Editor's Notebook: It's a good time to read, and share, a few good books

Mar 1, 2002

Peggy Boyer Long
Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues

We feel downright bookish this month.

Aaron Chambers delves into the literary efforts of a con-man-turned-author for his piece on identity theft (see page 14). In The Art of the Steal, Chambers tells us, reformed crook Frank Abagnale explains how to identify, and try to get ahead of, that kind of fraud. But Abagnale’s first-hand assessment that it’s easy to steal someone else’s identity is a sober sotto voce in Chambers’ already scary story about officials’ attempts to overtake this growing phenomenon. 

Robert Kuhn McGregor writes (page 33) that he got John M. Barry’s Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America as a Christmas present. He passes that gift along. McGregor explores Barry’s nonfiction, as well as William Faulkner’s fiction, and — believe it or not — Randy Newman’s and Led Zeppelin’s music in his essay on Americans’ enduring belief that we can tell water what to do.

Ryan Reeves is drawn to a more scientific exploration of the Prairie State’s landscape. Yet, Raymond Wiggers’ Geology Underfoot in Illinois, he writes (page 36), is a narrative guidebook, “a tale that stretches back more than a million years and encompasses waterfalls, canyons, inland seas, meteorite craters and, yes, prairie.”

Beverley Scobell stays pretty much above ground in her review of A Guide to Illinois Nature Centers and Interpretive Trails. Her description of that more practical guidebook (page 37) suggests a few getaways for Illinoisans.

Bill Knight tips us to a book that hasn’t been published yet (page 30). In honor of Women’s History Month, he profiles Ruth Robertson, the first female photographer to step onto Wrigley Field, and the first to shoot the world’s highest waterfall. Robertson is the subject of a proposed book, as well as a documentary film.

It’s a good time, it seems, as this non- winter turns into an uncertain spring, to read, and share, a few good books. I recommend three to mark women’s history and black history. 

The first was a surprising find. Images of America: Greek-American Pioneer Women of Illinois was adapted from a photo exhibit, which never promises a good read. And yet this little volume manages to be compelling. The exhibit was sponsored by the Greek Women’s University Club. The book, funded in part by the Illinois Humanities Council and the Illinois General Assembly, was published by Arcadia of Chicago.

It’s a compilation of the documentary and photographic histories of five women who arrived in Chicago between 1885 and 1923. But it’s the story of all immigrant women of Greek heritage, and their efforts to transcend the hardships they found, to transform — create, really — a community.

Among the women profiled is state Sen. Adeline Geo-Karis. Those who follow Illinois political figures are likely to be familiar with her story. Gathered all in one place, though, it’s an inspiration. Geo-Karis went through Ellis Island at age 4, and, at a time when Greek-American women were discouraged from attending school, she went on to get a law degree. Then join the Navy. The list of firsts is a long one. 

Reading about African-Americans who settled the western slice of the state is inspiring, too. And surprising. Black Life in West Central Illinois, also published by Arcadia, was researched and compiled by Felix L. Armfield, who was a professor of history and African-American Studies in the mid-’90s at Western Illinois University in Macomb. The preface was written by the Rev. C.T. Vivian who grew up in Macomb and went on to work with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This book also is a collection of photographs and news clippings. But the story is surprising because it recounts the creation of a black community outside Chicago.

The nonurban black community is one theme of perhaps the best book on my short list. Tell Us a Story: An African American Family in the Heartland, written by Shirley Motley Portwood and published by Southern Illinois University Press, manages to offer black history, women’s history, family history and community history all at once. It’s a great read, too. 

Illinois Issues, March 2002