I was saddened to learn that Rochelle Distelheim recently passed away. I met Rochelle two years ago this summer at Max and Benny’s. She gave me her book, Sadie in Love, which she called her labor of love. She had been working on it for a long time. Now at age 90, Rochelle was thrilled that it, her first novel, had been finally published.
Rochelle invited me to read the book and come to her upcoming presentation at The Book Stall, the wonderful independent bookstore in Winnetka. She mentioned that she would like to present at our book series at Max and Benny’s in the future, but she would like me “to see her in action” before I commit to that.
I read Sadie in Love, and absolutely loved it. Set on the Lower East Side of New York City in the early 1900s, the book captivated me. It was a bittersweet tale of a widow’s trials and tribulations, and her search for love.
The book was carefully crafted. And why shouldn’t it be? Rochelle had an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at the University of Illinois and a master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill. She had published short stories in journals and anthologies. She had taught Creative Writing at Mundelein College.
Rochelle’s event at the bookstore was packed. It turned out that she had been involved in several writers’ groups, over the years, on the North Shore. Many of her writer friends and colleagues came out to see and support her as she discussed her labor of love.
A few days after the event, I received a lovely handwritten note from Rochelle. She thanked me for attending and informed me that she sold 103 books that day at The Book Stall. Needless to say, I booked her for the first available opening at Max and Benny’s about six months later in February 2019.
The format for the Max and Benny’s event was a conversation between Rochelle and me. I became aware that the projection of Rochelle’s voice was not as strong as it was last August. Yet, Rochelle’s intelligence, charm and humor came through loud and clear, and the full house at the restaurant thoroughly enjoyed the lively conversation.
Right before the onset of the pandemic, I received another note from Rochelle indicating that her second novel, Jerusalem as a Second Language, was going to be published this fall. We confirmed a date for our next literary salon, a term that she preferred, in late October.
Well Rochelle, that literary salon will not take place. But your life was truly an inspiration to me and so many others. I am honored to have known you. You were, like your beloved Sadie, a lady of great character and substance. Your memory will always be a blessing.
This year we celebrated Bloomsday in Dublin, and it was wondrous and oh so much fun. We began our day early in the morning at an 8:00 breakfast and performances of snippets of episodes from Ulysses at the James Joyce Centre. The actors were in rare form, and the forty of us in the room were simply enthralled with delight by the meanderings and shenanigans of Molly, Poldy and Stephen. Even the serious-faced Lord Mayor of Dublin, sitting at an adjacent table, occasionally broke out with a smile and a laugh.
Immediately after leaving the Joyce Centre, we caught a train to the town of Sandycove, a suburb of Dublin which is the home to the Martello Tower that is featured in Chapter 1 of Ulysses. Now the tower serves as a Ulysses-themed museum year-round, with readings from the book scheduled on its deck for most of Bloomsday.
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Jules Breton’s painting, The Song of the Lark, which hangs in a corridor at the Art Institute in Chicago, has been an inspiration for many over the years. The painting inspired Willa Cather’s fictional aspiring opera singer Thea Kronberg so much, that the novel of Thea’s story was entitled The Song of the Lark.
Thea felt “that was her picture. She imagined that nobody cared for it but herself, and that it waited for her……..The flat country, the early morning light, the wet fields, the look in the girl’s heavy face—–well, they were all hers, anyhow, whatever was there.”
Eleanor Roosevelt unveiled the painting at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934 as the winner of the Chicago Daily News contest for the ‘most beloved work of art in America.” The First Lady also admitted that it was her favorite painting.
The comedian Bill Murray claims that the painting helped get him out of an emotional funk in Chicago during a troublesome time early on in his career. He said, “there’s a girl who doesn’t have a whole lot of prospects, but the sun’s coming up anyway and she’s got another chance at it……….So I think that gave me some sort of feeling that I too am a person and I get another chance every day the sun comes up.”
Cornelius Ryan’s book, The Longest Day, was published in 1959, and I read it as a teenager. Then, I was swept away by this heroic tale of the soldiers taking part in the first day of the Allied Normandy Invasion. When I reread it as an adult many years later, I came to realize that The Longest Day was perhaps the greatest book of journalistic non-fiction that I had ever read. Mr. Ryan passed away in 1974, but each year, the journalists of the Overseas Press Club of America give “The Cornelius Ryan Award” to the journalist who has written the “best nonfiction book on international affairs.” Let us commemorate these D-Day heroes for their service and sacrifice, and do not forget Cornelius Ryan who so admirably chronicled their valor.