SPRINGFIELD – It begins in Kansas and detours to the Emerald City, but “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written in Chicago and now heads the list of Top Illinois Books chosen by voters in the Illinois Top 200 project.
Other books on the list are decidedly darker than the beloved children’s classic.
“The Jungle” and “Spoon River Anthology” take readers from Chicago slaughterhouses to a small-town cemetery. “Devil in the White City” and “Native Son” explore the mind of a serial killer and the rage of a poor African-American man.
The Illinois Top 200 project lets Illinoisans vote every two weeks on the most inspiring leaders, greatest inventions, top businesses and much more. By the state’s 200th birthday on Dec. 3, voters will have chosen 10 favorites in 20 different categories – the Illinois Top 200.
Voting in the next category, top authors, is underway at www.IllinoisTop200.com. Nominees include Ernest Hemingway, Carl Sandburg, Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks. As a bonus for book fans, everyone who votes will be entered in a drawing for a free copy of “Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency.”
“Wonderful Wizard of Oz” author L. Frank Baum settled in Chicago in 1891 after years of traveling the country in search of financial security. He turned to writing children’s books and had some modest success before “Oz” appeared in 1900 and became a national sensation. Chicago now has an “Oz Park” near one of the places Baum lived.
The author also has central Illinois connections. His wife’s brother lived in Bloomington and had a daughter who died in 1898 at just 5 months old. Baum’s wife, Maud, doted on the baby and was heartbroken at her death. Baum tried to ease Maud’s grief by naming the “Wizard of Oz” protagonist after the beloved niece – Dorothy.
Here are the top 10 books chosen in online voting:
- “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” – Millions of readers have been transported to the land of Oz, where they met Munchkins, cowardly lions, flying monkeys and witches both good and wicked.
- “The Jungle” – Perhaps no other novel has had such a dramatic impact on U.S. law. Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel on the appalling conditions facing immigrants in Chicago’s meatpacking industry created an outcry about food safety. Reforms quickly followed.
- “The Devil in the White City” – Erik Larson’s blockbuster 2003 book presented the colorful story behind the 1893 Chicago world’s fair and also used a combination of fact and speculation to describe serial killer H. H. Holmes.
- “Spoon River Anthology” – Edgar Lee Masters used the voices of the dead to tell the tale of a small Illinois town in this 1915 classic. Poems that serve as epitaphs for the town’s dead tell interweaving stories of lost love, greed, hypocrisy and hidden tragedies.
- “Native Son” – Richard Wright broke new ground with his 1940 story of Bigger Thomas, a young African-American man living a life of crime amid racism and utter poverty in Chicago.
- “Dandelion Wine” – This 1957 novel by Ray Bradbury takes place as 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding spends a magical summer exploring the fictional Green Town, based on Bradbury’s hometown of Waukegan.
- “Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago” – Newspaper columnist Mike Royko wrote about Chicago with wit, affection and a deep understanding of its flaws. When he aimed those traits at powerhouse mayor Richard J. Daley, the result was a classic.
- “The House on Mango Street” – This 1984 coming-of-age novel by Sandra Cisneros tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, who navigates the transition from girl to young woman while trying to figure out a way to escape her impoverished Chicago neighborhood.
- “From Here to Eternity” – James Jones won the National Book Award for this novel about an Army infantry company in Hawaii before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Jones was an Illinois native and wrote the book at a writer’s colony in Marshall, Ill.
- “’The Good War’” – Studs Terkel won the Pulitzer Prize for this 1984 history of World War II told by the people who lived through it, from infantry grunts to generals to factory workers.
Nominees that did not make the top 10 include “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace, “Sister Carrie” by Theodore Dreiser and “The Man with the Golden Arm” by Nelson Algren.
The Illinois Top 200 is a joint initiative of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, The (Springfield) State Journal-Register and the Illinois Bicentennial Commission.
Future categories include musicians, actors, leaders and unforgettable moments. Everyone is invited to suggest possible nominees in each category by using the hashtag #ILtop200 on social media.