Ignatius Reilly is the greatest anti-hero in the history of American literature, and the rightful protagonist of John Kennedy Toole's only novel. But what you'll realize here is that this is a modern-day epic told through the eyes of about a dozen different characters that you think will never, ever be able to be weaved into a satisfying ending...until it does. A masterpiece of storyelling & by far the funniest book I've ever read, too!
An unmatched book of poetry by one of the faces of the Beat generation. To me, no poet has quite matched the pace and patterns of our internal narratives like Ferlinghetti. A readable, sprawling poetry collection that will stay with you long after you've turned the final page.
One of those books I love so much that I almost don't know how to describe it. A very basic plot summary: Nightmare Alley is the story of the rise and fall of a conniving carnival mystic. But that one sentence doesn't even begin to do this book justice. It's a glimpse into the often-ignored and maligned world of the Depression-era carnival, and a reminder that the horrors of those inside don't end in the fairgrounds. And, oh, every chapter is headed under a specific Tarot card, which adds a fun twist to the very structure of the book. Here, the old cliché is true - you won't be able to put this book down.
Tucker Caliban, mythical outcast of a small Southern town, destroys his home and burns his prized field of crops - thus setting forward (and backward) a tale that spans centuries. A harrowing novel written during the pinnacle of the Civil Rights Movement, A Different Drummer is a beautifully-told tale of black struggle, and the desperation of trying to understand the unexplainable. Easily one of the most powerful books I've ever read, beautifully written with memorable moments on every page.
An intricate look at the most (in)famous moment of Chicago's long labor history, told in a masterful web of events connected to Chicago's Haymarket Riots of May 4, 1886. No detail is spared in covering the expected powderkeg of labor exploitation leading up to the riot, and the unfortunate aftermath of the city's attempts at scapegoating the Haymarket's victims. There's a certain sadness in seeing how fresh the wounds of 125 years ago can be and still are in today's work-a-day world, but this is a great read for anyone interested in Chicago history and/or the labor movement as a whole.
This book changed my life - and as much as I love reading, I can't say that about many books out there. On the surface, there doesn't seem to be much here - the novel details the life of William Stoner, a languishing Literature professor at a small liberal arts college. But underneath Stoner's story runs rivers of small victories and sufferings that mirror so much of the lives we are so quick to assign to the mundane, the daily battles that often go unstated in capital-L Literature. If you're like me, you'll cherish the time spent with Stoner, and miss him every time you drop this book back onto your nightstand.
The novel that cemented 28 Barbary Lane as one of the most famous addresses in fiction. Set in late-1970s San Francisco, Tales of the City follows Mary Ann Singleton as she navigates the curious world of roller discos and grocery store pickups, collecting a masterful cast of characters along the way. Definitely a book worth its weight in entertainment gold, but more than that, Maupin's novel remains a classic because of its amber-like preservation of pre-AIDS San Francisco.
A campus novel? A family chronicle? A postmodern dystopian thriller? White Noise is somehow all of these things, wrapped up into one tidy book. DeLillo has long been one of my favorite authors, but this one is, for me, his best novel. It's a twist on the enitre dystopian trope - in that our (anti?)hero needs to be convinced that he's living in a dystopia, rather than the other way around. Just a beautifully done book, and one that's sure to have a nugget of joy for every kind of reader out there.
Originally published in 1969, The Revolt of the Black Athlete is a rare book that navigates the intersections of sports and social justice, coalescing with the famous Black Power salutes by John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Summer Olympics. The real treasure of this book is its dive into the lesser-known revolt of Black college athletes that spurred the famous Olympic protest into motion. In today's fraught sports world of Colin Kaepernick and coporatized solidarity, this book remains incredibly relevant, and its message still rings every bit as true.
Dock Ellis is, of course, The Pitcher Who Threw A No-Hitter on LSD. A strange and glorious feat, no doubt, but in a way it's sad that's all he seems to be remembered for now, because Dock Ellis was so much more than that. He was a social justice crusader. He was one of the brightest stars in the galaxy of 1970s baseball. He was an all-around gift of a human being - and it's all detailed in this excellent book, easily one of the most enjoyable baseball collections I've ever read. Written in collaboration with celebrated poet Donald Hall, Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball is an overlooked treasure of baseball's bookish history.
Memoirs of a Beatnik offers us a rare glimpse of the Beat Generation through a woman's eyes. Though better known as a poet, Diane di Prima's foray into prose remains an unsung literary cornerstone. Part-memoir, part-fiction, part-existential-romance, this book is a slim compendium of di Prima's life, and a chronicle of the roads that led her to the bright "city lights" of San Francisco. You'll find all of the signature Beat tropes here - the loneliness, the debauchery, the whirlwind writing - but di Prima's prose in Memoirs of a Beatnik stands alone, flying off the page, mimicking the wild cries into the night that, as a reader, keep me coming back to the Beats.
The more James Baldwin I read, the more I'm convinced that he's the best pure WRITER of his generation (maybe ever?) - and to me Another Country shows him working at the pinnacle of his talents. Every sentence on the page is poetic, every word carefully chosen, every character so perfectly crafted, all tied together with knots that struggle and (sometimes) break on the themes of race, gender, and fame in 1960s America. Meet Rufus, a troubled blues drummer. Meet Ida, Rufus's hardscrabble sister on the brink of maturity. Meet Vivaldo, Rufus's confidant who falls hopelessly in love with Ida. Meet Richard, whose tiny bit of literary success casts a wide net of jealousy and pain. Meet all these people, and you'll feel at home in the shimmering world Baldwin has created for us in this book.
I don't know about you, but I went way too long without knowing who Fred Hampton was. No one ever taught us about him in school, let alone his brutal murder at the hands of the Chicago police, LET ALONE the Black Panthers. His name never popped up in any textbooks that spent endless chapters discussing Andrew Jackson and other white "heroes" of American history. Hampton's legacy was pretty much whitewashed from my cozy, suburban existence. As I look back, I realize how horrible & glaring these omissions were, because Fred Hampton remains an icon of our revolutionary past, a social crusader whose life was taken far too soon. This book offers an accessible introduction to not only Hampton's assassination, but the subsequent trial that sought justice for him and all the lives he touched.
Sister Outsider is one of those books I wish I'd discovered ten years ago, which is fitting because it's a collection that's seemingly decades ahead of its time. Lorde writes brilliantly on everything from race to gender, from academia to activism. But what I enjoy most about these essays (mostly written during the 1970s) is that they reflect on such vital topics from the view of an "outsider" who is constantly excluded from the social movements that purport to help her. Her essays poke holes in white feminism and other areas of progressive lip-service that so often become whitewashed under the silencing waves of the well-meaning, while offering arguments and solutions as to what "outsiders" like herself really want from society, and need for their ultimate survival.
it was so hot / our dreams laid out on the sidewalk / and said 'never mind, we good'
Here's a genre you don't often hear about - Historical Poetry. It's a genre that deserves to be spearheaded by this very book. Ewing takes the ugly events of the 1919 Chicago Race Riot and weaves them into a series of poems that, despite the grim subject matter, are often beautiful and resonate loudly in today's fraught world of social & racial unrest. 1919 is a gem of a poetry collection, and a cornerstone of Chicago Art that will remain standing for a long, long time.
Do me a favor: don't wait as long as I did to read The Grapes of Wrath. I had it buried on a bookshelf, unloved, collecting piles and piles of dust. Do me a favor and make this your next "classic" read, because it deserves every bit of the praise you've probably heard by now. Steinbeck weaves the westward travels of the Joad family with a series of mystical vignettes that serve as a kind of moonlight shining down on the troubled terrain of 1930s America. The characters here are masterfully crafted, and I have yet to find a writer who writes about the environment as painfully and beautifully as Steinbeck. Combine everything here - the plot, the characters, the landscape - and you have a book that has rightfully stood the test of time (and doesn't deserve to collect dust on anyone's bookshelf!).