Northbrook author taps his inner outsider
Meet the author
Steinberg, whose next book is “Out of the Wreck I Rise (a guide to recovery),” will sign “You Were Never in Chicago” on Nov. 29 from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Book Bin in Northbrook, 1151 Church St. For more information, call 847-498-4999.
Updated: December 23, 2012 6:35AM
NORTHBROOK — His home office faces south, and that suits Neil Steinberg, columnist of the Chicago Sun-Times, just fine.
Southern exposure illuminates his circa 1905 home with a view of his beloved Sugar maple tree out front. In dark sunglasses, Steinberg, the father of two Glenbrook North High School teens, stepped out near the shade of his front porch to discuss his latest book.
“It’s called “You Were Never in Chicago” (University of Chicago Press) and that’s a line (by) A.J. Liebling, the great New Yorker journalism critic, who did a famous series of three articles called “Second City” in the New Yorker in 1952,” Steinberg said.
“(Liebling) recounts some of the outrage that Chicagoans felt, including a postcard that a lady from Oak Park named Swift wrote, which said, ‘You were never in Chicago,’” he said. “And the idea is central to what the book is about because the idea is that outsiders aren’t in a position to criticize anything.
“If you ask me what the book is about, it’s about outsiders, it’s about how outsiders come and make a place for themselves in a city such as Chicago.”
Living the suburbs is perfectly OK for Steinberg, provided he can return to Chicago, the city he was introduced to as an 18-year-old Northwestern University student in September of 1978.
“There are only two ways to get to Chicago,” writes Steinberg. “You either are born here or you arrive.”
Eventually, the parent in Steinberg left Chicago’s Pine Grove Avenue behind when his sons were small. This was hard to do.
He did it so Ross, now 17, and Kent, 15, could have an education in Northbrook, his “Leafy Suburban Paradise.”
“I love being right in the heart of things in Northbrook,” admits Steinberg.
Today, he and his wife Edie, an attorney, have built memories, even welcoming a pet.
“I always feel like I’m one of those local eccentrics who’s walking around town, you know, walking Kitty, my dog, or smoking a cigar …”
Steinberg says he’ll likely remain in Northbrook once his boys are in college. Work will continue upstairs in a home which once belonged to Ed Landwehr (almost a teardown until the Steinbergs sidestepped in).In 1923, Lanwehr gave Northbrook its riparian name (formerly Shermerville) with his winning postcard contest suggestion.
Steinberg, a sent-here outsider from Berea, Ohio, wrote this book, in part, because some lady dared to sign a postcard with: You were never in Chicago.
“What I try to bring out in the book is it’s actually outsiders who are most in a position to accurately describe what they’re seeing.”
Steinberg cites, “a great quote from Upton Sinclair’s autobiography where he says that people assumed that he lived in Chicago all of his life to write ‘The Jungle.’ And (Sinclair) says, ‘No, I was only there for seven weeks doing research. Had I lived there all my life, I wouldn’t have noticed anything was wrong.’
“And I love that. It shows the benefit that outsiders have.”