Quintessential Chicago Book List: Classic Chicago Novels


During Printers Row Lit Fest, I unveiled a new project here on Chicago Subtext: the 100 Quintessential Chicago Books List Project. The project is a list I’ll be compiling, with a new genre of focus each month, of the books which shape and best capture the feeling of Chicago.

This inaugural month, we begin with the classic Chicago novels, and at aforementioned Printers Row Lit Fest, I asked festival attendees to cast their votes for their favorite classic Chicago novels, as well as write in a few not on the ballot.

The votes from the festival are tallied, but I want to spend time in the remainder of this month both briefly discussing these novels, as well as taking comments and emails from you, readers, dear, to best hear your thoughts on the quintessential classic Chicago novels.

The list of classic is below, with room, of course, for writing in titles perhaps I have omitted. So, feel free to cast your votes now, or suggest an overlooked title (and tell us why) in the comments section.

  • The Cliff-Dwellers (1893), by Henry Blake Fuller
  • Sister Carrie (1900), by Theodore Dreiser
  • The Pit (1903), by Frank Norris
  • The Jungle (1906) by Upton Sinclair
  • The Studs Lonigan Trilogy, by James T. Farrell:
    • Young Lonigan (1932); The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan (1934); Judgment Day (1935)
  • Native Son (1940), by Richard Wright
  • The Man with the Golden Arm (1949), by Nelson Algren
  • Maud Martha (1953), by Gwendolyn Brooks
  • The Adventures of Augie March (1953), by Saul Bellow

There is room on this ballot, of course, for write-ins, and for that reason, this list of Chicago classic novels is up for debate here in the comments section for the rest of the month. So let’s hear from you. Know of a title I’ve overlooked? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Close to the end of this month, after I’ve read every comment and
ballot and email, I’ll roll out the official first segment on the 100
Quintessential Chicago Books List,  all with your help.


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  • For the classics, I'm going old school. But rest assured, the list will finish strong with a list of the new classics.

  • Also: Boss by Mike Royko was one of the popular write-ins at Printers Row Lit Fest, among a few others. I think it needs inclusion on the final list someplace.

  • Don't know if The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson fits your criteria but should be included in any Chicago reading list. It's a true story of an architect and serial killer during Chicago's World's Fair

  • Great pick, xteethx! I think Devil in the White City is a great book and one I plan to include with the new classics category of the 100 Quintessential Chicago Books List.

  • For newer Chicago classics I would suggest Joe Meno's "Hairstyles of the Damned" and Audrey Niffenegger's "Time Traveler's Wife."

  • Great pics, Micki. Thank you for the comment. Look for the new classics category soon.

  • "Time for Frankie Coolin" - Bill Granger

  • Looped, by Andrew Winston. I am wholly biased here

  • Thanks, Molly!

    Doug, I'll admit, I'm not familiar with looped, but I'd love to review it.

  • Chicago, City on the Make by Nelson Algren is required reading, imho.

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