Thursday, July 1, 2010

More recommended reading about Chicago

"Chicago, a gaudy circus beginning with the two-bit whore in the alley crib." -- Theodore Dreiser
"They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys." -- Carl Sandburg, "Chicago"
"She outgrows her prophecies faster than she can make them. She is always a novelty; for she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through the last time." -- Mark Twain
By now I know y'all have figured out that I love to read about places I've been or am going to. Recently, I went to Chicago one more time to visit a friend who will live there for just a few more weeks before moving away.
I'd heard good things about Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, and requested it from my library. My name came up for it just in time, and I checked it out to take with me. I finished Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet on the way there, and was ready to start Loving Frank as soon as I got a moment. That moment didn't come until I had about four hours to myself before returning to the airport to come back home. However, I realized on the way to Michigan Avenue and the beach at Lake Michigan that that book was locked away with my luggage at our hotel and not in my handbag. Undeterred, I stopped in a bookstore on my way to the beach and asked for a recommendation based on my enjoyment of Middlesex and Devil in the White City. Here's what two associates came up with for me:
And here's what I was looking at as I read it. Pure perfection, I tell you.

Sin in the Second City is by Karen Abbott and is a fascinatingly juicy account of one of the most well-known brothels in U.S. history, the Everleigh Club. Though the book is nonfiction, it read like a novel and the style reminded me very much of Devil in the White City (that's what I was reading during my Chicago trip last summer. You can read about my take on that one here). The book combines all sorts of things, mixing them up in an interesting way: politics, bribery, sex, business, marketing, white slavery, and much more. The Everleigh sisters were savvy, successful business women who made quite a name for themselves.

I was back in Atlanta before I could start Loving Frank, but I've been enjoying it in the evenings on my patio, as thankfully, the temperatures have cooled down a bit lately. It's historical fiction and the story of a love affair between Chicago-area architect Frank Lloyd Wright and one of his clients, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. As I read the book, I felt its peaceful, easy flow, which explains why I felt so jarred as a dramatic event unfolded near the end of the book (I don't want to give it away for those who haven't read the book and plan to). I had to tell myself that its disruptive feel was the whole point. It was certainly an event and an end to the book that was very unexpected.

Wright made a name for himself in a Chicago suburb, Oak Park, and many of the homes in that area that he designed are still standing. The home he shared with his wife, Catherine, and their children is open to the public. If I can make it back to Chicago sometime, I'm going to be sure to check it out. I've also just learned that another home he designed in the Chicago area recently opened to the public. You can learn more about that house here.

Both of these books are quite good reads and present two interesting views of women around the turn of the 20th century in the Chicago area who are striving to break through societal restraints and create their own rules.

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