These days, Illinois gets a bad rap. Of course, depending on who’s doing the bad-rapping, that could be ascribed as a honor. (Lookin’ at you, current occupant of the White House.) You name it, we are insulted for it. Underfunded pension funds. High tax rates. Crooked politicians. (Okay, maybe we deserve that—given the historical rate at which our governors wind up as convicted felons.) But I figure if you don’t live in Illinois, you really don’t have the right to cast aspersions. (Glass houses and all that). The fact of the matter is that Illinois is one of the states that is least dependent on the federal government—#46—and a state that sends a ton of money to D.C.—money which then gets sent along to other states who are far more dependent on the federal teat. States like—oh, let me not get started dissing other states. I love ‘em all. As I should. We are the United States of America, after all. Anyway, why should you believe me? I’m not an economist. You can check it out here. And this isn’t meant to be Boosterism Central. I just want to celebrate Illinois, my home sweet home, in a literary fashion.
And what better way to start but with the weird stuff… as lovingly compiled by Troy Taylor in a fabulous tome entitled—what else?—Weird Illinois. Every state has its oddities, oddballs, and outlandish occurrences (the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas comes to mind), but Illinois can definitely claim some bragging rights in all three categories and Taylor puts them on display. For example, whereas Kansas may have its twine, Illinois has the world’s largest catsup bottle (or do you spell it ketchup?) Whatever—there it is on page 42 in all its 170-foot-tall glory. In real life, you can find it just outside of Collinsville, along Route 159. And while we generally don’t put catsup on our Chicago-style hotdogs, you can find a couple of weenies on the next page of the book, in a splendid photo of the two giant weiners perched atop the Superdawg Drive-in.
From roadside attractions to haunted houses to a cemetery “safari,” from strange beasts (Olney’s albino squirrels) to local heroes and villains to legends, lore and “unexplained phenomena,” Weird Illinois will definitely keep you infotained. Whereas will you learn about the Demon Butcher of Palos Park and the Murphysboro Mud Monster? But there’s also a fair bit of history here as well—admittedly tending toward the unsavory kind, mass murderers, serial killers and the like—and a charming chapter on some exceedingly unique dwellings, including a house with no square corners located in Bull Valley, and Villa Kathrine, a small Moorish castle overlooking the Mississippi in Quincy.
Spritely writing, clever illustrations, and colorful photos enhance this chronicle of weird AND wonderful Illinois!
Weird Illinois by Troy Taylor, Sterling Publishing, 2005.
I love books. Everyone who knows me knows that.
I also love dessert, being an infamous chocoholic and ice cream addict.
Put them together and obviously, I'm in heaven.
So, when I discovered this infographic about desserts inspired by books, well, you know I had to share it with you! And you can find many more luscious items at Shari's Berries! So if you are craving delicious, check them out.
To fill your 101 Nights until...
... Hockey season begins!
The NHL just released the 2015-16 schedule which fittingly begins on Wednesday, October 7, when the Chicago Blackhawks will raise their latest Stanley Cup banner to the ceiling of the United Center. But how, oh how, to occupy your time between now and then and get your hockey fix (particularly since this summer in Chicago seems to be trending wet and gloomy, making us think more of dreary November than sunny June)? And since most of the other teams in Chicago are... as usual. Okay, so maybe it's not been THAT cold... but we've definitely been lacking in sunshine. And the Cubs actually are contending this year... for now. But if it rains, well, how better to while away a rainy summer afternoon than with a good book... a good HOCKEY book. So presented for your consideration, an eclectic mix of titles all about "the Fastest Game on Earth."
Behind the Net: 101 Incredible Hockey Stories
Stan Fischler, Sports Publishing, 2013
Who doesn't love an incredible factoid told with style and verve? A well-known sports broadcaster presents photos and recollections of amazing, hilarious and absurd events that took place during hockey games over the past half-century, including Bill Mosienko scoring three goals in 21 seconds,Rene Fernand Gauthier accepting a challenge to shoot the puck in the ocean and Sam LoPresti facing 83 shots on goal in one game.
Crossing the Line: the Outrageous Story of a Hockey Original
Derek Sanderson, Harper Collins 2012
Because everyone enjoys a rise, fall and rise again story... set against a fresh backdrop -- HOCKEY! Here's an eye-opening story of the life of one of hockey's greatest players of the 1970s era. At the high point of his life, Derek was playing for the Boston Bruins, he was the highest paid athlete in the world and he was a winger for Bobby Orr. His rough and ready-for-anything style helped lead his team to two Stanley Cups. But the high was not to last (it rarely does) as he plummeted so low he ended up sleeping on a park bench. This is a story about Derek's rise to fame, his fall into blackness and his struggle to pull himself back onto his feet. That may sound familiar, but the candid, engaging writing style breathes fresh life into this "fall down twice, get up three times" tale. Today, Derek is a financial adviser for young athletes to help keep them from making the same mistakes that he did.
Bob McKenzie, Harper Collins 2014
You can't miss with a book with the word "confidential" in the title! McKenzie has over 350,000 hockey fans following him on Twitter and millions more on The Sports Network TSN. He's the quintessential hockey insider with over 35 years of experience in analyzing the game. He definitely has the access and the experience to bring some juicy stories to light. In this book, he goes behind the scenes, covering the inside stories, some lesser-known personalities and the events that shape the game.
Don't Call Me Goon: Hockey's Greatest Enforcers, Gunslingers and Bad Boys
Greg Oliver, ECW Press 2013
Because I never could resist a bad boy... In professional hockey, enforcers are often as popular with fans as the stars. Called upon to duke it out with a fellow troublemaker, or to shadow an opponent’s top scorer, these men get the crowds out of their seats, the sports-radio talking heads buzzing, and the TV audience spilling their beer in excitement. This book highlights a rogue's list of mayhem-makers from old timers like Joe Hall and Red Horner; to legendary bruisers like Tiger Williams, Stu Grimson, and Bob Probert; to fan favorites Tie Domi and Georges Laraque; and contemporaries such as Arron Asham and Brian McGrattan. It also explores the issues that plague the NHL’s bad boys — suspensions, concussions, controversy — and looks ahead to the future of tough guys in a changing era.
The Boys of Winter: the Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980s U.S. Olympic Hockey team
Wayne Coffey, Crown 2005
Yeah, so you know how it ends, so what? Some things are definitely worth revisiting. The author digs deep to depict the personalities and the breathtaking action on the ice. This saga of how coach Herb Brooks motivated a roster of 20 amateur, mostly college-age young men to orchestrate victory over an established Soviet team of seasoned, professionally trained skaters may be familiar, but believe it or not, it still offers suspense and heroism. Brooks emerges as an obstinate, aloof, but savvy coaching genius who elicited perseverance, grit, and a strong ethic of teamwork. This was a team full of dreamers, rather than a Dream Team.
So there you have it, five books to enrich your hockey dreams until the boys of winter make their return...
Why the printed book still matters
Ten wonderfully well-thought out reasons why the printed book should never die...
Noted in the ALA Direct e-newsletter of February 6th: Timothy Young writes in the Design Observer: “I recently gave a talk to a library group about why the printed book still matters. I had been asked to address the subject of ‘Books in a Digital World,’ but I chose to focus much more closely on the characteristics of printed objects that are not effectively represented in facsimile. That is, what cannot be captured in a scan. I’ve been carrying this list in my head for years, adding to it one reason at a time. In my profession, as a librarian and a curator, this list (of which what follows is only a portion) functions as an apologia pro vita mia--rational defenses for the continued existence of the printed codex—and my involvement with them.”...
In Praise of Football
It's here... First Sunday... in football terms. Okay, so the Seahawks already slaughtered the Packers last Thursday... which brought much pleasure to those of us in Chicago... but today is the real beginning of the season of scientifically planned mayhem and strategically plotted violence. So, of course, we must celebrate that with a list of books that celebrate its charms and expose its rancid underbelly.
A highly subjective top 5 list of pigskin prose
#5. The Opening Kick-off: the Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation by Dave Revsine
How else to open a sports season but by looking at its history? Revsine focuses primarily on college football, providing a thorough and exhaustively researched look at the origins of the sport and its development, particularly the years from 1890 to 1915. Not surprisingly, the issues over which people are wringing their hands today -- the "professionalizing" and "merchandizing" of student athletes -- were the subject of serious discussion and histrionics back in the day as well. Football has always been seen as public relations tool and a moneymaker for colleges. This book lays bare the birth pains of a monolith. Fun fact: Before the rise of college football, strenuous physical activity was regarded as boorish, but football quickly became popular on campuses in the mid-19th century, especially among Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale. Go, eggheads! Reminds me of the cheer we had at the University of Chicago:
Themistocles, Thucydides, the Peloponnesian War,
X squared, Y squared, H2SO4
Who for? What for? Who we gonna yell for?
Maroons! Maroons! Maroons! (or Morons, Morons, Morons, if the team was having a losing season, which was often the case...)
#4. Paper Lion by George Plimpton
Totally old-school memoir of how a famous journalist, editor of the Paris Review, legendary interviewer of Hemingway, talked the Detroit Lions into letting him join the team as a back-up quarterback... and the hilarious consequences that result for both Plimpton and his teammates. In 1963, Plimpton joins the team for training. The rest of the players think it's kind of strange that this tall and skinny dude is always jotting down things in a notebook between plays and while walking the sidelines. When his secret literary identity becomes known, he's teased mercilessly, but he stays with the team and plays on, failing miserably on the field, but writing excellent prose about the foibles, faults and ferocity of this American football life.
#3. The Blind Side by Michael Lewis
Homeless kid in Memphis, one of 13 children of a crack-addicted mother, gets placed in a Christian high school and then adopted by a wealthy white family. Stuff of fiction? Stuff of popular movies for which actresses win Oscars? Well, no and yes. It's a true story and yes, Sandra Bullock did win the Academy Award for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy, the matriarch of the family. However, the book goes beyond the sad, compelling story of Michael Oher to plumb the depths of structure of football and shows how the rise of the modern passing offense led, in turn, to the increasing emphasis on the defensive pass rusher and the quarterback sack, which, in turn again, led to the rise of the left tackle, the offensive lineman whose it is to protect the quarterback on the so-called "blind side."
#2. Friday Night Lights by H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger
If you live in Texas, where football is nothing less than a religion, Friday night is as sacred as Sunday morning. Or maybe the whole weekend is sacred: Friday night for high school football, Saturday afternoon for college football, and Sunday for the NFL. Bissinger puts high school football under the microscope and reveals the appalling mania that seizes students, teachers, parents, town officials and the general population of one specific Texas town: Odessa. Odessa's fortunes rise and fall with the energy industry, but the Permian Panthers are its pride and joy.
#1. Scoreboard, Baby: a story of college football, crime and complicity by Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry
Rape, armed robbery, attempted murder, drug deals... with all their off-the-field activities, one wonders how the players on the University of Washington's 2000 Rose Bowl-winning team found time to practice. They were a Cinderella team with a golden-boy coach who had been lured by trunkfuls of money to jump-start a once-storied program that had fallen into mediocrity. An excellent expose of a sordid story that, only 14 years later, seems commonplace at many educational institutions across the United States, which might be more truthfully called large football stadiums with colleges attached, to paraphrase a line from the 1925 film, "The Freshman." If this is what it takes to win, give us honest and lovable losers.
For fictional look at the brutality and camaraderie of the football field, you can alsoqwq1 read Chapter 2 of my novel, The Things We Save, in which Claire and her beloved brother Joey suffer the consequences of engaging in a forbidden game of football in the family living room...
How "Claire" are you?
It's a little disconcerting to hear a character that you've created called "unlikeable," even if you have used those very same words to describe that character (hastening, of course, to soften the harshness of it by adding the qualifier "at times"). Like a prodigal child, it would be a sad character indeed whose author did not love him or her unconditionally. I admit I love all my characters, even the particularly nasty ones. I suspect that is because each contains at least a sliver of my own personality. That being said, I would not expect a reader to love them all and there are at least one or two who should provoke feelings of, if not hate, then at least intense dislike, however momentary and however much the reader reminds him or herself that "this is only make believe." (Although characters in novel often bring to mind people that we know and love/hate in our very real lives -- at least if the author has done her job.)
It's also a bit disconcerting because these judgments seem to come much more heavily on female characters than males. Roxane Gay wrote an excellent essay for BuzzFeed on this very topic: Not Here to Make Friends. The debate rages between the pro-likeables and the pro-unlikeables, with well-thought arguments on both sides, but one fact seems to be established: we love our difficult men (Don Draper, Hamet, MacBeth, Charles Foster Kane to name a few); women, not so much.
But I myself am in a light-hearted mood today, after having spent an absolutely exhilarating evening with a book club made up of lovely ladies from Des Plaines, IL. Listening to their insights and takes on the characters in my book reinforced my belief that what the reader brings to and thus takes away from a story is just as important, if not more, than what a writer puts in. Reading a book is a conversation; it always goes two ways. And that's thrilling. So I decided to approach the "likeability" factor with a touch of humor (I hope). After all, I want you to like me!
So, based on my opinion that:
1) my not-so-darling character Claire Sokol has her flaws, but that those flaws make her very human; and
2) there's at least a little bit of Claire in almost every human being on the planet;
I have created a quiz on Playbuzz.com so that you may take to find out just how "Claire" you are!
Crazy hair and an interview...
Thank you to Susan Dibble for a great article! And to photographer Paul Michna for making me look good, even though I had just walked in from the pouring rain!
Read More About It: Kate the Great
No, I'm not talking about the Duchess of Cambridge (although I am sure she's a very fine person, charming and all that, but my fascination with British royalty died with Diana...) No, I'm referring to birthday girl Kate DiCamillo, Newbery-Award winning author of some of my favorite children's books.
Kate DiCamilllo (courtesy NPR)
As a child, Kate moved from Philadelphia to a small town in Florida. As she writes in her Scholastic website bio: "I was a very sickly kid, and suffered from chronic pneumonia, which is why we moved to the warm southern climate. I think being ill contributed to my
development as a writer. I learned early on to entertain myself by reading. I learned to rely on stories as a way of understanding the world. I read everything I could, and some of my favorites were The Twenty-One
Balloons, The Secret Garden, The Yearling, Ribsy, and a book called Somebody Else's Shoes." Her first book, Because of Winn-Dixie, came out of that Southern experience and childhood memories of a beloved pet and was partly the result of being homesick and dogsick (she was living in Minneapolis at the time and was unable to have a dog in her apartment). As she notes, writing that story "allowed me to go home and to spend time with a dog of the highest order."
So here's a Read More About It birthday salute to Kate:
Mercy Watson: to the Rescue
Whether or not you're a fan of pork, you won't be able to resist this porcine parcel of personality and pluck. In this first of six adventures, Mercy's single-minded pursuit of her culinary favorite, hot buttered toast, leads to a series of comic semi-disasters. But all ends well, warm and buttery. Other titles in the series of beginning chapter books include: Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, ...Fights Crime, ...Something Wonky This Way Comes, ...Thinks Like a Pig, and ...Princess in Disguise. The illustrations by Chris Van Dusen add to the hilarity and charm.
Louise: The Adventures of a Chicken
Who doesn't long for a little adventure in his or her life? Well, Louise is no different from the rest of us -- except, of course, that she's a chicken. Literally. Not just any chicken, but a daring chicken who sets out on her quest with spirit and spunk. As she sees the world, she also manages to: escape from a band of pirates, perform in a daring circus act, and get trapped in a cage by a stranger. When she finally arrives home to tell her fellow hens about her ordeals, she realizes, like another farm-girl before her, that "there's no place like home." An exceptionally funny and entertaining read aloud, with fabulous illustrations to accompany and elaborate on the text.
The Tale of Despereaux
Impossible wishes and longings fill this story: a mouse yearns for joys of reading and the love of a princess; a rat burns to leave the darkness of his home in the dungeons of a castle; a slow-witted servant girl dreams of becoming the highest lady in the land. Despereaux, the mouse-hero, is one of many in the castle, but he is different. He was born with his eyes open (weird!), his ears are too big (shocking!) and he likes to read (that's just wrong!). Worst of all, he has fallen in love with the very human Princess Pea and has even dared to speak to her. This gets him banished to the dark, dark dungeon where the evil rats dwell, which in turn sets in motion a chain of events involving the rat and the servant that will require Despereaux to be as brave as the knights he has read so much about in order to save the lovely princess. If you like a bit of darkness (or more) in your children's books, this Newbery winner will definitely satisfy.
So happy birthday, Kate, and onto the next story!
Can't be pushed...must be found...can be guided...by the right hand, a librarian's hand, of course!
Maybe you're like poor little Abby...
Or maybe you're not...in which case, if you'd like to continue to get your political freak on after this election is over in 3 days (on the other hand, is the campaign ever really over???), but I digress... If you believe that the race for president used to be a kinder, gentler process... have I got some books for you!
Let's start with an intriguing read about the very first presidential campaign...
A Magnificent Catastrophe: the tumultuous
election of 1800, America's first presidential
Edward Larsen (Free Press, 2007)
Here's a vivid retelling of the presidential election campaign between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson that brings the fierce rivalry that was called "America's Second Revolution" to brawny, brawling life and reveals the pivotal roles played by Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. The bitter infighting and the sophisticated political jockeying of 1800 put paid to the notion that America would be governed by enlightened consensus. Instead, it resulted in the two-party system we know today. Readers will find a plethoria of similarities between the intense electioneering of THEN, and the heated political races of NOW.
(Same as it ever was...)
Leaping ahead almost 100 years...
Realigning America: McKinley, Bryan, and the Remarkable Election of 1896
R. Hal Williams (University of Kansas Press, 2010)
The presidential election of 1896 is widely regarded as one of the few that brought about fundamental changes and realignments in American politics. New voting patterns emerged, a new majority party seized power, and national policies underwent a paradigm shift to reflect new realities. The monumental struggle between Republican William McKinley and Democrat William Jennings Bryan set new standards in financing, organization, and accountability. Back then, the Republicans were the party of central government, national authority, sound money (think: the gold standard), and activism, while the Democrats preached state's rights, decentralization, inflation, and limited government (and the silver standard). (Say what????!!! I know, you have to read it to believe it!) It's also the campaign that birthed Bryan's stem-winder "Cross of Gold" speech. Williams paints a vivid portrait of down-and-dirty, two-fisted politics when the participants still wore waistcoats.
On the lighter side....
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House: humor, blunders, and other oddities from the presidential campaign trail
Charles Osgood (Hyperion, 2008)
You can always count on Charles Osgood to provide a good laugh while he enlightens. Here he presents a treasury of anecdotes from presidential campaigns over the past seventy years. You'll find lighthearted speech excerpts, interviews, and press-conference quotes from the campaigns of such presidents as FDR, Truman, and JFK. Who could imagine the dour Bob Dole wise-cracking to reporters? But after a loss in the primary, he quipped: "I slept like a baby--every two hours I woke up and cried."
Campaign coverage... gonzo style:
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72
Hunter S. Thompson (Warner Books, 2006)
Darkly humorous, off-beat, moody... to say the least. In this newer edition of the classic account of the dark, very dark, underbelly of American politics, the original "gonzo" political journalist presents his frankly subjective, very subjective, observations on the personalities and political machinations of the 1972 presidential campaign between Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon and the straight-arrow George McGovern, who just passed away at the age of 90 on a few weeks ago.
Pair it with...
The Selling of the President
Joe McGinniss (Penguin, 1988)
McGinnis wormed his way into the inner sanctum of Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign for president. What he found was a nest of advertising technicians, ghost writers, P. R. experts, and pollsters who cynically plotted the re-branding of a loser into a winner and the clever packaging that sold America the most corrupt Presidency in its history.
You ever wonder what type of person actually thinks he (or she) is qualified to be President of the United States? Crack this one open...
What It Takes: the way to the White House
Richard Ben Cramer (Random House, 1992)
Talk about the audacity of hope? How do these people convince themselves that they have the right stuff to sit behind a desk in the Oval Office and trod the floor where Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower paced? (Okay, Roosevelt didn't pace, he wheeled.) Journalist Cramer chronicled the 1988 campaign and put the candidates -- Robert Dole, George H.W. Bush, Joseph Biden, Richard Gephardt, Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis -- under the microscope and on the analyst's couch to glean some insight into the qualities that lead to success or failure as a presidential candidate. Watch the candidates as they make their way through the primaries, fine-tuning stands on issues, struggling to retain their individuality while being hounded by ravenous journalists, pummeled and massaged by numerous handlers and browbeaten by their image wizards. Dukakis comes off as a humorless know-it-all (maybe it's a good thing he lost), while Bush the Elder emerges as a compulsive nice guy and witty, too, such as when he quips, "I deny that I have ever given my opinion to anybody about anything.''
The ability to read + the ability to vote (and actually doing so) = Freedom.
To find out more about me, click on the Not Your Average Jo tab.