Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Sad Literary Trifecta

As I emerged from my week o' congestion and fever, I learned that we lost three major literary talents.

Admittedly, I had not read a lot of Studs Terkel. In school it was far safer to stick with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet than it was to deal with 20th century fiction. His work was about regular people too (often Shakespeare is lauded for creating realistic and enduring portraits of both 'high and low born' in his work), only we saw their blemishes as well as their beauty. They were people we knew and even talked about more than the important and the powerful. Scrappy and knowledgeable, this renaissance man was not just and author, but a radio host, a star of his own tv show and an activist. I knew more about Studs Terkel as a colorful figure that did interviews on shows like '60 Minutes' and talked about the nebulous old days. Perhaps when I am not reading about the latest upgrade of Adobe's Creative Suite, I'll pick up one of his books and read it and enjoy.

Michael Crichton's death was a surprise to me and apparently everyone who was not close to him. Much like a character on a show called 'ER,' he waged a private war with cancer that he unfortunately lost. He wrote books that were interesting to say the least and that showed a certain range. I must admit that I was not as big of a fan of the Jurassic Park books, not because they were not good, but because I believe that there is a gene on the Y chromosome that makes a person love all things 'dinosaur'. As a female, I don't get a Y chromosome and therefore am unable to appreciate dinosaur things on that level. I learned about 6 years into its run that Michael Crichton was the creator of and the executive producer of the long running medical drama 'ER.' It took a bit to reconcile that the guy who was responsible for 'Jurassic Park,' was also the guy responsible for a show where viewers tuned in to see if Dr. Doug Ross and Nurse Carol Hathaway were finally going to get married. I remember being told that 'ER' was based on Crichton's years as an intern and a resident. The earlier episodes do feel like a window upon those worlds, with its outlining of process amid the MTV-esque jump cuts as the unfortunate citizens of Chicago wheel in and out of the ER. I noted with a grim irony that it was fitting that this was the last season of 'ER' since its creator has now passed on.

John Leonard's passing was both unexpected and the one that I felt the most, in so far as one could feel about someone who was not family. I knew of him primarily through CBS's 'Sunday Morning,' a news magazine that profiles topics at a slower pace for those who have the time for more than the highlights. Leonard's reviews of books, tv shows and movies were knowledgeable and acerbic. The fact that my mother enjoyed him definitely had high stock value with me since media critics were not people she paid attention to. Since I had been busy of late, I had not missed Leonard's reviews as much as I might have, but I remembered thinking at times that something was missing from the show and I could not put a finger on it. I learned today that John Leonard left the show to also do battle with cancer-in his case lung cancer. While I enjoy the observations of Nancy Giles and David Edelstein, I will deeply miss the witty skewering and the alliterative praises of one John Leonard.

Three men gone. Two who would have liked more time and one who was ready to go. All who when their time came could look back and say that they did all right.

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