Want to join the Midwestern Book Club?

Our first Midwestern Book Club selection (this is the University of Illinois Press edition).

I have lived in the Midwest most of my life. It is not a tourist region: people refer to it it as Flyover Country. It is a quiet place to live, “about as exciting as a glass of milk,” a Midwestern friend once said. But the stereotypes are usually wrong, I assure you. The majority of people live in cities and towns;  the farms, alas, are mostly industrial now. Th Midwest is a place like any other, where people live and work, read great books, get Ph.D’s, go to concerts, are involved in politics, reserve Booker Prize finalists from the library, and support Shakespeare festivals and the Symphony.

Somehow, the Midwest evokes boredom in dwellers on the coasts. And Midwestern literature seems to me to be underpublished. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop is famous, but of course few of the Workshop students actually are from the Midwest.  I know of only two Iowa writers who attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop: the talented writers Elizabeth Evans and Maureen McCoy.

You are familiar with some of the most brilliant Midwestern writers, though you may not consider them Midwestern: the Pulitzer Prize-winning Marilynne Robinson, whose whose new novel Jack will be published this fall; Rebecca Makkai, winner of the National Book Award for The Great Believers, her impressive AIDS novel; the National Book Award finalist Jean Thompson, author most recently of A Girl in the Shape of a Cloud; and the multiple award-winning Louise Erdrich, author most recently of The Night Watchman (so good it should win all the awards!).

Our first Midwestern Book Club selection.

At the moment I am primarily interested in 20th-century Midwestern literature, and that will be the focus of the so-called Book Club.  The first selection is Booth Tarkington’s stunning environmental novel The Turmoil (1914), which is the first of the Growth trilogy. (The e-book is free at Amazon, Project Gutenberg, and other sites.). Tarkington was a two-time Pulitzer winner for  his novels The Magnificent Ambersons (the second of the Growth trilogy) and Alice Adams. And The Turmoil is utterly brilliant, as are the other two in the trilogy, The Magnificent Ambersons and  The Midlander.

I will post about The Turmoil on September 22. I do hope you’ll join me.  You can comment here, or write me at mirabiledictu.org@gmail.com for more information.

And if you want to pitch your favorite Midwestern books, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

10 thoughts on “Want to join the Midwestern Book Club?”

  1. I am in the midst of a Marilynne Robinson reread, in preparation for Jack coming out! She writes amusingly about being from the Midwest in some of the essays I read – or, rather, amusingly about the prejudices she encounters from East Coast Americans. (My knowledge of American geography is extremely hazy, so it doesn’t mean a lot to me!)

    Btw I was looking at an old review and saw what a fan of Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay you are – I’m delighted that it’s now back in print!

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  2. I really admire “Mr. Bridge” and “Mrs. Bridge” by Evan Connell. “Stoner” by John Williams. “Babbitt” and “Main Street” by Sinclair Lewis. The poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks still packs a huge punch for me. I might be the only one who likes Jonathan Franzen.
    Toni Morrison has some books set in part in Ohio (Sula, Beloved, etc). and Jane Smiley’s “A Thousand Acres” and “Moo” are excellent.
    “Winesburg, Ohio” is a classic. Willa Cather.

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    1. Fabulous suggestions! I have read all of these except the Sherwood Anderson. And I keep meaning to return to Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge. A few years ago someone wrote an essay about Mrs. Bridge for the NYT. Honest to God, I’d forgotten these were set in the midwest!

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  3. This sounds like a great choice. I’ve never read anything of Tarkington’s, but I do enjoy many midwestern writers (and I suppose I inhabit the parallel part of the country to the north of you). Your selection should make it even easier for most readers to participate (i.e. it’s available on Project Gutenberg) but I have to limit the amount of time I spend on a screen, so I would need a print copy of this one, and it’s reference-only in our library system. I’ll keep an eye on your other selections though!

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    1. I love Tarkington! I have read quite a few of them, and some of the least-read are actually the best. The Magnificent Ambersons is the middle one of the trilogy, and that’s one of his best. There’s also a movie with Joseph Cotton.

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