Barbara, who is at least 30 and has her daughter, maybe 10, who is walking near the two when the discussion of first love takes place. Indeed, it is from the daughter’s point of view that the scene unfolds this way: Suddenly, she glanced back and saw the outline of Siegfried and her mother as they shone brilliantly against the darkness, as if a halo circled around their blond hair and their golden bodies tanned by the sun. They were very far behind… “Barbara, you are my first love,” said Siegfried, with eyes cast down, as his friends walked far ahead. “And you are the first person to love me,” Barbara answers, almost ashamed, as she stood in front of that young man who looked upon her with such intensity.” Siegfried is one of seven German POWs whom Barbara and her daughter, also named Barbara, have befriended in […]
April 26, 2016

Book review: “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis

On Christmas Day, 1937, the family of Doremus Jessup is enjoying a festive afternoon in their Vermont home with friends, including shop-owner Louis Rotenstern, a Jewish bachelor. Suddenly, there’s a loud knocking at the door, and five white-uniformed paramilitary Minute Men tromp in to take Rotenstern away to a concentration camp. This scene occurs about two-thirds of the way through Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here. Already, Lewis has described how Senator Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, an entertainingly folksy, fun-poking Democrat has bested Franklin D. Roosevelt for the party’s nomination and then won the White House in 1936. As president, Windrip has moved quickly to reorganize the government and impose strict controls on citizens as “emergency” measures, granting official status and wide latitude to the Minute Men. The government has been redefined as a totalitarian Corporate State, with all traditional parties eliminated. Lewis writes: There was to be only one: The American Corporate State and Patriotic Party — no! added the President, with something of his former good-humor: “there are two parties, the Corporate and those who don’t belong to any party at all, and so, to use a common phrase, are just out of luck!”   Anywhere Now, less […]
April 20, 2016

Book review: “A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination” by Philip Shenon

Over the last half century, scores and probably hundreds of books have been published about the 1963 assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and its investigation by the Warren Commission. Many of these have been fueled with overheated prose and wide-eyed paranoia and have propounded conspiracy theories upon conspiracy theories. Yet, after reading a several of the more meticulous of those books, including most recently Philip Shenon’s 2013 A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination, I keep going back to what I’ve thought all along. Lee Harvey Oswald, a loner and a perpetual malcontent, acted alone when he put a rifle to his shoulder on November 22, 1963, and fired three shots, killing Kennedy and wounding Texas Gov. John Connally. Why? It all comes down to human nature. Lee Harvey Oswald was a mope. He didn’t work with people. He didn’t work for people. He didn’t live his beliefs. He didn’t have any beliefs, really, except that he should be famous and important. He had a mother who was crazy as a loon, and he lived his whole live as a scream for attention. He got it. Consider this: When he began the handwritten journal […]
April 13, 2016

Book review: “The Discworld Graphic Novels: The Colour of Magic & The Light Fantastic” by Terry Pratchett

I’ve written before about the difficulty of translating Terry Pratchett’s funny, witty, silly, insightful, wacky and clear-eyed novels into other art media. A year and a half ago, I saw a wonderfully entertaining version of Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment at Lifeline Theatre here in Chicago, but I’ve been underwhelmed by television and feature-length movie versions of several of his books.   What worked with the Lifeline presentation was, first of all, that it was a top-notch production with a great amount of talent and gusto. Also important, I think, was that it was on stage with real human beings moving through the story. Unlike a television show or a movie, a play doesn’t purport to be realistic. These are people here in front of another set of people, the one group pretending to be someone else and the other suspending disbelief to pretend that the characters of the story are actually there in front of them.   The problem The problem with television or movie versions is that, by their nature, they seem realistic, even if told from a fantasy point of view. In a stage play, we see people pretending to be other people, but, in a video version, the […]
April 5, 2016

Book review: “The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro

Many reviewers were flummoxed last year when they tried to come to grips with Kazuo Ishiguro’s seventh novel The Buried Giant. A lot of readers are likely to have the same reaction. That seems to be Ishiguro’s goal — the creation of a story and a world where logic and clarity exist only in pieces, like shards of a stained-glass window fallen to the ground. This novel is set in post-Roman, post-King Arthur England, on a landscape populated by Britons, Saxons and Picts, as well as ogres, pixies and one greatly feared she-dragon Querig. Of course, there’s also that buried giant of the title. Yet, The Buried Giant is no historical fantasy. There is nothing quaint and picturesque about the novel. No cute sidekicks, no noble quests. Neither does it truck in horror. The humans in this story are fearful of Querig and the other mythical creatures who share the same patch of geography, but they take them in stride, as a modern American would recognize the possibility of an armed robbery in certain places and take sensible precautions.   “A low growl” True, there is a Saxon warrior, Wistan, who has been given the job by his king to […]
March 29, 2016

Book review: “A Distant Heartbeat: A War, a Disappearance, and a Family’s Secrets” by Eunice Lipton

In the jagged, inscrutable ways of families, Eunice Lipton’s A Distant Heartbeat is a love story. It is a love story that encompasses affection, loss, flight, innocence, competition, anger, sex, idealism, arrogance, fear, courage, longing, martyrdom and betrayal. It centers on Lipton’s uncle Dave who, in 1938, at the age of 22, snuck away from his Jewish family’s New York City life to volunteer to serve with other American Communists in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. Three months after arriving to fight for the Republic against the fascist forces of General Francisco Franco, he was dead. One of Dave’s friends later told Lipton: I was checking our position at the front  when Dave walked over toward me asking if he could return to his regular squad. Just as I yelled to him to get down, he was struck by a sniper’s bullet sinking slowly to the ground in front of me.   “Like a religious act” This was before Lipton, who is a friend of mine, was born. Yet, even as a child, she quickly found that Dave’s death — his absence — was a mysterious presence at the psychic center of her family of first […]
March 16, 2016

Book review: “The Familiar Epistles of Coll. Henry Martin, Found in His Misses Cabinet”

She wasn’t his wife, but Henry Marten loved Mary Ward, the mother of their three young daughters whom he called endearingly his “pretty brats,” his “biddies” and, after a bout of illness, his “pocky rogues.” Ward, as he told her over and over again in dozens of letters, was “my own sweet Love and Heart, and Dear and Soul.”   Theirs was a love story that took place more than three and a half centuries ago, and, like most love stories in human history, it would have been lost forever following their deaths — but for two quirks, one historical and one technological.   Familiar LETTERS In the mid-17th century, during the English Civil Wars, Marten, whose name was also spelled Martin, was a Member of Parliament who sided with the Roundheads against King Charles I and his Cavaliers, raising a regiment of soldiers and earning the title of Colonel. Along with Oliver Cromwell and about 80 other leading Parliamentarians, he took part in the conviction and execution of the King in 1649. The tables of political power in the nation turned, however, and, just a decade later, when the king’s son Charles II was restored to power, Marten found himself […]
March 8, 2016

Book review: “Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin” by Timothy Snyder

Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin is a monumental, heavily detailed, ground-breaking and deeply humane look at the political murder of 14 million people by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany from 1932 through 1945. Published in 2010, it is a bludgeon of a book, brutally direct and honest and unflinching. It is also a keening elegy for the dead whose tragedy it was to find themselves inside a portion of Europe that was occupied by invaders from the Soviet Union or Germany or, worse case, both. It is an elegy for the millions of men, women and children who were starved to death so food could be exported to boost the Soviet balance of trade or to feed German soldiers, and shot to death as they stood at the edge of body-filled pits, and gassed to death in one of the five death factories, or killed in a multitude of other ways for a multitude of policy reasons. Killed for the sin of being where they were. and being Jewish or Polish or Ukrainian or a prisoner of war or a farmer or just handy to serve as a target for a reprisal for a resistance attack. […]
March 2, 2016

Three times a great read — an appreciation of “Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis” by Harold M. Mayer and Richard C. Wade

Back in the mid-1970s, when I was a newly minted reporter, I covered Chicago’s City Hall for a while. I remember that, at news conferences, Mayor Richard J. Daley, the first of the Mayor Daleys, would talk about the suburbs as “country towns,” as if they were these quaint, almost fanciful places. This, at a time when the suburban population was nearly equal to that of the city. Today, there are twice as many suburbanites as Chicagoans. It was around the same time that I started using as a key reference work the 1969 book Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis by geographer Harold M. Mayer and historian Richard C. Wade. If I needed to know about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, I’d look in Mayer-Wade. The reversal of the flow of the Chicago River? Mayer-Wade. The 1909 Plan of Chicago? Mayer-Wade. The book, filled with more than 900 photographs and dozens of maps, has a text that is direct and to the point. And, unlike that first Mayor Daley, the authors weren’t Chicago-centric. They viewed the city in the context of its region — the rest of Cook County and the five collar counties: DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry. […]
February 23, 2016

Book review: “Manhole Covers,” text by Mimi Melnick, photographs by Robert A. Melnick

Manhole covers are beautiful. There, I’ve said it. Just give them a look. I mean, really look at them. You’ll agree. Take these six from Manhole Covers, the 1994 book by Mimi Melnick with photos by her husband Robert. Look at the one on the top right. It looks like a rose window on the front wall of a cathedral, doesn’t it? They were created out of the same spirit. Like the other five, this one was created to sit inside a rim in the pavement of a street or sidewalk as the door to a hole six to 18 feet deep, leading down to a sewer or maybe a clump of electrical wires or any of a variety of other underground systems that, out of sight, out of mind, serve the modern metropolis. These six covers, like all of their sort, had to fit snugly in their rims. They had to be easy for workers with the right tools to open. And they had to have some sort of height difference across their surface so that, originally, horses and, later, autos and other motorized vehicles wouldn’t slip and slide on their metal surface as if across a patch of […]