Recommendations 5/9/2021: Any Billionaires in the House?

Or hundred millionaires?

In the May 4th edition of the Chicago Tribune, columnist Rex Huppke makes a public plea for a “rich person” to save the paper from the “clutches” of hedge fund Alden Capital, currently the paper’s largest shareholder, which is trying to become majority stakeholder. In Huppke’s words, Alden Capital does to “newspapers what lawn mowers do to azaleas.”

Huppke is correct, as Alden Capital has been accurately described as a “hedge fund vampire that bleeds newspapers dry,” as evidenced by their takeover and ruination of papers in Denver, Boston, San Jose, and elsewhere.

I’be been reading the Chicago Tribune since grade school, starting with the sports and comics, and eventually moving on to everything except the business section. My bedroom overlooked our driveway, and the soft thok of the newspaper striking the blacktop at 6am or thereabouts would frequently rouse me from sleep. An absence of the thok was cause for anxiety and ultimately Mother Biblioracle put the number of the local Tribune circulation department near the phone so I could call and request delivery if it didn’t show up.

Those of us who have been reading the Trib for the last 40 years to not need to be told that it is a different, lesser paper than it once was. Even the last 10 years have seen a marked difference. The first installment of The Biblioracle a decade ago was part of a 24-page stand-alone Printers Row book section. Now, the freelance budget for books coverage in the paper has been reduced to…well…me. That there continues to be some good local books coverage is a testament to reporters and editorial staff who are doing their best without sufficient resources.

Yes, the newspaper business was disrupted by the rise of the Internet, but this does not tell the whole story of what’s happened to the Chicago Tribune and papers like it. The fact is that the paper is and has been profitable. If it wasn’t, Alden Capital wouldn’t be interested. They simply squeeze as much profit out until they break the thing entirely and then discard the husk. As the company’s largest shareholder, this is what they’ve already been doing. Taking majority control as they plan will likely seal the paper’s fate.

One of my motives for starting this newsletter was to provide a lifeboat for myself and interested readers who might like to continue to receive random book-related musings and reading recommendations from yours truly. Of course, in that case I’d have to figure out how to charge for at least some of the content, and the universe of people who may encounter the work would shrink significantly, which is why I desperately want to see the paper rescued from Alden’s clutches.

Journalists at the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun, the two biggest papers in the Tribune portfolio, have been organizing against the sale, looking for a white knight to come in with a superior bid that can win over the board.

Things are not looking good at the moment, but maybe one of you is a billionaire and will be moved to act in the interests of the public to preserve an important civic institution that has been damaged by short-sighted greed and the financialization of everything.

We need someone with a reputation for integrity, Chicago connections, and either oodles of dough or a merely goodly amount of dough with access to friends with their own goodly amounts of dough.

Oprah? Are you there? It’s me, The Biblioracle.

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Links

Best news I heard all week: Logan Square’s City Lit Books will be reopening under new ownership in June. The Tribune’s Heidi Stevens has the details.

Stacy Abrams has a new political thriller coming. She also has some writing advice.

Maggie Shipstead’s The Great Circle is being positioned as the beach read of the year. Here’s an excerpt. Let me know if you think I should read it.

Ted Chiang, author of short story collections Exhalation and Stories of Your Life and Others (the title story was the basis for the movie Arrival) was interviewed by Ezra Klein of the New York Times and the result is a fascinating discussion about technology and “progress.”

At The Root, Michael Harriot investigates what history books the senators who would like to censor the 1619 Project read when they were in school.

Not book news, but consistent with this newsletter’s reading companion of the week feature, sadly, former First Dog, Bo Obama passed away this week. President Obama paid tribute to a very good boy.

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Reading Companion of the Week.

Mario is described as a “rascal,” and judging from the picture, a great lover of books, though perhaps not of reading them.

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Recommendations

All links to books on these posts go to The Biblioracle Recommends bookshop at Bookshop.org. Affiliate income for purchases through the bookshop goes to Open Books in Chicago. A 10% jump in our annual total week-to-week now to $46.60 for the year. Now we’re cooking with gas!

As always, recommendations are open for business. Follow the instructions at the link below.

Want a recommendation? Click here!

1. Citizens of London by Lynne Olson
2. The Guest List by Lucy Foley
3. One Day in December by Josie Silver
4. The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone
5. Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero by Chris Matthews

Karen K. - Chicago, IL

Mother Biblioracle has been trying to get me to read Citizens of London for years, and I’m sure it’s excellent, but a guy’s gotta keep up with the new in this gig. If Karen hasn’t read Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, she’s in for a perfect choice, if I do say so myself.

1. The Humans by Matt Haig
2. The Overstory by Richard Powers
3. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
4. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
5. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Monique D. - Chicago, IL

I think one of my Biblioracle Books of the Year for 2020, Want by Lynn Steger Strong, with its portrait of a struggle against economic precarity while trying to do something you love and have a family, will hit the spot for Monique.

1. Furious Hours by Casey Cep
2. Exhalation by Ted Chiang
3. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
4. The invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab
5. The Readers’ Room by Antoin Laurain

Sarah M. - Sycamore, IL

This is a book club list, which I’m glad to do, but of course the risk is so much higher. I could be making a bad recommendation for a whole host of people. Though, the nature of books clubs is that some will love and some will not love any choice, so I’m going to adopt a glass half-full attitude and be confident that at least some of Sarah’s book club will enjoy Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, a wonderful adventure story.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, especially Mother Biblioracle, without whom none of this would be possible for a whole host of reasons.

John