A Zoom Discussion with Carlo Rotella on October 3rd


Carlo Rotella will be joining the Cliff Dwellers book club for a Zoom discussion of his book The World is Always Coming to an End on Saturday, October 3, at 11:00 A.M. The discussion is open to all, and if you would like to participate Email me at richardreeder34@gmail.com and I will send you the access information. The book is part memoir, part urban sociology. It relates Rotella’s story of growing up in two homes located in Chicago’s racially changing South Shore community, which was 90% White in 1960, and by 1980 changed to 95% Black.
The book analyzes why integration failed in South Shore, despite the committed efforts of many, both Black and White people, to make it work. Today the community remains a dichotomy, being above average in Chicago for both PHDs and high school dropouts. There are many lessons to learn from this book. Essential lessons for the hope of Chicago’s distressed communities not only to survive today, but to gather strength to prosper in the future.

2020 Booker Prize Shortlist Announced


The 2020 Booker Prize shortlist is young, diverse, and, for the most part, relatively unknown in the literary world. The shortlist includes four debut novels. Here is the shortlist:
Diane Cook (USA)- Wilderness
Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe)- This Mournable Body
Avni Doshi (USA)- Burnt Sugar
Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia/USA)- The Shadow King
Douglas Stuart (Scotland/USA)- Shuggie Bain
Brandon Taylor (USA)- Real Life

Archaic Words and Phrases From the Jazz Age


Recently I have been reading vignettes from Ben Hecht’s “1001 Afternoons in Chicago,” a compilation of some of Hecht’s daily newspaper columns written in 1921 and 1922 for the Chicago Daily News. I keep on finding words and phrases from these near century old columns that have pretty much passed out of usage today in both conversation and writing. I would like to share ten of these and their meanings with you. How many of these are you familiar with?

ballyhoo- a noisy attention-getting demonstration or talk.
bounder- a man of objectionable social behavior.
bunk- insincere or foolish talk; nonsense.
four-flush- to make a false claim.
frowzy- having a slovenly appearance.
galumphing- moving with a clumsy heavy tread.
gewgaw- a showy trifle; trinket
his nobs- a man of importance, used in a derisively mocking way.
juniper juice- gin (the liquor).
wigwag- to make a signal (as by waving a hand or arm).

Ronny’s: The Sad End of the Democratization of Steak in Chicago

I just learned today that Ronny’s Steak House just closed its one and only downtown location in the State of Illinois building. At one time, Ronny’s had six locations in Chicago, scattered strategically downtown. Ronny’s was what one might call a steakateria, a place that you took a tray and silverware and grabbed a place in line to place your order, while food was being dished out to you from staff behind the counter.
Ronny’s opened in 1963, the year that I began my studies at Roosevelt University. I ate there a lot then, and for many years afterwards, as I studied and worked downtown. Ronny’s was a cheap place to eat. In 1963, you could get a steak, baked potato, and a piece of garlic bread for a buck and quarter. In truth, it wasn’t much of a steak. It was thin, overcooked, and fatty, but still it was steak.
Ronny’s fulfilled one aspect of the American Dream, where steak would be affordable for all the people. Office workers, students, tourists, and even panhandlers on a good day would mingle in line, striking up conversations while waiting for our steaks. Ronny’s represented the democratization of the steak for Americans regardless of income, national origin, or color of skin.
Now, during the pandemic, the office workers, students, and tourists are absent from downtown. There are still plenty of panhandlers, but times are so bad for them that they can’t even beg enough to afford a meal at a cheap a steak house. Ronny’s knew that the time had arrived to close its doors for good.

William Trevor

William Trevor, the County Cork Irishman who spent most of his adult life living in England, was one of the greatest short story writers ever. He is in a league with the likes of Chekhov, Joyce, Faulkner, Munro, and Singer. During the last few weeks, I have read fifty of his short stories, and I was amazed, without exception, how quickly I got into the story, usually by the second or third paragraph. Once into it, I was riveted on the plot and characters until the story’s end.
Trevor touches on so many different characters and situations. There is the old farmer in rural Ireland who has no one to take over the farm that has been in the family for generations. There are those brilliant and heartbreaking stories of the antagonists on both sides of the Troubles. He has marvelous depictions of the loneliness of men and women coping with their problems in the urbanity of London and Dublin as well as the remote cottages of County Meath. And that just barely touches the surface of his great imaginative range.
Give yourself a literary treat and pick up a collection of his short stories soon.

Ralph Ellison on the Harlem Riots of 1943

I have been reading Arnold Rampersad’s excellent biography of Ralph Ellison in preparation for my upcoming October seminar at the Glencoe Library on Invisible Man. Rampersad’s discussion of Ellison’s personal observations as a witness to the Harlem race riots in 1943 caught my attention in light of recent events in Chicago. The quotes from Ellison are from on article that appeared in the New York Post on August 3, 1943.
Rampersad writes that Ellison was stunned by the bizarre, even surrealistic juxtaposition of behaviors among the rioters. A crowd of looters paused long enough from their stealing to buy bottles of milk from a passing truck. One man disavowed being a member of the mob. He hadn’t stolen anything, he pointed out. ‘I just broke windows.’ A woman declared the event ‘a colored man’s New Year.’ A group of black boys put on blonde wigs, silk hats, and other formal wear ‘and danced in the streets.’ Toting stolen boxes of soap powder, a man explained truculently, ‘I gotta keep clean ain’t I?’….He witnessed attempts by law-abiding folks to console shop owners. Mainly, however, the dominant vision was of chaos.

Anne Tyler Seeks Her First Booker Prize

I am pulling for Anne Tyler to win this year’s Booker Prize for “Redhead by the Side of the Road.” She is certainly one of the grand dames of the American literary scene at age 78. She has written 23 novels, three of which have been nominated for a National Book Award, one, “Breathing Lessons,” won a Pulitzer Prize, and one, “A Spool of Blue Thread,” was previously shortlisted for the Booker in 2015. I have been an avid reader of hers for nearly forty years, having read 18 of her novels. Why do I keep coming back to her?
The answer is simply that she gives me pure reading pleasure. Her books, most of them set in Baltimore and its environs, always have an interesting plot, but the real strength of her writing is her marvelous protagonists, all variations of a quirky Everyman or Everywoman.
The Everyman in her last novel, “Redhead by the Side of the Road,” is Micah Mortimer, an IT repair guy who doubles up as a super for a small Baltimore apartment building. Like so many of Tyler’s main characters, Micah has made poor decisions regarding both love and career. We meet him in the novel where he has attained creature of habit status, a middle-aged man set in his ways.
The Booker competition, as always, is intense. Especially this year, as Hilary Mantel strives to become the first-ever winner of three Bookers. There is a nice short video on this year’s longlist on http://www.thebookerprizes.com.

A Conversation about “The Loop” and its “L” Tracks

I have always considered Patrick Reardon to be a great Chicago writer. He writes about the city with knowledge and insight, as well as having an intense passion and concern for it. He has a new book coming out soon, entitled “The Loop: The “L” Tracks That Shaped and Saved Chicago.” His first interview about the book will be on the radio show Playtime with Bill Turck and Kerri Kendall this coming Sunday afternoon at 1:15.
You can tune in online on Facebook at WCGO radio and streaming at WCGO.com. It can also be heard by anyone in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin at AM 1590.
According to Mr. Reardon “this is the first book to tell the rich story about the impact of the elevated Loop on Chicago and on the city’s development, on the city as a physical place and as an idea. Indeed, it’s the single most important structure in the city’s history.”
I have been asked to join the conversation that day, talking about the social and cultural aspects of the passengers riding the “L” into the Loop, which I highlighted in my book “1001 Train Rides in Chicago.”
I hope that you can tune into what promises to be an informative and lively conversation.

Wrigley Field-7/19/20 (A Poem)

Slick pick-up, Javy!
Nice smash, Timmy!

An aura of eeriness pervades this hallowed baseball ground as the game is played.
I wonder what Gabby or Ernie would say if they were still around?

Missing are the beckoning calls of the beer vendors and the wafting aroma of hot dogs,
absent are the special cheers and jeers that only exit the mouths of baseball’s true believers.

The thud of the ball landing securely in the mitt is louder than usual,
the batter and catcher can even hear the umpire’s broom as it whisks the plate.

Empty boxes. Empty grandstands. Empty bleachers.

Wrigley Field has never seen the likes of this before.

The Never Ending Journey of Dorothy Parker’s Ashes

When Dorothy Parker died in 1967, her modest estate (about $40,000) was willed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the cause of civil rights in America. When Dr. King was assassinated the following year, the estate was transferred to the NAACP. Ms. Parker’s cremains remained in the Manhattan apartment of Lillian Hellman, the executor of her estate, for seventeen years, until she died in 1984. Then, Hellman’s lawyer, Paul O’Dwyer, kept Ms. Parker’s cremains for three years in a file cabinet in his Manhattan office. Finally, the cremains were claimed by the NAACP in 1987, who buried them in a garden outside of a business park in Baltimore where its national headquarters was located.
A plaque was placed over her burial plot the next year. It read: “Here lie the Ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), Humorist, Writer, Critic, Defender of Human and Civil Rights. For her epitaph she suggested ‘excuse my dust.’ This memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind, and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between Black and Jewish People.”
Now we learn that the NAACP is moving its national headquarters to Washington, D. C. Will the cremains be exhumed and moved to Washington as well, or stay in Baltimore? Or perhaps be moved somewhere else? At this moment, nobody seems to know.