Monday, February 20, 2012

Chicago Stories: Tales of the City

A recent Forbes magazine analysis proclaimed Chicago the 6th most miserable place in the country, based on living conditions, traffic, weather, etc. I actually like the place, though there is tremendous opportunity for improvement, but I can see the ranking as a cumulation of many historical factors, all of which can be found in Chicago Stories: Tales of the City edited by John Miller and Genevieve Anderson.

What has gone wrong in Chicago:

  • The Great Fire of 1871 
  • The prostitution of 19th century farm girls 
  • The pitiful play of baseball teams 
  • The race riot of 1919 
  • The poverty of the South and West sides 
  • The avarice of the North Side 
  • The riots during the 1968 Democratic Convention 

In the hands of great writers, these miserable affairs often become compelling novels, histories, memoirs, and essays.

For the reader, Chicago Stories is like a sampler box of chocolates. You may like chocolate covered cherries and lemon creams but not chocolate turtles. While I enjoyed reading the short story "Looking for Mr. Green" by Saul Bellow, a selection from The Untouchables by Eliot Ness, and a selection from Boss by Mike Royko, I was rather disappointed by a selection from Hull House by Jane Addams and a profile from Division Street: America by Studs Terkel. Like with chocolates, each reading was a mystery before the tasting. More often than not, the experience was pleasurable.

Chicago Stories: Tales of the City. Chronicle Books, 1993. 242p. ISBN 0811801640.

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