Since I will be teaching a course on Chekhov’s short stories in a few months, I recently went to my local public library searching for a biography of this great Russian writer. There was only one biography available, tersely titled Chekhov by Henri Troyat. I wanted the book to give me background on Chekhov’s family and friends, education and his careers as both a writer and a physician. My expectation was that it would be an encyclopedic read, full of facts, with some informative anecdotes sprinkled in throughout the pages.
What I found in Troyat’s biography was a beautiful literary unfolding of Chekhov’s life. Troyat (1911-2007), born Lev Aslanovich Tarassov in Moscow, fled the Bolsheviks with his family in 1920, settling in France where he truly developed into a literary Renaissance man writing novels, short stories and plays, as well as biographies. The prose in this biography flows clearly and elegantly, a tribute to the translator Michael Henry Heim. It reads more like a novel than a biography.
Troyat views Chekhov as the quintessential writer, an objective narrator who describes his characters as best he can, and let the judgements of them be determined by the reader. This biographer sees Chekhov, the doctor who is wed to science, allured to the passions embodied by his two literary mistresses, the short story and drama.
The book is a wonderful read. I look forward to reading Troyat’s biography of Tolstoy.
I moderate the discussions of the Cliff Dwellers book club which has a focus on books that have a Chicago interest, both past and present; fiction and non-fiction. Contemporary writers frequently attend and participate in the discussion of their books. We often continue the discussion with lunch at the club afterwards. We meet in the Sullivan Room every fourth Saturday of the month (except December), at 11:00 am. The Cliff Dwellers is located at 200 South Michigan across from the Art Institute. Try to join us for our next discussion of Peter Orner’s Love and Shame and Love on July 29. Participation in the Cliff Dwellers book club is free and open to all, members and non-members alike. Please email me at email@example.com if you are interested in coming or have any questions. Here are the remaining 2017 reading selections:
July 29-Love and Shame and Love-Peter Orner
August 26-Good Kings Bad Kings-Susan Nussbaum
September 23-Prairie Avenue-Arthur Meeker*
October 28-In the Castle of the Flynns-Michael Raleigh
November 25- The Girls-Edna Ferber
*This is offsite as we will be doing a Prairie Avenue tour that day. More information will soon be available.
Mike Royko dominated Chicago journalism for a third of a century, as his newspaper columns entertained and occasionally riled the reading public. His book Boss, a brilliant interpretation of the life and times of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, is considered by many to be the best book about an American city politician ever written. Registration is still open for my class “Mike Royko’s Chicago” at the North Shore Senior Center. There will be two sessions, both Thursdays, August 3 and August 10, from 10:00 am to 11:30 am. You may register online at http://www.nssc.org or call 847-784-6030
I will be teaching two literature courses, The Forsyte Saga and Chekhov’s Short Stories at the Oakton Community College Emeritus Program during the Fall 2017 semester. I will be co-teaching the Chekhov course with my friend and colleague Bob Boone. Written by Nobel Prize-winning author John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga is considered by many to be some of the best British fiction ever written and consists of three novels and two interludes. It chronicles the vicissitudes of the upper-middle class Forsyte family from late Victorian England through the aftermath of the First World War.
There is a brilliant conciseness and purposeful functionality in the characterizations and dialogues of Chekhov’s short stories that have set the bar for all writers. His carefully crafted writing resonates with honesty and compassion, allowing the readers to explore the motivations and actions of his characters. The Forsyte Saga will meet five consecutive Thursday mornings at 10:00-11:30 from October 5 through November 2; Chekhov’s Short Stories will meet six consecutive Tuesday mornings at 10:00-11:30 from October 10 through November 14. You may register online at http://www.oakton.edu/conted or call 847-982-9888.
Congratulations to Caro Llewellyn, who now returns to her native Australia, as she takes on an exciting new endeavor as Director, Experience and Engagement at Museums Victoria, Australia’s largest museum organization. I had the distinct privilege last year working with Caro, and her partner Jill Brack at 20 Square Feet Productions, on some of the community-based programming for visiting Polish authors in Chicago. Caro has been one of our nation’s top literary event producers, a passionate advocate of bringing literature and authors into neighborhoods and communities. She has created such major events as the celebrations surrounding the New York Public Library’s Centennial and the PEN World Voices: The New York Festival of International Literature. Thank you Caro for all you have done to enrich the fabric of our literary world. Best of luck in Australia.
Today I made my first visit to the American Writers Museum, which opened at 180 N. Michigan last month. It certainly is an honor to have the only national museum of its kind located in Chicago. My friend Roberta Rubin, the former owner of The Book Stall bookstore in Winnetka and truly one of the great literary advocates in the Chicago area, is one of the key individuals in making this museum a reality. It was extremely gratifying to see “The Roberta Rubin Writer’s Room” which is currently exhibiting Jack Kerouac’s original scroll for On the Road.
Since the museum space is only 11,000 square feet, there are physical limitations as to display options. Digitally the museum is state-of-the-art. There are very nice rooms dedicated to children’s literature and Chicago authors. In the Writers Hall, one wall features 100 American deceased writers; the other wall displays 100 American literary works. However I felt that both these walls, at times, seemed to use historical and political considerations, over literary significance, as criteria in the selection of these writers and books. I would have also liked to see a little more of the personal touch in the museum’s permanent collection. For instance, perhaps something on the order of a desk on which Emily Dickinson composed some of her poetry, or maybe the walking boots that John Muir wore on the nature walks that inspired his books. Also, permanent exhibits of universally acknowledged great American living writers such as Philip Roth and Toni Morrison might be a nice added touch. Nevertheless, the American Writers Museum is a work in progress and worthy of our support. The Chicago literary community should rally on its behalf by promoting it among friends and family, as well as providing positive input on future programming to its staff.
Carol Felsenthal is one of Chicago’s most knowledgeable and insightful political observers. An accomplished author, Carol has written biographies of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Katharine Graham and Bill Clinton among others. You often hear Carol on local television and radio shows as a commentator. She has written extensively on political and social matters for Chicago magazine, where she also blogs at chicagomag.com. In addition, her blog posts can be found on Politico, the New Republic, The Hill and the Huffington Post. She will join us at Max and Benny’s on Monday evening, June 26, in a political conversation about what’s happening on the local and national scenes. It should be a fascinating discussion. The program starts at 7:00 p.m. Max and Benny’s is located at 461 Waukegan Road in Northbrook.