May 1, 2016

Reading Chicago

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks
Good morning, friends. It’s a long weekend here in the UK, and I’m officially reading too many books at once (five at the last count). Normally I find anything more than my usual two — one fiction and one non-fiction — difficult to cope with, but for the moment I’m too excited about all of them to be daunted. Not only that, but I feel the urge to compile lists, surround myself with stacks, and make yet more future reading plans. It’s possible that I’m compensating for having missed all the Readathon fun last weekend.

What are you all reading this weekend?

The actual point of this post is to get to something I’ve been meaning to ask you: I think I’ve mentioned before that I have some exciting travel plans for this year — I’m heading across the pond for two weeks in July, to see places and visit friends and do things I’ve always wanted to do. This trip will take me to several American cities, but Chicago is where I’m starting and where I’m focusing all my planning energy for now. It’s a city I’ve always wanted to see, partially because of its links with labour history and other progressive movements, and I’m sure I’ll get even more out of my visit if I do some reading beforehand. So far I have Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks, To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells by Mia Bay and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, but I’m sure there’s plenty more I could add to this list. I therefore appear to your collective knowledge: suggestions would be most gratefully received.

We’ve now reached the part where I’d normally ask you for travel tips, not only for Chicago but for all the cities I’m visiting, but there’s already so much I hope to do and so little time to do it in that I’d better not add anything more to my wishlist. Reading suggestions will have to do for now.

Thank you in advance and I hope you have a lovely weekend.

26 comments:

  1. I don't recall if you've read these already, and if not they might not be your thing, but Sara Paretsky's V. I. Warshawski novels are set in Chicago and often very intensely local (her familiarity with the city's "mean streets" and her knowledge of the city's present structure but also history are key parts of her success as a detective). I find that one of the most interesting aspects of the series. Hardball comes to mind particularly in this context.

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    1. Thank you so much! I haven't read them, but I'm always looking for new mystery series to try (especially by/about women). What you say about using knowledge of the past to understand the present really appeals to me. Also, some of the titles in the series seem familiar, which I suspect might mean I've shelved them at my library.

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  2. Well, I don't suppose you'll get all the way to California, but if you visit San Francisco or anything let me know! I'll take you to lunch.

    We are actually going to trade, I guess--I'm taking my kids to the UK in June. We are super-excited. :D

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    1. Sadly no West Coast for me this time around, otherwise I'd happily join you for lunch and/or a visit to City Lights! Your trip sounds very exciting too - how long will you be here for, and what do you hope to see?

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    2. What do I hope to see? Everything. I'd have to live there like you! We'll be in London for a week, and then in the neighborhoods of Cambridge, Salisbury, and Bath/Wells.

      I could have taken you to the SF Main Library, which is famous for its beautiful central hall (featured in the movie City of Angels) and for the part where they kind of forgot to plan enough space for the books....

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    3. It's been a very long time since I watched that film, but I remember the library scenes! I definitely need to make it to the West Coast one day. I'd love to see SF for so many reasons.

      The places you're visiting are all amazing! I went to Salisbury for the first time last year and I absolutely loved it. And Bath is one of the most beautiful places in the UK, I think. Do visit Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights if you have the chance! It's worth it.

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    4. I certainly will, then. Thanks :)

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  3. If you're interested in labor in Chicago: "The Jungle" (Upton Sinclair)

    If you're interested in the struggle for racial justice in Chicago: "A Raisin in the Sun" (Lorraine Hansberry)

    If you're interested in some strange Chicago history: "The Devil in the White City" (Erik Larson)

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  4. I have no recommendations, but I am delighted that you're coming Stateside. :)

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    1. :D I need to e-mail you about dates. There have been some slight changes but I'm pretty sure I have firm plans in place now!

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  5. I second Paretsky and Devil in the White City. The Jim Butcher Dresden Files books are set in Chicago, too--the one I recently read is Dead Beat. You really need to watch The Blues Brothers, too!

    I'll be in Chicago July 30. Any chance you'll still be there?

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    1. Sadly no - I fly back to the UK on the 27th :(

      Many thanks for the recommendations!

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  6. Devil in the White City, if you don't mind being super paranoid bout your accommodations. And The Salinger Contract by Adam Langer — completely delightful literary thriller!

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    1. I hadn't heard of the Langer and it sounds excellent - thank you so much!

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  7. Another vote for Sara Paretsky. She is very feminist, very liberal, and as others have said here, her books bring actual Chicago alive from the early 80s to the present day. Another quintessential Chicago novelist was Saul Bellow. He is thought of as a man's writer I guess but he is more humanist than that I feel. Then there is Richard Wright's Black Boy. My review is here: http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2006/07/books-read-from-1945-part-four.html. Both of these last two are from the mid 20th century so give a more historical picture but also the back story of what made Chicago the city it is today.

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    1. Paretsky really sounds like someone I'll love. And I can get Black Boy from the library, so that's one I'll be picking up for sure. Thank you so much!

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  8. The first thing that popped to mind was The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, but I see someone else already mentioned it. Classic muckraking book on labor. I've actually read it three times--first time for school in 8th grade, and then again with Annie and then again with Gray, because I thought it was an important enough book for them to read. But then, sad as it to say, I can't think of any others. Loved reading everyone else's suggestions for you though--definitely think I'm going to give Sara Paretsky a try myself. :) Will you share a list of what you come up with that you'd like to get to?

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    1. I can't believe I forgot about The Jungle! It's one I've been meaning to get to for years, and I appreciate your encouragement. I'll be sure to let you know what I think, and to share any other discoveries I make!

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  9. I remain heartbroken that I'm not going to get to meet you in person on this trip BUT I am confident that we will someday make it happen. Any interest in going to Istanbul? :D

    (Seriously, though, I badly miss England and I am going to come there again some year soon. Lovely, lovely England.)

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    1. ME TOO, but we'll make it happen for sure at some point, in England or elsewhere! (I have all the interest in the world in going to Istanbul :D)

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  10. Hooray!!!! I love everything about this post.

    I would recommend Carl Sandburg's poetry in addition to Gwendolyn Brooks'. Studs Terkel is also a Chicago legend. Edna Ferber wrote a book called So Big that is set in Chicago. I have not read it but I would like to (buddy read?).

    Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife is set in Chicago and definitely has a very local feel to it. I would also recommend Painted Cities, a short story collection set in a working class neighborhood of the city.

    And an older book set in Chicago that really hits on a lot of social issues is There are No Children Here, by Alex Kotlowitz.

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    1. I knew you'd have excellent suggestions :D I've read The Time Traveler's Wife, but perhaps a reread is in order. I remember it had a very strong sense of place, but not really any of the details.

      And as long as I can find the Ferber I'd be up for a buddy read :D

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  11. Paretsky and Sandburg were the first I thought of, but one older writer is Elizabeth Corbett. Her Mrs. Meigs books are set in Chicago in the first half of the 20th century.

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  12. I'm so behind and sorry for it! But very happy you'll be able to visit Chicago! It's one of my favorite US cities! (I am duty bound to hate the sports teams tho, I suspect you'll catch wind of the Cubs excitement while you're there...they are my bitter rivals don't ask me to be happy for them) And ofc all the places you're going! Have the best time and I hope you'll share details upon your return.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.