The Bookshelf
What inspires the women who inspire us

What’s Chicago reading? We’ve tapped the city’s writers, thinkers, and dreamers to share their most beloved books—the well-worn tomes that have inspired, encouraged, and comforted them through the years.

Below, Chicago transplant Thea Goodman invites us in for a look around her bookshelves. Her debut novel, The Sunshine When She’s Gone hit bookstores last year and ever since, has been providing a heady dose of escapism for parents old and new. Ever wonder what it’s like to run away from it all? Goodman’s characters do in this funny and thoughtful look at the toll new parenthood takes on togetherness and sense of self.

I remember being very young and falling in love with, not books but, sounds and words. I think I was five and I loved "Tree" and anything with a "ch" sound. In my early 20's in graduate school or perhaps just before when I finished college, I became obsessed with reading as if I were trying to catch up, not only with what I personally might have missed in school, but with all of history and life.


In Chicago I love the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Hyde Park and 57th Street Books. Women and Children First, I adore. I like reading in the shady parks surrounding the Art Institute or by the rocks at Promontory Point.


Mrs. Dalloway
by Virginia Woolf

I first read the book as a high school student. I was amazed by Woolf's ability to make an ordinary woman's life fascinating. By depicting individual perception and consciousness with nuanced language, she makes buying flowers for a party something extraordinary. The book continued to embolden me as I became a writer interested in the inner life and the seemingly quiet yet profound movement of the mind.

“He made me understand that if you find the right way to tell a story, anything is believable.”
Rabbit Run
by John Updike

I read this book at a writer's colony in 1997 and it immediately inspired me. Updike's book is so lyrical and much of its momentum is through language. Language is the vehicle we ride on and the way we understand the fuel of emotion; Rabbit's emotional wave makes him leave his young family and run across the country, an act that is too strange for real life but has beauty and bravado in fiction. He made me understand that if you find the right way to tell a story, anything is believable.

Bleak House
by Charles Dickens

Dickens can be humorous, satirical, even blythe but Bleak House is dark—and lovely. I love the way he illustrates an entire world so vividly so that when I read the book in grad school in the 20th century I could touch the horror of smallpox. I could feel it and see it. Esther Summerson is a rare creation both strong and fragile and truly complex. The dual narration showed me the surprises and authority of imaginative writing and the weather...I will never forget his description of the weather on page one and the importance of atmosphere in a novel.

by James Joyce

These stories, quite simply made me fall in love with fiction. The rush of mellifluous yet precise words, the emotionally gripping tones, the atmosphere and history and culture and the way it informs that emotion is something I learned so much from.

Enormous Changes at The Last Minute
by Grace Paley

Grace Paley always eluded me, leaving the college I went to just before I arrived, moving out of the village for Vermont, just as I settled into her old neighborhood. Reading her work changed deeply my feeling of the importance of separating work and life. She made it clear in her charged, colloquial yet totally unique prose that writing comes from a passion for life and a life passionately lived. Her voice is so original, as original as any real human being. Her feat is bringing that singular soul, which everyone must have, onto the page in a totally brave and unabashed way.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem
by Joan Didion

Joan Didion showed me with her almost digital precision, that every word counts. Ideas, slippery things at best, are both grounded and soar when she finds words for them. I love the way this book turns on its head almost every romantic notion we have about the sixties. I've since read all her books and learned so much from her about choosing words and eliminating the fat.
Kinfolk Magazine
We stop by the Hyde Park home of Amanda Jones, the designer behind Kinfolk magazine, to talk dream projects and life in Chicago.
The Choreographer
The Urbaness snuck into a Hubbard Street Dance rehearsal to chat with budding choreographer and veteran dancer, Robyn Mineko Williams about her work on the city’s stages.