Saturday, July 29, 2006

Portraits of Indianapolis, Washington DC

Urban tapestry: Indianapolis stories. editorial committee Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, editor ... [et al.] ; photography Kim Charles Ferrill. Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c2002

Solomon, Burt. The Washington century : three families and the shaping of the Nation’s Capital. New York : William Morrow, c2004.

Urban Tapestry is a lovely collection of essays and interviews about current life in Indianapolis. There are some reminiscences, too, going back to the 1930's. There are descriptions of places, like Indy's downtown, and a secluded, motley neighborhood along the White River, and events, like the Indy 500 and tryouts for the pro basketball team's cheerleading squad. There are stories about crime and poverty. Some of the most moving were meditations on race relations ("Another Car Pulled Up" and "Only Once a Year"). I also liked the essays about neighborhood life and immigrants' accounts and religious diversity. Contributors range from prolific regional writers to college students. It also includes striking black and white photos of city life. It's definitely Indianapolis, but many of the stories could be about other Midwestern cities. Every city should be so lucky to have such a portrait.

The Washington Century is a narrative history of Washington DC from 1900 to 2000. Solomon follows three families:

Cafritzes: patriarch Morris started out as an immigrant in the then poor community of Georgetown, to become a real estate mogel. His wife Gwen was one of Washington's premiere hostesses. One son married an African-American woman who was prominent in the arts and education communities in the last quarter century. The Cafritzes' story illustrates the history of Washington's Jewish community, as well as the physical growth of the city.

Boggs: White, Catholic Hale Boggs and his wife Lindy first came to DC in the 1940s when Hale was elected to the House of Representatives from Louisiana. Hale served in Congress almost continuously until his death in office in 1972; Lindy then took over his seat, and was elected in her own right at least 8 times over. So we learn about life as a Congressman and Congressman's wife, and how Hale moved through the ranks of the Democratic delegation. Two of their three children, Tommy Boggs and Cokie Roberts, remain closely tied to DC. Tommy Boggs has become one of DC's most influential lobbyists, and his story illustrates the development of lobbying in the capital. Cokie Roberts became a national reporter for NPR and ABC.

Hobson: African-American Julius Hobson came to DC in the 1940s from the Deep South to pursue studies at Howard University. He married another Howard grad, an African American social scientist. Both worked for the federal government (she longer than he). But Hobson was especially known as a civil rights activist, pushing to integrate Washington DC businesses and schools. He later was elected to DC's fledging School Board and city council. His son, Julius Hobson Jr., worked in politics as well, more as a lobbyist and as part of Marion Barry's administration.

This isn't a comprehensive history of DC's last century, or of any one aspect of it. I hope there are better books on DC's civil rights movement, its Jewish community, the rise of lobbying, or life for Congresspeople and their families. The Washington Post review said it missed major things like the development of Metro, the drug epidemic, homelessness...all true. But it's a compelling glimpse into different parts of DC life, and offers great portraits of some of the major players in its history. It's very readable. As an annual visitor to DC, I wish the book had come with an annotated map, especially one pointing out all the Cafritz real estate projects. I learned a lot about DC...but my curiosity isn't sated yet!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Another swimmer autobiography

Just returned from vacation...I finished one swimming book, and am midway through another. The book I finished, Penny Heyns: An Autobiography
([South Africa] : PHBH Publications, 2004), is not held by many libraries in the U.S., so it's a little tricky to obtain. And it's not necessarily worth it. Penny Heyns, a South African breastroker, won 2 gold medals at the 1996 Olympics. She's a white woman who won the first medals for South Africa after its 30-year ban from the Olympics. But except for a chapter on her acquaintance with Nelson Mandela, there's not a lot to indicate that Heyns is from South Africa. Most of her training on the world-class level took place in Nebraska and Calgary. And there's very little about her growing up in South Africa. There is a bit about the sports bureaucracy there, but the way she describes it, it sounds like the typical bureaucracy meddling in athletes lives.

There's some decent stuff about what it's like to actually compete at the Olympics, and dealing with the hoopla right after winning. And if you want to know what it's like to undergo drug testing, Heyns writes a lot about that.

The thing that really sets this book apart from others I've read is Heyns' discussions of/references to her Christian faith. Frankly, I don't like it when Christian athletes flout their religion, especially if they act like God wanted them to win. But Heyns didn't come off quite that way. It was interesting to read how she took both her wins and her losses as having a "higher" purpose. She explains how she views her swimming as using what she sees as a gift from God (and she's not necessarily talking about proselytizing). But some of the faith talk did get to me.

It was nice to read about an athlete who talks about what it's like to be an introvert.

So, not one of my favorite sports books, but not without merit, either.

For other swimming biographies, see entries for June 13 2006, June 29, 2006, and October 10, 2006.