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

June 11, 2000

Home and Away
By Scott Simon/Hyperion, $23.95

The 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.

COLOR PHOTO: HYPERION

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