Best Reading Series or Open Mike
rThe Reader's ChoiceRUI: Reading Under the Influence
This Wrigleyville-based series repeats as champ, withstanding a mighty challenge from the Windy City Story Slam, which follows a similar format (held in a bar, congenial hosts, audience participation). The drill: invited guests, often local writers who've recently published books, read short works on a particular theme, and also a few lines by (usually) better known authors. Audience members try to guess the famous author and answer a few related trivia questions; shots, alcoholic and otherwise, are consumed. The crowd is generally chummy but not exclusive. RUI's lineup of hosts has recently expanded beyond the Columbia College farm system to add the effervescent Amy Guth, author of Three Fallen Women and founder of the Pilcrow Lit Fest, to the regular crew. a At the next RUI, all the guests are contributors to the anthology Cubbie Blues: 100 Years of Waiting Till Next Year, including Windy City Story Slam founder Bill Hillman: Wed 4/1, 7-10 PM, Sheffield's, 3258 N. Sheffield, readingundertheinfluence.com, $3. —Jerome Ludwig
&Our readers' choiceUptown Poetry Slam
Best Book About Chicago, Ever
rThe Reader's ChoiceBoss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago
There's no getting around this choice. I tried to think of a surprise, a dark horse—something a little less obvious—but in the end I just couldn't. I wasted a few days hacking through The Jungle, Upton Sinclair's fictional expose of the meat-packing industry at the turn of the century. Wouldn't it be just the thing in this year of tainted beef, poison peanuts, and capitalism run amok? But The Jungle is a blunt instrument, a relentless and ultimately unconvincing tale of woe upon woe upon woe, topped off with an improbable efflorescence of socialist utopianism. Forget it.
How about Donald Miller's City of the Century, a superbly written history of Chicago from its beginnings up through the Columbian Exposition of 1893? Here you find the stockyards described a little less hysterically; also voyageurs, industrialists, architects, reformers, and the characters behind street names like Kinzie, Hubbard, and Ogden, all rendered with a storyteller's flair. But Miller's prose, entertaining as it is, comes in the detached voice of the academic. His book is about the city, but not of it.
So I'm giving in and choosing Mike Royko's portrait of Richard J. Daley. Ostensibly it's a biography, but it's also history, sociology, and tabloid scandal, told in the wry, supercynical voice of arguably the greatest American newspaperman ever. Royko gives us cops and councilmen, petty graft and grand larcenies, neighborhood borders, ethnic rivalries, and racial shame—and above it all, the electorate's stupefying embrace of corruption and mediocrity. He's seen it all. Nothing surprises him. Yet between the lines there's quiet outrage. Give this book to a friend who's moving to Chicago. But before you wrap it, read it yourself and see how little has changed. aPlume/Penguin Group, $15 —Michael Lenehan
&Our readers' choiceDevil in the White City by Erik Larson
aVintage/Random House, $14.95
Best Book by a Chicago Author in the Last Year
rThe Reader's ChoiceThe Lazarus Project Aleksandar Hemon's backstory is well known by now: he came to Chicago for a visit in the early 1990s, stayed on when his hometown, Sarajevo, fell into chaos, improved his English enough to get a master's in lit at Northwestern, and started writing books; in 2004 he scored a MacArthur "genius" grant. The best book to come out of Chicago in the last year is his second novel, The Lazarus Project, about one Vladimir Brik, a Bosnian-American writer fortuitously married to a Chicago brain surgeon.
Brik—who's portrayed as having written a column about the immigrant experience for the Reader—stumbles upon an old Tribune story about Lazarus Averbuch, an eastern European Jewish teenager and suspected anarchist who (in real life as in the book) was gunned down by Chicago's police chief in 1908. Brik is determined to uncover the truth behind the incident, and his research takes him—along with his earthy Bosnian photographer friend Rora—back to his homeland. As he tells the tale, Hemon alternates between the era of Averbuch's death, detailing the anarchist insurgency in Chicago just before the 1886 Haymarket Riots, and contemporary Chicago and eastern Europe. The book is provocative and enlightening, a serious yet often funny work by a very gifted dude. aRiverhead, $24.95 —Jerome Ludwig
&Our readers' choiceThe Slide by Kyle Beachy
a The Dial Press, $13, kylebeachy.com.
Best Used Book Sale
rThe Reader's ChoiceEvanston Public Library's Big Book Sale
When it comes down to it, I've really got just one reason for claiming the Evanston Public Library's book sale is best, but it's a fine one: an edition of Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard," printed by the Heritage Press of the George Macy Companies and copyrighted 1951. There's an appendix, and an introduction by Hugh Walpole, and the deep blue cloth cover is embossed with a churchyard scene accented in silver, as if by moonlight. Inside, opposite each page of text, are 32 serenely beautiful Rockwell Kent-like wood engravings by Scottish artist Agnes Miller Parker. And I got it at the last EPL sale for $4. I can't say that a lovely little find like this is the rule at these events, but the fact that it's even possible is suggestive. The sale offers a lot of books, and lots of them are good. The staffers are sweet, too. aThe next sale is this weekend, 3/27-3/29. Preview Fri 3/27, 10 AM-noon, $5. Then Fri noon-5:30 PM, Sat 10 AM-5:30 PM, Sun noon-5:30 PM. On Sunday, all books are half-price. Evanston Public Library, main branch, third floor, 1703 Orrington, Evanston, 847-448-8600, epl.org. F —Tony Adler
&Our readers' choicePrinters Row Book Fair
aSat-Sun 6/6-7, 10-6, Dearborn from Congress to Polk, 312-222-3986, printersrowlitfest.org. F