Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Ten of the best Illinois books

Edward McClelland is a native of Lansing, Mich., which is also the birthplace of Burt Reynolds and the Oldsmobile.

McClelland’s most recent book, Midnight in Vehicle City: General Motors, Flint, and the Strike That Built the Middle Class, is a narrative account of the 1936-37 Flint Sit Down Strike, which led to the establishment of the United Auto Workers as the nation’s flagship labor union. His previous book, How to Speak Midwestern, is a guide to the speech and sayings of Middle America, which The New York Times called “a dictionary wrapped in some serious dialectology inside a gift book trailing a serious whiff of Relevance.”

At Chicago magazine McClelland tagged ten books to take us on "an armchair journey through Illinois, from Chicago to Cairo, and from the Age of Lincoln to the Age of Obama," including:
The Man with the Golden Arm, Nelson Algren

Wicker Park sure has changed since Nelson Algren lived and wrote there. Just after World War II, when The Man with the Golden Arm takes place, it was a Polish neighborhood of run-down three-flats and even more run down taverns. Frankie Machine returned from the war with a morphine habit – a “monkey on his back,” a term Algren heard among the hustlers and junkies on Division Street, and introduced to the popular vernacular in this novel. Unable to work as a musician due to his addiction, Frankie deals cards in backroom poker games, hence the title. Algren, who began his career during the Depression, was the last of the proletarian novelists, still writing about the urban underclass at a time when Americans were moving to the suburbs.

The Man with the Golden Arm won the first National Book Award, but Algren’s career went into a long decline afterwards, until he finally moved to Paterson, New Jersey, in the 1970s, to research a book on boxer Ruben “Hurricane” Carter. Nonetheless, he is considered the Great Chicago Novelist, namesake of a fountain at Division and Milwaukee, and of the Chicago Tribune’s annual fiction contest.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Man with the Golden Arm is among Geoffrey Johnson's top forty Chicago novels.

The author Pete Anderson applied the Page 69 Test to The Man with the Golden Arm.

There is a strong case for Nelson Algren as The Great Illinois Novelist.

--Marshal Zeringue