I haven’t reviewed a book in quite a while (save for my secret book list – ask for more info if you really care). But I just read something that I want to talk about. But first, some background.
Back when I was in high school, on days where I didn’t go in early for swim practice, I would browse through the Chicago Tribune before going in to school. In particular I would read the comics page, and Mike Royko’s column. He wrote about a variety of things, quite often politics, but in a different and amusing way. He didn’t mince words, he didn’t pull punches, and he almost always made sense. When I went away to college I pretty much stopped reading him, although I would do so on occasion when home in the summer. When he passed away in 1997 I was sad, but I didn’t realize what a treasure had been lost. Flash forward to last fall. I was at the friends of the SF Library sale, and I saw a copy a book of his columns, which I immediately grabbed – a bargain at 4 bucks, if I do say so. The old people who rung me up were surprised that I was interested in that book, but when I told them where I came from they understood.
Anyway, the book in question is One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko by Mike Royko, with an introduction by another Chicago treasure, may he rest in peace, Studs Terkel. The book covers columns from his start in the 1960s through his final essay, about the cubs, in 1997. It’s strange but across over three decades he managed to remain so consistent, in tone and viewpoint. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but it is refreshing to realize how genuine he was – always on the side of the common man, never shying away from those in power when they were abusing it.
He was a proponent of civil rights and equality from the beginning until near the end of his life. He leapt to the defense of Harold Washington (the first African-American mayor of Chicago) from the get go, although he was at least somewhat critical of his successor, Eugene Sawyer. He was awestruck that Powell was seen as a viable presidential candidate for the 1996 selection, while lamenting that the most celebrated speaker at the Million Man March was Louis Farrakhan. I cannot imagine the delight he would have taken in the story of Barack Obama, but I was also know that he wouldn’t be afraid to call Obama on anything he did wrong.
The world of today seems to have so much possibilities for him – I would have loved to see his commentary on the whole Rod Blagojevich fiasco. I cannot imagine what sort of words he would have had for the fear mongering Bush administration. Alas, I have to accept that we’ll never know what could have been.
I highly recommend this collection (there are others, which are probably equally excellent, but I cannot recommend at this time). I am going to try to read his biography of Richard J. Daley (the current Mayor of Chicago’s father), Boss in the near future.