By October 29, 2007 6 Comments Read More →

They Don't Write Novels Like They Used To, Apparently

Apparently the last half century has been a time of drought in Chicago letters. In its November issue, Chicago Magazine (“Tough Love: Great Chicago Novels“) offers its list of the “ten essential Chicago novels.” But while inclusion doesn’t necessarily hinge on a novel’s status as classic, the results skew that way, with only one post-1953 book–Sandra Cisnero’s The House on Mango Street (1984)–making the list.

Five post-2002 books were included in a sidebar called “The New School” (“Chicago lit lives!”–whew). So apparently only time will tell if the editors’ opinions are correct.

Great Chicago Novels

The Cliff-Dwellers, by Henry Blake Fuller (1893)
Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser (1900)
The Pit, by Frank Norris (1903)
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair (1906)
The Studs Lonigan Trilogy, by James T. Farrell (1932-5)
Native Son, by Richard Wright (1940)
The Man with the Golden Arm, by Nelson Algren (1949)
Maud Martha, by Gwendolyn Brooks (1953)
The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow (1953)
The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros (1984)

The New School

47th Street Black, by Bayo Ojikutu (2003)
I Sailed with Magellan, by Stuart Dybek (2004)
Hairstyles of the Damned, by Joe Meno (2004)
My Sister’s Continent, by Gina Frangello (2006)
Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris (2007)

Want to weigh in? Vote for your favorite. When I wrote this, The Jungle was, perhaps predictably, leading the pack with 26% of the vote. (Is prose a criterion?) Commenters also offered props for The Year Diz Came to Town, by Robert Goldsborough, a hard-to-find e-book; Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago, a short-story collection, and Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, a work of nonfiction.

More useful suggestions included:

Passing, by Nella Larsen (1929)
Knock on Any Door, by Willard Motley (1947)
The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger (2003)
The Easy Hour, by Leslie Stella (2003)
Crossing California, by Adam Langer (2004)
Happy Baby, by Stephen Elliott (2004)



Posted in: Book Lists
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About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

6 Comments on "They Don't Write Novels Like They Used To, Apparently"

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  1.' Steven says:

    My vote goes to MY FELLOW AMERICANS, by Kier Graf (2007). Very timely and loads of local color details

  2. Keir says:

    Stop, I’m blushing.

  3. Bill says:

    Here’s a vote for Fredric Brown’s Ed and Am Hunter novels, especially The Fabulous Clipjoint (1947)–classic pulp fiction but stylish and witty as well, and full of wonderful Chicago atmosphere. Much of The Fabulous Clipjoint takes place in the Near North neighborhood near ALA Headquarters (and was celebrated in Booklist’s “Hard-Boiled Gazetteer to Chicago” in 2005).

  4. For those of you who have an interest in Robert Goldsborough, “The Year Diz Came to Town” has been revised and published in trade paperback as “Three Strikes You’re Dead.” It is part of Mr. Goldsborough’s new Chicago based Snap Malek Mysteries. “Three Strikes You’re Dead” is the first book in the series, followed up by “Shadow of the Bomb,” and the just this past week published, “A Death in Pilsen.” This series is being published by Echelon Press Publishing. “Three Strikes You’re Dead” won the Love is Murder “Best Historical Mystery” award in 2006.

    Booklist (6/15/05 Issue) says…”Goldsborough, best known as the heir to Rex Stout via his half-dozen Nero Wolfe novels, creates a prewar Chicago that is at once sinister and appealing. He also weaves an engaging subplot involving Dizzy Dean and the Chicago Cubs’ drive to the 1938 World Series. An enormously entertaining caper.” –Wes Lukowsky

  5. My “hard-to-find e-book”, “The Year Diz Came to Town,” is now a published novel (2005)from Echelon Press retitled “Three Strikes You’re Dead,” set in 1938 Chicago and mixing real and fictional figures. It’s a murder mystery with a backplot involving the Cubs’ ’38 pennant season and World Series in which Dizzy Dean plays a major role.

    Robert Goldsborough

  6. Keir says:

    Not so hard to find, I guess, thanks to a very alert publisher and author. Thanks!

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