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Reggie Reads: February 2014

The Alumni Center bookshelf.

The Alumni Center bookshelf.

Illinois State is proud to be able to acknowledge the work of graduates who are successful authors.

If you’ve written a book that has been released by a publishing house within the past decade, submit it for review by Professor Emerita of English JoAnna Stephens Mink ’73, M.S. ’75, D.A. ’85.

All books authored by alums will be added to a collection of work by other graduates on display in the Alumni Center. Autographed copies are especially appreciated.

Please send your book to Illinois State editor Susan Blystone at Illinois State Alumni Center, 1101 N. Main Street, Normal, IL 61790.

Inquiries can be sent to sjblyst@ilstu.edu.

Blockman, Rita, and Kimberly Morin. Listen to the Wisest of All. Champaign: Elder Press, 2007. 124 pp.

Summary: In their Preface, Rita Blockman and Kim Morin state that the purpose in writing Listen to the Wisest of All “is to illustrate life through the retelling of the experiences of the many inspirational seniors we have interviewed. Most are over ninety years old and several are centenarians.” Blockman’s and Morin’s oral history project was to interview and tape-record life stories of individuals between the ages of 88 and 104.By reading their narratives and viewing their engaging faces, we understand that wisdom does come with age.

Listen to the Wisest of All cover

“Listen to the Wisest of All” cover.

Their subjects shared unique insights on myriad subjects, offering priceless pearls of wisdom to today’s younger generation. They relate how they all were deeply touched by friendship, poetry, music, or nature. The book is comprised of the vignettes of 14 individuals selected from the many who were interviewed. Each chapter is dedicated to one person or one couple. Charles Mercer’s black and white photographs capture each subjects’ dignity and radiate with the wisdom that comes only from being fortunate enough to have lived a long life. These reminiscences provide a glimpse into America’s past.

The reflections of Lucy (age 93) are an example. “With the wisdom and serenity of a great philosopher,” Lucy tells how her childhood in southern Illinois, as one of six children, was a happy one though they didn’t have much materially. Someone had given them a Victrola. “I can still remember how much fun we had dancing,” she said. Lucy recalls when streetlights were installed in her town and the neighborhood children would meet under the corner light to tell ghost stories. Do today’s children even know any real ghost stories, wonders Lucy. Their house didn’t have an indoor toilet, only a three-seater outhouse—two seats for adults and one for the little ones—and the Sears catalog functioning as toilet paper. After some other anecdotes, Lucy remarks at the end of her interview: “It is so much more fun talking about the good old days than talking about what is happening now.” The photograph of her gazing directly and contentedly at the camera supports her assertion, “We had FUN.”

In Listen to the Wisest of All we meet Orval and Mae, Louise, Cliff, Lloyde and the many others who have interesting stories to tell. Although the authors do not mention it, clearly their task of selecting the profiles for this book must have been extremely difficult. The uniqueness of each person is illustrated in his or her photograph, yet each story reinforces a universal axiom and demonstrates the common thread uniting our American forebears.

About the author: As a social worker, Rita Blockman ’75, began her career working with older adults. In 1985, she became a regional director of an international adoption agency, retiring after 23 years in that capacity. During that time Blockman was selected by local media as one of the Top 20 Outstanding Women in East Central Illinois for her varied contributions to the field. She lives in Champaign with her husband, Arnold.

Bouchard, Craig T. and James V. Koch. The Caterpillar Way: Lessons in Leadership, Growth, and Shareholder Value. New York: McGraw Hill, 2014. 368pp.

Summary: In 1984, Caterpillar Inc. lost $1.17 million every day as it lurched towards bankruptcy. In 2012, CAT was ranked number 46 on the Fortune 500 list of largest American corporations. Caterpillar, the authors of The Caterpillar Way explain, is “a superb example of a once struggling company made great by a deliberate sequence of astute management decisions.” Craig Bouchard and James Koch take readers behind the scenes of CAT’s remarkable management. Their analysis is based on knowledge gained during their one-year expedition through the company’s hallways, offices, and board rooms.

The Caterpillar Way

“The Caterpillar Way” cover.

The audience for The Caterpillar Way is not limited to economics professors and CEOs. “We all have a need to know how to identify management excellence within firms so that we can utilize that knowledge in the stock market,” explain Bouchard and Koch. This need is intensified today because so many Americans face an uncertain financial future due to high unemployment, a fluctuating stock market, and volatile international politics. The authors query, “Who is willing to stake his or her 401(k) balance on what the relationship between Israel and Iran will be five years from now?”

The book contains fifteen chapters, plus Appendix, Notes, Acknowledgments, and a detailed Index. Each chapter includes charts and graphs, as well as comments about other companies set in shaded boxes. In addition to in-depth examination and discussion of Caterpillar Inc., Bouchard and Koch analyze other global companies, including Apple, Exxon, General Electric, Microsoft, and Walmart. Interspersed throughout the text are Insider’s Edge advice, such as: “Unless your company is in trouble and requires a shake-up or lacks managerial bench strength, you should select your next CEO from inside the firm” (137).

Overall, The Caterpillar Way is easy to negotiate one’s way through. Subtitles in boldface highlight sections of each chapter, and tables are clearly analyzed. Although there is no bibliography, the Notes section includes full citations for sources. Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments, lauds the book as “an extraordinary example of vision and execution.”

About the authors: Craig T. Bouchard ’75, M.S. ’77, is CEO of the investment firm Cambelle-Inland LLC. He is currently a member of the board of the Department of Athletics at Duke University. He was elected to ISU’s College of Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 2008. Distinguished Alumnus James V. Koch ’64 is Board of Visitors Professor of Economics and President Emeritus of Old Dominion University. He has published 11 books, including Born Not Made and America for Sale, which he co-authored. Formerly a member of ISU’s Department of Economics faculty, he has served as consultant to more than 75 corporations and universities.

Chouinard, Lauren D. Muscle and Mayhem: The Saginaw Kid and the Fistic World of the 1890s. Indianapolis: Dog Ear Publishing, 2013. 436 pp. 

Summary: Lauren Chouinard explains in his Preface to his book Muscle and Mayhem, “It’s not often one gets the opportunity and privilege of writing the first book on a historically significant character and in my case also a blood relative.” Although, as Chouinard acknowledges, he is neither a boxer nor an expert on the sport, he has thoroughly researched his subject. The book includes extensive chapter Notes, Bibliography, detailed Index, and an Appendix of relevant 1890s words and phrases.

Muscle and Mayhem

“Muscle and Mayhem: The Saginaw Kid and the Fistic World of the 1890s” cover.

Who was the Saginaw Kid? The short answer is he was pugilist George Lavigne, whose first fight as a lightweight was in 1886. He died in Detroit in 1928. His career spanned a fascinating era in American sports history. This biography, says Chouinard, is about “the history of an age of boxing teetering on the edge of legality and legitimacy, and the fledgling sport of pugilism as it struggled to transform itself from brutal spectacle to mainstream attraction.” The long answer to the identity of the Saginaw Kid is covered in Chapter 1: Mom’s Story.

Muscle and Mayhem is inspired by Chouinard’s tracing of his distant relative. His mother Eleanor was a huge fan of boxing and inspired her youngest son to love the sport, especially when Lauren learned that Eleanor’s cousin had been lightweight champion of the world from 1896 to 1899. Although searching for information about this relative was the motivation for writing and self-publishing Muscle and Mayhem, Chouinard has produced an admirable biography.

In some sections, it reads like a novel due to Chouinard’s engaging prose style. For instance, Lavigne’s match with San Franciscan Jimmy Britt in May 1902 was noteworthy. Although it was only Britt’s third professional fight, this up-and-comer was 10 years younger than Lavigne, who was not fully healed from a broken arm. Britt won after relentlessly beating his opponent to a bloody pulp. As Chouinard explains, “The Saginaw Kid was truly the quintessence of a waning era of pugilism marked by its grit, its savagery, and its brutality” (295). Forty-six years later, a sportswriter with the Saginaw News asserted that Lavigne had been doped before the fight, thus raising another negative aspect of boxing.

In many ways, Muscle and Mayhem rises above its subject. Although some readers, such as this reviewer, may cringe at detailed descriptions of the brutality evidenced in the boxing ring, as an aspect of turn-of-the-century American culture, Kid Saginaw’s story is important.

About the author: Lauren Chouinard ’74, was a founding member of ISU’s Rugby Club. After his move to Eugene, Oregon, he opened a health and fitness club. He also wrote Get Off Your But!, a practical guide to getting in shape. Chouinard worked in municipal government for 27 years, retiring as the City of Eugene’s human resource director in 2008. His mother, Kid Lavigne’s second cousin a few times removed, fostered his love of sports. Chouinard belongs to the International Boxing Research Organization and lives in Eugene with his wife Carrie.

Lavrisa, Lois. Dying for Dinner Rolls. N.p.p.: SunLake Press, 2013. 170pp.

Summary: Dying for Dinner Rolls is the first in Lois Lavrisa’s Chubby Chicks Club Cozy Mystery Series. Catherine Alice Thomson, aka Cat, has an exciting life in Savannah, Georgia. If one considers being held at gunpoint, stuck in a burning dumpster, caught impersonating a police officer, and almost being run over by an out-of-control vehicle as exciting, then Cat’s escapades on her first day as an amateur detective will thrill the reader.

Dying for Dinner Rolls

“Dying for Dinner Rolls” cover.

Cat and her friend, Annie Mae, are determined to find out who murdered their mutual friend, Lucy. Two months previously, Cat’s father was shot while working late at the organic health food store that Cat and her husband own. It rankles her that the police still have not found his killer. Cat has some clues, which the police discount. Not only had a purple-inked crossword puzzle been found under his body when there was no purple pen in the store, but her dad never did crossword puzzles. Grief is part of Cat’s determination to investigate: “I took a deep breath, replaying the ‘what-if’s’ in my head as I had a million times already. Thinking that somehow I could undo the events of that night, and he’d still be alive.”

It is Annie Mae’s idea to name the group of recently retired friends The Chubby Chicks Club. “I’m both chubby and a chick,” claimed Annie Mae, “Plus, I love the alliteration.” Cat herself is feeling a little chubby; in the course of one day, two people asked if she was pregnant, which she isn’t. When one of the group, Lucy, is found dead on her kitchen floor and a threatening note is discovered nearby, once they recover from the shock, Cat and Annie Mae decide that they simply must take action.

About the author: Lois (Sanders) Lavrisa ’83, M.S. ’84, was a finalist in the 2013 Eric Hoffer Award. She is a member of several writing organizations: Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America (having served as vice president of their regional organization), and Sisters in Crime. She has written for a local newspaper, a magazine, and several newsletters, and she has worked as an adjunct instructor and a technical writer. Lavrisa has several other publications in the genre of young adult, romance, and cozies. She and her husband Tom have four children.

 

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