August 23rd, 2011
Maria V., Librarian

Coming Up The House on Mango Street

The common thread running through the vignettes that make up The House on Mango Street is one of a search for identity. Through each of the poetic episodes we see Esperanza searching for the kind of girl, and eventually the kind of woman, she wants to be. It’s a common theme in coming of age stories and Cisneros ably tackles it with her insightful and lyrical prose. For more books that deal with self-discovery and navigating dual cultures try:

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven bySherman Alexie

When Luba Leaves Home by Irene Zabytko

August 20th, 2011
Nicole S., Librarian

The Elusive Harper Lee

Harper Lee, the legendary author of To Kill a Mockingbird (our inaugural One Book, One Chicago selection a decade ago), is not what you might call “high profile.” One doubts very seriously that she will ever become a Twitter personality.  Unlike, say, Scott Westerfeld, John Green or Neil Gaiman,whose frequent tweets and meticulously kept online personae help to inform readers’ interpretations and loyalties, Ms. Lee does not share herself with us very often.

There are some notable exceptions to Lee’s silence, which help illuminate the thoughts of this notable writer:

Despite her infrequent public appearances and interviews, however, the matter of who Harper Lee is has great influence over how we read the very first One Book, One Chicago selection. The few tidbits we have – Scout is based on her as a young girl; Dill is based on her close friend Truman Capote, whom she helped with research for In Cold Blood; she appears occasionally in public and accepts honorary degrees but declines to speak – give just enough to make us wonder what the former Scout is like as an adult, and what caused her to choose a life out of the spotlight. Did she find herself seeing Boo Radley as some sort of role model, hidden from sight? Did she watch Capote get famous for being famous and know it wasn’t for her? Even her entry in the CPL database “Biography in Context” relies heavily on the people portrayed in her only novel rather than on her own biographical particulars, making even blurrier the line between Harper as a person and Harper as a character in her own book.  

To Kill a Mockingbird can be enjoyed purely for its story, but it is also pleasurable to take another look, and to imagine the paths that took little Scout to the Harper we almost-know today.

August 19th, 2011
Maria V., Librarian

Themes abound in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. In a conversation with our own Commissioner Mary Dempsey, Steppenwolf Theater’s Artistic Director Martha Lavey discussed the theme of personal convictions coming into conflict with societal norms and expectations. This question most clearly weighs on John Proctor, who struggles between his morality and his role in a closed society with rigorous ideas about how one should conduct one self. It’s a fine line he must walk and a hard choice he faces at the conclusion of the play.

Another theme that runs deep in Miller’s work is that of truth and how it is defined and perceived. This was the topic of a panel discussion held as part of our One Book event in the fall of 2007, “Nothing But the Truth.” The panelists included: Rob Warden from Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Conviction; Steve Huntley, Sun-Times columnist; Bernardine Dohrn, from Northwestern’s Children & FamilyJusticeCenter; with U.S. District Court Judge David Coar moderating. The panelists enjoyed a lively back and forth that is well worth a listen, here.

August 19th, 2011
Stephanie K., Librarian

"Self-consciously idolatrous enthusiasm"

Of all the authors chosen to be part of One Book, One Chicago, no other can match Jane Austen in terms of the number of spin-offs, fan fiction, sequels, prequels and takeoffs that her books have inspired. Indeed, true Austen fans have no problem identifying themselves as “Janeites,” referring to “the self-consciously idolatrous enthusiasm for ‘Jane’ and every detail relative to her.” There is even a Jane Austen Society, with an active Chicago chapter.

Why is Jane Austen so popular? Eudora Welty once wrote that Austen’s novels withstand time because “they pertain not to the outside world but to the interior, to what goes on perpetually in the mind and heart.” Perhaps, for these reasons, Austen’s work continues to fascinate, entertain and inspire us.

For example, let’s just look at the fan fiction that has been inspired by Pride and Prejudice. 

There are many examples of sequels to Pride and Prejudice, including: Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife , Nights and Days at Pemberly, or Two Shall Become One.

Darcy’s Story and The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy are Pride and Prejudice told from a whole new perspective.

Anyone prefer to read mysteries? There are a few of those as well. Check out The Phantom of Pemberlyor the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery Series by Carrie Bebris.

And then there is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, examples of the newest genre popping up in fan fiction - parody fiction.  

Lastly let’s not forget the film adaptations! The BBC mini-series from 1995, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle is a faithful adaptation; as is Pride and Prejudice (2005), starring Keira Knightley, Donald Sutherland, and Matthew MacFadyen; and Bride and Prejudice (2004) is based on Pride and Prejudice with a Bollywood twist!

Many of these spin-offs, fan fiction, and film adaptations can be found at your local branch of the Chicago Public Library.

August 18th, 2011
Jacob C., Librarian

My Antonia Throughout the Years

“No question, Miss Cather has written a book of singular beauty and simplicity, in which her power of giving the essence of a community is united with a beautiful capacity for character creation.”

So ends the review run on November 2, 1918 in the Chicago Tribune when My Antonia by Willa Cather was first published.  Eighty-four years later, My Antonia was chosen to be the Fall 2002 One Book One Chicago selection.

Want to see the original review from the Chicago Tribune?  If you have a Chicago Public Library card in good standing you should be able to access the review through from the Chicago Tribune Historical Database here.

My Antonia was also adapted into a made-for-TV movie in 1995 starring Neal Patrick Harris which was screened as part of the One Book One Chicago events in Fall 2002 at theDePaul University Student Center.

If you would like to learn even more about this remarkable author, the Chicago Public Library also hosted screenings of the C-SPAN documentary called “Writings of Willa Cather”.  The transcript of “Writings of Willa Cather” is available online along with a streaming video of the documentary here.

And here is one of our favorite actresses, Joan Allen, reading from the book at a program presented by the Chicago Public Library and Steppenwolf Theatre.

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