February 27, 2010
J. Sydney Jones, author of a historical mystery series set in Vienna that has raked in enough starred reviews to create his own constellation, has recently started a blog devoted to the role that a sense of place plays in mysteries. So far he has interviewed Leighton Gage about Brazil, Matt Rees and his take on Palestine, Rebecca Cantrell on Berlin, Vicki Delany and her series set in British Columbia, Philip Kerr and his Bernie Gunther series set in Berlin (what a hotbed of intrigue), Cara Black’s Paris …
And now me. Me and my obsession with Chicago.
Like so many readers, I am an armchair traveler (and may be so forever – the thought of having to endure an overseas flight without a book in my hands for the final hour is too horrible to contemplate). I teach a first term seminar on international crime fiction and love discovering places and cultures with students who have no idea where Laos is on the map (but either know or are themselves Hmong people living in Minnesota) and have never encountered Aboriginal Australian communities (who face challenges that are not unlike those of Ojibwe and Dakota peoples living in our state). Reading helps me map the world and its peoples and gives me a sense of where I stand. A good sense of place is important to me as a reader.
Recently Laura Miller at Salon decided to stir the pot a bit by responding to writers rules (inspired by Elmore Leonard’s famous rules that include sage advice like “leave out the parts people skip”) with her reader’s rules for writers. She says bluntly “The components of a novel that readers care about most are, in order: story, characters, theme, atmosphere/setting.” I agree about the elements, but I don’t think I would put them in that order or consider any of them optional. It’s sort of like saying “The components of a curry that are important are curry, x, y, and z; if you can’t manage them all, just heat up some curry powder because that’s essential.” Yeah, but . . . She also says (and it’s probably accurate) that the quality of the writing is not important for many readers. James Patterson’s success is ample evidence of that. But I can’t read a book that grates on my nerves with clunky writing. Nor can I make it through a novel that is all sparkling prose but no story, no characters, no setting.
The comments on her essay are predictable: littrature is all boring rubbish; only philistines read popular fiction, which is all formulaic rubbish. A pox on both their houses. Just give me a well-written story with characters I care about doing something that matters in a world that feels real and I’ll keep turning the pages.
December 7, 2008
The Tribune reports that Holy Cross church in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood was facing closure when parts of its ornamental plaster began to fall from the ceiling – which is, indeed, spectacular.
We were passing by two summers ago and a church worker let us in and showed us the amazing interior. The church was originally built by Baltic immigrants (and there’s a Black Madonna from that era, but unfortunately none of my photos of her came out). The organ is a spectacular instrument, recently restored by a Jewish family that runs a flea market int he neighborhood. And there’s a Virgin of Guadalupe made fairly recently by a Mexican artist, because the Back of the Yards neighborhood, made famous by Upton Sinclair’s rabblerousing book The Jungle, is now largely Latino. It was clear that the church was in need of repair, but also clear that it was and remains a monument to immigrants and their dreams. So I’m happy to read that somehow the community was able to raise enough money to restore the church just in time for the feast day of the Virgin of Guadaloupe, which will be celebrated on Dec. 12th.
November 5, 2008
Thank God. There will be a hard road ahead, trying to fix all that has been broken over the past eight years, but what a triumph. I have been too anxious to hope for the past week. It’s time to hope again.
Grant Park, Nov. 4th 2008
photo courtesy of gingerbydesign
May 17, 2008
I wasn’t sure if it was a typo or not, but it seems an apt term for the goings-on in Hazelton, PA, Waukegan, IL, the state of Oklahoma, and other localities that want to enforce immigration laws locally. The BBC reports -
We travelled to the sleepy former mining town of Hazleton because it too has been thrust into the heart of the immigration debate.
In 2006, tired of what he saw as the lack of action on the part of the federal authorities in dealing with the issue of illegal immigration, the town’s mayor, Lou Barletta, decided to take matters into his own, and the town’s, hands.
He proposed – and the town council approved – a bye-law giving the local authorities extraordinary powers to crack down on illegal immigrants and those offering them employment and housing.
The reporter/commentator, Emilio San Pedro, also spent time in Chicago where he met Flor Crisostomo, who remains in the Aldalberto United Methodist Church on Division Street, resisting deportation by taking sanctuary in a church (a concept that has only moral, not sturdy legal standing in the US). Though San Pedro calls her “an immigration rights activist of the highest order,” her story has gone virtually unreported by the US mainstream press.
January 31, 2008
Another woman facing deportation has taken shelter at the Adalberto United Methodist Church on Division Street in Chicago. Last year, Elvira Arellano spend many months there with her eight-year-old son (a US citizen) to dramatize the way deportations affect families. ICE avoided the bad press of raiding a church, but snapped her up and deported her as soon as she went to speak at a public event in LA.
Flor Crisostomo does not have her children with her in the church. They are in Mexico, where she could not find work; she left them so she could provide for them.
In July 2000 she paid a smuggler to take her across the border and spent three days lost in desert-like conditions before making it to Los Angeles, she said. A month later she arrived in Chicago, where she worked 10 hours a day, six days a week in an IFCO Systems site that made packing materials.
By last year, she earned about $360 a week, sending $300 to her children for food, clothes and school books, she said. To keep her own costs down, she lived with four other women in a two-bedroom Chicago apartment.
“My children’s lives improve a lot as a result,” she said. “It wasn’t luxury. But it meant they could survive.”
The New Sanctuary Movement (like the old one during the Reagan years) is a church-based attempt to help people who are caught in a huge problem that politicians by and large don’t want to touch, apart from general platitudes. Whatever they say, they’ll lose somebody’s votes. So it goes. And pressure groups will tell Homeland Security to walk their secure borders talk by raiding the church.
Meanwhile, you’ll be hard put to find any subject on which comments at newspapers and other web sites are more polarized. (So far the ones at Chicagoist aren’t quite as full of sputtering, inarticulate rage as others.) I don’t recall any issue in recent years attracting such deep-seated, personal anger as this one, and it frightens me.
September 24, 2007
Threat Level has a link to a story in the SF Chronicle about Chicago’s award-winning surveillance technology. I admit, there were times, waiting for the bus on a stretch of Garfield Boulevard late at night, I was happy to see the blue light of a CPD surveillance camera. But one person interviewed posed the big question:
“Would you rather be safe, or would you rather be private?” asked Eric Reynolds, 44, who on a recent Saturday was directing a crew fixing the brick exterior of a house on North Homan Avenue in Chicago…
Chicago has bigger plans. Mayor Richard Daley said recently that the city will have cameras on “almost every block” by 2016, when the city hopes to host the Summer Olympics.
Hmm, just like China. I’m not sure landing the Olympics is a good idea. And when it comes to chosing between “safe” and “private” – can I have a helping of both, please?
The irony is, it goes both ways. Police are filmed by citizens not always showing themselves at their finest moments. Footage captured by a student of another student being repeatedly tasered by campus cops has had over a million hits on YouTube and prompted a thorough if rather late report on the incident.
Just one more conundrum to ponder in the digital age… one that you can keep up with through the Electronic Frontier Foundation if you’re so inclined.