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Books Tue Sep 01 2015
Last week, the New York Public Library released its list of the Best New York City Novels by Neighborhood, pairing the city's best works of fiction with the neighborhoods in which they take place, from Henry James to Teju Cole. Since Chicago's literary history is just as impressive, I thought I'd take a crack at the City of Big Shoulders' best novels, neighborhood by neighborhood, from Henry Blake Fuller to Sandra Cisneros.
The Middlesteins, Jami Attenberg (2012). Jewish family life, food, and one of the city's funniest novels.
The Song of the Lark, Willa Cather (1915). Named after the famous painting that hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago.
Back of the Yards
The Jungle, Upton Sinclair (1906). The definitive story of the old Union Stockyards.
Maud Martha, Gwendolyn Brooks (1953). Our greatest poet's only novel.
The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson (2004). A thriller set against the backdrop of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, serial killer H. H. Holmes' hotel was located in Englewood. It's non-fiction, but written like a novel. (GB tour of historic sites.)
Windy McPherson's Son, Sherwood Anderson (1916). The author of Winesburg, Ohio's first, semi-autobiographical novel.
Letting Go, Philip Roth. The great American novelist's first book, about social tensions at the University of Chicago in the 1950s.
The Chicago Way, Michael Harvey (2007). Hardboiled detective fiction in the present-day city (the first in Harvey's "Michael Kelley" series).
The Lazarus Project, Aleksandar Hemon (2008). A turn-of-the-century murder mystery of sorts at Webster and Hudson.
The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, Benjamin Hale (2011). The story of a chimpanzee from the Lincoln Park Zoo.
The Loop and Near North Side
The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger (2003). Time-traveling Henry works at the Newberry Library, dines at the Berghoff, Fine Arts Cafe, and Ed Debevic's with his wife, but they also frequent a few Lakeview haunts, like Ann Sather's and the Vic. (GB Book Club preview.)
The Pit: A Story of Chicago, Frank Norris (1903). The golden age of the Chicago Board of Trade.
O, Democracy, Kathleen Rooney (2014). Semi-autobiographical tale of Rooney's time working in Senator Dick Durbin's office in the Loop.
Years of Grace, Margaret Ayer Barnes (1930). Coming of age in the Gold Coast.
The Cliff-Dwellers, Henry Blake Fuller (1893). Downtown Chicago in the age of Daniel Burnham.
Near South Side
The Girls, Edna Ferber (1921). Three women (77, 32 and 18) working as maids on the eve of World War I.
With the Procession, Henry Blake Fuller (1894). A socialite and grocer in the old Prairie Avenue District.
Near West Side
Sister Carrie, Theodore Dressier (1900). A small-town Wisconsin girl moves to Chicago at the turn of the century.
The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984). Life among Chicanos and Puerto Ricans in one of the city's most vibrant neighborhoods.
Death in Uptown, Michael Raleigh (1991). A contemporary murder mystery, and the beginning of Raleigh's Paul Whelan series.
Native Son, Richard Wright (1940). The seminal novel of life on the pre-war South Side.
The Studs Lonigan Trilogy, James T. Farrell (1932-1935). A different, Irish-American take on the neighborhood.
West Rogers Park
Crossing California, Adam Langer (2005). A tale of growing up in the traditionally Jewish neighborhood on Chicago's far north side, the California in the title refers to the street, not the state. (GB Book Club discussion.)
West Town & Wicker Park
The Man with the Golden Arm, Nelson Algren (1949). One of Algren's seminal works set in and around Ukrainian Village, later turned into a Sinatra movie.
The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow (1953). Bellow's Chicago version of Huck Finn, set in Humboldt Park during and after the Great Depression.