Category: Reading

Say it ain’t so, Atticus

So, all lovers of To Kill a Mockingbird — I know there are a lot of us; it placed first on PBS’s Great American Read last fall — did you realize that not everyone admires Atticus? Learning that Atticus Finch, the book’s hero, has critics came as a surprise after I finished my umpteenth reread... Read more »

Book group gives Moby-Dick a go

Ah, Moby-Dick. Revered by many as the Great American Novel. Reviled by perhaps as many as unreadable. My book group was split down the middle about reading Herman Melville’s 1851 novel: Half of us were interested, the other half ambivalent at best. At our discussion last week, one person said she gave up about halfway... Read more »

Can Chicago still claim to be skyscraper's birthplace?

Number 82 in Chicago By the Book: 101 Publications That Shaped the City and Its Image (2018) is Carl W. Condit’s The Chicago School of Architecture, first published in 1964. A comment that UIC architectural historian Robert Bruegmann makes in his essay about the book dumbfounded me: Condit’s claim that Chicago was the birthplace of... Read more »
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No apologies for learning about Navajos through Hillerman mysteries

Last week the Art Institute announced it was postponing an exhibit on Mimbres pottery of the ancient Southwest because it wanted more input from Native people. As I read about that appropriate action, my thoughts soon turned from art to literature and the late author Tony Hillerman. Far from being accused of cultural appropriation as... Read more »

Are you advising relatives about college applications?

College application season is under way. Though the topic seems ill suited for a blog titled Retired in Chicago, you may have children or grandchildren you’re advising about college.  Having worked at universities for 30 years, and having recently observed my two nieces’ experiences, I have opinions about applying to colleges. (Apologies to my nieces... Read more »

Searching for the next read: three literary mysteries disappoint

A rap against mystery fiction — indeed, against any so-called genre fiction — is that it follows conventional formulas and is lacking the depth that would qualify it as literature. Although I don’t see a clear line separating all genre fiction from literary fiction, I have closed many a mystery novel feeling that the plot... Read more »
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More Austen literary heirs: back to the 19th century

Note: This continues an occasional series about Jane Austen’s literary heirs. Where do you stop when looking for Jane Austen’s literary heirs? In previous posts I wrote about Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Bowen, Penelope Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Taylor, Anita Brookner, Angela Thirkell, E. F. Benson, Georgette Heyer, and Miss Read. In her book The Heirs of Jane... Read more »

The Great American Read and other book lists

For a reader and lover of lists, the Great American Read is a double delight. The upcoming eight-part PBS series will feature the 100 novels apparently most loved by Americans. It premieres May 22 on WTTW. The list is already online at www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read, where you can take a quiz to see how many of the... Read more »

Some tips for tackling the long novel Les Misérables

The convict Jean Valjean repents and finds redemption in loving the orphan Cosette. Relentless police inspector Javert, however, keeps him on the run. French society, rife with poverty and inequality, is erupting. Cosette’s marriage to young idealist Marius puts a wedge between her and her “father” Valjean, who wastes away from the loss but is... Read more »
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Historical novels for Black History Month

For the last many months, I’ve been reading historical fiction based in the United States. More about that in another post, but because it’s Black History Month, I’m recommending a few novels with African American protagonists. Jubilee (1966) by Margaret Walker: If the reader didn’t know that Jubilee was based on the story of Margaret... Read more »