Division Street America

My old hometown, Chicago, seems much on everybody’s mind lately. One of its greatest journalists, Studs Terkel, died last weekend, and it’ll host some kind of big political event this evening. I’ve had a hard time not thinking about the place—when the National Book Critics Circle recently asked its members to recommend books that speak to this particular political moment, Mike Royko‘s Boss was the first to spring to mind.

So novelist Jon Fasman‘s portrait of Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood is worth a look—partly because it’s a literary story, looking at the neighborhood through Saul Bellow‘s eyes. But also because it captures the kind of tight-knit ethnic enclaves that make it seem less like a Big City and a little more livable:

My early memories are full of characters I would come to recognize (or at least call) Bellovian: Jewish wiseguys, street-smart autodidacts like my grandfather, an orphan raised in military school who became first a professional saxophonist and then a lawyer, who taught me how to play poker when I was 6. My grandfather also read voraciously; when he came across an unfamiliar word he wrote it on the book’s inside flap, then looked it up and used it as soon as he could. My grandmother could curse in Yiddish and quote Browning from memory with equal felicity. Art and commerce coexisted, rather than competing, in these people and in their milieu. Augie, Einhorn and Maurice spoke in their accents: adenoidal Midwestern with an unerasable Yiddish twang.


If you live in the D.C. area and you’re glutton for even more Election Day coverage than you’re probably already taking in, please swing by the Web site for my employer, Washington City Paper, which will be covering local and national affairs throughout the day. (In theory I’ll be riffing on the Maryland slots vote, but we’re all playing it by ear, pretty much.) If you have news about the election that you’d like to Twitter us about, tag them as #dcvotes and they’ll show up on our homepage.