Some tips for tackling the long novel Les Misérables

The convict Jean Valjean repents and finds redemption in loving the orphan Cosette. Relentless police inspector Javert, however, keeps him on the run. French society, rife with poverty and inequality, is erupting. Cosette’s marriage to young idealist Marius puts a wedge between her and her “father” Valjean, who wastes away from the loss but is... Read more »

Wordnesia strikes when playing Scrabble

My friend Sandie and I were playing Scrabble, as we do every Tuesday, and I blanked on spelling annul. Two n’s or two l’s? Another time I juggled the u and e in fuel back and forth. I spent my career in the word business and am a decent speller. How is it then that... Read more »

Deciding about offensiveness: sometimes editors get it wrong

You may have heard that the new executive editor of The Reader survived just one issue. Mark Konkol was fired because the cover cartoon on the February 15 issue showed gubernatorial candidate J. B. Pritzker sitting on a black lawn jockey statue as an FBI agent listens in on his phone conversation. The accompanying headline,... Read more »
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Thoughts on Lenten resolutions

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them,” the deacon read in the Gospel on Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. I’ve been struggling about how to share some thoughts about Lenten resolutions without disclosing what I’m doing. Mea culpa if this post hints at my Lenten... Read more »

Historical novels for Black History Month

For the last many months, I’ve been reading historical fiction based in the United States. More about that in another post, but because it’s Black History Month, I’m recommending a few novels with African American protagonists. Jubilee (1966) by Margaret Walker: If the reader didn’t know that Jubilee was based on the story of Margaret... Read more »

Mock meat has its place — in moderation

A couple of weeks ago, a story in the Chicago Tribune food section about “next-generation veggie burgers” annoyed me. My beef (excuse the pun) wasn’t with the reporting; Nick Kindelsperger did a thorough job of finding restaurants that serve great meatless burgers. It was with the premise that the best veggie burgers are the ones... Read more »

My folks’ platinum jubilee

  My parents are ordinary people, except for this: In two days they’ll have been married 70 years. Wednesday will be their platinum jubilee. Of course, the milestone speaks to their longevity as well as their relationship. Dad’s life expectancy at birth was 54 years, and Mom’s was 65. Dad is now 97 and Mom 90,... Read more »

My grandparents came from a “shithole” country

I don’t know when it became a compliment to be called a “hunk,” but when my Slovak grandparents immigrated to the United States at the turn of the 20th century, “Hunkies” was an ethnic slur hurled at them. Hunkies were believed to be stupid and inferior to the native Anglo descendants. My maternal grandparents were... Read more »

Will Republicans excuse anything Trump says?

Dear Senator McConnell, I couldn’t vote for you because I don’t live in Kentucky, and in truth I wouldn’t vote for you if I could, but you are the majority leader of the Senate, so I’m writing on Martin Luther King Day to ask you to show moral leadership for the good of the country... Read more »

Giving up the resolution to diet

If you, like me, thought about making 2018 the year when you really would lose 10 or 15 pounds, New Year’s articles about the folly of dieting were either depressing or liberating. In a January 1 article in the Tribune, psychology professors Traci Mann and A. Janet Tomiyama explained why they concluded from their research... Read more »