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Not Her Kind Of Town: NYT Book Reviewer Disses Chicago

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The Chicago skyline at night. (Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Chicago skyline at night. (Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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(CBS) – A New York Times book review with multiple barbs about Chicago is drawing digital fire across the Internet and a cool response from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

In the lead book review published Sunday, Rachel Shteir evaluated three recent nonfiction works with a Chicago connection, including “Golden: How Rod Blagojevich Talked Himself out of the Governor’s Office and into Prison,” and Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg’s “You Were Never in Chicago.”

But Shteir, a DePaul University associate professor of theater, arguably spends more time venting about Chicago, where she moved 13 years ago after leaving New York. Her opening salvo:

“`Poor Chicago,’ a friend of mine recently said. Given the number of urban apocalypses here, I couldn’t tell which problem she was referring to. Was it the Cubs never winning? The abominable weather? Meter parking costing more than anywhere else in America — up to $6.50 an hour — with the money flowing to a private company, thanks to the ex-mayor Richard M. Daley’s shortsighted 2008 deal? Or was it the fact that in 2012, of the largest American cities, Chicago had the second-highest murder rate and the ¬second-highest combined sales tax, as well as the ninth-highest metro foreclosure rate in the country? That it’s the third-most racially segregated city and is located in the state with the most underfunded public-employee pension debt? Was my friend talking about how a real estate investor bought The Chicago Tribune and drove it into bankruptcy? Or how 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who performed at Barack Obama’s inauguration, was shot dead near the president’s Kenwood home?”

Shteir, who gives lukewarm reviews to “Golden” and “You Were Never in Chicago,” says she dislikes Chicago’s “swagger” but doesn’t hate everything about her adopted city. She said she likes the beauty of Lake Michigan, Millennium Park and the fact that the climate seems to have mellowed, thanks to global warming.

“But the bloviating roars on, as if hot air could prevent Chicago from turning into Detroit,” she says.
Her words proved too acerbic for some members of the online community, who say the former New Yorker’s negative remarks come across as snobby and overstated.

“She is, like the cub reporter who wishes to God he’d gone drinking with Ben Hecht, yearning for a golden era she was born too late for,” Chicago Reader media columnist Michael Miner says in a blog published Monday.

The Twitterverse popped with thumbs-down reviews of the review.

The mayor, meanwhile, said readers would be better served by reading the books Shteir was reviewing, rather than her piece.

“It didn’t note that the city of Chicago has the most Nobel Prize winners of any city in America,” Emanuel said at an appearance Monday. “And they think we shouldn’t be proud of ourselves? I’m quite proud of the city of Chicago.”

The third book Shteir rolled into her Chicago-oriented review was Thomas Dyja’s “The Third Coast,” which she calls a “robust cultural history.” She appeared to like it better than the other two, and notes Dyja, a former Chicagoan, now lives in New York.

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