This week we look at coming attractions. But before we get to the main event, some unfinished business: The Worst Book of the Year. That dubious honor goes to Never a City So Real: A Walk in Chicago, by Alex Kotlowitz (Crown). This is a volume in the Crown Journeys series, an offbeat venture in which writers as various as Christopher Buckley, Chuck Palahniuk, and Ishmael Reed write about a city (or a battlefield—there's a volume on Gettysburg—or some other kind of place) pretty much as they please. The resulting books are all over the map, so to speak: some quite good, some bad, some simply strange.

Kotlowitz, best known for There Are No Children Here, is a substantial writer, and I was looking forward to his take on Chicago, a city I'm still getting to know after more than ten years in the area. This book inverts the formula of many city chronicles from past eras, in which only celebrities of one kind or another figure in the story. Kotlowitz's Chicagoans are labor activists, African Americans from the projects, rattle-the system defense attorneys, and so on, with a pimp or two occasionally strolling by. If you invert a formula, you get another formula, the more unpalatable in this instance because it's served up with smug self-satisfaction. "This is a skewed and incomplete view of the city," Kotlowitz says at the outset. "I won't pretend otherwise." How virtuous of him! What that confession really amounts to, of course, is something like this: I'm telling the real story of the city, and it's the story of outsiders who never appear in the Official Story.

That word "real" reminds me that while for the most part he inverts the old formula, Kotlowitz ...

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