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Book Club Thu Nov 04 2010

The Gapers Block Book Club: A History

On Monday, November 8, we'll gather together for our final Book Club meeting to discuss Patrick Somerville's The Cradle. The past five-and-a-half years have been fantastic and you, our readers and meeting participants, have been a very large part of that. We thank you for joining us on this literary journey and making each book discussion meeting a lively and intellectually satisfying event. Although this will be the last Book Club meeting in its current incarnation, you can look forward to special event announcements in the future.

As we bid the Book Club farewell, let's take a look back at the Chicago reads that have crossed our paths, all 63 of them:

April - Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno. Hairstyles of the Damned is a coming-of-age story filled with punk music and mix tapes, about Brian Oswald and his friend Gretchen, two teenagers growing up on Chicago's South Side in the early 1990s.

May - The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. First published in 1906, The Jungle is a novel about social injustice and the plight of the working poor at the turn of the twentieth century, told through the story of Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant who comes to Chicago and finds work in the city's infamous stockyards.

June - The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. An unusual love story about Henry, a Chicago librarian who travels through time as a result of a genetic abnormality, and Clare, the woman he is destined to love.

July - Crossing California by Adam Langer. The story of the intersecting lives of three families living in West Roger's Park in the late 1970s. Although the novel is filled with memorable characters, it is the touching, heartbreaking friendship between the young Jill Wasserstrom and Muley Wills that lingers long after the book is finished.

August - Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago by Eric Klinenberg. On the 10th anniversary of the deadly 1995 heat wave that swept Chicago, we read sociologist Klinenberg's devastating account of the social and political conditions that contributed to the deaths of 700 people during that fatal week in July.

September - Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. This semi-autobiographical work tells the story of 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding and a magical summer in 1928 in fictional Green Town, Illinois. Dandelion Wine is the perfect end-of-summer book.

October - Nowhere Man by Aleksander Hemon. An extraordinary novel about Jozef Pronek, a young Bosnian who visits the United States and becomes stranded here as war breaks out in his own country.

November - I'm Not the New Me by Wendy McClure. Our last book for 2005 also marked our first author event. Wendy McClure joined us to talk about her memoir about losing weight and finding oneself.

January - The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. Augie March was first published in 1953 and tells the sprawling story of a young man growing up in Depression-era Chicago.

February - Divison Street: America by Studs Terkel. Terkel's first collection of oral history tackles the issues of race and class in Chicago, and, by extension, throughout the country. It was originally published in 1967.

March - I Sailed with Magellan by Stuart Dybek. Eleven loosely connected short stories create a revealing portrait of Chicago's South Side.

April - Memory Mambo by Achy Obejas. Juani is a Cuban American living in Chicago with her family and struggling with her identity and trying to discover what is true and what isn't in her family's past.

May - Near West Side Stories: Struggles for Community in Chicago's Maxwell Street Neighborhood by Carolyn Eastwood. Eastwood chronicles the lives of four community leaders, including Florence Scala and Nate Duncan, in their own words in this oral history. Carolyn Eastwood joined us for our discussion in our second author event.

June - Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krause Rosenthal. A touching memoir written in an encyclopedia format with alphabetized entries.

July - The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren. This dark novel about the downward spiral of Chicago card dealer Frankie Machine was the first winner of the National Book Award when it was first published in 1949.

August - Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair. Jean "Stevie" Stevenson is a young woman growing up on Chicago's South Side in the mid-1960s in this coming-of-age tale.

September - Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen. The gripping true story and best-selling account of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and Chicago serial killer H.H. Holmes.

October - The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. The young Esperanza Cordero is a sharp observer of her Pilsen-area neighborhood in this modern classic, told in a series of vignettes.

November - Cast of Shadows by Kevin Guilfoile. This fast-paced, genre-bending novel (part mystery, part thriller, part sci-fi and more) tells the story of Davis Moore, a Chicago fertility doctor who clones his daughter's killer. Author Kevin Guilfoile joined us for our discussion.

January - Boss by Mike Royko. A scathing portrait of Richard J. Daley's rise to political fame and the turbulence the city endured during his reign.

February - All This Heavenly Glory by Elizabeth Crane. A collection of short stories strung together, focused on the life of Charlotte Anne Byers, a girl coming in to her own as a cynical, yet optimistic adult.

March - The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea. Magical realism invades this story about Teresita, a young girl who becomes a curandera, develops mystical healing powers, and becomes something of a celebrity during Mexico's struggle for revolution.

April - A Chicago Tavern: A Goat, a Curse and the American Dream by Rick Kogan. This new book about Chicago's Billy Goat Tavern was written by one of Chicago's most celebrated journalists and we were fortunate enough to have Mr. Kogan join us for our discussion about this legendary tavern.

May - The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg. A novel about a woman who moves to a small town to try to rebuild her life after the death of her husband, written by best-selling author Elizabeth Berg.

June - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. First published in 1968, this classic work of science-fiction tells the story of Richard Deckard, a bounty hunter for the San Francisco Police Department in the year 2021, who is charged with the job of finding rogue androids passing for humans on Earth. The 1982 film Blade Runner was adapted from this novel.

July - Ghost World by Daniel Clowes. Ghost World is one of the most popular graphic novels of all time, and the basis for the 2001 film of the same name, about two teenagers struggling through life after high school.

August - Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. This historical novel about one man's career in a Depression-era circus was a surprise indie bestseller.

September - Peel My Love Like an Onion by Ana Castillo. A passionate novel about love and flamenco dancing by an award-winning writer.

October - Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama. The critically-acclaimed memoir about race and identity by our popular Illinois senator and, at the time, presidential hopeful.

November - Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. Disgrace, which won the Booker Prize in 1999, tells the bleak story of one man's downfall in post-apartheid South Africa. Coetzee, a former U. of C. professor, was also awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.

January - Never a City so Real by Alex Kotlowitz. Explore Chicago in this collection of essays in which Kotlowitz profiles of some of the city's uncelebrated citizens.

February - The Enchanters vs. Sprawlburg Springs by Brian Costello. Costello's debut novel is a comic story about a garage band called The Enchanters and their fictional suburb of Sprawlburg Springs.

March - Fire Sale by Sara Paretsky. In the 13th book of Paretsky's celebrated V.I. Warshawski mystery series, the detective finds herself coaching basketball at her former South Chicago high school and investigating sabotage at a local factory.

April - Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. This coming-of-age story about a hermaphrodite growing up in Michigan in the mid-20th century won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

May - The Grass Dancer by Susan Power. Power weaves a unforgettable portrait of the Dakota Sioux Indians in this collection of inter-related stories that draw from contemporary life on the reservation and Dakota Sioux legends. This book won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award in 1995 and was named an ALA Notable Book.

June - Naked by David Sedaris. A collection of autobiographical essays from one of this country's most well-known humorists.

July - Free Burning by Bayo Ojikutu. This powerful second novel from Ojikutu continues the story of Tommie Simms. When Simms loses his job at an insurance firm, he begins selling pot to make ends meet and quickly spirals downward into Chicago's dark underbelly.

August - The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Harmless children's fantasy or dark political allegory? You can bet we discussed.

September - Native Son by Richard Wright. First published in 1940, Native Son tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a young African-American man living on Chicago's South Side in the 1930s who becomes swept up by forces of fear, violence, racism and hopelessness after he accidentally kills a white woman.

October - Dirty Sugar Cookies by Ayun Halliday. A light-hearted culinary memoir from a self-described "anti-foodie."

November - Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott. The true story of Ada and Minna Everleigh, the two sisters who ran the infamous Everleigh Club brothel on Chicago's Near South Side at the beginning of the 20th century.

January - A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. As a work written by a female, African-American playwright, this play was groundbreaking when it was first produced in 1959. A Raisin in the Sun tells the story of the Younger family. Lena Younger's husband has passed away, and as Lena and her family wait for a $10,000 life insurance check, they dream of leaving their tiny Chicago apartment and starting new lives. The play went on to win a New York Drama Critics Circle Award and has been adapted for TV and film several times.

February - A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. Maclean taught English at the University of Chicago for 45 years, but he didn't publish his first novel until after he retired at age 70. A River Runs Through It was first published in 1976. It gained critical praise and later became an enduring bestseller after Robert Redford's 1992 film adaptation. The story is about two brothers growing up in rural Montana, who share a passion for fly fishing.

March - The Book of Ralph by John McNally. This collection of intertwined short stories chronicles the comic misadventures of eighth grader Hank Boyd and his trouble-making friend, Ralph. This coming-of-age tale is set during the late 1970s and early 1980s in southwest suburban Chicago.

April - Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. The debut novel by Joshua Ferris is set in an unnamed Chicago advertising agency and brilliantly dissects office life as the employees of the firm face the threat of layoffs. Then We Came to the End is a 2008 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award winner and a National Book Award Finalist.

May - Passing by Nella Larsen. First published in 1929, Passing tells the story of two light-skinned African-American women who try to pass for white in order to escape racism in 1920s New York. Born in Chicago to Danish mother and African-American father in 1891, author Nella Larsen was the first African-American woman to be awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in creative writing.

June - Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut's trademark satire is in full force in this science-fiction tale originally published 1963 about a young writer doing research for a book on the history of the atomic bomb, who discovers the existence of "ice-nine", an even more deadly threat to the planet.

July - Every Crooked Pot by Renee Rosen. Nina Goldman was born with a strawberry birthmark that covers one eye. This coming-of-age novel set in 1970s Akron, Ohio, is written in the form of a memoir, revealing Nina's struggles with self-acceptance and her love-hate relationship with her eccentric father. Author Rosen grew up in Akron but currently lives in Chicago.

August - La Perdida by Jessica Abel. In this highly regarded graphic novel, Carla Olivares, a twenty-something Mexican-American woman, leaves the U.S. and heads to Mexico City in a misguided attempt to get in touch with her roots. Unfortunately, her life goes from bad to worse when she falls in with a group of drug dealers and wannabe revolutionaries.

September - The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. Twenty-seven-year-old Mark Schluter is in a near fatal car accident that leaves him with a rare brain disorder that causes him to believe his sister is an imposter. As Mark's sense of identity unravels, he becomes determined to discover the truth about his accident. The Echo Maker won the 2006 National Book Award.

October - Lords of the Levee by Herman Kogan and Lloyd Wendt. This engaging nonfiction work tells the story of "Bathhouse" John Coughlin and Mike "Hinky Dink" Kenna, the notorious First Ward aldermen who ruled Chicago at the start of the twentieth century. Originally published in 1943, Lords of the Levee was the perfect complement to our November 2008 selection, Sin in the Second City.

November - Travel Writing by Peter Ferry. In this work of metafiction, Ferry acts as both author and character, telling the story of a high school English teacher named Peter Ferry who witnesses a fatal car accident that he becomes convinced he could have prevented. As a result, Ferry develops an obsession with learning about the life of the victim, the young and beautiful Lisa Kim.

January - The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. As she loses her husband to Parkinson's disease, Enid Lambert is determined to bring her adult children together for "one last Christmas." The Corrections is a winner of the National Book Award. (Born in Chicago.)

February - The Stone Diaries Carol Shields. This epic novel details the life of Daisy Goodwill from her birth in Manitoba in 1905 to her death nearly a century later. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. (Oak Park native.)

March - Red Azalea by Anchee Min. Red Azalea is Min's critically acclaimed memoir of growing up in the last years of Mao's China, ending with her emigration to the U.S. in 1984. (Earned MFA at the Art Institute of Chicago.)

April - Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh. Gang Leader for a Day is the powerful story of how a graduate sociology student at the University of Chicago befriended a leader of the Black Kings and gained unprecedented access to the inner working of Chicago's street gang and drug-dealing operations.

May - The Order of Odd-Fish by James Kennedy. Thirteen-year-old Jo lives with her Aunt Lily in California, but Jo and her aunt are taken to the fantastic world of Eldritch City, where Jo must discover who she is and fulfill her destiny. (Chicago resident.)

June - Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware. At age 36, Jimmy Corrigan meets his father for the first time in this acclaimed first graphic novel by cartoonist Chris Ware. (Oak Park resident.)

July - The Wild Things by Dave Eggers. Novelization based on the children's book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and Spike Jonze's screenplay for the film based on the same. (Former Lake Forest resident.)

August - Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. Fictional account of the true story of Mamah Borthwick Cheney and her love affair with architect Frank Lloyd Wright. (Oak Park native.)

September - Young Lonigan by James T. Farrell. Originally published in 1932, this is part one of the classic Studs Lonigan trilogy, which covers five months of Lonigan's life in 1916, when he is sixteen years old. (Chicago native.)

October - Chicago: A Novel by Alaa al Aswany. An ambitious story following a short period in the lives of several students and faculty at the University of Illinois in post-9/11 Chicago. (Former Chicago resident.)

November - The Cradle by Patrick Somerville. Matthew Bishop leaves on an impossible quest to recover an antique cradle once belonging to his wife Marissa, who is pregnant with their first child, but his fool's errand becomes a journey of self-discovery as mysteries unfold and long-held secrets are revealed. (Chicago resident.)

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Jesse / November 4, 2010 10:11 PM

Why are you dropping the club?

Alice Maggio / November 5, 2010 9:51 AM

Speaking only for myself, I am "retiring" from the book club because 1) I no longer live in Chicago; 2) I have other things in my personal life right now that need to take priority, and 3) we could not find anyone willing to take over the monthly book club.

That being said, stay tuned to this blog because there may be new book club literary events happening in 2011.

Rebecca Hyland / November 5, 2010 11:41 AM

There will be quarterly book events similar to the Gapers Block Book Club, new and improved - stay tuned!

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

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