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13 Books CHIRB Staff Read In January 2020

A few recommendations across genre.

The Chicago Review of Books staff reads lots of books. Too many, in fact, to include in one article. So, the below list recommends a few of the reading highlights from staff, including Sara Batkie, Amy Brady, Todd Van Luling, Michael Welch, and Kyle Williams.

If you made a New Year’s resolution to read more, here’s a decent place to start.

The Seep
By Chana Porter
Soho Press

Editor-in-chief Amy Brady in her recent interview with Porter:

“Alien invasions are usually depicted in novels and films as violent, colonialist encounters. But in The Seep, playwright Chana Porter’s debut novel, the otherworldly beings that land on Earth are benevolent in nature. Instead of fighting with us, they help us to see the interconnectedness of all living things.”

Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage
By Bette Howland
A Public Space Books

Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage restores to the literary canon an extraordinarily gifted writer, who was recognized as a major talent before all but disappearing from public view for decades, until nearly the end of her life. Bette Howland herself was an outsider; an intellectual from a working-class neighborhood in Chicago; a divorcée and single mother, to the disapproval of her family; an artist chipped away at by poverty and perfection.”

A Prayer for Travelers
By Ruchika Tomar
Riverhead Books

“Cale Lambert, a bookish loner of mysterious parentage, lives in a dusty town near the California-Nevada border, a place where coyotes scavenge for backyard dogs and long-haul truckers scavenge for pills and girls. Cale was raised by her grandfather in a loving, if codependent, household, but as soon as she’s left high school his health begins an agonizing decline.”

The White Death: An Illusion
By Gabriel Urza
Nouvella

“The illusionist Benjamin Vaughn is fourteen years old when he dies under mysterious circumstances at the height of his short career. In the wake of his death, the life of this brilliant yet reclusive prodigy known as “The Great Bendini” is meticulously chronicled by an unnamed narrator who encountered Vaughn when he himself was a boy.”

Range
By David Epstein
Riverhead Books

“Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you’ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But a closer look at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.

Whiteout Conditions
By Tariq Shah
Two Dollar Radio

“Ant is back in Chicago for a funeral, and he typically enjoys funerals. Since most of his family has passed away, he finds himself attracted to their endearing qualities: the hyperbolic language, the stoner altar boy, seeing friends in suits for the first time. That is, until the tragic death of Ray — Ant’s childhood friend, Vince’s teenage cousin.”

The Anarchy
By William Dalrymple
Bloomsbury Publishing

The Anarchy tells one of history’s most remarkable stories: how the Mughal Empire — which dominated world trade and manufacturing and possessed almost unlimited resources — fell apart and was replaced by a multinational corporation based thousands of miles overseas, and answerable to shareholders, most of whom had never even seen India and no idea about the country whose wealth was providing their dividends.”

The Complete Stories
By Franz Kafka
Schocken

The Complete Stories brings together all of Kafka’s stories, from the classic tales such as “The Metamorphosis,” “In the Penal Colony,” and “A Hunger Artist” to shorter pieces and fragments that Max Brod, Kafka’s literary executor, released after Kafka’s death. With the exception of his three novels, the whole of Kafka’s narrative work is included in this volume.”

Indelicacy
By Amina Cain
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

“A ghostly feminist fable about finding the freedom to live as one desires. In ‘a strangely ageless world somewhere between Emily Dickinson and David Lynch’ (Blake Butler), a cleaning woman at a museum of art nurtures aspirations to do more than simply dust the paintings that surround her.”

Scratch
By Majula Martin
Simon & Schuster

“A collection of essays from today’s most acclaimed authors—from Cheryl Strayed to Roxane Gay to Jennifer Weiner, Alexander Chee, Nick Hornby, and Jonathan Franzen—on the realities of making a living in the writing world.”

The Economists’ Hour
By Binyamin Appelbaum
Little, Brown and Company

“In The Economists’ Hour, Binyamin Appelbaum traces the rise of the economists, first in the United States and then around the globe, as their ideas reshaped the modern world, curbing government, unleashing corporations and hastening globalization.”


The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley (1945-1975)
By Robert Creeley
University of California Press

“To define their value in hindsight would be to miss the factual life they had either made manifest or engendered. So everything that was printed in a book between the dates of 1945 and 1975 is here included as are also those poems published in magazines or broadsides. In short, all that was in print is here.”

The Queen’s Gambit
By Walter Tevis
Vintage

“Eight year-old orphan Beth Harmon is quiet, sullen, and by all appearances unremarkable. That is, until she plays her first game of chess. Her senses grow sharper, her thinking clearer, and for the first time in her life she feels herself fully in control. By the age of sixteen, she’s competing for the U.S. Open championship. But as Beth hones her skills on the professional circuit, the stakes get higher, her isolation grows more frightening, and the thought of escape becomes all the more tempting.”

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