I expect to see a bunch of you carrying this handy shopping list next July. I don’t believe you can find everything on it for sale, but it’s that sort of shopping list. A lifetime might be needed to pick up everything, to say nothing of pausing to read it all.
The Caxton Club and the University of Chicago have just brought out Chicago by the Book, or Chicago 101, an examination of the 101 books which not only represent Chicago’s history but which, in their own time, brought Chicago’s history to the rest of the world. These books were chosen not just because they cover a certain facet of the making of the city, but because when they were published they went a long way in establishing Chicago’s image. (For this reason, not every book—maybe not even a majority of them—are especially complimentary.) From Juliette Kinzie to Sara Paretsky, the authors of the books called it as they saw it, covering two centuries of Chicagoana.
I have not read the full text so far; I have been admiring the table of contents. The high sheriffs of the project played this game very close to their chests, concealing the titles of the books and the names of the authors who wrote about the books for this book. They did this apparently because they believed advice would be easier to get than help, and the arguments just among the committee assigned to come up with the list were time-consuming enough. So this is my first look at the final selections. When I am not shuddering about what the Book Fair’s late Chicago expert, Helen Sclair, might have said, I marvel at how many Book Fair perennials made the list.
So though I am not saying we will have plenty of copies of “Narrative of the Massacre at Chicago”, the first book listed, we can certainly offer you nice, shiny copies of
Devil In the White City. This has been a perennial nearly since publication. In 2005, a volunteer reported seeing a book dealer quietly packing up every single copy we had. This has not happened since, but if that blockbuster movie project ever goes through….
There Are No Children Here: This has also been a Book Fair regular, though you sometimes have to hunt for it, as the restockers in July have a tendency to put it in Sociology. (By the way, Alex Kotlowitz, the author, also wrote the essay on Nelson Algren’s Chicago: City On the Make for this book. That is also a constant arrival at the Book Fair.)
Nature’s Metropolis: Not only did the author of this win the Newberry’s Umanitas Award, but Helen Sclair actually approved of the book and used to push it at the Book Fair. We’ve lost her, but we still get the book.
The House On Mango Street: You will have to look for this in Literature, not Chicago. But it’ll be there. It always is.
Boss: Helen Sclair also used to promote Mike Royko’s classic expose of the Daley machine, but usually insisted you needed Len O’Connor’s Clout to go with it. You will find both in our Chicago section, along with Ovid Demaris’s City In Chains, another one of her favorites for showing the True Chicago. (Only Boss makes this book, from which I assume that the committee did not try to contact Helen through séance.)
Give the Lady What She Wants! This history of Marshall Field’s, of which roughly 80 percent come in signed by the CEO of the store, will be near the top of my list of 101 most donated Chicago books at the Book Fair. Do come buy one, and we’ll try to find you a copy of Through Charley’s Door, Emily Kimbrough’s account of what it was like to work there in its glory days
Forever Open Clear and Free, Rules for Radicals, Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis, Chicago on Foot, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, Division Street America, the Lakeside Classics, If Christ Came to Chicago….
Counting it all up, I come up with 46 of the 101 books I can guarantee you’ll find at the Book Fair come July, with a further 12 I think will be very likely. Unfortunately, I can almost certainly guarantee you won’t find the Caxton Club’s Chicago By the Book, or Chicago 101. No one I know is likely to give up their copy.