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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Friday, December 1

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The discussion for the June book of the Gapers Block Book Club, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, takes place on Monday, June 12, at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square (4736 N. Lincoln Ave.), starting at 7:30pm. But here is the introduction to our July book, the classic novel The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren.

"It kills me in the heart, how you are now," Sparrow couldn't keep from saying. "It just ain't like bein' Frankie no more."

"That's the hardest thing of all for me to be, Solly," Frankie told him with a strange gentleness. "I'm getting' farther and farther away from myself all the time. It's why I have to have a charge so bad, so I can come back 'n be myself a little while again. But it's a longer way to go every time. It keeps gettin' harder 'n harder. It's getting so hard I can't hardly afford it."
--The Man with the Golden Arm

When The Man with the Golden Arm was first published in 1949 the book received much critical praise. It was awarded the first National Book Award in 1950, and Time magazine named The Man with the Golden Arm the best book of the year.

The novel tells the story of Frankie "Machine" Majcinek, a Chicago card dealer fighting a losing battle with morphine addiction. And, much of The Man with the Golden Arm takes place in an area familiar to many readers of Gapers Block: Division Street near Damen Avenue in Wicker Park.

A review in Time magazine warned that "readers with queasy stomachs may shrink from an environment in which the unbelievably sordid has become a way of life," but the reviewer also believed readers would "come away with some of Algren's own tender concern for his wretched, confused and hopelessly degenerate cast of characters." Ultimately, in The Man with the Golden Arm, Nelson Algren creates a gritty, tragic and realistic portrait of life in the slums.

In 1955, The Man with the Golden Arm was adapted for film, released as a motion picture starring Frank Sinatra as Frankie Machine. Algren received only $15,000 for the film rights to his book, and he fell out with producer-director Otto Preminger over what Algren saw as the romanticization of the character of Frankie. The movie, however, went on to be nominated for three Academy Awards, including a Best Actor nomination for Sinatra.

About the Author

Writer Nelson Algren was born on March 28, 1909 in Detroit, Michigan, but his family moved to Chicago when he was just three years old. His given name was Nelson Ahlgren Abraham, but he had it legally changed in 1944.

Algren attended the University of Illinois at Urbana and graduated with a degree in journalism in 1931. He had difficulty finding work after college, during the Depression, so he traveled and worked a number of odd jobs, including selling coffee door-to-door in New Orleans, and running a desolate gas station in Texas. After serving in the U.S. Army Field Artillery and the Medical Corps during World War II, Algren returned to Chicago and began writing in earnest.

Although The Man with the Golden Arm may be one of his best-known works, Algren is the author of several other novels and short story collections, including The Neon Wilderness, A Walk on the Wild Side and his prose poem Chicago: City on the Make, a vivid examination of urban life.

Outside of his work as a writer, Algren is also remembered for his lengthy transatlantic love-affair with French writer Simone de Beauvoir.

Nelson Algren moved to Sag Harbor, New York in 1980 and died of a heart attack in his home there less than a year later, on May 9, 1981.

July Book Club Meeting Details

Read The Man with the Golden Arm, and then join us on Monday, July 10 at The Book Cellar bookshop at 4736 N. Lincoln Ave. to talk about Nelson Algren's celebrated novel. The discussion will begin at 7:30pm, and new members are always welcome. Hope to see you there.

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About the Author(s)

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

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