Category: Reading

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 »

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, 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 »

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 »

Light-hearted Austen read-alikes

On Thursday the new Jane Austen bank note, which I wrote about earlier, will go into circulation in the UK. This then seems a fitting time for another occasional post suggesting writers for Janeites to check out. Previous posts looked at Barbara Pym, the author I find most like Austen, and Elizabeth Bowen, Penelope Fitzgerald,... Read more »

Irony in Jane Austen bank note

Irony in Jane Austen bank note
When my friend Molly, another Jane Austen lover, informed me that our beloved author would be on the UK’s new £10 note, I replied that I wish I could spend one. Thinking more creatively, Molly said she would like to frame one. The design of the note was unveiled by the Bank of England this... Read more »

Separating fiction from fact in historical stories

A woman to whom I was giving a Chicago Greeter tour was complaining about inaccuracies in the movie Lincoln. The House of Representatives vote on the 13th Amendment wasn’t organized by state as portrayed, and there weren’t two Connecticut representatives who voted no. “Those would have been easy to check,” she said. “I made me... Read more »