The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson
For me, the summer of '23 was True Crime Summer. I was obsessed -- sort of like a serial killer, maybe?? Anyway, here's a book that I read years ago, part novel, part history, that is based on the real events of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, also known as the Columbian Exposition. It explores the history of the amazing city of my birth and features some wonderful writing. Have you ever wanted to view the world through the eyes of the obsessive and the obsessed? In The Devil in the White City you'll take in the sights through the perspective of architect Daniel Burnham and serial killer Dr. H.H. Holmes.
These days, Illinois gets a bad rap. Of course, depending on who’s doing the bad-rapping, that could be ascribed as a honor. (Lookin’ at you, current occupant of the White House.) You name it, we are insulted for it. Underfunded pension funds. High tax rates. Crooked politicians. (Okay, maybe we deserve that—given the historical rate at which our governors wind up as convicted felons.) But I figure if you don’t live in Illinois, you really don’t have the right to cast aspersions. (Glass houses and all that). The fact of the matter is that Illinois is one of the states that is least dependent on the federal government—#46—and a state that sends a ton of money to D.C.—money which then gets sent along to other states who are far more dependent on the federal teat. States like—oh, let me not get started dissing other states. I love ‘em all. As I should. We are the United States of America, after all. Anyway, why should you believe me? I’m not an economist. You can check it out here. And this isn’t meant to be Boosterism Central. I just want to celebrate Illinois, my home sweet home, in a literary fashion.
And what better way to start but with the weird stuff… as lovingly compiled by Troy Taylor in a fabulous tome entitled—what else?—Weird Illinois. Every state has its oddities, oddballs, and outlandish occurrences (the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas comes to mind), but Illinois can definitely claim some bragging rights in all three categories and Taylor puts them on display. For example, whereas Kansas may have its twine, Illinois has the world’s largest catsup bottle (or do you spell it ketchup?) Whatever—there it is on page 42 in all its 170-foot-tall glory. In real life, you can find it just outside of Collinsville, along Route 159. And while we generally don’t put catsup on our Chicago-style hotdogs, you can find a couple of weenies on the next page of the book, in a splendid photo of the two giant weiners perched atop the Superdawg Drive-in.
From roadside attractions to haunted houses to a cemetery “safari,” from strange beasts (Olney’s albino squirrels) to local heroes and villains to legends, lore and “unexplained phenomena,” Weird Illinois will definitely keep you infotained. Whereas will you learn about the Demon Butcher of Palos Park and the Murphysboro Mud Monster? But there’s also a fair bit of history here as well—admittedly tending toward the unsavory kind, mass murderers, serial killers and the like—and a charming chapter on some exceedingly unique dwellings, including a house with no square corners located in Bull Valley, and Villa Kathrine, a small Moorish castle overlooking the Mississippi in Quincy.
Spritely writing, clever illustrations, and colorful photos enhance this chronicle of weird AND wonderful Illinois!
Weird Illinois by Troy Taylor, Sterling Publishing, 2005.
Apparently, it has. Well, that's what happens when you are working on a new book. The blog takes a back seat... waaaaayyyy in the back. But hey, it's reborn with a new name and a new focus, as of today. Actually, the previous one didn't really have a focus, so I guess I should cross out the word "new." We'll be celebrating the rich literary tradition of Illinois, and yes, much of that will focus on Chicago, but we will give downstate and central Illinois its due as well.
I'm blessed to appear at two events this Saturday, June 24th. The first is a private event connected to the ALA Conference in Chicago. THRIVE is a celebration of indie books and community reading sponsored by Biblioboard, the Soon to Be Famous Illinois Authors Project and RAILS Library System, among others. The second is a public event at the Tamale Hut Cafe in North Riverside. Good times! Here's a link to the Tamale Hut Cafe's Reader's Series Blog for more info.
The Things We Save was recently named a semi-finalist in the BookLife Prize for Fiction sponsored by Publishers Weekly!
It's a busy weekend... Saturday, September 17th, I'll be visiting with the Barrington Writers Workshop. Then on Sunday, I'll be joining a group of diverse writers for a season opening reading event at Waterline Writers in Batavia. In between, I'll be watching a lot of football. Yes, I am hopelessly addicted since I started doing research on the game. Fun, fun, fun!!
"You never get a second chance to make a first impression." Someone said this first, but there seems to be some disagreement as to whether it was the poet, playwright and novelist Oscar Wilde or the American humorist Will Rogers. The saying IS engraved on a plaque at his memorial, so even if he didn't originate the line, he must have said it enough times to make, yes, an impression.
But it's true, especially when you're writing, well, just about anything. You have to grab your audience by the eyeballs and the mind so that they make the decision to follow where you want to lead.
The proofreading service Scribendi has created a wonderful infographic of 34 fabulous opening lines. Are any of your favorites here?
I have the pleasure of chatting about my novel with the Bookies of the Crystal Lake Public Library on Wednesday morning, June 15th at 9:30 AM. Looking forward to another lively discussion!
I love books. Everyone who knows me knows that.
I also love dessert, being an infamous chocoholic and ice cream addict.
Put them together and obviously, I'm in heaven.
So, when I discovered this infographic about desserts inspired by books, well, you know I had to share it with you! And you can find many more luscious items at Shari's Berries! So if you are craving delicious, check them out.
To find out more about me, click on the Not Your Average Jo tab.