If you were going to create a town with fictional characters who could live anywhere in the world, where would those characters go when they go home? Your first inclination may not be central Illinois. After all, there are much more exciting places to set a novel. But Morton native and author Ryan Bartelmay says he wouldn’t think to write about characters living anywhere else. This hour on Focus, we'll listen back to when he talked with host Jim Meadows about his debut novel, “Onward Toward What We’re Going Toward.” We’ll hear about why he writes about cultures in small towns in the Midwest and will hear about a set of characters who make a living working at a pumpkin canning factory.
Non-fiction often gets a bad rap. They’re the books you have you read, the ones you were assigned for class or work. Non-fiction titles don’t commonly have a reputation for being the sort of reading you can get lost in. According to Mary Wilkes Towner and Carol Inskeep of the Urbana Free Library, the idea that non-fiction is non-readable is a myth. This hour on Focus, they join Scott Cameron. We’re making the case for non-fiction. During this hour, we’ll talk about different kinds of non-fiction and the idea that what we read says something about us as a person.
Since we know that lots of you are voracious readers, we wonder – do you prefer nonfiction? We’re working to compile a list of Focus fans’ favorite non-fiction titles, so please send us your favorites! We've compiled a list of good reads below. If you see somethihg missing, send it our way, and we'll add it!
Contine reading for our non-fiction reading list.
During the 1920s, desperate and out of work due to the Great Depression, some people were willing to try anything to make a buck. That includes orchestrating a heist to lift a collection of rare books from a public library.
This hour on Focus, host Jim Meadows talks with University of Illinois Associate Professor Travis McDade about his book “Thieves of Book Row.” He’ll tell us about Manhattan’s “Book Row,” a theft ring comprised of some of the most notorious literary criminals in U.S. history, the detectives who worked their case and about how much money they were actually making off the texts. McDade also talks about rare book collecting today and if books are as valuable today as they were in the early 1920s.
Over drinks at a dinner party, a French friend was frank with essayist and novelist Diane Johnson about her opinion of “Americans” and our sense of heritage. She described us as “indifferent.” Johnson disagreed, and a few years later, we have her response in the form of her new memoir “Flyover Lives.” She has a sense of her family’s history and a lot of other Americans, specifically Midwesterners, do too.
This hour on Focus, Lisa Bralts talks with Johnson about her upbringing in Moline, Illinois, and how that’s shaped her outlook on life. We’ll hear about how she traced her family back to the 18th century and learned more about her own family’s roots in Illinois while writing the book and will delve into perceptions of Midwesterners across the country, and across the globe.
Do you have a sense of your family’s history? How did you learn about it? Have you been accused of not knowing? We’d love to hear from you today on Focus!
The question: What was life like for black Americans in Illinois during the 1930s?
Before World War II, President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration funded a special division of the Illinois Writer’s Project that employed black writers living in Illinois. The special program, which was led by Harlem Renaissance poet Arna Bontemps and white writer Jack Conroy, encouraged major black voices who lived in Chicago in the 1930s to write about everything from aspects of domestic life to politics, literature and religion. Novelists Richard Wright and Frank Yerby, and dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham were among those who wrote or did research for a projected volume on African-American history in Illinois.
When funding for the project was diverted to the war, the papers written by those voices were put into a box and set aside – until Brian Dolinar uncovered them and complied them into a new book “The Negro in Illinois: The WPA Papers.” This hour on Focus, Jim Meadows talks with Brian Dolinar about discovering those lost writings after all these years.
About a decade ago, David Stuart MacLean woke up on a train platform in India. He had no idea who or where he was and had no money and no passport. He came to believe he was a drug addict and spent two days in a psychiatric hospital in India chain smoking, writing poetry and hallucinating.
When his parents showed up and told him about what he was actually doing in India, he was floored. It was after his parents took him back to his hometown in Ohio that he was told his memory loss was caused by a rare reaction to a preventative malaria medication he had been taking. This hour on Focus, host Jim Meadows talks with MacLean about what it was like to rediscover who he was.
Have you ever suffered from amnesia or do you know someone who has? What was it like trying to remember things? Give us a call this hour on Focus!
Kim Stanley Robinson’s interest in science fiction all in an orange grove. When he was young, he says he watched southern California suffer what he calls “future shock,” – a process by which the natural landscape was rapidly replaced with apartment buildings and roads. This hour on Focus, host Jim Meadows talks with Robinson about how that experience inspires his writing
Robinson also talks about his Mars Trilogy that depicts a society where people have colonized Mars to escape overpopulation and ecological disaster on Earth. We’ll hear how he imagined life on Mars and how he deals with questions of plausibility as he writes about future time.
If you were going to create a town with fictional characters who could live anywhere in the world, where would those characters go when they go home? Your first inclination may not be to create a story based in central Illinois, after all, there are much more exciting places to set a novel. But Morton native and author Ryan Bartelmay says he wouldn’t think to write about characters living anywhere else. This hour on Focus, he talks with host Jim Meadows about his debut novel, “Onward Toward What We’re Going Toward.” We’ll hear about why he writes about cultures in small towns in the Midwest and will hear about a set of characters who make a living working at a pumpkin canning factory.
This hour on Focus, we’ll talk about the best books to cozy up with inside as the cold marches on outside. Amber Castens and Elaine Bearden of the Urbana Free Library join host Jim Meadows and offer up a few holiday favorites, as well as a few new books out this year.
Read more to find a book list from today's show!
When Dave Isay founded Storycorps, he wanted to create an opportunity for people to have a chance talk to each other about the things that had shaped their lives and relationships with each other. Ten years later, he says he never expected the project would be as large as it is today. He tells Jim Meadows about why he started Storycorps, where he hopes it will go and about how it came to be.
Meadows also talks with Isay about his new book “Ties that Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of Storycorps” and about his “National Day of Listening,” which is this Friday, November 29.