Monthly Archives: July 2011
Such is the case with Upton Sinclair’s 1906 “The Jungle,” which he wrote as a fiction novel that would shed light on the plight of the immigrant worker in America, but which wound up leading to a national uproar and the passage of laws regulating the meatpacking industry. Sinclair went undercover in the meatpacking plants of Chicago’s Union Stock Yards in order to get research for the book, and it paid off – though not in the way he intended.
The book’s literary value is now basically ignored, and it’s taught primarily as an example of journalism and in political arenas. (In response to the book’s political power, Sinclair famously stated, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”) Yet, there’s a story in there. Sinclair creates a family of Lithuanian immigrants who – having moved to Chicago with little money – are forced by circumstance to take disgusting jobs at the Stock Yards. Their life is hard, like their jobs, and despite working tons of hours a day in terrible conditions bad things still happen to them.
The story of the family is interesting, but let’s not lie – it’s about the meatpacking industry. The passages describing the work conditions are so vivid and stomach-churning that it’s really no wonder the family story got left behind in the middle of the fury the book caused.
Here’s one (of many, many) stirring passages that illustrate how horrid the conditions of the factory were.
Warning: Don’t read if you’re queasy.
One could not stand and watch very long without becoming philosophical, without beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog squeal of the universe. Was it permitted to believe that there was nowhere upon the earth, or above the earth, a heaven for hogs, where they were requited for all this suffering? Each one of these hogs was a separate creature. Some were white hogs, some were black; some were brown, some were spotted; some were old, some young; some were long and lean, some were monstrous. And each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart’s desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him and a horrid Fate waited in his pathway. Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. Relentless, remorseless, it was; all his protests, his screams, were nothing to it—it did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life. And now was one to believe that there was nowhere a god of hogs, to whom this hog personality was precious, to whom these hog squeals and agonies had a meaning? Who would take this hog into his arms and comfort him, reward him for his work well done, and show him the meaning of his sacrifice? Perhaps some glimpse of all this was in the thoughts of our humble-minded Jurgis, as he turned to go on with the rest of the party, and muttered: “Dieve—but I’m glad I’m not a hog!”
The carcass hog was scooped out of the vat by machinery, and then it fell to the second floor, passing on the way through a wonderful machine with numerous scrapers, which adjusted themselves to the size and shape of the animal, and sent it out at the other end with nearly all of its bristles removed. It was then again strung up by machinery, and sent upon another trolley ride; this time passing between two lines of men, who sat upon a raised platform, each doing a certain single thing to the carcass as it came to him. One scraped the outside of a leg; another scraped the inside of the same leg. One with a swift stroke cut the throat; another with two swift strokes severed the head, which fell to the floor and vanished through a hole. Another made a slit down the body; a second opened the body wider; a third with a saw cut the breastbone; a fourth loosened the entrails; a fifth pulled them out—and they also slid through a hole in the floor. There were men to scrape each side and men to scrape the back; there were men to clean the carcass inside, to trim it and wash it. Looking down this room, one saw, creeping slowly, a line of dangling hogs a hundred yards in length; and for every yard there was a man, working as if a demon were after him. At the end of this hog’s progress every inch of the carcass had been gone over several times; and then it was rolled into the chilling room, where it stayed for twenty-four hours, and where a stranger might lose himself in a forest of freezing hogs.
“The Jungle” doesn’t portray my beloved Chicago in a good light, and that’s really okay. Tomorrow, July 30th is the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Union Stock Yards in Chicago, and it’s a good time for reflection. Granted, I’m not vegan and I don’t purely eat organic things, but it’s easy to see how far things have come since 1906 having now read the book. Yes, the American food system is still jacked (corn-fed beef isn’t a good thing – cows don’t naturally eat corn! gah!) but things have been worse. Recently, I took the Chicago Architecture Boat Tour and was grossed out to hear how, thanks to the meatpacking industries, the river used to be classified as “toxic.” Happily, it’s been downgraded to simply “polluted.”
“The Jungle” is a disturbing look at a darker time in history. If History is going to not repeat itself, the book should be re-read and studied by new generations.
Whether it was Mr. Sinclair’s intention or not, he did good.
*Read the book free at Project Gutenberg.
Mathilda isn’t secretly a wizard or in love with a vampire or anything, so please remove all those supernatural associations from your mind right now.
She’s a normal girl dealing with tough – but normal – things and trying to deal with them, all while going through a time that any psychologist will tell you is tough on a pre-teen: puberty. It’s a book about emotions and growing up. Imagine the honesty of a a Judy Blume heroine (Stephanie from “Just as Long as We’re Together” comes to mind) with the super-savvy youth of 2011, and you can imagine something/someone like Mathilda.
Author Victor Lodato perfectly channels the voice of this young heroine as she deals with her sister’s death (from being pushed in front of a train a year earlier) through torturing her emotionally shattered mother with her bad behavior, pushing her father’s limits, hanging out with her best friend, crushing on a neighbor boy, and reading her dead sister’s emails.
Mathilda’s not a bad kid, she’s just been left to deal with her family tragedy pretty much on her own. Sure, her parents tried to send her to a psychiatrist, but that didn’t pan out, so now she just has free reign to do pretty much whatever she wants without any real fear of repercussions or punishment – her parents are too distracted. (Sounds distinctly modern, doesn’t it?)
Throw into all this the troubling times we live in today. In the middle of Mathilda’s personal drama, there are terrorists in the world, and they’ve bombed places. Imagine being a young person growing up in these times of terrorism. (I was in college for 9/11, but I can’t imagine how my young brain would have adapted to that.) This leads Mathilda and two of her friends to one of the most interesting scenes in the book, when they try and survive in Mathilda’s basement for a night to see what life would be like in a bomb shelter. Of course, one friend brings nail polish and that neighbor boy Mathilda likes might actually like her friend, so the whole “survival” thing gets forgotten about pretty fast.
When Mathilda, arriving at the truth about her sister, decides to contact one of her sister’s former boyfriends, the story reaches it’s peak. By this point in the novel, you’ve realized things aren’t going to turn out warm and fluffy.
It’s a dark book, but a great one. Here’s hoping Victor Lodato gets more chances to share his unique voice with the world.
I live less than a block from one of Chicago’s most notorious douchey bars, and pass it every single day on my way home from work. It’s safe to say that side-tilted baseball hats are nothing new to me. Most of the time, this whole attitude of young dude entitlement makes me want to hit something.
In his introduction to “Broetry,” (which is subtitled – “Like poetry, but awesome”) Broet Laureate Brian McGackin states that “Broetry is a literary chili cheeseburger.”
Chili cheeseburgers are delicious and make you smile, just like this book.
“Broetry” is a simply hilarious collection of around 50 poems showcase that dudes can be sensitive too. They care about lots of things other than sex, sports, and beer. This is not to say that those three topics are ignored in this collection. Far from it, some of the best pieces in the book pertain to these very things – McGackin holds nothing back as he expresses his appreciation for women in poems about cougars, Pocahontas, and the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls. We also hear the story of how he tried to read the Harry Potter series to impress a girl.
But how dare we generalize! Dudes like other stuff too. For example, there’s an ode to Captain America (done in the style of “O Captain, My Captain!,)” several tributes to gaming, and a poetic love letter (my personal favorite) to Golden Grahams cereal. Because who doesn’t love cereal? I love cereal.
For the dudes in your life, I think this book might be the best gift ever. For the ladies and sensitive-types, you’ll laugh.
Despite how much I love living in Chicago, I certainly don’t love Chicago landmark and tourist trap Navy Pier. It’s always crowded, getting there is far too difficult no matter which way you choose, and really I don’t think there’s much great or interesting about it. (It’s hardly the only place you can get a t-shirt that says “Chicago”, a dreamcatcher, a beer, or some ice cream, you know?)
I kicked this review off that way so you’ll understand my love for one thing about Navy Pier: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the regional theater that’s an established part of Navy Pier. Known for classy productions of great works – Shakespeare or not – I’ve never been disappointed by a show I’ve seen there. Even though it’s located smack dab in the middle of Navy Pier, I will venture to CST.
So when my dear friend Robert (of ChicagoTheatreAddict) invited me along to catch their summer production of “The Adventures of Pinocchio,” I happily said yes.
Lit-wise, the story of “Pinocchio” has been around forever. There are countless written versions, film versions, musicals, ice spectaculars, and toys all over the world. Simply, everyone knows the story of the little wooden puppet who – on a quest to become a real boy – winds up a star, then tricked by a Cat and Fox, then runs to an island just for boys, and in the stomach of a whale before learning a lesson and getting to go home and become a real boy. Pinocchio first appeared in 1883, in “The Adventures of Pinocchio” by Carlo Collodi, who didn’t intend the work to become a childrens classic. In the actual first edition, Pinocchio gets hung for his actions. Realizing this was too harsh, Collodi added more text, and had the Blue Fairy show up to save him. The Disney film version (which is a little creepy, no lie) is possibly one of the best-known pieces of pop culture around. Find someone who doesn’t know who Jiminy Cricket is, or who can’t hum “I’ve got no strings.” I dare you.
There’s no Jiminy Cricket here, though. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of this tale is a world premiere musical, written/composed by Neil Bartram and Brian Hill, who penned the Broadway musical “The Story of My Life.” Told in a visually lovely style reminiscent more of old storybooks than flashy, typical kids fare, the story is all about the choices we make. Pinocchio messes up a number of choices, and it leads him down a less-than-happy path. There may be an issue with the sound system, as several times I couldn’t make out the lyrics that were being sung, but overall I got the gist.
Directed by Rachel Rockwell, the 90 minute show is snappy and keeps on moving. The cast is energetic and lively, especially Skyler Adams as Pinocchio, who’s a bundle of jumpy energy. Heidi Kettenring and Derek Hasenstab are scene-stealers as Cat and Fox, and Melody Betts gets some lovely moments as “The Blue Lady.”
The theater was largely packed with parents and children seeing the show. Though the parents all looked enchanted, several of the younger kids looked a little confused and lost some interest, so if your kids are really young (maybe under 5 or 6) I’d probably point you in another direction. This isn’t a flashy Disney show – there are ballads and poignant moments that might fly over the littlest heads, and lead to some boredom. That said, the older kids around me seemed to get and appreciate it.
“The Adventures of Pinocchio” plays until August 28th. It’s charming and sweet and a nice reminder of why this tale remains relevant.
So, of course, my husband and I made the trip down to Chicago & Franklin for the Open Books Sidewalk Sale on Saturday.
We were not disappointed.
In fact, after the experience, I have to say that from this day forth I shall refer to Open Books as my favorite used bookstore in Chicago.
I’d been a tad worried that the previous nights thunderstorms would stop the sale, but by morning the storm had given way to a warm and dry day. We arrived just as the sale was beginning, and volunteers were still loading boxes of books onto tables set up outside the store. From the very start, we started finding books we wanted, and began our pile. There were childrens books by the score, as well as a huge amount of classic and contemporary fiction – all at great prices. ($1 for childrens, $2 for paperback, and $3 for hardcover.)
Having exhausted the sidewalk sale (and being just a tad over a couple super-pushy shoppers, one of whom actually forced her way between Eric and I to get to a box of books under a table we were looking at. Like, we were shoulder to shoulder and this girl shoved her way in there and then stayed) we ventured into the store and were simply delighted.
After all, how many bookstores have a fireplace lounge?
Of course I took a break. I’m pregnant. Duh.
In addition to the store’s massive selection of used books in good to great condition, things are arranged in a variety of genres – From fiction to mystery, there’s a section for everyone. The “Chick Lit” section made me laugh, and I agreed with all the books grouped under that title. (FYI – In case you care – like any used bookstore, you’ll find plenty of copies of “Twilight,” “Eat, Pray, Love,” “The Kite Runner,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and “Memoirs of a Geisha.” We just stopped counting.)
There’s also a pretty swoon-worthy rare/collectors rack, which included some Roald Dahl first editions as well as Dante’s “Inferno” among other rarities and pretties.
I spent a great deal of time in the childrens area, which looks like a kindergarten classroom. The sheer amount of books for kids is amazing and something I’ve discovered as of late. Our child is going to have an awesome library before they’re even born.
Our grand total = 14 books (and a cute Open Books tote bag) for $46.00.
- What to Expect the First Year, 2nd edition
- Johnathan Strange
- The Lovely Bones
- Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister
- The Book of Lost Things
- The Beauty School of Kabul
- The Book Club Cookbook
- Kids Books: An Illustrated “Around the World in 80 Days,” a Sesame Street book called “When’s my Birthday?,” “The Velveteen Rabbit,” “Hop on Pop,” “Frog and Toad Together” and “Little Boy.”
Can I also point out that the bathroom walls are all done in that chalkboard paint and covered in writings in chalk? It’s charming and adorable. Really, that’s all I’ll say about the bathroom.
After the sale, we continued on our merry way to Michigan Avenue to meet up with friends to see “Captain America” (which, by the way, was really good) and wound up being at the same showing as George Lucas.
Yep, that George Lucas.
So, you know, that happened.
Obviously, a good day all around.
Open Books is the bomb. You should go there. What are you waiting for?
Much has been made in recent years of America’s economic troubles, and how they compare to that ultimate time of economic strife – The Great Depression. Amity Shlaes, journalist and economic history expert, wrote “The Forgotten Man” in 2007 to explain her theory regarding the real reasons and factors that led to the original Depression, and to warn us of how history repeats itself.
The phrase, “The Forgotten Man” existed previously thanks to a lecture given by a Yale University professor named William Sumner, who said;
It is when we come to the proposed measures of relief for the evils which have caught public attention that we reach the real subject which deserves our attention. As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X or, in the better case, what A, B and C shall do for X. As for A and B, who get a law to make themselves do for X what they are willing to do for him, we have nothing to say except that they might better have done it without any law, ‘but what I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. — (Thanks, Wikipedia!)
Critics of the book seem divided on it’s accuracy and interpretation of events, but regardless – it’s full of information and a decent read. Called “The finest history of the Great Depression ever written,” by one person and “revisionist” by another, “The Forgotten Man” is a heady book full of names, dates, and information. Whether or not you agree with the theories presented within is up to you, but it’s certainly an interesting read.
Shlaes criticizes Herbert Hoover, FDR, and the New Deal all for exacerbating a terrible situation by offering government intervention, as well as not doing enough to help. (Apparently when this book was released, it was a big hit among Republicans on Capitol Hill.)
The sheer amount of information included in this book could have made it a daunting and dry read, but Shlaes keeps things moving and the book is hyper-informative.
I learned a couple things, and I’m not sorry I read it.
Her book, “Her Fearful Symmetry,” is one of the most hauntingly gorgeous pieces of literature I’ve ever read. Yet somehow it wasn’t until very recently that I picked up her debut novel and most famous work – “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” (Also known as the book everyone and their mother was reading on the bus and the train a few years back.)
Sure enough, “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is a compelling, magical, and yet totally believable story about an unbelievable circumstance. A man (Henry) travels through time, though not by choice. He can be at a holiday party and simply vanish, then reappear seven years later in a field miles away. While traveling, he even meets up with future and past versions of himself. Complicating Henry’s already complicated life is a woman named Clare, whom he loves. The two lovers meet up through the years, and build a life together despite Clare’s never knowing if Henry will be there when she wakes up. Both characters are endearing and well-developed, and their tragic romance makes for one hell of a read.
Rather than explaining the time travel as magic, Henry’s condition is scientific – a rare chromosomal disorder. When Clare and Henry decide to have a baby, Clare must suffer through multiple miscarriages because their child will have the same chromosomal disorder – and so the fetus simply vanishes. It’s these elements that keep the book from venturing into melodrama. Part sci-fi and part love story, the book is more along the lines of something Margaret Atwood would cook up than a traditional “chick” novel. It’s really smart, and somehow completely realistic. It’s like “Doctor Who” without the whole science-fiction angle and the aliens. You absolutely buy that this could happen.
“The Time Traveler’s Wife” is an awesome book. If you’re looking for a piece of fiction that you’ll be unable to put down, and be thinking about long after you’ve finished, this is the book you’re looking for.
Or rather, both alike in writing style, detail, and time period.
Far as I’m concerned, I found one to be dull and not worth finishing while the other retained my attention.
The first novella – “Morpho Eugenia” – irritated me and I stopped reading it. It seems to consist of Victorian-era English folks sitting around talking and thinking about bugs and love, and not a single character in the pages had my attention for any amount of time. (That said, it was made into a movie starring Kristin Scott Thomas, which I’d be curious to see — as maybe I missed something that would have made the story feel worthy of a film adaptation.)
“The Conjugal Angel,” however, held my gaze long enough to honestly say I finished reading it. Folks of the Victorian era were fascinated by seances, and in this tale a group of mediums are affected by the ghost of Alfred Lord Tennyson. It’s bizarre, and there’s quite a bit of poetry and a mix of biography and fiction, and I enjoyed it in all it’s weirdness.
A.S. Byatt is obviously a fine writer, and her works (including this one) win awards, as well as become the focus of quite a bit of scholarly work. That’s all well and good, and the attributes of “Angels & Insects” are plenty. That said, it might prove a hard book to swallow as a pleasure reader. This isn’t one that belongs in your beach bag, you know what I mean? I could barely stay focused enough to read it over the hullabaloo of the bus ride home from work.
(If it matters, I scored this book from my Mom, who was about to donate it. I’ll likely be donating it myself.)
I need your brains! (No, not like a zombie needs brains.)
I’m sort of debating starting an online book club (SuchABookClub?) which would use a facebook page as a platform.
I’m still playing with themes and ideas and all that jazz, but maybe a facebook page could be used as a platform and there’d be a book of the month and we could chat about it on said page, and even perhaps have a monthly meet-up?
Suggestions? Anyone interested?
Your thoughts are totally appreciated!
In Helen Humphreys’ lovely “Afterimage,” the photographs are everything.
Shining light on the rise of photography as an art form, the plight of female artists, and some complicated relationships between women, “Afterimage” is really a triumph.
When young, pretty Annie Phelan comes to the Dashell household to be the new maid, she finds herself caught up in the dramatic relationship between Isabelle (the lady of the house) and her husband Eldon. Isabelle, an artist-turned-photographer, wants Annie to be her muse for a series of photographs of legendary characters like Ophelia and the Madonna, while Eldon sees a confidante and friend in Annie’s curiosity and love of reading and they bond over stories of Artic expedition. The Victorian mansion becomes a jealous and jumbly mess soon enough, as emotions flare and Isabelle and Annie embark on a sensual (though never dirty)bond, despite Eldon’s protestations and jealousy.
The novel isn’t unlike “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” in it’s handling of artist and muse and the lines that sometimes blur between those two people. Humphreys weaves this tale in exquisite detail, and each of the characters – from Annie (our hero) to the other servants of the house – are developed just enough for the reader to know them, while still getting to carve out their own visions of the person. The novel has definite undertones of Romanticism. Annie, a reader, likens her story to “Jane Eyre” frequently – and sure enough, like the Bronte classic the novel climaxes in a dramatic fire.
Side Note: I stumbled onto this book at Bookleggers Used Books in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. The copy I bought – autographed by the author, mind you – was 7 bucks. This delighted me, and reminded me that I really don’t have to miss the now-closed neighborhood Borders.