City Time Capsule: “Chicago by Day and Night” is a Lively Guide to 1890s Chicago

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Chicago welcomed the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition almost twenty years after the Great Fire, inviting thousands to flood the Second City. “Chicago by Day and Night: the Pleasure Seeker’s Guide to the Paris of America” was created to assist this influx of newcomers. With 300 pages and sixty-nine illustrations, the guide acted as a primer for exposition visitors and residents alike, detailing what one might need to know, from lodging accommodations to entertainment venues and revues, places of worship, gambling and vices, shopping centers, dining establishments and more.

The guide was recently revived by Northwestern University English Department lecturer Bill Savage and local writer and reenactment specialist Paul Durica. Savage was introduced to the text by a colleague at the Northwestern University Press where it was under consideration for reprinting. Savage enlisted Durica for his specialized knowledge on this Chicago time period.

The pair proceeded to do some digging. Due to its age, the guide was available in the public domain and a candidate for  republishing. To track down the guide’s author, they searched Library of Congress records to no avail. All that was listed was a name penciled in on the cover page, Harold Richard Vynne, a journalist and writer. “The publisher’s records no longer exist,” says Durica. “We have little information on how the book was put together.” The two reviewed the original text, making very few changes in order to preserve its style and tone. They wrote an introduction that explains the relevance of the text and their work. Any edits were “for the sake of clarity,” says Durica. “Alternate spellings of the same word, sometimes within the same chapter, have been retained. Everything else is original, including all of the photographs and illustrations.” Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “Oldest Chicago” by David Anthony Witter

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You don’t have to be a history buff to love David Witter’s “Oldest Chicago.” You don’t even have to love Chicago, but surely you will after reading the author’s exultant but informative paean and guide to the city’s most enduring places.

By his own account, Witter, an occasional freelance writer for Newcity, began his romance with Chicago history as a child, playing cops and robbers in  the shadow of where John Dillinger was killed–the Biograph Theater. This volume is filled with stories of many such familiar haunts, but there are also less-known places, like the Oldest Camera Store (Central Camera Company, 1899), Auto Repair and Body Shop (Erie-LaSalle Body Shop, 1934) and Tamale Shop (La Guadalupana, 1945).

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Nonfiction Review: “Where to Bike Chicago: Best Biking in City and Suburbs” by Greg Borzo

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Chicago is easily one of the most bike-friendly cities in the United States, and those of us who bike recreationally or to commute are familiar with the excellent free maps from the City of Chicago, which have  the best streets for travel highlighted and take the guesswork out of how to get around town. For ten to twenty bucks more, you can buy a detailed bike map of the surrounding burbs. So is it worth it to spend more money on a book that offers more or less the same information?

It depends on what kind of biker you are; and frankly, only the most novice of bikers, who are also the most averse to exploration and risk-taking, are going to get much out of Greg Borzo’s new guide to Chicago biking. The book is laid out with pre-planned rides broken down by area (city, South, North and Western suburbs), with forty-five rides and twenty-seven “kids’ rides.” Each route contains a basic map and a detailed list of what you’ll see, along with traffic information and tips about where to stop for food. The routes range from short kids’ rides to trips about thirty miles long, all set on loops that begin and end at the same place. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “100 Hot Sex Positions” by Tracey Cox

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Tracey Cox (this is apparently her real name) is a sex expert for iVillage, regular guest on the “Today Show,” and author of half a dozen books on how to have a hot sex life. Her latest book focusing on sex positions offers a few new moves, a lot of old news, confusing organization, and awkwardly not-quite-pornographic photographs where most of us would prefer a how-to sketch. It’s sex-literature-lite at best.

The positions themselves range from “does she really think people don’t do this” (like half a dozen variations on rear entry or at least a dozen almost-missionary positions with differently placed feet and hands) to some inspiring acrobatic feats, but the way they’re broken down—into four sections titled “heartfelt,” “steamy,” “head games” and “show off” instead of similar positions or those that might be easy to transition between—are weirdly disjointed. Often the positions she calls “heartfelt” seem almost identical to “head games,” and it’s hard not to see this breakdown as the author trying to make old material fresh. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “A Tour Guide to Missouri’s Civil War: Friend and Foe Alike” by Gregory Wolk

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Call it the war next door: When the sesquicentennial of the 1861-1865 Civil War commences in 2011, for Illinoisans it will be all about Lincoln, but Missourians will flash back to their conflict of “10, 000 nasty incidents” in a divided state represented in both the Union and Confederate Congresses.

Gregory Wolk’s guidebook offers a fresh gateway to a brutal, local war often overshadowed by narratives focusing on battles in the East. But during the war’s first year, 40 percent of the battles and engagements were fought in Missouri; and throughout the war there was desperate guerrilla fighting, which actually had begun along the Kansas border in 1854.

Cross the Mississippi anywhere, and this book will lead you to notable monuments, cemeteries and battlefields: follow the paths of U.S. Grant and of Confederate cavalry raids, of guerrillas Jesse James and “Bloody Bill” Anderson. Here are hundreds of destinations, dozens of battle narratives and engaging sidebars on fascinating, controversial personalities. Read the rest of this entry »