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Touch and Go: A Memoir Hardcover – November 30, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. After a lifetime of interviewing others, Terkel finally turns the tape recorder on himself. At least, that's what he would have us think. Terkel's memoir is more a medley of all the extraordinary characters he's encountered through his career, from the adult loners of his youth in Chicago's Wells-Grand Hotel, to New Deal politicians. Terkel details his long journey through law school, the air force, theater, radio, early television, sports commentary, jazz criticism and oral history. Surprisingly, a 12-time author who has built a career on emerging media is a hopeless Luddite. Unskilled with his tape recorder, the bread and butter of an oral historian, Terkel modestly attributes his knack for getting people to open up about their lives to his own ineptitude and slovenliness. This memoir, however, is a fitting portrait of a legendary talent who seeks truth with compassion, intelligence, moxie and panache. Never one to back down from authority, Terkel cracks jokes in law school classrooms and filibusters FBI visits by quoting long passages from Thoreau and Paine. He pogos between decades, reminding the reader that knowing history doesn't mean memorizing chronologies so much as it does attending to the lessons and voices of the past. He laments the national Alzheimer's afflicting this country, and fears the consequences if we don't regain consciousness. Americans might get to know their collective past a lot better if all history lessons were as absorbing and entertaining as this one. (Nov.)
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From Booklist

Although listeners may be initially disappointed to learn that renowned author and oral historian Terkel does not read his memoir, they will be pleasantly surprised with Dietz’s performance. He effortlessly conveys the rise and fall of Terkel’s rhythmic vocal patterns, and his voice, though not nearly as hoarse and throaty as the Pulitzer Prize winner’s, suggests a younger, less-battered vocal apparatus better suited to recount episodes from Terkel’s personal and professional life in his beloved Chicago. Terkel brings bygone eras and more recent times alive, and Dietz steps up to fill the microphone with the 95-year-old legend’s unforgettable recollections. --Whitney Scott --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 269 pages
  • Publisher: New Press, The (November 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595580433
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595580436
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,917,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Imagine yourself sitting on a front porch on a quiet summer evening, listening to a beloved uncle recount stories you've heard half a dozen times before. He rambles from time to time, and the names of the characters sometimes blur, but the tales are rich and populated with colorful characters, conjuring up vivid images of bygone days. That's the feeling one gets encountering Studs Terkel in his delightful collection of reminiscences, TOUCH AND GO.

The son of immigrant parents, Terkel was born in New York City in 1912 ("three weeks after the Titanic blithely sailed into the tip of that iceberg. Make of it what you will."). In 1921, he moved to Chicago, the city with whom his life has been linked so intimately. There, his parents ran a series of rooming houses and small hotels; his mother Annie, the dominant parent, even beat up a pimp on one occasion. Studs spent his free time hanging out among the soapbox orators at Bughouse Square, Chicago's low-rent version of London's Hyde Park. Those familiar with Terkel's streetwise persona may be surprised to learn that he graduated from the elite University of Chicago Law School, although he confesses that a career in the law "just wasn't there for me." Indeed, his fondest recollection of his law school days was the transfer on his trolley ride in an area known as "Bronzeville," where he first encountered the blues, firing a lifelong passion for that music.

Although TOUCH AND GO follows an arguably chronological path, it's the frequent detours that offer the most pleasure.
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Format: Hardcover
When I picked up TOUCH AND GO, I wondered how Studs Terkel was going to compress his 95 years into 256 pages. It (sort) of does it by recollecting a time in history--the Depression, for example--and falling in and out of it, or spinning and refracting it, using the kaleidoscope of his life.

History buffs (of which I'm not) will enjoy this book (he includes an extensive index), and so will people who've strong ties or interest in Chicago, and Terkel fans. I'd never read anything of Terkel's before so I was introduced to his:

* Dry sense of humor: "The last time I saw Bernays, he was approaching the century mark. He was frail and hard of hearing, and his memory played hide-and-seek at times, but he still had almost all his marbles."

* Grasp of Chicago vernacular: "Who you? Dis seat's mine. Possession's nine-tent's a da law, ain't it?"

* Descriptive sense: "Lowell Sherman immediately comes to mind. He was among the first. Brilliantined, patent-leather black hair, with a mustache that also appeared patented; evil-eyed; a cad in a class by himself. Lew Cody, a fair-skinned, craven toady up to no good. Their mustaches gave them away. What the scarlet letter was to Hester Prynne, the damnable facial adornment was to them." (He's noticed a lot of mustaches over the years.)

* And most importantly, how Terkel has chosen the people he wants to write about: "When I look for people, I'm not looking only for those who share my views; I'm looking for those who have grown to think a certain way, who have changed their views. A number of conservative people are in my books; not as many as more progressive thinkers, but that's not the point of my books at all. I'm looking for those who can talk about how they see their lives and the world around them.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read Terkel's oral histories "THE GOOD WAR" and WORKING many years ago, but none of his work since. I decided to try his memoir, TOUCH AND GO, after reading Roger Ebert's new memoir, LIFE ITSELF, because Ebert seemed to hold Terkel and his work in such high regard.

The truth is TOUCH AND GO simply did not engage me. I found myself skimming large parts of the first hundred pages or so. All of the "inside dope" on the political scene of Chicago from the 1920's and 30's was not at all interesting to me, although the too-brief parts about his parents and brothers were. And I especially enjoyed the brief chapters about his wife, Ida, and his "limited service" during WWII. And a chapter on Nelson Algren was mildly interesting too.

There was something too "cobbled together" about the book that created a choppy sort of read, as excerpts from a few of his other books were interspersed here and there. Perhaps the task of writing a comprehensive autobiography at the age of ninety-something was just a bit too much for Terkel, because I sensed the sometimes obtrusive hand of an editor trying to squeeze one last book out of him. Even the FBI investigations and surveillances of Terkel's left-wing lifestyle and friendships didn't quite work for me.

Perhaps the part, albeit extremely brief, that moved me most was Terkel's heartfelt tribute to his brothers and his son in the book's Postscript.

I know Studs Terkel is gone now, and I do have a tremendous respect for all he accomplished with his wonderful oral histories, so I'm not going to bad-mouth him. But maybe this is more of a book for Chicagoans, because - sorry, Studs - it just didn't work for me.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir BOOKLOVER
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