Purging Books, Making Art and Ruling Chicago

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Dear readers,

During a recent purge of my bookshelf, I came to the realization that I had accumulated dozens of volumes over the years simply because I couldn’t resist their intriguing titles. Books such as “Four Frightened People,” “Mushroom Town,” and “Keeping a Horse in the Suburbs” ended up being passed on to others through our laundry room’s giveaway table. One entire shelf was dedicated to memoirs with grandiose titles, including “Champagne… and Real Pain” by former society columnist Maggi Nolan, and “Polly’s Principles: Polly Bergen Tells You How You Can Feel and Look as Young as She Does” by the selfsame TV personality. I also couldn’t resist the peerless “Memoirs of a Professional Cad” by George Sanders, who managed to marry two different Gabor sisters in his lifetime. A special mention goes to George Hamilton’s “Don’t Mind if I Do.”

Although the following books are biographies rather than memoirs, they have earned a permanent place on my shelf for more than just their beautiful titles.

This 1971 bestseller takes you on a captivating journey through the sinister Daley Machine of Chicago and the mayor’s notorious tenure. Clocking in at a slim 216 pages in paperback, it is a hard-boiled powerhouse that offers unlikely escapism. Studs Terkel describes it as an “incredible inside story of the last of the backroom Caesars,” while Jimmy Breslin proclaims it to be “the best book ever written about an American city” by the best journalist of his time.

If you enjoy films like “His Girl Friday,” books like “Fire and Fury,” or the works of Nelson Algren, this book is a must-read. You can find it at a well-stocked library or your favorite bookstore.

First published in 1982, this book initially appears to be a straightforward biography of contemporary artist Robert Irwin. However, it is so much more than that. Author Lawrence Weschler delves into Irwin’s early years with the California Abstract Expressionist school and his exploration of spatial experimentation. The book covers everything from Irwin’s work on the gardens of the Getty Center and Dia Beacon to his captivating light installations. It not only provides insight into the 20th-century art world but also engages in a philosophical exploration of our relationship with space, nature, and art.

Although this may sound dry or tedious, give the spare prose a chance, and you will find a book that will stay with you forever. Irwin’s approach to art, with meticulous craft and absolute purity of intent, is truly inspiring. As he says, paying attention to sounds and including them in our perception can change the world.

If you enjoy John Cage’s “Three Dances,” the book “I Love Dick,” or Werner Herzog’s “Fata Morgana,” this biography is a must-read. You can find it at a good bookstore.

Now, let me offer you a few more book recommendations:

1. “Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant” – This book explores the eccentric interiors of Wilsford Manor, as Stephen Tennant decorates it along decadent lines. It raises questions about the longevity of decadence and young spirit.

2. “The English Understand Wool” – This impeccably odd book by Helen DeWitt straddles the line between experimental novella, prose poem, book of aphorisms, and ironic manifesto. It promises an impeccable and surreal reading experience.

3. “The Elements of Style” – E.B. White’s classic guide to grammar and writing offers no-nonsense elegance that is truly timeless. Reading it before bed may even help you eliminate common grammar mistakes in your sleep.

Thank you for being a subscriber. For more book recommendations, please visit The New York Times or explore our reading recommendations. If you’re enjoying our content, please consider recommending it to others. They can sign up here. And don’t forget to check your local library for the books you desire, as many libraries allow you to reserve copies online.

Happy reading!

Sadie Stein

About Michael Brown

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