My Biggest Book
Cleaning out my office closet gave me a reason to haul out the single largest book I own: The complete 1989-90 run of the Chicago Maroon, the student newspaper of the University of Chicago. I have a copy because this was the year I was editor in chief, and this is one of the perks you get for all that slave labor. The hardcover copy of Old Man’s War is there for scale. While I certainly did not write the whole book (newspapers, even ones for a university, have actual staff), I did write several articles a week, including music reviews and opinion columns. Yes, I know. Opinion columns. What a shock. How were they? Well, just about what you’d expect the opinion columns of a 20-year-old who was full of himself to be. But come on. That’s what college newspapers are for.
Besides my own byline, the bylines in the book include Dave Auburn (Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, who contributed play reviews), Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson (who was a reporter and a news editor over the summer), notable science fiction author James Cambias (who wrote a kick-ass trivia column), Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Angwin, OED editor and blogger Erin McKean, cartoonist Ivan Brunetti and Ken Hite, who is best known as a writer for RPGs these days, but back in the day drew cartoons and wrote political opinion. These are the names most recognizable to non-U of Cers today, but the whole staff was very sharp; I’d’ve put them up against the newsroom of any student newspaper anywhere.
Also of note within the 89-90 run of the Maroon is the appearance of The Fourth Estate, a conservative political section which I created as a counterpoint to The Gray City Journal, which was old-school lefty, and which had been around for years within the paper. Those of you who know my personal politics will find it deeply amusing that I of all people created a conservative political magazine, but there were good reasons for it. The Grey City Journal over the years had managed to give itself special protected status in the paper, so it couldn’t be killed or edited by the E-I-C like any other section. Leaving out anything to do with the section’s politics, this made its staffers more than a little annoying and since there were so many of them, the section ended up being the tail wagging the dog — you couldn’t get anything done, basically, without running it past the GCJ. Naturally, I didn’t like that.
Since I couldn’t kill the section, which would have been my preference, at the very least I could counterbalance it (and take half its pages to do so, which amused me to do), and in doing so also added a number of staffers (delighted conservatives) who were intensely loyal to me. This was now useful, since every member of the GCJ now loathed me and would have shot laser beams at me through their eyeballs if they could. Ah, the politics of college newspaper editing. As they say, so intense because the stakes were so low.
That said, at least one good thing came out of it: one of the editors of The Fourth Estate and one of the editors of the Gray City Journal were challenged by each other’s ideas, started dating, eventually got married and are married still. So there: from time to time, opposites do attract. Anyway, some time after I left, one of the EICs finally ditched both political sections. Good on her (or him).
Aside from that particular scuffle, I had a great time as the Editor-in-Chief of the paper, and I suspect that friends who know me from the era might tell tyou hat while most people went to the U of C to get a degree, I went to edit the newspaper. I would not disagree with this too much (although, you know, I got a degree too). The year I was editor of the paper is certainly my favorite year at the university, and one of my favorites over all. It’s nice to have a big honkin’ reminder of that time.