Last year, a bunch of us Special Libraries Association members pondered reading the book The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson for a discussion at this year’s annual conference because both are set in Chicago. I thought about reading the book in the late winter or early spring, decided it was too early, then forgot about it until late last night. Procuring a copy from a local library looks like it may be a fun adventure that could lead me to a branch or a few I have not yet visited. YAY SLA for continuing to inspire my love and use of libraries!
Addenda 7/3: I did indeed bike over to the nearest branch of another system’s library, take a quick look at that beautiful branch, sign up for a library card (*waves card in the air to show it off*), and borrow a copy of The Devil in the White City. Now I just need to find some time to read.
An amusing thing about signing up for a card is that when the librarian asked me if I had four secret digits I could use for a PIN, he then insisted that I state them out loud, so he could set up my account. So much for secrecy and security! I wonder how well sounds in the library carry and how much the other patrons in the checkout queue were paying attention to my transaction. It seems like in other situations, someone has either slid me a keyboard, so I could type them in myself, or asked me to write them down on a piece of paper and used them as a temporary PIN. (I gave 4 junk digits and changed the PIN as soon as I signed onto their system.)
Also, JM told me Steve Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range series includes a book set at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
7/21: I finished reading The Devil in the White City this morning. I had considered skimming large portions of it to try to finish it before conferencing in Chicago, but realized I was enjoying some of the details too much to actually do that. (As they say, the devil is in the details, right?) While I was able to squeeze in a brief visit to the north edge of Jackson Park, the fair’s site, I hadn’t really done much else to ensure crossing paths with the fair’s history. I was amused that while disembarking from the bus at the Museum of Science and Industry, I ended up behind a woman telling a man about how the museum’s building was the Palace of Fine Arts. I had not yet read far enough into the book to have learned that from the text. She mentioned several other facts about the site and the fair. After reading about Pabst Blue Ribbon’s name coming from its award at the fair, I happened to be on a subway across from a man wearing a PBR hat, then at a radio play performance where the cast acted out at least one PBR commercial. Learning more about Frederick Law Olmsted’s life, career, and influence fascinated me because I appreciate the landscapes he created near where I live. And, of course, because of my very general curiosity about architecture, gaining a better foundation (so to speak) about trends in American architecture, especially enduring and repeated ones, is handy. I couldn’t help thinking, though, how the two tales woven together in this book would stand alone on their own—perhaps because I hoped for a greater connection between the threads than just the coincidence of time and place. The alternating plot reminded me how some of my friends, instead of switching back and forth with each chapter, pick out and read each story line in some of JRR Tolkein’s work to the point where they converge, then read the book in order after that point. I wonder how many people choose to read only one tale or the other in this volume instead of consuming the entire piece.