We approached our 40th birthday as many do—with a mix of pride, nostalgia, and fear of death, topped off with way too much buttercream frosting and a few too many whiskeys. It goes without saying that the aftermath of such an outpouring would be complicated, endearing . . . and sticky.
Faced with the big 4-0, the real question—as pointed out by 40-year Reader veteran Michael Miner after examining decades of all-but-forgotten pages of Reader history—is a simple one: "What can be done?" We can search our legacy-heavy soul to recognize the milestones that led to this point. We can question how the past will help inform the future. We can, essentially, age.
Part of us intends to age with grace (which means tackling all the fitting reminiscences and painful admissions head-on). Another part of us wants to defy age entirely (either by going back in time or charting a whole new course). And still another part wants to smear our faces with cake and throw back another couple of rounds.
With the help of Miner—as well as Straight Dope mastermind Cecil Adams, celebrated cartoonist Chris Ware, investigative journalist John Conroy, renowned film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, longtime jazz critic Neil Tesser, and eight of the staffers who helped launch the Reader in the early 70s—we've illuminated our hazy history with the hope of demystifying, if only a little, our hazier future. But what we really need is another 40 years. We'll have it all figured out by then. —Mara Shalhoup
Michael Miner: Our Rock
Miner reflects on the Reader's 40 years of history—and his own
'The conscience of Chicago journalism' has been in our pages since day one
The First Issue
Read all 16 pages of the October 1, 1971, Reader
Tom Rehwaldt: 'nothing like the Village Voice'
Bob Roth: 'our investors were unemployed'
Robert McCamant: 'neither fish nor fowl'
Nancy Banks: 'I'd been replaced'
Mary Jo Madden: 'you weren't around in 1977'
Dave Jones: 'It was easy to feel at home'
Mark Homstad: 'I didn't intend a controversy'
Tom Yoder: 'The office was the apartment'
Then & Now
A chefs' family tree revisited
Jonathan Rosenbaum ruminates on
Neil Tesser returns to his 1973 interview with Von Freeman
Tom Boeker reminisces on being a reviled theatre critic
John Conroy's 'House of Screams' launched a decade-long journalistic odyssey
A year after he published Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, the Reader began printing Chris Ware's comics, which ran from 2002-2006. Here, we've reproduced his most nerve-wracking Reader cartoon.
Digging for sonic gold
Sharp Darts rummages in the archive of Reader music criticism.
Cecil Adams, the original myth-buster, examines the Reader's 40 years.