Chicago, my new favorite novel

by | Sep 20, 2017 | Book review, Musings | 4 comments

Have you ever loved a book so much that you’ve revisited a few random pages each night before going to sleep? Have you begun a book, put it aside and then come upon it weeks later, having forgotten entirely that you’d cracked it open?

Both scenarios are true for me. Right now Brian Doyle’s novel Chicago is on a shelf I can reach easily while tucked in bed. It’s my favorite book of the year so far. It supplanted Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi for the No. 1 spot, which is really something because that book is astounding and probably a more significant work overall.

Ah, but reading is such a personal thing. Why is it that words put together in certain ways reach our hearts and affect us deeply, sometimes even illuminating depths we didn’t know were there?

I have some thoughts about why Doyle’s novel delights and moves me so. I spent the first five and a half years of my life in Chicago and lived in that grand city for another six years as a young adult in the 1970s. That’s a lot of days and nights spent absorbing the unique rhythms, sights, smells and soul of a metropolis, time when I was just forming a sense of self.

A singular time and place

Doyle’s novel is set in the ’70s and centers on a recent college graduate who moves to the city for work. The relationships he develops with the people in his apartment building over the course of a little more than a year, absolutely captures the unspoken heart of what it is to be a Chicagoan. The surface isn’t fancy, but what is underneath is magical.

I don’t know if people who haven’t lived in and loved Chicago would find this book as affecting and winsome as I do. However, I do believe anyone who reads it will enjoy it.

A forgettable time and place

I won’t mention the name of the book I forgot I’d begun to read. I thought of picking up where I left off after rediscovering it, but decided against it. The writing is lovely, the book is well produced, but it just doesn’t grab me, and I want to read books that capture my imagination and inspire me. So that book is collecting dust for the time being. I’ll likely give it away at some point.

And here’s another question. When you begin a book, do you feel like you have to finish it even if you aren’t particularly enjoying it? I think many of us got in the habit of doing just that because much of our initial reading was done for school assignments. Remember those dreaded book reports in grammar school?

Please share your thoughts in comments. I’d love to hear from you.


Note: Photo of open book by Thanakrit Gu.

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  1. M.L. Millard

    The older I get, the easier it is for me to put a book down. I don’t care how many of my friends loved The Book Thief, I found the beginning kind of full of itself and tossed it aside, ha ha. I only wish I knew what made captivating books so captivating so I could create it myself!

  2. Laura

    Thanks for answering my question about sticking with books we’re not particularly interested in, Marie! I just hopped over to Amazon to check out The Book Thief to see if I’d ever thumbed through it. I hadn’t. I checked out some of the text using Look Inside, and the intro on page 4 seemed way overwritten. I confess, when in college, especially during my one semester in a graduate creative writing program, I used to overwrite self-consciously, thinking I was being cutting-edge or something like that. … One set of books that didn’t grab me was the Harry Potter series. The first book came out when Moira was a little older than the target age group, but we would still read books aloud together every now and then. Harry Potter didn’t work for either of us as a read-aloud book. We didn’t read more than a couple pages. I heard a few years later that the text was adapted for the American market, and if that’s true, it could have messed with the rhythm of the language enough to lessen its appeal for folks like Moira and me. If it’s not true, I guess I just don’t like the esteemed J.K. Rowling’s writing style. I believe the story itself it terrific, though.

  3. Mary Ellen Gambutti

    Hi Laura, although I’ve never lived in Chicago, I’m intrigued by the book. My daughter’s lived and raised her boys there for many years.
    I couldn’t put your memoirs down, and read them consecutively every night!
    Another mrmoir I just loved was Tarn Wilson’s ‘Slow Farm.’

  4. Laura

    Hi Mary Ellen. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m thrilled my memoirs are among the books you love! I think all of us who write want to enrich people’s lives in different ways; most of the time readers don’t tell us what kind of impact we’ve had. … I went to Tarn Wilson’s website and read the description of Slow Farm. It sounds compelling. I’d like to know what it was like to be a child in the 1970s being raised by parents who left a conventional life and went to live in the Canadian wilderness. It can sound romantic to those of us who haven’t done it, but I expect there were significant challenges and hardships.

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