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Monday, February 7, 2011

Monday Discussion: Midwest Reads

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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betty said...

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick -- set in Wisconsin. When Catherine Land, who's survived a traumatic early life by using her wits and sexuality as weapons, happens on a newspaper ad from a well-to-do businessman in need of a "reliable wife," she invents a plan to benefit from his riches and his need. Her new husband, Ralph Truitt, discovers she's deceived him the moment she arrives in his remote hometown. Driven by a complex mix of emotions and simple animal attraction, he marries her anyway.

John BPL RA said...

It seems that most of the big authors from the midwest don't write about, pay homage to, or even acknowledge where they came from. Some (such as Hemingway) even go so far as to bad mouth it. Because of this, there is a big separation between midwest authors and midwest novels. This is unfortunate. A "midwest style" of writing certainly exists and you can tell if an author is from here no matter where they choose to set their stories. More unfortunate is the fact that most of the stories about the midwest are written by authors from elsewhere who just don't have the same or, rather, the CORRECT character and style. There are some exceptions. One of my favorites is American Skin by Don DeGrazia which I was planning on suggesting for the staff book club. It uses the various subcultures of the 1980s and early 90s concentrated on the Clark/Belmont area as a backdrop to an epic coming of age story. Even in this book, the characters scheme endlessly about how they will "get out" of the midwest. The endless parade of crime novels set in Chicago are fun but just don't do the city, or the reader, any justice.

Kathy BPL RA said...

One of the first authors I ever read that felt distinctly Midwestern, in setting and style, was A. Manette Ansay. It was like an epiphany. There are authors that write where I live! And they live here too! Also the novel "Prep" by Curtis Sittenfeld, although it really doesn't take place in the Midwest, the main character is from Indiana and I could certainly relate to her in a way that completely had to do with where she was from and how she was brought up.