Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Neil Steinberg, columnist and wordsmith for the Chicago Sun-Times. We discussed writing -- the business and the trade -- and he gave me a copy of his 1994 book of essays A Complete & Utter Failure: A Celebration of Also-Rans, Runners-Up, Never-Weres and Total Flops, which I am greatly enjoying. Steinberg has a way with words, and phrases, and perspective; at the close of his introduction of Failure, he writes:
The dark shades of failure illuminate a different and enlightening brand of history. The world seen through the screen of failure appears more genuine, more human, more funny. Past events seem more real, less mythical, less polished. Failure can be a guide, helping us shake off erroneous generalities and briskly contemplate the face of things that otherwise are too often ignored -- a handy tool to dredge up the forgotten and to celebrate the shunned. Too often we are satisfied with parsing the tired minutiae of the familiar and famous, rolling in the memories of Elvis and Marilyn and Madonna, scraping every detail from the successful. It is both a duty and a joy to turn our gaze away occasionally, to seek out failure and to probe its mysteries.
Steinberg's most recent column focuses on one of the greatest and most disputed success stories of American history: Christopher Columbus's "discovery" of America. He writes with his usual brand of historical re-angling, managing to simultaneously sympathize with both the Italians (who wanted a "Columbus Day" in order to "be part of the story and celebrate themselves without having to wipe the blood of the slaughtered off their hands every October") and the Indians, while also taking the Aztecs to task for their violence, liberals to task for their guilt, and Americans in general to task "ignoring our biggest problems."
But enough from me. It's a terrific column from one of my new favorite writers. Enjoy. And like the man said: Happy Columbus Day.