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When I think of a jungle, I imagine a happy place with abundant greenery, tigers roaming the underbrush and monkeys swinging through the massive trees on leafy vines.  Obviously I’ve totally bought into the Disney jungle vision depicted in “Tarzan”.

jungle3I had thought all my imaginings of jungles to be far away from Chicago, thinking I would have to travel by land and sea before reaching one.  Until, that is, I devoured Upton Sinclair’s groundbreaking novel The Jungle.  I hate to even use the word “devour” when discussing this novel, since so much of it deals with contaminated meat, blue milk and inhumane conditions that completely quell any appetite.

The year is 1905, and immigrants scramble to Chicago to begin a new, better life with the promises of secure jobs and wealth within the Stockyards.  Following Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis as he strives to support his new wife, son and her family, it is a true tale of survival that is hard to digest.  From the gruesome work conditions to the utter squalor at home, this is a story based on a truth that was debilitating and deathly to many.

Jurgis begins as an optimistic young man, newly married and naive, yet physically and mentally strong.  In the beginning he embraces his demanding life at the Stockyards, ignorant to the politics and corruption.   As his awareness is raised, his life becomes harder.  Through injury and circumstance, the family’s situation at home worsens, and food and heat are both harder to come by.  While I’m not a fan of Chicago Winters (you should all know how desperately I’m waiting for spring!), I’ve never had to worry about freezing to death stuck in a snowdrift, literally having my ears break off from the cold (poor little Stansilova) or freezing in my sleep.

More than just a bleak story of one poor family, it is a political piece looking at work conditions and the quality of meat packaged for the United States.  Sinclair actually went undercover in Packingtown as the Stockyards were called, so experienced the conditions of the workers and the meat first hand.

“It seemed that they must have agencies all over the country, to hunt out old and crippled and diseased cattle to be canned.  (they would come in) Covered with boils.  It was a nasty job killing these, for when you plunged the knife into them they would burst and splash foul-smelling stuff into your face… It was stuff such as this that made the ’embalmed beef’ that had killed several times as many United States soldiers as all the bullets of the Spaniards…”

In addition to the spoiled meat, Sinclair tells about workers falling into vats, and when they were discovered all that was left of the human is a pile of bones, since every other body part had gone out packaged as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard (as in, human parts consumed by other people).  Minor injuries often meant death, directly or indirectly through blood disease or no money to buy food.  Never have I appreciated health insurance so much.

As I read this book I questioned if I would have been strong enough to have survived in this time period.  The life depicted is so tough I was depressed while reading it.  It seemed to me the people had very little to live for.  There was no end in sight to their squalor; they weren’t working to get ahead and have time to relax and enjoy their effort, they were working to stay alive.  There as no real home life to speak of, as they were so exhausted from working so long with little nourishment people climbed right into bed upon walking in the door.  As a parent, it’s hard to feel right about sending your child to work the streets or in the factories, knowing they don’t have a future but you need their meager contributions to keep the family alive.  My mom says hope springs eternal, and throughout this book I’m inclined to agree.

I think everyone should read this book.  I wouldn’t even say it’s inspirational exactly, but more a realistic view at how life could be, and how it has been for people in the past and how far we’ve come.  It also may make you chuckle at how germaphobic a society we’ve become, since people survived (of course, many did not) on spoiled milk and infected meat.  I made a point to eat my asparagus that fell off the side of my plate onto the coffee table today, telling myself it will only toughen me up!

jungle-coverMy main complaint is the Socialist rally cry that takes up the last few chapters of this novel.  I understand Sinclair considered himself a Socialist, but I thought the political propaganda could have been discarded and a very strong novel would have remained without any stated biases. Just be sure to not eat canned meat when reading!  Good news though: this book inspired the Pure Food Act passed in 1906, shortly after the book became a success after it’s book publication in February of the same year.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: A-
  • Title: The Jungle
  • Author: Upton Sinclair
  • Publisher: Doubleday in 1906, originally run as segments in “Appeal to Reason” magazine 1905

As I finally got around to uploading photos from January to current on Facebook, I realized that 2009 has already been a year to remember (although I don’t look photogenic in any of the moments!).

Yes, it’s true I have joined the ranks of the unemployed, but I’ve also been motivated and inspired to follow my dreams of launching a career in book publishing, started this blog which has become quite an enjoyable hobby, begun to really appreciate Chicago and all it offers, been to my first Bulls game, Cocokey Resort with three of my best friends, had the #1 bracket in my pool as of NOW (sorry, MSU, I bet correctly that UNC would pull off the win), started a volunteer relationship with a worthwhile organization (<3 to you, Open Books), been blessed with a baby nephew, and been lucky enough to have the love, support and enjoyment of a wonderful family and system of friends.

Alright, fine, I may be a little tipsy from watching the pathetic game that MSU just played, but I am thankful for all this year has already brought (I cannot believe Easter is this Sunday – time has flown by) and all it promises in the future.  I hope you all enjoyed my Miller Lite induced ramblings (potentially found some inspiration yourself?), but hopefully this little nugget will serve as a reminder for the important things next time I get frustrated when job searching or waiting for spring to come to  Chicago.

Heading home on the train tomorrow, looking forward to some quality MI time with the family and good books, while curled up in my favorite chair!  Hopefully book reviews to come shortly… Hitting the “publish” button before I can overthink and delete this…

Yesterday morning started out relatively sunny, before the snow flurries came.  As I was out strolling through to city I saw so many signs of spring I couldn’t resist from taking pictures.  See my collage, below, and retain hope that Spring will eventually “spring” in Chicago!

chicago-spring-collage-1

Obviously I love Chicago.  And while I can tout the benefits of this city I call Home all I want, it’s nice to have an objective source of authority on which to stand.

Although I rarely consider a group of men to be a source of authority beyond the stereotypical sports stats, Playboy models and occasionally mechanical parts, the AskMen.com Editorial Team really pulled through, ranking Chicago as the #1 City to Live in. This ranking is based on applying a statistical formula to eight lifestyle categories (listed in the picture below), then taking into account the intangible benefits offered.  Visit http://www.askmen.com/specials/2009_top_29/ for the complete listing of 29 great cities, or just read the Chicago article below:

Notice how we rank low on the $$ of beer - surprised?

Notice how we rank low on the $$ of beer - surprised?

Why you should live in Chicago

Fine culture and greasy food

As the largest city in the Midwest, Chicago strikes the perfect balance between cosmopolitan and comfortable, combining all of the culture, entertainment and sophistication of an internationally renowned destination with an affordable lifestyle and down-to-earth work hard/play hard character.

World-class cultural fixtures like the Art Institute, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago International Film Festival and a vibrant theater scene are complemented by popular festivals like Jazz Fest, Blues Fest and the recently revitalized Lollapalooza, Outdoor Film Festival, and Second City, which happens to be the source of 39% of the U.S.’s greatest comedians (a scientifically calculated fact!). Chicago possesses one of the world’s most vibrant, diverse and innovative restaurant scenes, from culinary luminaries like Charlie Trotter, Grant Achatz and Rick Bayless to an astounding variety of hole-in-the-wall neighborhood joints to Chicago’s signature greasy trinity of deep dish pizza, Italian beef and Chicago-style hot dogs.

A hardcore sports town, Chicago covers all of the professional leagues (some twice) with teams that actually have history, both famous and infamous. And while the winters are rough, Chicagoans make the most of the warmer months, taking their love of sports to the beaches, courts, paths, and parks of Chicago’s beautiful lakefront, set aside as public land for the entire city’s enjoyment.

Why you should live in Chicago in 2009

Lollapalooza, the Hawks and the Cubs

This year, Chicago is a city abuzz. The International Olympic Committee announces the 2016 host city this October, and Chicago’s glitterati and power brokers are schmoozing it up as they create numerous support committees in the hopes that Chicago is selected. Lollapalooza is already a music fan’s Mecca, and with Jane’s Addiction now back together, where better to catch Perry Farrell this year than headlining his own festival?

On the cultural front, the new modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago will be opening in May, and history buffs living in the Land of Lincoln will be busy checking out the numerous exhibitions celebrating his bicentennial. Chicago is always fertile ground for political junkies, but Obama’s election paired with the Blagojevich and Burris fiascoes have turned an always entertaining political scene into a full-blown three ring circus that even those who aren’t armchair pundits will find fascinating.

After years in the standing’s wilderness, the Blackhawks — one of the original six teams in the NHL — are once again a force to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, the Cubs are projected by most to be tops in the National League, and a World Series victory would set off a citywide party of the century — literally.

Read more about Chicago

By Dominic Armato

cwip1

As of five seconds ago, I am officially a member of Chicago Women in Publishing (CWIP)!

This past Wednesday, I was lucky enough to attend the Freelance Edge seminar CWIP ran.  The panelists were informative and the other attendees were friendly and welcoming – overall a beneficial experience with a professional group of mostly women, many of them with titles and experience I envy.

I am hoping to be able to become actively involved with the CWIP organization and contribute to their community.  I was an active member of numerous groups in college, but since moving to Chicago have apparently been distracted by the many other offerings and my participation has fallen – this is my first step in fixing that!

Check out CWIP’s website for more information – http://www.cwip.org. With the $100 enrollment fee you can attend their weekly monthly seminars at no additional cost, covering a variety of topics from freelance work to green publishing, as well as have access to the exclusive online jobvine (which I obviously could benefit from).  A social aspect is also offered through mixers and seasonal get-togethers.

Next Step: Volunteering with Open Books on their Literacy Team!

The other night a group of 11 of us girls got together for a 25th birthday dinner for a friend.  Quartino’s, the fun Gold Coast spot we chose for shared small-plates and affordable wine was smart enough to seat our loud-chattering and wine-induced crowd into our own private, window enclosed room.  In which we could look through the glass at the other diners if we so chose, or had the option of pulling the shades, making out own secret room.  Romantic? Maybe with a different crowd.  Prestigious? Potentially, if we weren’t buying the cheapest liters of house wine from the menu.  Secretive?  Definitely.  My mind immediately went to the “Mob-like” activities that could have, and most likely did, occur in similar rooms throughout Chicago in the 1990s.

“Most cities have one overriding claim to fame.  Say Los Angeles and you think about the movies; say Paris, you think art; Detroit, cars.  But when people the world over, say Chicago, they think of something less marketable:  Organized Crime.” -Robert Cooley

Since I’ve been unemployed, I’ve had time to wander the city (please note my updated To Do: Chicago list) and really have begun to appreciate the history that’s apparent on every street.  To delve into the past, I’ve decided to embark on a trip down the darker side of Chicago, that of the Mob, and Robert Cooley, cited above, is the rabble-rousing teenager -> policeman -> lawyer -> crooked lawyer -> government informant who is the source to take us behind the scenes of the once all-powerful Chicago Outfit.

Certain aspects of mob life are rather appealing… The glitz and glamour, bottles of champagne (as opposed to the house wine!) at all the hottest bars and clubs, the notoriety and special attention, almost like a modern day celebrity with an underlying aspect of danger (Chris Brown, anyone?!)… But of course, that’s ignoring the drugs, violence, total un-loyalty and the all too common occurrence of being unaware you’re being treated to your last supper before being violently disposed of in a very inhumane way, most likely by a trusted confidant.

This is a memoir/autobiography told from one immersed in the mob, and character_cooleynot always on the right side of the law – When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down.

Robert Cooley was the “Mechanic” for the Chicago Mafia – nothing to do with cars, he was the lawyer responsible for buying judges and guaranteeing a “Not Guilty” verdict for hitmen and gamblers alike.  In return for his services, Cooley enjoyed protected as well as a steady influx of cash to feed any vice in which he chose to indulge, and there were many.

I tend to be naive, but I believe that even for those jaded, cynical people, the depth of corruption was shocking – from the police force to government officials, the Mob had ties, and typically high-ranking officials, in every office.

Harry Aleman in 1977. He was the Outfit’s top Hit Man, "the killing machine."

The Outfit’s top Hit Man, "the killing machine."

In an inexplicable attack of conscience, Cooley strolled into the office of the FBI’s Organized Crime Strike Force and turned the tables on the mob, wearing a wire from 1986-1989, eventually becoming responsible for more than 30 convictions.

An intense book about a piece of Chicago’s history many would rather was forgotten, this is a nail-biting tale that manages to drag the reader in even though Cooley isn’t always likable.  I guess to put your life in danger with a notoriously violence group who will put a $1MM reward on your head takes a cocky man, and Cooley definitely fits the bill.

Read this if: You’re into gangster lore, crime stories, Chicago’s history, or are still upset The Sopranos went off-air.

Avoid this if: You believe justice is always served fair and equal, and want to remain believe so.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: B+
  • Title: When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down
  • Author: Robert Cooley with Hillel Levin
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers, an imprint of Avalon

NovelWhore rambling: Much of this book takes place in my Gold Coast neighborhood, and I have to admit my over-active imagination has been taking me places with every well-dressed man I see walking down the street, especially those with an entourage and a bulge (imagined? possibly…) beneath a suit jacket that could very likely be a gun… Could a group so in-charge and infamous as recent as the 1990s be really be made obsolete?  I can’t help wondering what lucrative business deals the mob has a hold on now, though I like to believe they have refocused their sites on the less-popular prostitution and gambling rings and the courts are now clean… Thoughts?!

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed on and digested.” ~Francis Bacon

…Currently in the midst of trying to write up two intense, very different books, and feeling a little stuck (aka, “digesting” these novels).

Stay tuned: “Lolita” and “When Corruption Was King” will (hopefully) be coming soon…

You know those days that surprise you, that appear out of no where (or, in this case, a rare 60 degree day with sunshine) that just make you appreciate where you are and just happy? I’ve been lucky enough to have one of those days today.

It started with my first-time visit to this amazing coffee shop… For those of you in my neighborhood, I urge you to try the ING Cafe at Chestnut and Wabash (Gold Coast), where coffee, tea, bottled water and even muffins are available for only $1!  Then I had time to peruse the internet and get a little productivity in before my pilates class, at which there was a wonderful new instructor who, while laughing at my lack of coordination really was encouraging and helpful.

welcome-chicago-publishing-galleryHad I already mentioned the 60 degree weather?  So I donned my sunglasses and headed downtown to take a look at the relatively new Chicago Publishers Gallery, located in the Cultural Center (77 E. Randolph St.).

An impressive place (even just the Cultural Center itself was worth the trip), I was thrilled with the offerings, took out my nerdy little notebook and started taking notes on publishers and books to research further.  The Gallery consists of two cozy areas on either side of a grand staircase, with comfy leather chairs and soft lighting, making a very inviting area.

The two gallery areas, those these pictures don't do justice to the experience

The two gallery areas, those these pictures don't do justice to the experience. Check out http://www.chicagopublishersgallery.com

For me, the experience was doubly important as I was impressed by the tangible displays of the publishing industry in Chicago.  True, there were no Random House or HarperCollins imprints, but the quantity and quality of books available was a welcoming sight to see.

After making note of the books I couldn’t wait to read, I headed straight for my favorite new and used book store, After-Words (23 E. Illinois St.).  Amazingly enough, they had both books I wanted (and used, so cheap!) – I was able to pick up a collection of Mike Royko’s columns and “Alpana Pours” for just over $20.  I am already looking forward to reviewing both of these Chicago-published books, so keep coming back!

Now, on for what will hopefully continue to be a wonderful Friday.  Happy Weeked, everyone!

I love the Bean in Millennium Park!

I love the Bean in Millennium Park!

It has officially been 172 years since the city of Chicago has been incorporated! Still gorgeous, though having undergone a few bouts with plastic surgery (especially after that big fire in 1871), Chicago is still a mecca of culture, skyscrapers, nightlife and history.

Also of note, today is NATIONAL GRAMMAR DAY! Total nerd comment, but my English teacher roommate informed me and I think it should be celebrated by all.  Maybe brush up on some who vs. whom and the basic good vs. well.

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