Harold Washington Library

Yesterday, the HWL hosted a meeting of the Society of Midwest Authors meeting – the first one in-person since the pandemic’s start. The UIC professor Dick Simpson discussed his new book, “Democracy’s Rebirth” with Mayor Lori (who wrote a preface for that book).

The worst thing about this event was that it went completely not advertised! One lady in the audience asked me how I learned about this event, and I replied that I was looking for something else on the library website. If I won’t looking to reserve a group room, I would never see it! The library announced that the number of participants would be limited to 300, but I do not think there were 300 people there. Those who came wondered how others would miss an opportunity to see the Mayor right in front of them on the stage :).

The conversations around me in the auditorium were even more interesting than on stage. Several people had some organizing/political background, and they exchanged their life stories. One gentleman said that after he retired, he took a crash course to become an ESL teacher and how he wanted to go to Sait-Petersburg and how now he is glad he didn’t go “because he won’t want to aid Mr. Putin.”

There is a special exhibit on the 9th floor to mark the centennial of Harold Washington. For some reason, they don’t allow any photography there, so there is nothing to report.

And I also checked out the Winter Garden – it’s gorgeous, and maybe next time, I will get a chance to grab a table there 🙂

The Four Winds: a Book Review

Such a great book! I do not remember who recommended it to me, and I do not know why I was putting away reading it for so long! I purchased it on Audible a while ago and almost returned it without reading it because other books were in line… I am so glad I didn’t return it!

I knew very little about that period of American history. I knew times were bad, but I could not imagine to what extent! The eco-catastrophe described in the book looks almost not real and, at the same time, too close to nowadays climate change warnings. How people could forget that such horrible things already happened not so long ago.
Another thing that struck me is the description of poverty and how many people showed no compassion. Knowing how deceiving the Soviet propaganda used to be, you tend to think that everything they said back in the days was not true. And then you feel shocked realizing that indeed, people were exploited, and indeed, capitalists were afraid of the unions, and indeed, communists risked their lives, and they, indeed, did some good things!

One of these books, when you are sad you’ve finished it already :).

And More To The Previous Post

Two things I forgot to mention in the previous post. 

One is about the resemblance between the Long COVID and the long-term effects of the Spanish flu on people’s ability to think and concentrate. John Barry even analyzes the behavior of President Wilson during the peace negotiations in Europe. He goes as far as speculating that his inadequate after-flu decisions affected the resulting treaty in such a way that it late made it easier for Hitler to come to power. 

And once again, about an extremely important balance between panic and informed decisions. As John Barry states, people should know the truth. When the government officials are honest in their communications, they help to maintain trust in society. Also, he cites Lincoln about the importance of identifying the thread – only when the thread is identified can you fight it. I would add to this what I’ve already said many times: whenever there is a need to change the course, it is important to explain why these changes are made, what prompted these changes, and why it was not the case before. We all know what would be the reaction otherwise 🙂

“The Great Influenza” book

I have so many things to say about this book! I started reading it because, like many others, the current COVID pandemic prompted my interest in the 1918-1920 flu pandemic. I wanted to know more about it, how people handled a pandemic a century ago, what was the effect on society and the economy, and most importantly – why we know so little about it?! 

The book gave all these answers and even more. It is more “medical” than I thought it would be; sometimes, I felt like there were too many medical details, but that’s what makes this book so convincing. 

 It starts with a survey of medicine and medical science history in America. I could not imagine that there was such a lack of science until the beginning of the 20th century! And then, the book proceeds with documenting the development of the flu pandemic, covering all medical, social, and political aspects. You can’t stop making parallels with the COVID pandemic, even though the book was written more than ten years ago. (The last version of the afterword was written when the COVID pandemic had already begun, so some similarities are discussed)

The big question I had from the very beginning of the current pandemic was the following: why do we know so little about the Spanish flu pandemic? Historical textbooks mention briefly that “one hundred million people got sick,” but that’s pretty much it. When you read anything related to the 1918 – 1920 period, the flu is never mentioned as a background of events. 

The most important reason why it all but disappeared from world history is that it was forbidden to write about it! The world was at war, and none of the participating countries wanted to spread panic or “hurt the morale.” That statement explained much of what was going on. It’s unbelievable: people were getting sick and dying. In some cities, like Philadelphia, dead bodies were piling in the houses because there was nobody to carry them away and nobody to bury them. And newspapers said nothing!

It was primarily because of the wartime censorship, but also because there was (and there is) nothing heroic in dying from a disease. 

The government kept saying, “it’s nothing but the common cold.” Same as know there were people in denial. A quote from the book:

The government’s very efforts to preserve “morale” fostered the fear, for since the war began, morale—defined in the narrowest, most shortsighted fashion—had taken precedence in every public utterance. As California senator Hiram Johnson said in 1917, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.”

Barry, John M.. The Great Influenza (pp. 333-334). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

And one more – especially pronounced because it was written way before the pandemic:

So the first two items on the list are the lessons from 1918, which COVID has confirmed: 

Number one, tell the truth. 

Number two, NPIs work.

Barry, John M.. The Great Influenza (p. 467). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

The author notes that not only the newspapers were silent, but also almost no works of literature mention the Spanish flu pandemic (that prompted me to start actively looking for such books, found some). You can’t stop thinking that our COVID memories might vanish in less than a hundred years! And you can’t stop thinking that the Spanish flu lessons were not learned!


I finally finished Bedrock faith, which I read as a part of One book – One Chicago.

I am still thinking about this book. I rated it 4-star, but I would give it two separate grades if I could. One for the quality of writing, and another for the book’s main idea.

The book is very well written. You do not want to rush through; you are not trying to turn the pages before you finish reading and pick at the end. I read it slowly, enjoying the language, savoring each detail, and each of the characters appeared so real!

As for the book’s main idea, I am still hesitant about my feelings. I think that the book manifests it loud and clear that “once a bad apple always a bad apple.” It feels like Stew Pot “was born bad” and acted violently throughout his life because he could not act differently. And I have a problem with that statement. I believe that under life circumstances, a person can become very negative and that their mind might take such a turn that they would constantly think of harming somebody. But it will always be impossible for me to accept that people might be “born that way,” and there is no way to change it. I would love to discuss it with somebody who read it.

Another book I recently finished listening to is Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. My impressions are similar to what I felt after finishing “Color of Law”: I can’t believe it’s happening here and now. Wilkerson suggests that race is social rather than a biological characteristic and compares the position in the society of Blacks with this of untouchables in the Indian society. The similarities are shocking. Also, she describes many real-life situations that are too real, so well-recognizable, and once again, it feels unreal that things like this happen nowadays. 

The Color Of The Law: The Book Review

Just finished The Color Of Law by Richard Rothstein,

Each time I read something about Black History it strikes me how little I know. It seems like no matter how many books I read and in how many conversations I’ve participated in, it is still not enough.
I had no idea that so many discriminatory clauses in the housing regulations were actually spelled out like discriminatory. Like many other people, even those who like me are well aware of housing inequalities, I was still sure that the unjust economic positioning of Blacks resulted in unjust housing. I had no idea that many city zoning codes, state regulations, and even FHA guidelines had explicit segregation statements. It’s mind-blowing, and I can’t get over it. I didn’t know that Black veterans were effectively denied the benefits provided by GI Bill because you could not get mortgages in general.

It’s from that book that I learned about the contract sales of real estate (and I naively thought that the way people buy houses around me, that’s you get a mortgage and you own a home right away, is what everybody does. And the list of what I didn’t know before goes on and on.

I also find every important several comments which were made in the conclusion of the book. I often resent the opinions of some relatively new immigrants who are making statements to the effect of “why I should feel guilty for slavery, why I should sacrifice something to repay the past wrongdoings if my ancestors were not even here when all these things happen? The author cites an answer to a similar question: you were not there in 1776, but you still enjoy a hot dog n July 4. This means that when you come to this country in search of a better life, although you yourself work hard to achieve prosperity, you still benefit from the wealth, from the governmental institutions, from the quality of life in this country, from everything which was built by previous generations. And when you accept all the benefits of living in the US, you accept all the responsibilities for how that wealth was built.

I hear that sentiment (“My ancestors were not here”) frequently, and I know I have a good quote to answer.

Egalia’s Daughters – A Book Review

I do not remember where I first saw this book (Egalia’s Daughters) mentioned, but I remember that a short description intrigued me, and I went to look for it. I found out that this book is not available neither as an audiobook nor as any type of e-book. After some hesitation, I decided to read a paper book ( the thing I didn’t do for a while). Although now my vision is much better than at the time when I stopped reading paper books and technically speaking, I can read them now, it was still a challenge. I excluded paper books from my life several years ago and could not find a place for them:). I purchased this book in July, and I thought I would make it a beach reading. But as I mentioned before, the beach time appeared so tranquilizing that I didn’t want to do anything at the beach, including the book reading. ‘s

Time passed, and I still could not go beyond the first hundred pages until I decided to take it to read on a plane. I read most of it on the flight to Helsinki and back, and after that, I used every spare minute to finish :). 

This book is brilliant. Just brilliant. I had never read anything like this before! If you try to describe this book in one sentence, it will be trivial like “gender-reversed,” but it’s so much more than that! Man wear skirts and obey their wives, and wives wear pants, drink, smoke, and swear – that is trivial, and it won’t be so interesting. What makes this book incredible is that it demonstrates how ridiculous all references to the “natural order” are when somebody tries to justify the subdued role of women in society, appealing to “nature,” “biology,” and “things always were that way.” It turns out that one can perfectly well justify that men, not women, should care for children and that they are “biologically more suited” to that role. That man “won’t benefit from additional education.” That “a man on a boat is a trouble.” That “men should not exercise.” Oh, and by the way, they are not “men” anymore. Because there are “wim” (wom singular) and there are “manwin” (manwom singular). And a lot of words that are derived from “man” are modified in a similar way. 

Well, you just have to read it. Nothing will prove the absurdity of assigning gender roles that the book assigns them backward. Or that IS indeed the right way:)? 

Recent Books Reviews

The Eating Instinct.

I finished this book a while ago, but I am still unsure what I think about it. It is challenging for a book to stand out among millions of books about foods, dieting, and all related. And this book stands out. Having a child who stopped eating altogether in infancy after a serious health threat gives the author has a very personal perspective on a topic. After being through such a traumatic experience, nobody would be able to go as we all do with “calorie count,” “good foods,” etc.

The great thing this book does is returning you to the basics: food is not evil. You should enjoy food; it’s not a crime. Another important thing is that this book shows that one can eat a very limited variety of foods and still be healthy. I do not believe in “miracle foods,” and I do not believe that there are some “evil” foods, and I am glad that this book supports my point of view. However, it is hard for me to agree with the idea that you should not do anything with your eating habits, that any regulation of your food intake is bad.

I think that we can’t expect our eating instinct to be all “natural” when the lifestyle most humans live is not exactly “natural.” Since I moved to the city three months ago and started life without a car, I can feel how much my new lifestyle is better for my health. The moves are naturally embedded in my everyday life; it’s not “exercising,” it’s “living.” And with this new lifestyle, I do not have a pressing need as I had before to count calories and the number of steps per day.

Many people live differently, and many people objectively can’t “exercise 60 min a day”. I do not think that “do nothing” about your eating habits is a good idea. And although I strongly dislike the
the word “dieting,” I think that a person can change how they eat and not feel deprived.

Sure I will be your black friend,

This book disappointed me. Based on the reviews, I was anticipating something deeper, if not more analytical, at least more thoughtful. I expected conversations about common stereotypes, which were hinted at by the names of the chapters. The book ended up being just another autobiography (for at least 90% of it).
In addition, while I was reading this book, the question continued to pop up: how all the people the author mentions reacted? It is true for any autobiography, but when a book is written by an older person, it’s easier to “abstract” from the characters inhabiting the book and to think about them as somebody in the past. But in that case, the author is young, and he writes about events that happened just a couple of years ago, or even later. I would not like to be any of these people he writes about! Even if there are no bad things said.

The Warsaw Orphan

For a couple of weeks, I was reading five different books simultaneously, and this week, I finished two of them. The first one was The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer.

The last chapters of the novel were the most unexpected, and most touching to me. While I read enough literature and memoirs of people who survived the Holocaust and the Warsaw Uprising, the part I never understood was how the same people came to terms with the Soviet occupation and feel Poland being their country even under the Communist regime. I tried to understand it when I visited Poland, the country of my ancestors, in the late 80s and 90s. I read this novel as a story of the souls crippled by the horrors of the war, about healing, and rebuilding their lives in the less than ideal circumstances.

Books About Pandemic

I wanted to mention two books that I recently finished; both are about the COVID pandemic. 

The first one is The Premonition, and the second is The Plague Year. It may feel that it’s “too early” to write books about the pandemic, especially because we are not out of it yet. But I think that both books are very timely. 

As you can imagine, the contents of both books overlap significantly, but even when they talk about the same events, they view them from slightly different perspectives. The first book focuses more on the political side of things, Trump’s inadequate response to the thread, and the health care officials who stood up against it. The second book touches more on science, epidemiology, details of vaccine development. 

Both are very informative. Some things I learned: 

  • that the vaccine was technically “ready” before the start of the pandemic; the scientists had to plug in the genome details; that’s why it was developed so fast
  • that most of the decisions about opening/closing/guaranteeing, which looked erratic at least, were based on multiple AI models. For example, there are certain estimates on the effect of schools closing depending on the level of infections at the time of closing.
  • more detail on the shortage of swabs for tests
  • why there were so many questions on the origin of the virus

And many other things! 

Also, these books allowed me to recall the events of the past sixteen months, how our knowledge about the virus changed, and how and why the health officials’ guidelines evolved.