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McHenry County Magazine

Since my early childhood, my parents stressed the significance of art and the joy it can bring. We attended musicals and plays at Drury Lane, admired the art at the Art Institute of Chicago and had a seemingly endless list of movies that we checked out from our local library. I’m lucky to have grown up in the Chicago area, as its rich arts and entertainment scene is among the best in the country, but sometimes the best way to enjoy the arts is by curling up with a good book. 

Here are some artsy and entertaining spring reads:

ν ‘Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina’
By Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland, the first black principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre, isn’t misleading us with “Life in Motion’s” subtitle, “An Unlikely Ballerina.” 

Every step of Copeland’s artistic journey – as well as her athletic journey – was fraught with problems.  From her beginnings as a 13-year-old ballet prodigy from a poor family, Copeland faced critics who disapproved of her body type, her ability and her skin color, and the criticism continued into her professional career. 

Despite the long list of forces that could have prevented her success, Copeland never ceases to express gratitude to the people who helped her along the way. What could have been a bitter memoir about a difficult childhood and tumultuous career turns out to be a hopeful story about how dedication can make dreams come true. 

‘Bel Canto’
By Ann Patchett

Within the first few pages of “Bel Canto,” we learn that the vice president of an unnamed South American country is hosting an international high-society birthday party for Katsumi Hosokawa, an opera-loving businessman and potential financial ally. 

The party stops short when a large group of armed terrorists, protesting the government’s regime, take the home – and everyone in it – hostage. Among the hapless partygoers are Gen Watanabe, Mr. Hosokawa’s translator who falls in love with one of the rebels, and Roxane Coss, a famous opera singer whose talent and passion for music inspires the rebels and the hostages to find the good in their dreary situation. After months of negotiations, the line between hostage and terrorist blurs as the characters come to respect, admire and love each other. 

Fitting with the story’s themes, “Bel Canto” has an operatic quality to it – both in terms of the dramatic story and the lyrical prose.

‘Trans: A Memoir’
By Juliet Jacques

“Trans: A Memoir” might seem like a surprising choice for the arts and entertainment theme, but Juliet Jacques’s book is as much about the impact art had on her life as it is about her experience as a trans woman. From stories about Jacques’s early affinity for local English independent rock bands and commentary on the state of soccer to analyses of how the transgender experience is represented in feminist theory and legislation in the United Kingdom. 

The book sometimes feels less like a memoir and more like an elegant critical view of contemporary culture through a trans lens. Jacques shows the good and the bad behind the power of arts and entertainment. While art sometimes helped her heal from painful experiences (or at least distract her from them), movies and shows that featured trans characters too frequently portrayed trans people in a negative light. “Trans” explores controversial and complex ideas about gender identity, but the writing is never difficult to understand; it feels like you’re having a deep conversation, but over coffee with a long-time friend.  

‘The Kiss of Death’
By Sarah Natale 

Sarah Natale’s debut novella, “The Kiss of Death,” is a well-researched glimpse into life in Italy at the start of the Black Death. Elizabeth, a 16-year-old girl living in mid-1300s London, is the eldest daughter of a successful middle-class craftsman, with a crush on Matthias, her childhood friend. 

Her dreams of a happy future are shot, however, when the bubonic plague makes its way to her city, her neighborhood, and eventually, her home. As we see one sad turn of events after another befall Elizabeth, “The Kiss of Death” asks what do you do next when you’re at risk of losing everyone you love?

Allison Manley was born in Georgia and raised in Island Lake. She graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in creative writing. She loves opera, craft beer, and (of course!) reading.

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