Close your eyes and think of Illinois. Take your time. Free associate. I’m not a mind reader but I guess you see fields of corn and red barns against blue skies. Now think architecture. Of course, Frank Lloyd Wright. History — who else but honest Abe? Politics — no not our ex-governor. I’ll give you a hint. Think bow tie and it can only be Senator Simon.
The 19th century witnessed America’s transformation from a rural, agrarian economy and culture into a restless, 20th century industrial giant and imperial power. Large 19th and early 20th century firms were publicly identified with the men who founded them or guided their early growth — Ford and his auto, Edison and his light bulb, Carnegie and Rockefeller in steel and oil. Every manufactured product, from hairpins to train rails, was ripe for mass production. Even grain, the staff of life, became the basis for immense milling and cereal fortunes like Pillsbury and Post. Salt, among the lowliest, but most important foods, used in cooking, preserving and flavoring, was the basis for one of these great 19th century fortunes, still associated with its founder’s name — Morton.
Paul Simon kindles memories of Frank Capra’s classic 1939 film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The fictional drama features Jefferson Smith, a wholesome idealist played by James Stewart. Maintaining uncommon integrity while occupying a seat in the United States Senate, Smith emerges as a lonely voice against the corruption and unbridled cynicism often rampant in American politics.
Joseph Flynn, a Springfield writer, is the author of a number of well reviewed novels. In this, his latest thriller, the plot is familiar — the bad guys go after their target by going after the person our hero cares about most. In this case that person also happens to be the first U.S. woman president. The hero, in his case the detective, is her husband. Since he’s the first “first husband,” he has to invent his role. Jim McGill, a former cop, deems it politically unwise to offer his services to the FBI or such like, and so sets up as a private investigator. He soon discovers that this is a political role, too. His wife, a moderate, is in jeopardy from the start because of her unpopular stand against the neo-cons of her party. (He names himself “the president’s henchman.”) His job also endangers his three children, his ex-wife and her husband.
Who wants another coffee table book? Another big picture book to clutter things up? Well — we do, this one. It’s us, guys — where we live and breathe and do our everyday living, in central Illinois — along the Illinois River. In late 2005 David Zalaznik, a photographer for the Peoria Journal-Star, was invited by the Peoria Art Guild to participate in an exhibit about the Illinois River. He set off with his camera, and this stunning volume is the result.
“We are all connected.” So begins Gay Stinnett’s lovely new book about her experiences with the ancient art (she calls it the “wondrous gift”) of Reiki (pronounced ray-key). The International Center for Reiki Training defines the practice as “a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by ‘laying on hands’ and is based on the idea that an unseen ‘life force energy’ flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. . . . The word Reiki is made of two Japanese words — Rei which means ‘God’s Wisdom or the Higher Power’ and Ki which is ‘life force energy.’ So Reiki is actually spiritually guided life force energy.” Reiki practitioners believe, therefore, that if one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.
Midway through Beautiful Piece, an entertaining and gritty novel written in the noir style of mysteries, I began to have an eerie feeling. Imagine, if you will, the look on the face of Bill Murray each morning at 6 a.m. when he awakens to the sound of Cher belting out the lyrics to “I got you babe!” Just as the character portrayed by Murray in Groundhog Day, readers of this novel by Joseph Peterson will find themselves in that perpetual cycle, repeating a snapshot moment of life. In Beautiful Piece, that moment is a hot August day during a brutal heat wave in Chicago when Robert, the narrator, meets Lucy at a gas station and begins a torrid affair that serves as the cornerstone event upon which Peterson constructs his debut novel.
In his most recent book, Communities of Frank Lloyd Wright: Taliesin and Beyond, historian Myron Marty strives to define the Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin Fellowship in the context of other groups Wright worked with and other “intentional communities.” Together with his earlier book, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship (Truman State University Press, 1999), co-authored with his wife, Shirley, Marty presents a comprehensive picture of the unique community organized to create, promote and preserve the values and goals of one man — Frank Lloyd Wright.
Starting in 1984, the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book began to establish affiliate centers in the 50 states. Today, there is a state Center for the Book in all 50 states. The Illinois Center for the Book is located in the Illinois State Library at Second and Capitol Streets.