Although I have now lived in the Midwest for almost 14 years, I am not a native. This comes up more often than you would think in my work as a Readers' Advisor. For example, most of my students and patrons were exposed to novels such as The Jungle, Sister Carrie, and The House on Mango Street while in high school. I have learned that patrons assume if you are working where they went to school, you will have the same reference points and reading history as them; at least when it comes to school assigned texts. I however, did not.
In the intervening years, I have gone back and caught up on these books, but I was playing catch-up from the start. It is not an issue I ever thought about before beginning my working career, but it did cause a few awkward transactions early on.
So when I saw this article last week about the "Best" novels on the Midwest, I was intrigued. Besides providing a solid list of Midwest lit, the article also brings up a great point about how other regional genres do a much better job of marketing themselves. The best example here is Southern Gothic.
As a Midwest interloper, I agree completely. The only author I was exposed to for his "Midwest-ness" was Saul Bellow, and quite honestly, I was exposed to him through family who wanted me to read Bellow because of the Jewish issues he brings up. The Midwest part was incidental. But looking back now, having lived here over a decade, I can see the distinctly Midwest issues which poke through Bellow's work.
Now that I have devoted my work life to books and reading and my personal life to being a Midwesterner, I am ready to help the cause. Let's use the list I found and add our own to the mix. I will begin by offering Saul Bellow as a must read Midwestern author. Also, Leif Enger's beautiful ode to the South Dakota landscape in Peace Like a River gave me new found respect for an area of the country I never would have given thought to otherwise.
Now it's your turn. For today's Monday Discussion, help me out. What are novels say Midwest to you?
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