June 12, 2000

A Chicago thing: A radio journalist provides an extraordinary glimpse of his life

Ron Fimrite, Sports Illustrated
9780786886524_medThe subtitle of this extraordinary book by the host of National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition is Memoir of a Fan, and while the book is indisputably that, it is also much, much more. There are moving and often amusing portraits of the author’s mother, father, stepfather and “uncles,” broadcaster Jack Brickhouse and former Chicago Cubs manager Charlie (Jolly Cholly) Grimm. There are insights into the complex and often corrupt world of Chicago politics, the city being this book’s true protagonist. There are compelling scenes from Simon’s years as a war correspondent (in Croatia, Bosnia and Yugoslavia), roving reporter and political operative.

The profound differences in personality between the Cubs and the Bears are neatly defined: The Cubs are “the devotion that defines despair,” Simon writes. “They were winsome in a city that saw itself as swaggering For the gruff, tough and gritty ways in which Chicagoans styled themselves, there were the Bears.” There is also an emotional account of Michael Jordan’s last championship season with the Bulls that is a book within a book.

Although he plays mainly a supporting role to his large and glamorous cast of characters, Simon emerges from these busy pages as more than an observer. Rarely do you find in books of this genre a clearer look into the mysteries and confusions of childhood. As we read on, we see the memoirist undergo many transformations, from, for example, ’70s war protester to ’90s war chronicler. The one constant throughout is Simon’s intrepid fanism. A cynical reader or even a sportswriter–perhaps particularly a sportswriter–might find in this singular devotion a trace of naivete. But Simon would probably reply that it’s just a Chicago thing.

The writing is uniformly superb. This, in fact, is a memoir of such breadth and reach that it compares favorably with another book that is allegedly about the nature of sports allegiance, Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes. And that, believe me, is saying something.