Library spotlights great Windy City reads

Watching "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" at Northbrook Court in 2002, I did not understand why the line, "I'm going to the Jewel," drew howls of laugher from the rest of the theater.

It wasn't funny. None of the characters on screen laughed. But, the people around me roared. They were laughing because it was real. That insignificant little article in front of the grocery chain was how people in Chicago talked. They got it right! All those laughs were little "That's us!" high fives reverberating through the seats.

Now that I've spent over half my life in the Chicago area, my ears prick up when a TV character says they were stuck on the Edens. I am insufferable when any part of a John Hughes movie comes on.

Chicago has captured the imagination of some of our best storytellers - Saul Bellow, Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser, Richard Wright, Audrey Niffenegger, Sandra Cisnersos, Sara Paretsky, Jim Butcher.

And great new Second City stories keeping coming. One of the most anticipated books of this spring, "Hello Beautiful" by Ann Napolitano, is set in Chicago. William Waters arrives at Northwestern hoping the hustle of Big Ten basketball will replace the piercing grief he felt in his parents' house. When he is sidelined by an injury, it is classmate Julia Padavano and her three sisters in Chicago's vibrant Pilsen neighborhood who keep him moving. (Spoiler: This homage to "Little Women" is rumored to be a real tearjerker. Napolitano also wrote "Dear Edward," now streaming on Apple TV Plus.)

Former "Chicago Tribune" columnist Dawn Turner's memoir and social history, "Three Girls from Bronzeville: A uniquely American memoir of race, fate, and sisterhood" explores how the hope of post-sixties protests collided with the reality of life in low-income housing in the 1970s. Turner, her sister Kim and their neighbor, Debra, are two generations removed from the Great Migration. The better life their grandparents and parents sought for them in Chicago is jeopardized by a swiftly deteriorating neighborhood where gangs, drugs and hopelessness are starting to take root.

"The Great Believers" by Rebecca Makkai was a fiction finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and explores the bonds of chosen family amidst the AIDS crisis in 1980s Chicago. Yale Tishman spends his days trying to raise money for a new art gallery at Northwestern University and his nights going to wakes. One of his fellow mourners is Fiona, a young woman who grew closer to Yale and his friends when her family couldn't accept her brother Nico for who he was. A secondary storyline finds Fiona in Paris trying to reconnect with her own estranged daughter. (The film/TV rights have been optioned by Amy Poehler's production company.)

In Jennifer Close's "Marrying the Ketchups," Oak Park's Bud Sullivan dies right before the Cubs win the World Series. The older generation assumes that even without Bud, the family restaurant will go on as it always has. But, like the Cubs curse, the spell that protected the restaurant from changing times and tastes has been broken. The members of the second generation also find that their settled lives are suddenly in flux, as they face a failing marriage, the impermanence of work as a cover band vocalist and saying no to playing second fiddle. A warm, funny, family saga to round out the list.

- Karen Keefe is the executive director of the Hinsdale Public Library.