Friday, October 6, 2017

Rich Cohen's "Story of a Curse" captures Cubs glory

Rich Cohen, right, at Harry Caray's on Kinzie.



     Rich Cohen is having a better life than I am. He's younger, handsomer and his books sell better. Keith Richards thinks Rich Cohen is cool. The only whisper of coolness I can claim is that I know Rich Cohen.
     Most galling, he's a better writer than I am. His recent book — he's written 11 — was about the Rolling Stones. I ate it up, even though I have no interest in the band. That's the definition of a good writer: someone who can hold your attention on a topic you otherwise care little about. I had zero curiosity about Lyndon Johnson until Robert Caro hooked his fingers into my nostrils and led me through three thick books about LBJ like a drover pulling an ox with a ring through its nose.   

     Before the Stones, Cohen wrote "Monsters" about the 1985 Bears. I enjoyed that, and know little about football and care less. I spent more time reading Cohen's book about the team than I've spent watching Bears games over the past decade.
     How does he do it? Sharp writing spiked with fascinating facts, like the unexpected connection between the name "Bears" and the Cubs, the topic of his latest book, published Wednesday, "The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse.
     In it, he offers three things: first, a history of the team filled with amazing trivia — Zachary Taylor Davis was the architect of both Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park — and unexpected juxtapositions. I knew Hack Wilson lost a ball in the sun, and I knew he had a great season, hitting 56 home runs. But I didn't realize one followed the other, that the standout season was poor, sodden Wilson's desperate attempt to erase the shame of missing that ball.
     Second, Cohen, who grew up in Glencoe, chronicles his own lifelong love of the Cubs, despite their curse, "a futility that lasted so long we turned it into a religion."


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13 comments:

  1. Wow. So there's a Chicago writer you look up to. And I'd always looked up to you.

    As Mark Twain said:

    Every man is a master and also a servant, a vassal. There is always someone who looks up to him and admires and envies him;; there is always someone to whom he looks up and whom he admires and envies.

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    Replies
    1. I admire a lot of Chicago writers: Eric Zorn is an excellent columnist, hitting the important daily events while I wander off into an alley to sniff flowers. Rick Kogan is sui generis. And many more. As I like to say, I'm not even the best writer in Northbrook: that would be Bob Kurson.

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    2. A nice departure from Dean Swift's view:

      "What poet would not grieve to see
      His brother write as well as he,
      But rather than they should excel,
      Would wish his rivals all in Hell."

      Tom

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  2. Yes! Great writers can make you interested in people you've had no interest in. Caro on LBJ, yep; also Caro on Robert Moses (The Power Broker, probably the best biography I've ever read). And Nick Tosches on Dean Martin (https://www.amazon.com/Dino-Living-Dirty-Business-Dreams/dp/038533429X).

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    Replies
    1. I would add to that list Wayne Johnston on Newfoundland. Most of his books are fiction but who would have thought that Newfoundland was anything more than a rock in the North Atlantic.

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  3. "Biography is the quick in pursuit of the dead." Elizabeth Hardwick

    Tom

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  4. ".... a good writer: someone who can hold your attention on a topic you otherwise care little about." <---- Describes someone we all know and read every goddamn day :)

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    Replies
    1. Indeed, Sandy, I had the same thought. I read and enjoy our host's columns and posts about many topics that I have no particular interest in.

      Alas, I *do* have my limits. I will occasionally manage to wriggle the ring in my nose out of the good drover's hand in advance when I see that the topic is, say, puppets, voodoo or Kumamon, for instance. ; )

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    2. I do agree with you both about enjoyment of this blog, but I got to disagree with Jakash about puppets, voodoo, and Kumamon, especially Kumamon. There's been many times I've gone to google translate to figure out what the tweets from Kumamon mean that our host retweets.

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    3. Jakash, Understandable. Still, after plodding through some of the ones I think I'll be completely unmoved by, I'm never sorry I read them. It's the humor and sarcasm and the other "Neilisms" that keep me reading :))

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  5. Marvelous photo at the top of the blog. From a sea of spectators arise several dozen distinct personalities. All I get when I attempt to take a picture at Wrigley is a blob with stick figures in the distance.

    john

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