Meet the Editor: Tim Mennel, Executive Editor

October 27th, 2017

Tim Mennel, Executive Editor
Subjects: American history; Chicago and other regional publishing
Series: American beginnings: 1500-1900; Chicago Architecture and Urbanism; Chicago History of American Religion; Chicago Visions and Revisions; Historical Studies of Urban America

Tell us about a book you discovered at a formative age that helped develop your sensibility.

I vividly recall going head over heels for Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach early in high school, not so much for the content but the structure. The idea that a book did not have to always stay within formal, narrative, or disciplinary bounds appealed very strongly to me. This set me up, I’m sure, for doting on books like The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen, John Barth’s Letters, Derrida’s The Post Card, Avital Ronell’s The Telephone Book, Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and so on. While typographical showmanship has lost much of its appeal (and I’m sure I would find GEB unbearably twee now), I’m still often drawn to books that take risks or reach perhaps a little too far in attempts to expand our expressive and interpretive horizons.

Tell us about a book you find yourself rereading, reconsidering, or otherwise haunted by.

My wife and I are often saying to each other something to the effect of, “Can you believe they had us read X in college?” The amount of material that I read despite being completely unprepared to make any real sense of it at that age astonishes me. (C’mon, what American teenager can empathize with the plight of Emma Bovary?) So I’d like a do-over of practically everything I read before the age of 22. Well, maybe not Clarissa—I could live without another reading of that.

Tell us about a book you admire that we wouldn’t expect to find in your library.

How about Frank Miller’s graphic novel Ronin—a completely bonkers manga-influenced dystopian fever dream? What, you say that’s the first thing you’d expect to find? OK, then how about The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover? It’s a timeless and endlessly rewarding tale about the perils of psyching yourself out. We are the monsters we’ve been waiting for.

What book from your list is a well-kept secret that deserves a larger readership?

So many, so many… why, it’s practically like people are reading less these days. It would be consistent with my affection for risk-taking books to make a pitch for Alexandra Chasin’s Assassin of Youth, a complex and multivocal portrait of longtime US dope czar Harry Anslinger, but I can see why some people would resist a book that changes speed nearly every chapter. So I’ll go with Peter James Hudson’s Bankers and Empire, a mind-blowing investigation of how Gilded Age American banks misbehaved across the Caribbean, creating a roaring whirlpool of corruption, malfeasance, collusion, expropriation, and colonialist bad behavior that should seem more than a little familiar in our current circumstances. Hudson submerged himself in countless archives across many countries to draw the alarming connections among Wild West scam kings, colonialist banks run by bunco artists, and jaw-droppingly racist Christmas parties in Wall Street boardrooms. If it doesn’t enrage, horrify, or embarrass you, you should adjust your medications.

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