Tag Archives: Academy Chicago

A Prescription for Good Writing

CBR_Logo2Chicago Flashbulbs:
A Quarter-Century of News, Politics, Sports and Show Business (1987–2012)
by Cory Franklin, MD

IN THE LAST GREAT DAYS of the Powerhouse Newspaper Columnist, the late, great Jim Murray, who wrote about sports for more than thirty years at the Los Angeles Times, guaranteed his place in the Metaphor Hall of Fame when he noted that Rickey Henderson’s strike zone was “the size of  Hitler’s heart.” But Murray was no isolated titan; in those days, terrific columnists were thick on the ground: Art Buchwald, Mike Royko, Murray Kempton, Molly Ivins, Jimmy Breslin, Edna Buchanan. Alas, they have no real peers today, for their natural incubator, the daily newspaper, is the bloodiest and most public victim of the digital revolution.

9780897337182_FCChicago Flashbulbs, a wonderful collection of short-form essays, many of which originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune, suggests that there’s still hope for readers who appreciate the general-interest newspaper column. The collection reveals its author as a man of parts, a writer of great skill and eclectic cultural discernment. Cory Franklin, whose work has appeared the New York Times, Jerusalem Post, Chicago Sun-Times, and New York Post and has been excerpted in the New York Review of Books, is also an award-winning physician who served as Director of Intensive Care at Cook County Hospital. In this volume, he has gathered and categorized his prolific newsprint output into as fine a collection of newspaper columns as anything published back in the glory days of the form.

That a general-interest columnist be a person of parts is an important qualification for this kind of writing, for one can never be certain what topics will be grist for the deadline mill. Chicago Flashbulbs is roughly divided into themed sections: “Entertainment,” “People,” “Life,” “Current Events,” “Sports,” “Chicago,” etc. Not surprisingly, given the author’s profession, some of the strongest pieces are in the “Medicine & Science” section, which includes Franklin’s ruminations on the AIDS epidemic (he started writing about the disease in the 1980s), shifting boundaries in medical ethics, Medicare reform, purported links between vaccines and autism, and the national nursing shortage. The “Chicago” section includes pieces devoted to athletes—Ken Holtzmann, Dick Selma, Derrick Rose—as well as Franklin’s excoriation of Chicago’s WBEZ for dropping jazz programming (although the piece is undated, this presumably appeared in 2006.)

“Chicago” also includes my favorite Franklin piece, “Letter to a New York Friend,” which internal evidence suggests was published in 2008. It begins like this:

 “Here in Chicago, where the audacity of hope began, everyone is beginning to believe that it just might happen this fall. A lot of people believed it never could happen. Generations went through their whole lives desperately hoping against hope to see it. They eventually grew old and went to their graves, disappointed and empty. Before those people died, for years the words of pundits and experts cut them to their marrow—they said it was impossible, or, at least if not impossible, it might take another hundred years before the country would actually see it. But now even the experts acknowledge this might finally be the year. Even today, it’s not a sure thing, even money at best, but if it does happen every single person will tell their grandchildren they were alive to see it, even those who don’t like the idea now.

Several hundred words later, it ends like this:

“What’s that you say Barack Obama? An African-American becoming president? Well, that would be remarkable. But that’s not what I was talking about. Truth to tell, haven’t really been paying much attention to politics, so don’t know much about him.

No, I was talking about the Cubs winning the World Series.”

Among the memorable pieces in Chicago Flashbulbs are “Life’s Final Snub: Getting Cheated on Your Obituary,” “Uh Oh, Oh Jeez: Let’s Go to the Teleprompter,” “The Platters and the Civil Rights Movement,” “The Greatest Baseball Player Ever,” and “The Death of EveryMom,” the last a reflection on the death of Barbara Billingsley. Chicago Flashbulbs closes with a well-constructed long-form essay about the legacy of the U.S. military herbicide Agent Orange.

That not all of the pieces note original publication dates is one shortcoming of Chicago Flashbulbs; the other is the curious lack of a Table of Contents. These peccadillos aside, Academy Chicago is to be commended for this compact, handsome collection of ephemera from a very gifted writer.

Three-Star Review

June 2013, Academy Chicago Publishers
$22.95, paperback, 304 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8973-3718-2

—Reviewed by Patrick Quinn

Read some of Cory Franklin’s work at PoliticalMavens.com.

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Inside Chicago’s ‘Hellish’ Health Care

Life, Death, and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital
by David A. Ansell, MD, MPH

In the face of numerous votes in the House of Representative to repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), County: Life, Death, and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital provides a vigorous counterweight in the continuing national debate over health care in America.

ISBN_only_illustrator_templateWritten by David A. Ansell, who currently practices at Rush University Medical Center and is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Cook County Health System, County was originally published in 2011 as a hardcover. The 2013 paperback version includes a new foreword by the author.

The author is a New York native who came to Chicago in the late 1970s as an intern and stayed. Drawing on his day-to-day experiences as a resident and attending physician during seventeen years at Cook County Hospital, Ansell deftly mixes his personal story into the overall public healthcare debate. Using Cook County Hospital as the perfect backdrop, Ansell illustrates the dysfunction of today’s healthcare system. With a steady eye, he outlines the appalling treatment of patients at Cook County Hospital: hours-long waits for fifteen minutes with a doctor, a complete lack of privacy or dignity, medication and basic medical equipment unavailable, months between follow-up visits, patients dying in the ER while awaiting care (one woman died of a burst appendix, a relatively simple condition to treat).

The author also touches on local politics without getting bogged down in minutia. A bit more about the politics and corruption of Chicago and Cook County would lend some much-needed color and context to the narrative, although it’s plausible that the author may believe politics is not his forte, and he may not have wanted to shift the focus away from the patients he cared for.

What politics Ansell does engage in highlight his battles with County Hospital bureaucracy and the inequities of the U.S. healthcare system. County forcefully sets before the reader’s eyes the hellish realities faced by the poor and uninsured while avoiding the trap of becoming a polemic. Ansell advocates for a single-payer health system, but he doesn’t use economic arguments, political expediency, or an overwhelming statistical assault. Instead, he relies on the ridiculousness of the County Hospital bureaucracy and his personal stories with his patients to make his case. Some of those stories are quite touching. County presents a specific point of view; it doesn’t pretend to be even-handed. No doubt others make a case for the other side.

The book is a quick read that, for the most part, follows a sensible chronological order (this breaks down at about Chapter 20, giving the book several denouements rather than one tidy conclusion). The author is a skilled writer who knows how to keep the reader engaged and interested. Unfortunately, Ansell sometimes falls into a bit of self-aggrandizement, conveying a sense of “I was in the front lines of protesting” that detracts from the book.

In addition, there are two minor errors that a Chicago-based author (and publisher) should know better than to make: pork bellies are traded at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, not the Chicago Board of Trade, and the disgraced police detective is Jon Burge, not John Burge. The book’s editor should have caught those errors.

County is not a comprehensive history of Cook County Hospital; rather, it focuses on the author’s years there, from the 1970s to the 1990s. Many of the names mentioned throughout the book will not be familiar to those outside the medical community, but everyone has heard of and knows about Cook County Hospital. For readers who are interested in an insider’s look at the “Old Lady on Harrison Street,” County is a worthy read.

Three-Star Review

May 2013, Academy Chicago Publishers
$22.50, 256 pages, paperback
ISBN: 978-0-8973-3719-9

Learn more about County and author David Ansell.

—Reviewed by Stephen Isaacs

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