If there were a list of the most essential publications about Chicago, which titles would make the cut? Fiction or non-fiction? Would the books focus on the city’s seedy underbelly of corruption, industrialization and crime, or on the city’s cultural and architectural triumphs?
The Chicago literary group The Caxton Club set out to make such a list, now published in “Chicago by the Book: 101 Publications that Shaped the City and Its Image.”
“We had a list that was always over 300 [publications] for a long time, and met many, many times … and we finally got the list down to 101,” said Susan Rossen, the book’s editor and former director of the Art Institute of Chicago’s publications department.
Read an excerpt: No. 27: Dominic A. Pacyga on “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair
“That is a process in of itself – of what should be included in the list,” she said. “We weren’t going to do a history of Chicago, but we wanted to represent as much of Chicago as has influenced its image for the rest of the world, as well as determined its character.”
Each of the listed works are accompanied by an essay from contributors such as Ira Berkow, a former sportswriter for The New York Times; journalist and filmmaker Alex Kotlowitz; detective fiction novelist Sara Paretsky; and Neil Harris, the Preston and Sterling Morton Professor Emeritus at The University of Chicago’s art and art history departments, and a member of The Caxton Club.
Read an excerpt: No. 101: Gini Hartzmark on “Brush Back” by Sara Paretsy
Harris said the club eventually developed a set of criteria to help determine the most essential titles: the publication needed to focus on Chicago, tell some sort of “Chicago story,” and have an impact on the city’s reputation at large.