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Thursday, October 18

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Detour

As we work our way into summer, our minds start to wander toward vacation reading: long days on the beach (or the deck) with a book and a lemonade (or something stronger). To help you decide which book will fill that role for you, several GB staffers share here the books they plan to read. Happy reading!

Cinnamon Cooper

Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
Summer tends to call out for something a little lighter in the reading department so I've decided to put down my non-fiction feminist tome about gender dysphoria and pick up a 529-page fiction book about, um, gender dysphoria. Jeffrey Eugenides creates a wonderful world for us in Middlesex as he interweaves stories from past and present of three different generations of Greek Americans. Not only do we get descriptions of the grandmother harvesting silkworms at the original meeting house for the Nation of Islam, read about the father seducing the mother with a trombone and come to understand what having an XY karotype means for our main character, but we are introduced to well-developed characters who lead us along a path of questions about gender versus sex. Eugenides first novel was The Virgin Suicides, and this novel feels similar in its portrayals of melancholy loneliness. Despite the length, I've found it to be an engrossing read (I've missed two train´┐Żstops while reading) and a compelling first-person description of hermaphroditism, which usually gets mentioned in "freakish" terms or "academic" terms. The occasional mentions of The Odyssey's plot mirrors the epicness of this family's story but keeps the story compelling enough for beach reading.

~*~

Jes Davis

Narrow Road to the Interior, by Basho
Basho's Narrow Road to the Interior is an unusual travel journal, written in 1689. The haiku master used prose, renga, and haiku to record a walking trip taken in his final years across and through Japan, bringing only a walking stick, writing materials, and a student as companion. Each page describes a part of their journey, and ends with a perfectly distilled haiku, crystallizing the transpired events into seventeen syllables. Reading this book makes me see the world as I pass through it every day, not just looking at it or past it. Thoughts on what I encounter walking down the street shape themselves into haiku- or tanka-like imagery, quite a lovely effect for a book to have on perception.

~*~

Naz Hamid

The Slate Diaries, The editors of Slate.com
The Slate Diaries is a re-read. I've read it many times in the last year or so I've owned it, because it's a week's worth of journal entries by interesting people as previously published on slate.com. By interesting people, we're talking a supreme court judge, Bill Gates, people who've worked for various major and respected news publications, Generation X author Douglas Coupland, New York Times cartoonist Ben Katchor and many more. While all the celebrity-like diaries are great, it's the more regular people, like a pastor and a software developer, that make for remarkable reading.

McSweeney's #13, Chris Ware, editor
This is a significant edition for McSweeney's. In addition to being yet another beautifully produced offering of their hipster quarterly (and I mean this in a good way), it's all about comics. Edited by Chicago's own genius Chris Ware, it goes past just looking pretty -- it has real depth. Within these pages are history and lightheated moments, but overall it's a collection of emotional stories that connect and relate more with fewer words and pages than a 1000-page epic novel could do.

What's Not To Love? The Adventures of a Mildly Perverted Young Writer, by Jonathan Ames
One of the few books that makes me laugh out loud, cringe and yet cannot simply put down, Ames retells anecdotes, stories and episodes from his life. All revolve around sex in some manner but are not lewd and obscene. The tales involve his late puberty, getting crabs, getting an enema and receiving blowjobs in Venice, to name a few. His honest and open writing make you feel for and root for him. He is the underdog in most cases and when good things do happen, you cheer and clap. If anything, this book must be read just so you can find out about the Mangina.

~*~

Anne Holub

I usually take the time in the summer to re-read something off my own shelf, and right now I'm really enjoying Louise Erdrich's 1993 novel Love Medicine. This book began the long journey for the Native American characters who have flowed into four of Erdrich's other novels over the past decade. Told in a non-linear storytelling style, we are introduced to the families on a North Dakota reservation. I may read through the whole series before moving on to my brand new purchases: Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude, about two boys growing up in 1970s Brooklyn, and Aimee Bender's debut collection of short stories, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, about, among other things, a frisky young librarian and a woman who wonders if she can love a man with no lips.

~*~

Alice Maggio

Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker, by James McManus
James McManus was sent to Las Vegas in early 2000 to cover the World Series of Poker for Harper's. His assignment was to focus on the progress of women in professional poker and report on the murder trial of Ted Binion, the son of the tournament's founder, Benny Binion. But McManus decided to go even further by risking the $4,000 advance Harper's paid him for the story to enter himself into the tournament. Positively Fifth Street is his best-selling account of both the Binion case and what transpired as McManus became an unlikely finalist in the World Series of Poker, advancing to the final table. And there's a Chicago connection: the award-winning author teaches at the School of the Art Institute.

In the Stacks: Short Stories about Libraries and Librarians, Michael Cart, editor
This collection of 19 short stories was compiled by Michael Cart, a librarian and former director of the Beverly Hills Public Library. Each story in this anthology revolves around librarians or libraries. The selections range from the classic to the unusual and include such noted authors as Ursula K. LeGuin, Jorge Luis Borges, Ray Bradbury and Alice Munro.

As Others See Chicago: Impressions of Visitors, 1673-1933, Bessie Louise Parker, editor
This anthology collects dozens of first-hand accounts of travelers' impressions and memories of the city of Chicago from its earliest frontier days through the beginning of the 20th century. The voices in this volume range from the anonymous to well-known names such as author Rudyard Kipling, who hated Chicago and began his description, "I have struck a city -- a real city -- and they call it Chicago... Having seen it, I urgently desire never to see it again." This book was first published in 1933 to coincide with the Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago, and it has just been reprinted, with a new foreword, by the University of Chicago Press. The editor of the anthology, Bessie Louise Parker, was a noted Chicago historian whose three-volume History of Chicago is considered the first scholarly history of an American city.

 

About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper, Jes Davis, Naz Hamid, Anne Holub and Alice Maggio are Gapers Block staff members and, obviously, avid readers.

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