Doing Dewey’s Nonfiction Book Club – The Devil in the White City


One of my favorite things about being part of this community is joining with other bloggers to participate in a challenge or read-along or some other sort of bookish project. I especially love read-alongs because they often expand my reading horizons and I get to answer discussion questions. I love discussion questions! This month over at Doing Dewey, we’re reading Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.

Have you read this or anything else by Erik Larson before? If so, how does this read compare to your first read through/his other books?

This is actually my first Erik Larson. I’ve heard a ton of great stuff about his other books, but I just haven’t gotten around to actually reading one, I suppose!

How do you feel about authors of narrative nonfiction filling in the blanks left by sources and/or speculating about emotions?

I think I’m okay with it. There are going to be gaps throughout history, but I think an author can look at the historical context and use psychology and common sense and research to speculate and fill in some of the gaps. I think that filling in those gaps presents a more complete picture and a more enjoyable narrative. I’m especially okay with it if the author addresses it up front and lets the reader know that some speculation will be involved. I also just think it’s a very human thing to do – we’re naturally empathetic and we often project or deduce emotions regarding others around us.

If there was another World Fair in Chicago next year, would you go?

Ah, maybe. I’m not as far along in the book as I should be (I’m doing audio!), but so far they’re only talking about the structural integrity of buildings and so forth, so I still don’t know what was actually there. But the premise is very cool, so yeah, I’d probably go.

Is it appropriate to treat reading about a real serial killer as entertainment? Is it any different than if this story were fictional?

Hard question. I think narrative nonfiction serves a purpose, in that it educates without being condescending or dry or irritating. As long as the narrative is appropriately sober, in that it doesn’t make light of the historical event, narrative nonfiction can be a great and appropriate teaching tool. And yes, I think it is different than if the story were fictional. You have a lot more leeway to insert humor and make light of a fictional narrative than a true one.

Have you been or would you like to be part of a group creative endeavour, such as that undertaken by the architects at the World Fair?

Not really, at least not that I can remember. I draw a bit, but that’s pretty solitary. And I tend to shy away from group projects by nature, as I’m an introvert. But if I could overcome that, it would be pretty cool to be part of something like that.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America



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3 responses to “Doing Dewey’s Nonfiction Book Club – The Devil in the White City

  1. I really like doing read-alongs with discussion questions too! This is my first Erik Larson too and so far, it’s living up to the hype for me.

    I’m also fine with an author filling in the blanks and I agree it makes a better story. I think Larson is doing a great job of that, but I’m not sure I think he’s been upfront enough about when he’s doing it.

    I think you make a great point about taking the appropriate tone for a serious story, especially when it’s nonfiction.

    How has this been as an audiobook? Is it well done?


    • It isn’t my favorite audio book ever. It’s a little bit hard to distinguish between different sections, and of course, the whole premise where actual historical quotes are in quotation marks doesn’t apply. It’s enjoyable enough though, I suppose. I would rather be reading it, truthfully, but I’m not going to regret the experience or anything.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? | Jancee's Reading Journal

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