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Book Club

News Tue Aug 29 2006

One Book, One Chicago Fall 2006

The Chicago Public Library officially announced today that the Fall 2006 selection of the One Book, One Chicago citywide book club is Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Interpreter of Maladies is a best-selling collection of short stories which won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Visit the official One Book, One Chicago website to find out more, and mark your calendar for October 9 at 6pm, when Jhumpa Lahiri is scheduled to appear at the Harold Washington Library to talk about the book.

Alice Maggio

Book Club Thu Aug 17 2006

Introduction: The Devil in the White City

"Its official name was the World's Columbian Exposition, its official purpose to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America, but under Burnham, its chief builder, it had become something enchanting, known throughout the world as the White City."
--Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City

This month the Gapers Block Book Club is reading The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson, the best-selling book about the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 and America's first urban serial killer, H.H. Holmes. And, as Larson is quick to point out in the beginning of the book, "However strange and macabre some of the following incidents may seem, this is not a work of fiction."

Although the gruesome facts of H.H. Holmes’s story may be what readers remember, The Devil in the White City is a book about two men: Holmes and Daniel Hudson Burnham, the architect of the world's fair. In fact, Larson dedicates most of the book to the planning, construction and impact of the fair under Burnham's leadership.

But, if the White City represented Chicago at its best, the horrific killing spree of H.H. Holmes surely characterized the city's darkest side. His mansion at 63rd and Wallace, which Holmes operated as a hotel during the fair, was a real-life house of horrors. Young women, attracted to Chicago by the fair and the prospect of jobs, came to stay at his hotel, and were never seen again. Larson identifies at least nine victims, but Holmes boasted he had murdered at least 27 people in his lifetime.

Throughout the book, chapters alternate between the two stories. One could conceivably read only every other chapter and believe The Devil in the White City is only about the world's fair or only about H.H. Holmes. Together, however, these two separate stories reveal Chicago as a city of contrasts, filled with both darkness and light. One might easily argue the city has not changed in that respect.

But The Devil in the White City is ultimately about more than just a brief moment in the history of Chicago. The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 was the focus of national and international attention. Many products and innovations we have long taken for granted were introduced at the fair. From Cracker Jack to electric lighting, and from the Ferris wheel to Juicy Fruit gum, Larson reveals, in his story of the fair, a broad portrait of America on the verge of the 20th century. And, reading the book now, one might even see some parallels between the proposal and construction of the 1893 fair and Chicago's current bid for the Olympics. Will the city become the focus of international attention again in 2016?

Larson performed thorough research for The Devil in the White City, and it shows. But, he does take a number of liberties with his sources, and some may object to the way he sometimes gets inside the heads of his "characters." For example, when Larson seems to ask the reader to believe he can know what a victim was thinking when she was cornered by Holmes, he stretches his credibility. Yet, despite these occasional lapses into fictionalization, The Devil in the White City is an engaging account of a sensational period in our city's history.

For more information about the book, visit the official website for The Devil in the White City, which includes an excerpt from the book, an interview with the author and more.

Alice Maggio

Book Club Tue Aug 08 2006

What We Are Reading

We asked, you answered, and now we are ready to share what books we will be reading through March 2007. Here is the complete and updated list of upcoming selections in the Gapers Block Book Club.

August 2006
Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair
Don't forget our August meeting is just around the corner, and it's not too late to read this short novel about a young woman growing up in Chicago in the late 1960s. See above for complete meeting details.

September 2006
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Next month we will be meeting to talk about the best-selling true story of serial killer H.H. Holmes and the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.

October 2006
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
This modern classic novel about Esperanza Cordero, a young woman growing up in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, has been one of the most popular suggestions from book club members. We are finally going to read it!

November 2006
Cast of Shadows by Kevin Guilfoile
Guilfoile's acclaimed debut novel is a gripping story about a Chicago doctor who clones his daughter's killer. We are also thrilled to announce that Kevin Guilfoile is scheduled to join us on November 13 for our book club discussion. Don't miss it!

December 2006
No book this month. The Gapers Block Book Club will not meet in December as most of us have more than enough to do between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

January 2007
Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago by Mike Royko
C'mon, you knew we would be reading this one sooner or later, right? Boss was suggested by a couple of people at our July meeting, and we thought it was a great idea.

February 2007
All This Heavenly Glory by Elizabeth Crane
In February we will be reading this critically acclaimed novel tracing the life of heroine Charlotte Anne Byers.

March 2007
The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea
Finally, we travel back to 19th-century Mexico for this historical novel based on the life of the author's great-aunt Teresita, the "Saint of Cabora."

So, those are the picks. Thanks again to everyone for their suggestions and recommendations.

Alice Maggio

News Mon Aug 07 2006

Take a Class on Nelson Algren's Chicago

Are you someone looking to meet new people? Or maybe you just can't get enough of our July 2006 book club pick, The Man with the Golden Arm. In either case, consider checking out "Nelson Algren's Chicago," a class being offered this fall through Continuum, Loyola University Chicago's new continuing education program. According to the course description, the class will focus on The Man with the Golden Arm and Algren's prose poem, Chicago: City on the Make.

Alice Maggio

News Mon Aug 07 2006

Sharpening The Knife

Elsewhere on Gapers Block this week, Dana Kaye gives us a preview of The Blade Itself, the debut novel by Marcus Sakey.

Sakey is also a contributor to The Outfit: A Collective of Chicago Crime Writers, which is one of my new favorite local blogs.

Alice Maggio

News Mon Aug 07 2006

Back to The Jungle

I heard an unconfirmed rumor that the Fall 2006 selection for One Book, One Chicago may be Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, which the Gapers Block Book Club read last year. True or not, the official announcement for the next pick for the citywide book club is due later this month, so we'll have to wait and see.

In case you didn't know, 2006 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Jungle, so the book has been receiving much renewed attention this year.

Last month in Slate, Karen Olsson wondered how well the novel has held up over the past century:

"But for all its packaging, the book still carries a whiff of homework, and if we already dutifully absorbed the idea that the turn-of-century meat industry was brutal and exploitative as adolescents, what's to be gained from reading it again?"

The Nation reviews two new biographies of Upton Sinclair and examines Sinclair's significance:

"One hundred years ago, Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, his gut-churning exposé of the meatpacking industry that schoolchildren still read today in their history classes. A well-merchandized sensation, it sold 100,000 copies in the first year, millions after that, was almost immediately translated into seventeen languages, spurred an uptick in vegetarianism, greased the way for the Meat Inspection and Pure Food and Drug acts, and transformed its 27-year-old Socialist author into a celebrity."

And The Guardian gets in on the act, providing some of the historical context of the novel's publication:

"It is difficult to think of a book, let alone a novel, that has forced the state to respond in such a comprehensive manner. And yet, while Sinclair was delighted with both sales and fame, it was not quite the response that he intended. He had dedicated the book to the "Workingmen of America" and had set out to make an emotional appeal to the nation over the plight of the working poor and the prospects of a socialist alternative. Instead he had generated a public panic about food quality."

If you missed reading the The Jungle last year for the GB Book Club, now may be the perfect time to pick it up.

Alice Maggio

News Tue Aug 01 2006

The Best of Roger Ebert

"No critic alive has reviewed more movies than Roger Ebert, and yet his essential writings have never been collected in a single volume—until now."

The University of Chicago Press is publishing Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert this fall. The anthology promises to collect some of the best of Ebert's writing over the past forty years, including interviews, reviews and essays. Visit the publisher's information page to view the full table of contents. The Chicago Blog also has an excerpt from an advance review of the book.

Alice Maggio

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Book Club is the literary section of Gapers Block, covering Chicago's authors, poets and literary events. More...

Editor: Andrew Huff, ah@gapersblock.com
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