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D is for Dybek

Inspired by Stuck In a Book, I am continuing this occasional series, in which I will discuss favorite authors, alphabetically. The latest is Stuart Dybek.

How many books do I have by Dybek?
Four, all of them short story collections: The Coast of Chicago, Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, I Sailed with Magellan, and Paper Lantern: Love Stories. 

How many of these have I read?
All of them. The only Dybek books I haven't read (none of which I own) are the story collection Ecstatic Cahoots, and the poetry collections Streets in Their Own Ink and Brass Knuckles.

How did I start reading Dybek?
Being a Chicagoan, I've always heard a lot of praise for Dybek, starting back in the 1990s. I was browsing the shelves at a Barbara's Bookstore somewhere in the city during the early 1990s and came across The Coast of Chicago, bought it, and was grabbed right away by "Mozart in Winter", a sadly beautiful story about the brief bond that develops between a young boy and his emotionally distant grandfather as they listen together to a neighbor in the next apartment who is practicing Mozart sonatas on the piano.

General impressions...
Dybek's stories are wistful and warm-hearted, even as he's describing the gritty Southwest Side neighborhood where he grew up. I was lucky enough to meet Dybek at a talk he did last year at the Cliff Dwellers Club with historian Dominic Pacyga, on the subject of Polish Chicago. I brought my hardcover copy of The Coast of Chicago for him to sign, and only just beforehand discovered that it was a first edition - so now, without intentionally setting out to do so, I now own a signed first edition of Dybek's best book. And as much as I love Dybek's stories, I wish he'd try his hand at a novel. When I first read I Sailed with Magellan, I remember thinking that I'd love to read an entire novel built around Lefty, the trumpet-playing uncle of Dybek's fictional alter ego, Perry Katzek. I don't think I mentioned this to Dybek when I met him; I actually hope I didn't. Too many short story writers, even great ones like Dybek, already have to endure the "So, when are you going to write a novel?" question, without me piling on.

If you've never read Dybek, you should start with...
The Coast of Chicago, and "Mozart in Winter" in particular.

If I had to get rid of one Dybek book, it would be...
I don't really want to get rid of any of them, but if pressed, I guess I would let Childhood and Other Neighborhoods go. Though I enjoyed the book, I really don't remember much about it. The Coast of Chicago and I Sailed With Magellan are very vivid in my mind, and just seem more essential to me.

Other "D" candidates:
Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle.

September 15, 2020 in Books | Permalink