“After Hiroshima, after the death of Roosevelt, and after the [House Un-American Activities Committee] investigations, only then did one begin to see the complete unreality of the American dream.”
So (late in life) declared filmmaker Joseph Losey, who directed the creepy and provocative 1951 film noir, “The Prowler,” and was rewarded for his artistry with a HUAC subpoena, membership in the Hollywood blacklist and lifelong exile. His statement, according to “Nightmare Alley” author Mark Osteen, can serve as a description of film noir, the shadowy and critical genre that served as a reality check for America during the period between World War II and the Korean War.
Osteen, who teaches English at Loyola University in Maryland, notes that noir flourished at a crossroads moment for the nation, as New Deal populism and humanism clashed with nascent Cold War paranoia and reaction. In Hollywood, the conflict played out tragically, with consequences that still linger. In the media-inflamed, witch-hunt atmosphere, studio bosses refused to stand up for their top writers, directors and performers (many of whom were associated with noir), while opportunistic former colleagues (such as Ronald Reagan) proved willing to purge their own unions of left-leaning members. The best thus crashed and burned, and those who survived grew cautious. It was the real beginning of our own postmodern, post-political, post-ethical era. Read the rest of this entry »
By Brian Hieggelke
I’ve known Michael Lenehan for more than twenty years, in that distant friendly way you know your competitors. He was the top editor of the Chicago Reader from the time we started Newcity until the company was sold in 2007. I knew very little about him—friendly competitors tend to limit their conversations to five minutes or less—other than that he had a devilish grin and the kind of dry wit that feels like it must be skewering you without you even understanding how. What I did know is that he was largely responsible for executing the Reader’s editorial vision all those years, and that he not only once published a 20,000-word story on beekeeping that epitomized what made the Reader different, he wrote it. Lenehan was an editor who was a proven writer.
Now, several years after the sale of the Reader led to his exit from what had been his life’s work, he’s published his first book, “Ramblers: Loyola Chicago 1963—The Team That Changed the Color of College Basketball,” the story of Chicago’s—of Illinois’—only national basketball champion, ever. But even more than digging up the backstory of the hardcourt’s ultimate one-hit wonder, he convincingly constructs a narrative, told with acumen and suspense—that this team, that this national championship game, marked a turning point in the sport and in the country, as we grappled with the final stages of overt racial discrimination. But expect no self-righteous soapboxes here; Lenehan lets the story tell itself by following the fates of three teams that converged in the tournament that year: the Loyola Ramblers; the would-be-dynasty-in-process Cincinnati Bearcats, who like Loyola fielded a starting lineup dominated by African-American players but attacked the game in a wholly different style; and the Mississippi State Bulldogs, a team so white that it had to sneak out of state at night in order to play in an integrated basketball game. Read the rest of this entry »
Much has changed in Chicago radio in the past few years, especially with longtime alternative rock station Q101. Those who grew up listening to “Chicago’s New Rock Alternative” are no doubt familiar with James VanOsdol (known as a DJ by the moniker JVO). Now he has written a book on the experience, “We Appreciate Your Enthusiasm: The Oral History of Q101.” “When news of Q101′s sale came out, I decided that I wanted to document its history,” says VanOsdol. “Not so much because I felt it was important to immortalize the station, but more so because I wanted to tell a modern radio story, which is something I don’t think has been done before.”
VanOsdol began at Q101 in November 1993 when the station was first taking a chance with switching their format to alternative rock. He stuck with them, notably as host of “Local 101,” a segment dedicated to Chicago-made music. JVO became one of their trademark DJs until he left the airwaves for good in 2011, but he couldn’t completely put it all behind him. In the book he focuses on the inner-workings of the station. “The book is mostly about the culture of a radio station, and less about the popular culture it reflected,” says VanOsdol. Read the rest of this entry »
Instead of an East Room shrouded in black lace, instead of flocks of mourners lining the railroads, instead of imperishable verse from Walt Whitman, the novelist Stephen L. Carter presents Illinois’ most mythologized resident—a man whose leathery, careworn face we are most used to etched into marble or increasingly worthless zinc—slammed with criminal charges. Abraham Lincoln survives John Wilkes Booth’s bullet only to be set upon by Congress.
In his new book, straightforwardly entitled “ The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln,” Carter takes us back to 1867 and asks whether Lincoln’s conduct during the Civil War could have, sans martyrdom, been legally assailed by the same forces that came within a single vote of constitutionally kicking his successor Andrew Johnson to the curb.
In 2002, with the launch of his first foray into fiction, “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” Stephen L. Carter quickly became known as a rare sort of man who in addition to producing reams of writing in his capacity as a Yale Law Professor and national news columnist could also be counted upon to churn out urbane legal thrillers. But he is perhaps best recognized as a chronicler of upper-middle-class black America. Read the rest of this entry »
When the decision came down that Chicago would not play host to the 2016 Olympics, the city was divided between relief and regret. Four years earlier, when London was announced as the chosen city for 2012, British author Iain Sinclair cursed under his breath and started writing “Ghost Milk.”
The author of numerous works of dense Londonian psychogeography, Sinclair is known almost as much for his baroque encyclopedic prose as he is for his almost singular devotion to the prose-poetic survey of London and its environs. “Ghost Milk,” its topical affiliation signaled on the cover with the icon of a blazing torch, is one of many books on the summer Olympics but likely to be the only one to preemptively eviscerate the event’s infrastructural devastation. Read the rest of this entry »
After Wikipedia and its endless garden of forking hyperlinked paths, through which we can create our own DIY knowledge webs, why bother reading longform nonfiction at all? The usual answer is for the narrative itself—turning a database of information into a story created by one curatorial mind. That narrative “humanizes” the world of fact, to use a word that makes me cringe, is a deep cliché about nonfiction that also happens to be true.
But more than organizing and shedding light on the world, some nonfiction can also do what Wikipedia—and TED talks, and those “short introductions”—can’t: provide a comprehensive, carefully culled archaeology, Michel Foucault’s word for historical analysis of systems of thought that consider how intellectual terms come into being, how they engage the public imagination and how they are deployed in relationship to systems of power. Read the rest of this entry »
In the 1960s, writers like Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson started what became known as the Gonzo style of journalism, in which writers used a combination of writing techniques and self-immersion in their subjects to create a bold new form of writing. Isabelle Eberhardt did it too, only more than five decades earlier. Long before T. E. Lawrence dressed in Turkish drag to run intelligence during the Great War, the Swiss-born Eberhardt went undercover into Islamic society in North Africa to study the language and culture. She eventually became a Sufi practitioner, and become not only one of the first Europeans to write about twentieth-century Muslim life, but also a proto feminist-anarchist writer. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Kelly Ruth Winter
By John Freeman
Iowa City, Iowa—Marilynne Robinson’s teaching and writing—including the novels “Housekeeping,” “Gilead” and “Home”—have been crucial to a generation of writers. Now she has a few corrections to the record that she would like to make.
“One of the things that focuses me is simply coming across something and thinking: That can’t be right,” says the sixty-eight-year-old. Sitting on a couch, dressed entirely in black, before a table heaped with books, papers and two laptops, Robinson looks like an intellectual detective who has been on the case. She has been in this mode before. In her seminal 1998 essay collection, “The Death of Adam,” Robinson dismantled misreadings that had shrouded the teachings of John Calvin. Read the rest of this entry »
Behind every great meal is an epic history of conquest, revolution and scandal. It’s easy to forget in the age of refrigerators, supermarkets and GrubHub that the spice trade once rivaled the modern drug cartels or that hot dogs got their name to avoid the looming specter of the first World War. In the handsome hardcover volumes of the Edible Series from Reaktion Books, the secret history of the dinner table and the long ancestry of the liquor cabinet come to life. Behind each book’s butter-hued dust jacket is a concise introduction to the rich surprises of food and drink we often take for granted. How did lobster, a bottom-feeding invertebrate eaten by the poor, become a celebrated dish of the upper class? What exactly is the difference between herbs and spices? Why was soda pop instrumental in popularizing vodka in cold war America? The books are full of enough arcane yet accessible trivia to warrant throwing a dinner party just to show off. Read the rest of this entry »
As Nelson Algren taught us, since its founding Chicago has been a city of hustlers and squares. Such a straightforward dichotomy between inhabitants makes the generation of narrative easy: conflict is inevitable while shades of gray are few. As a reader of books on Chicago history, you know for whom to root. If you happen to be both a reader and a Chicagoan, then you also know that the person you’re rooting for—usually the square if you’re a moral sort—is going to lose. The tango between the hustler and the square has provided a structure for two of the more recent and popular books dealing with the city’s past—Erik Larson’s “The Devil in the White City” and Karen Abbott’s “Sin in the Second City”–and it turns up again in Gary Krist’s “City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster that Gave Birth to Modern Chicago.” Read the rest of this entry »