Boystown Chicago in the mid eighties- a turbulent confluence of the exuberance of new freedoms of love, expression and community and the growing horror of AIDS. Two separate but connected stories unfold following chosen family members Yale and Fiona. Yale is trying to deal with the growing list of sick and dead friends, including Fiona's brother Nico while also working his new job in art acquisition at a new museum at Northwestern. In alternating chapters set in the present Fiona is trying to track down her adult daughter who has fled from her and joined a cult, while still herself dealing with the trauma of the past. A sprawling cast of characters that all somehow get their own focus and never becomes hard to follow, this beautifully balanced book has a grace that matches that of the characters. A lovely examination of the power of art, the strength of community, and the use of memory as an expression of love.
I love the Beatles and thought that I had read everything I ever needed to about them... and then along comes Rob Sheffield. This book is so much fun because it has some of the myths and behind the scenes stories that are so much fun for fans, but also some great cultural criticism about just what it is WE have done with what the Beatles gave us. It's strange to think that the story keeps developing, but the Beatles keep going, and we keep dreaming.
What DO you do when you're goth in the country? Or queer? Or poor? Or all three?! This striking and brilliant collection of short stories examines these dilemmas and more with sharp, powerful, AND funny writing that smoothly throws you in some surprising directions. Like maybe one day you wake up with a section of the Israel/Palestine border wall in miniature on your head in place of your mohawk? Woods' worlds are full of the strange and the mundane, and plenty of those moments that are both.
Noah is sixteen and dealing with all those being sixteen problems- friends, romance, decisions about the future, and kinda just being tired of the whole situation. When a strange incident at a party seems to trigger subtle changes in his friends and family, he embarks on a surreal investigation. It's a funny and fun detective/adventure story that keeps you guessing as much as it does Noah.
The Twin Towers reappear in South Dakota emanating music, but each person hears a different song. And Elvis Presley's twin brother Jesse is inside. And the United States has fractured into a jigsaw of competing countries. And road trips and JFK hanging out with Andy Warhol and rapturous musical prose and culture (de)construction. It all fits together brilliantly and is really just a lot of fun.
Excellent debut murder mystery set in suburban England. Chapters alternating between 1986 and 2016 tell of a crew of 13 year old kids, small town intrigue and murder, and the mysterious chalk figures that accompanied it all. In 2016 the adults they've become are still dealing with the events of that summer, and still trying to figure out just what happened. Thrilling and surprising to the end it's a scary and fun read.
Juan's uncle Tito has a giant mysterious library in his house, and he needs Juan's help to find a missing book: the wild book. It moves on its own, and will only show itself to a worthy reader. Juan's search for the book leads down numerous scary, funny, and magical paths full of books that change as you read them and of course, books that change you. Book lovers of any age will love this story.
Stories just this side of brutal, primarily focusing on women and girls in the modern world. Relationships, race, family, and privilege all figure, but not at the expense of beautifully complex characters. They certainly aren't the most pleasant of situations, but the clarity and tough truth of the writing make it a joy to read.
7th grade isn't starting out well for Malu- she had to move to a new city (Chicago), far away from her dad's record store in Florida, and into a school of strangers who surely don't know the first thing about punk! She loves punk music and spends her spare time making zines (some of which are reproduced here) to express herself and figure things out. Learning about Mexican-American punk bands from a local coffee shop owner helps her on a journey to embrace her own roots and find her people, ultimately starting her own band for the talent show. A great book for anyone who's ever felt like an outsider or a weirdo.
In a world that gives 1,000 chances at reincarnation to acheive perfection, our hero Milo has five chances left. He frankly might not care, but his girlfriend Death (or Suzie as she prefers to be called) wants him to succeed so that they can be together for eternity. Over a series of lives we see Milo in the past and the future- a series of short stories touching on sci-fi, historical fiction, adventure, and romance. And unavoidably discussions of religion and philosophy that are equally irreverent and thoughtful. A fun read with moments of silliness and beauty throughout.
Joan and her four year old son are hurrying to get out of the zoo before closing when gunmen enter the zoo and start shooting. The book all takes place over the next four hours and is thrilling and gripping. I'm not a big action adventure type guy, but I was totally caught up and read it in 24 hours. The exploration of parent/motherhood was just as exciting and powerful as the men with the guns. Certainly one of those times when a book promises something on the back, does just exactly what it said it would, and is completely engaging and entertaining all the way through.
I'm a big fan of stories about small towns of weirdo characters and their shenanigans, and this is a really good one, it just happens that this small town full of weirdos is Greenwich Village in the 70's and 80's. Growing up in her family's neighborhood restaurant exposed Tamara Shopsin to all kinds of characters, not the least of them being her own father and his best friend Willie. A series of unrelated anecdotes, stories, and neighborhood lore add up to a funny and fascinating portrait of a time and place that isn't coming back. Shopsin's writing is straight-forward and irreverent, but touching too, and a great reminder to value all the stories and characters in our own little corners of the world.
Chicago artist and musician Jay Ryan has been making his distinctive screen print posters for a few decades now. Posters and art prints full of mischevious small animals and beautiful landscapes that advertise Wilco, your local library, or just the joy of shenanigans. If you're a fan of modern rock, cute animals, or just awesome art, this book is for you.
In the early 20th century the rocky barren land that the people of the Osage tribe had been forced onto proved to be oil rich and therefore extremely valuable. Inexplicably, the U.S. government refrained from just stealing the land outright, and actually payed the Osage people, making them very wealthy. As you can guess, the ensuing murders of the title have more than a little to do with that money. Grann deftly investigates the murders, as well as the racist society that facilitated them, and the role of the then new FBI in the story. His excellent writing makes this book read like a page turning mystery.
Karen Reyes is a ten year old growing up in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood in the late sixties. She loves monsters, good ones and bad ones, and dreams of becoming one. When her upstairs neighbor dies under mysterious circumstances, Karen declares herself a detective and begins learning about the monsters all around us- Nazis, hippies, child abusers, bullies, etc. There's darkness, but also some real beauty and happiness here, particuarly trips with her older brother Deez to the Art Institute where the joy and magic is nearly unbearable. Ferris' storytelling is exciting and emotional, but the illustration is what I cannot get enough of. Beauty on every page.
A fun and funny time-travel-adventure-mystery-romance debut novel. Tom Barren lives in a 2016 where flying cars exist, and technology has eradicated hunger and inequality and even bad avacados. But Tom is a bit of a bumbler, and when he travels back in time to witness the birth of this modern utopia, he messes things up and finds himself waking up in the same screwed up 2016 that we all experienced. What follows is Tom's journey to try and right his wrong and get back to his real home, and you know, save the world.
Sally Jones is the mechanic on a steam boat and when her best friend the captain is wrongly accused of murder, she dedicates herself to proving his innocence. She also happens to be an Ape, which complicates things. A magical adventure and mystery that travels from Lisbon to India and finds Sally becoming friends with a Fado singer, an accordian repairman, and a Raja. An outsider's journey full of danger, joy, and the ingenuity and love of one remarkable ape.
Moshfegh's lovely and concise writing makes what could be harrowing stories of lost and damaged people actually kind of fun? Her writing is unemotional, which helps, and full of enough surprises to keep you on your toes. The humor is dark, but definitely there and helps keep the character's plights from becoming just too much. Beautiful, gripping and illuminating.
Kathleen Collins was a civil rights activist and pioneering filmmaker who apparently also had the time and talent (during her brief 46 years) to write the never before published short stories collected here. Striking and contemporary feeling, she writes about political activism and love, but also about the personal and underlying emotions, desires, and moral decisions that lead to both. Her writing is beautiful and serious, but also beaming with light. Sometimes experimental, definitely playful, simply lovely.
The summer between 5th and 6th grade was going to be great, until Brian finds out that he has to spend it at his uncle's house testing educational programs. Oh yeah, in the town of Boring, Illinois. But when Brian and his cousin Nora wander into the woods one day, they stumble on the amazing and confounding Matchstick Castle- the home of the Van Dash family of explorers and adventurers. Soon they're embroiled in numerous adventures with the Van Dashes all over the mysterious house. A thrilling and funny book and the perfect summer adventure.
An epic yarn spun by a master storyteller, Chabon translates his grandfather's life story into an enthralling novel. Usually a man of few words, but prompted to open up by it's impending end, Grandfather reveals his life story at last, full of adventure, secrets, and answers to family mysteries. A Nazi Rocket scientist, a demonic ghost horse, a late night horror movie host, and a prison escape all find their way into a book that ranges across decades, but has an affectionately intimate tone. Moonglow is tragic, touching, funny and thrilling.
After the horrible loss of life that was the first World War, the world was full of ghosts. Spiritualists, who could connect you with your dearly departed via séances, became the celebrities of the day. In the early 20s, Scientific American magazine held a contest designed to prove contact with the dead and put together a panel of judges featuring noted magician and skeptic Harry Houdini. With all of the backstage drama of today's best reality shows - romance, backstabbing, and breakdowns, the contest made celebrities of the participants, most notably a high class Boston doctor's wife who dubbed herself "Margery." Most of the fun of this book is the vivid descriptions of the spooky goings on at the séances, and the ingenious tricks used by the mediums to manifest their spirits. But from today's perspective it's hard not to also be fascinated and appalled at the sexism and class issues that played out in the ghostly voices and darkened parlors of postwar society. A fun, enthralling and spooky book.
Hundred Percent is the story of Tink's six grade year. Yes, her name is Tink. Well that's one of at least three names that she goes by, because figuring out what you want to be called is only one of the tough decisions of her age. There are also crushes and best friends and cool kids and bras and jokes and jokes. My favorite character is the class clown, Bushwack, whose jokes are at least as funny as his ridiculous name, and who saves the day in the climactic lip-sync battle. This book is funny, touching, and a realistic look at the joys and pains of sixth grade.
A great collection of short stories that does what sci-fi does best: challenge your conception of the world through compellingly plotted stories. Chiang's day job as a technical writer really adds to the stories with impressively readable details. The writing is precise and beautiful like a complex math equation but soulful and emotional too.
This charming, funny, and touching story follows the blossoming friendship of an elderly retiree and the dim but loveable construction worker that she meets on "his" bench in the park. They bond over the pigeons and the books that she reads to him, fostering a late blooming love of literature that is inspiring. A great reminder of how falling in love with reading feels, and how sometimes talking to random strangers in the park can be just what you need.
This hybrid novel/short story collection begins with a young girl running away from her abusive home and arriving by bus in Los Angeles. The book follows her first day of wandering the streets looking for work and shelter, alternating with short stories focusing on the inner lives of other women living in the city and creating a multifaceted view of today's L.A. woman. As sun dappled, frustrating and breezy as any average day in the city of angels.
My personal favorite of Murakami's many great novels, this book combines a great sci-fi gangster story with a pastoral fable to explore deep urban catacombs and small country villages. A fun and compelling read.
Greil Marcus is a scholar and historian of music, but it's his enthusiasm that I love. When he's writing about a song that you love, he viscerally evokes the exhilaration and amazement you felt the first time you heard it, and when it's a song you're unfamiliar with (or better yet one that you'd dismissed) he sends you running to hear what you've missed. This book of short essays does just what it says in the title, partly through facts and dates, but mostly through the poetry and energy of everything that can be called rock 'n roll.
Based on her own life growing up in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago, Sandra Cisneros' classic book is a joy of poetic storytelling. Episodes from a child's perspective, some fleetingly brief, some a bit more involved, and all with a relatable mix of wonder, joy, and fear that we can all recognize from our own childhood. Great to share with your kids, or your parents!
Do you like your cultural history with a healthy dose of comic art? Love learning about the unsung & obscure artists of our world? Chicago's own Plastic Crimewave has got what you need, from only slightly obscure acts like The Five Stairsteps & Baby Huey, to the cultist cult bands you've never heard of. With a focus on the styles that Chicago is famous for- Blues, Soul, Punk, and Garage it's fun way to learn about some worthwhile musicians as well as the history of our region.
In working class areas around Athens the effects of the Greek financial collapse ripple and crash through lives young and old. The neighborhood stories we share in times of crisis that become our modern fables, the tragedy on the next block that makes us shake our heads in wonder, and the comfort and inspiration of our neighbors perserverance are so wonderfully displayed by Ikonomou's short story collection. Beautiful language, moments of grace amid tragedy, and the brilliant insights of people on the street corner.
Touching, sad, funny & beautiful, the coming of age story about This One Summer that Rose spends with her family at the shore, the same way they do every summer. Or maybe not quite the same. With her summer friend Windy at here side Rose learns some family secrets and secrets about life while also watching horror movies and dancing around the kitchen like a fool. As lovely a book as any summer vacation I've ever had.
It's not every great play that makes for great reading, but Waiting for Godot is exceptional in many ways. A tragicomedy that's equally tragic & hilarious. Trying to figure out just what is going on can be fun, but isn't exactly necessary. The humor and language seem like a bridge between Shakespeare and Monty Python with just as much meaning of life hidden in the gibberish as either. One of the best bar conversations you've ever eavesdropped on. You might as well, at least while you're waiting...
This book is important. It played a major role in making the graphic novel a valid and respected art form. But being important is never a good reason to read something. You should read Watchmen because it's a fun and captivating story: super heroes, mysteries, romance, time travel, it's all in here. I have read this book at least a dozen times and find something new each time. A delight of design and storytelling.
The classic mid-century American short story starts here. A wonderful collection of intertwined short stories about the citizens of this fictional mid-western town. The dark underbelly of small town America, the gossip and legends, and the loves and resentments that make a society. As a short story lover, Anderson is one of my favorites.
Like Raymond Chandler on the plains the narrator of this classic from James Welch spends the novel drunkenly stumbling from one sad predicament to another. The way the West can be sparse and complicated, and the way snow and ice can leave you dry, Welch brings to life the tragic echoes of America's past in the mundane present.
A novel in pictures, or at least a poem spelled out in photos of a vanished America, but one that still feels intimately familiar. Each page is evocative or funny or cutting enough on it's own, but combine to tell a story that is as complexly awful and beautiful as our country.
Brilliant in form and content, this is a coming of age story that uses the format of an alphabetical index to illustrate the way that our adolescent and young adult minds try to make sense of the world: we categorize and define, put feelings and inanimate objects on equal footing, and do our best to make sense of the chaos around us the way that text books and encyclopedias have taught. References from one entry to another mimic the links between our memories that seem to make our lives a continuum, rather than a series of isolated incidents. Life doesn't occur in alphabetical order, but there's no reason your story can't be told that way. This is a book that trusts you to connect the dots yourself, because really that's half the fun, isn't it?
Philip Marlowe may be in his 70's and retired, but he's just as slickly sarcastic and wily as ever, and when he gets the called in for one last case, he can't resist. Taking place in the 80's and primarily in Baja Mexico, it's a typically convoluted case for our hero who's still as florid as ever in his narration, even if his gumshoe slang occasionally (and humorously) falls flat in the modern world. A great page-turning addition to a classic case book.