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Friday, November 17

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"Who knows why certain humble objects--a bike, a sweater, a sled--are salvaged by memory or dream to become emblems of childhood? Childhood, an alternative universe expanding into forgetfulness, where memory rather than matter is the stuff of creation."
--I Sailed with Magellan

The book for the March 2006 meeting of the Gapers Block Book Club is I Sailed with Magellan by Stuart Dybek.

I Sailed with Magellan is a described as a "novel in stories." Eleven short tales are knitted together to create a vibrant portrait of Chicago's Southwest Side in the 1950s and 1960s. What ties these stories together is protagonist Perry Katzek, a Polish-American boy growing up in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood. Through the stories, the reader comes to know not only Perry, but his family, friends and the working-class Poles, Hispanics and Slavs that populate his neighborhood.

But while on one level the stories are about a particular place and time in the city, on broader level they deal with memory, imagination and perception. In an interview with the Chicago Review in 1997, Dybek explained, "What I look for as a writer in stories are those doorways in which somebody leaves ordinary reality and enters some kind of extraordinary reality...childhood for me is one of those doorways. To me, childhood seems like a state of extraordinary perception...It's assuming that perception that interests me. It's a lens you can look through, in which the world becomes a different, hopefully fresher, more vivid place." Those same ideas are woven into the story fabric of I Sailed with Magellan.

Author Stuart Dybek was born in Chicago in 1942, and, like his character Perry Katzek, grew up on Chicago's Southwest Side. Growing up, he had no specific interest in writing, and entered Loyola University Chicago originally as a pre-med student. He graduated from Loyola in 1964, and first went to work as a caseworker for the Cook County Department of Public Aid. But he found the work unsatisfying and soon turned to teaching.

He earned an MA in Literature from Loyola University and an MFA from the University of Iowa, where he completed workshops in both fiction and poetry. Since 1974 Dybek has been teaching English at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, but he makes frequent trips to his native Chicago.

Dybek's first collection of poems, titled Brass Knuckles, was published in 1979. This is quickly followed by his first short story collection, the critically acclaimed Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, which, like I Sailed with Magellan, explores the experiences of adolescents coming of age in Chicago.

In 2004, the Chicago Public Library selected Dybek's second collection of short stories, The Coast of Chicago, for its "One Book, One Chicago" reading program. Although Dybek had received much critical praise for his work up until this time, the inclusion of his book in the city's reading series transformed him into a household name.

His poems and stories have received numerous awards and honors. I Sailed with Magellan, for example, was cited as a New York Times notable book, an American Library Association notable book, a Chicago Tribune "Best Book of the Year," and it was the winner of the 2003 Adult Fiction Award from the Society of Midland Authors.

As a short story writer, Dybek is often compared to earlier Chicago literary giants Ernest Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson. Dybek's lyrical style also draws frequent comparisons to another classic Chicago writer, Nelson Algren.

His most recent publication is Streets in Their Own Ink, his second collection of poems, published in 2004.

Joining the Book Club

Read I Sailed with Magellan this month and join the Gapers Block Book Club on Monday, March 13, 2006 to discuss the book at The Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood. The meeting begins at 7:30pm. If you cannot attend the meeting, but would still like to participate, check out the book club forum and discuss the book online. And, be sure to join the book club mailing list for news, reminders, events and much more.

Additional Resources

I Sailed with Magellan Guide (PDF)
Download the reading group guide for the book from publisher Picador. It includes a brief introduction and several sample discussion questions.

About Stuart Dybek
Read a lengthy profile of the author from the Ploughshares literary journal. Dybek is a frequent contributor to the publication.

~*~

Finally, I would like to extend a belated thank you to Michael Corcoran for submitting the question for last week's column.

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About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a Chicago librarian. She welcomes questions and topic suggestions for her column at . Due to the volume of email received, she may not reply to every query, but you may be contacted if your question is selected for the column.

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