It’s autumn, it’s Chicago and I’m looking for a new book to read. Fortunately my conscientious public library runs a nifty program twice a year to help people like me choose interesting books to read. Twice a year– once in the spring and once in the fall– the Chicago Public Library selects a book for the entire city to read. As part of One Book, One Chicago the library provides lectures, film screenings, Q&A sessions, seminars and other programs located at the various libraries throughout the city. The idea is to engage the populous in a discussion of a great book. The Fall 2008 selection is the 1979 book, The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. The Right Stuff tells the story of the lives of the seven astronauts chosen for Project Mercury. In the 1983 foreword to the edition I’m reading, Wolfe writes for several paragraphs about the style of military writing in the 20th century.

Immediately following the First World War a certain fashion set in among writers in Europe and soon spread to the obedient colonial counterparts in the United States. War was looked on as essentially monstrous and those who waged it– namely, military officers– were looked upon as brutes and philistines. [….] The only proper protagonist for a tale of war was an enlisted man, and he was to be presented not as a hero but as an Everyman, as much a victim of war as any civilian.

Wolfe goes on to explain that the early age of spaceflight was dominated by former military pilots. Officers. His book serves as an attempt to reconcile this era of the anti-hero with the courage and daring of not just the dangers of “test flight”, but the great unknown of spaceflight.

Chicago Public Library is presenting Tom Wolfe with the Carl Sandberg Literary Award tomorrow night at the Harold Washington Library across the street. Tickets to the dinner are going for a grand a piece. I don’t think I’ll be attending, but I am looking forward to reading this bit of New Journalism. I applaud the relevance of this book’s selection on several levels.

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