I’m reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. It’s giving me a needed fiction break in between two or three theologically related volumes I’m working through. After this one, I’ll be reading Anita Diamant’s Day After Night and revisiting Native Son by Richard Wright. Nonetheless, this novel has created quite a buzz since its publication because it’s one of those that had massive social consequences. I’m slightly embarrassed that I’ve never read it.
The Jungle is usually on the list when people talk about United States of American novels that meant something. Those lists are always as subjective as the next thing. That’s why I’m slow to read what other people tell me to read. I picked this one up because I’m turning my writerly interests to Chicago. Sinclair’s work meets a lot of my interests in that it’s fiction, written by a person who can inspire me in my own efforts, and it tells a story about people and things near me. I can actually go to the Stockyards. I can walk State Street and King Drive, which used to be Park Avenue and Grand Avenue, depending on where you are.
If you don’t know much about the novel–and I’m 3/4 through it so I won’t say too much–it’s the story of a man, a family, that immigrated from Lithuania in the early 20th century. They encounter real problems looking for work and learning a new language, and adapting to a way of life completely different from what they’re accustomed to. Sinclair is masterful in creating the work of Chicago’s Stockyards and the surrounding neighborhoods, ethnic tensions at the time, and the pronounced ways poverty and class shaped life.
It’s a good read. It’ll make you question whether you want to keep eating meat! It’ll make you wonder how much has changed since the early 1900s as it relates to race, class, education, and immigration. If you’re in my city, it’ll change the way you look at the streets and neighborhood boundaries. You’ll experience the Stockyards differently if you drive down Halsted. You’ll wonder about fairness and justice if only a little bit.
I’m thankful for this read. It reminds me, like other books I’ve read thankfully, that books have power. Words have power. Authors are important people because they offer gifts to the world even if the world never meets them, knows them personally, or can tell what they looked like in the morning.
Are you reading anything worth mentioning?