Discussion Guides

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

Murakami takes the reader through a surreal series of events, grounded in beautifully descriptive realism. The story follows a young man whose bizarre quest takes him through the urban and rural sprawl of Japan, where he encounters one unusual character after another. The quirkiness of the story shines through as Murakami masterfully blends Japanese and American literary styles to create a wonderfully accessible narrative.

Perfect if you like: mystery novels, black coffee, road trips, and sheep taxonomy.

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The Food of a Younger Land 
by Mark Kurlansky

This collection of stories, recipes, and menus was a long-forgotten project of the Works Progress Administration until Kurlansky went digging in the Library of Congress. Published in 2009, well after the end of the Federal Writers’ Project, this book is a snapshot of regional American food in the first part of the 20th century. From "Coca-Cola Parties in Georgia" to "An Oregon Protest against Mashed Potatoes," this book covers it all.

Perfect if you like: Julie and Julia, Michael Pollan, cookbooks.

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The Ladies Paradise

The Ladies' Paradise by Émile Zola

This novel unravels the hectic and riveting rise of the modern department store in late 19th-century Paris, following the intertwined lives of 20-year-old saleswoman Denise Baudu and department store entrepreneur Octave Mouret.

Perfect if you like: Paris, fashion, Mr. Selfridge on PBS

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The Ladies Paradise

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Wilkerson offers a window into the Great Migration of black citizens from the South to the North in this captivating Pulitzer Prize–winning novel. This selection was chosen to complement the exhibition They Seek a City.

Perfect if you like: American history, local history, and compelling characters

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The Warmth of Other Suns

I, Claudius: From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius by Robert Graves

Graves writes of the life and rise to power of Claudius, the fourth emperor of Rome, in one of the most treasured novels of the 20th century. 

Perfect if you like: historical fiction, political thrillers, ancient Rome, biographies

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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

A tale of two young men who make it big by creating comic book superheroes

Perfect if you like: Jonathan Safran Foer, Dave Eggers, Zadie Smith, and Jonathan Franzen

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Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp

The story of the Los Angeles artists who boosted themselves to international fame in the 1960s

Perfect if you like: photography, 1960s, Los Angeles, the inside scoop on artist's personal lives

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Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

A satirical WWII classic

Perfect if you like: wartime stories, humor, historical fiction, classics

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The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

A tortured tale of war, memory, and art's timeless beauty

Perfect if you like: nostalgia, tearjerkers, The Hermitage

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The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr

This fictionalized account of a real discovery reveals what happens when a new masterpiece is discovered, from research and authentication to conservation and ownership debates.

Perfect if you like: mysteries, behind-the-scenes stories, Caravaggio

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How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell

A contemporary take on a best-seller from 400 years ago, this book is equal parts biography and philosophy.

Perfect if you like: biographies, the Renaissance, clever insight

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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

Written from the perspective of her longterm partner, Alice B. Toklas, this memoir details Stein's relationships with the artistic and literary elite, including Matisse, Picasso, Hemingway, and more.

Perfect if you like: memoir, creative non-fiction, or My Love Affair with Modern Art by Katharine Kuh

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Alvin Langdon Coburn. Henri Matisse painting Bathers by a River, May 13, 1913. Photograph. Courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, 1979:3924:0012

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

The story of a young Englishwoman forced to confront issues of social, religious, and political import after her move from the pastoral south to the industrial north.

Perfect if you like: political and social commentary, Victorian England, Jane Austen

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Mary Georgiana Caroline, Lady Filmer. Untitled loose page from the Filmer Album (detail), mid-1860s. Paul F. Walter.

My Love Affair with Modern Art by Katharine Kuh

This memoir by the Art Institute's first curator of modern painting and sculpture offers a behind-the-scenes peek of the art world.

Perfect if you like: biographies, local history, or gossip columns

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Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen

Written at the same time that Munch was developing his signature style, Ibsen's provocative play explores issues of morality, class, gender, and more.

Perfect if you like: theater, compelling characters, or literary challenges to the status quo

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Edvard Munch. Girl by the Window, 1893. Searle Family Trust and Goldabelle McComb Finn Endowments; Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection. © 2008 The Munch Museum / The Munch-Ellingsen Group / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Hunger by Knut Hamsun

Chronicling the struggles of an unrecognized, unappreciated author in 19th-century Norway, Hunger is a semi-autobiographical tale. The author later won a Nobel Prize in Literature.

Perfect if you like: first-person narrative, the arts community, or before-they-were-famous stories

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Edvard Munch. Melancholy, 1894/96. The Rasmus Meyer Collection, The Bergen Art Museum, RMS.M.249. © 2008 The Munch Museum / The Munch-Ellingsen Group / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Caesar and Cleopatra by George Bernard Shaw

An ambitious response to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Anthony and Cleopatra, Shaw's non-traditional take on a classic story of statecraft enhances our understanding of the great tale pictured in 14 of the exhibition's tapestries.

Perfect if you like: theater, dry wit, histories

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The Battle of Actium (detail), c. 1680. After a design by Justus van Egmont. Produced at the workshop of Willem van Leefdael. Flanders, Brussels. Gift of Mrs. Chauncey McCormick and Mrs. Richard Ely Danielson.

Selected Fables by Jean de la Fontaine

This collection of short, witty fables draws on a variety of sources, from the familiar stories of Aesop to the more obscure tales of Phaedrus. Written at the same time that many of the tapestries in The Divine Art were being woven, the fables reflect the values and ideals of 17th-century Europe.

Perfect if you like: bawdy humor, poetry, or bite-sized sections

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Large Leaf Verdure with Animals and Birds (detail), 1525/50. Southern Netherlands, possibly Bruges. Gift of the Antiquarian Society of the Art Institute of Chicago through the Jessie Landon Fund.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

One of the most widely-known pieces of noir fiction, this hard-boiled novel was written just three years before Hopper painted the iconic Nighthawks. Laconic and stoic, Chandler's protagonist is perfectly suited to the life portrayed by Hopper in this comprehensive exhibition.

Perfect if you like: snappy dialogue, rough-and-tumble characters, or mysteries

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Edward Hopper. Room in New York (detail), 1932. Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, UNL-F. M. Hall Collection.

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett

Written during Homer's lifetime, this novel about life in rural Maine is widely considered to be Jewett's greatest work. The themes of hardship and isolation in Jewett's fishing villages echo the tone found in many of Homer's watercolors, making the novel an ideal accompaniment to this breathtaking exhibition.

Perfect if you like: character development, elegant description, or short stories

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Winslow Homer. The Watcher, Tynemouth, 1882. Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection.