It’s that time of year again, and in a painfully unsettled world, I’m especially thankful for the people I get to work with at Chicago Review of Books and our partner, StoryStudio Chicago. Some are new friends and others I’ve known since I was lucky enough to join the organization. Most of them are in Chicago, of course, and some are in farther-flung outposts. Regardless of where we are, regardless of our differing opinions of what constitutes an ideal slice of pizza, we all love books, writing criticism and very much, each other.
I love asking impossible subjective questions (especially ones I don’t have to answer), in this case: what’s a book you’re thankful for this year? The list below from some of our staffers who keep the lights on and store operating, offers a wide range of books and subjects that we know you’ll enjoy, and will hopefully inspire you to think about your own favorites of 2022.
We are especially so grateful for you, dear readers. Here’s to a safe, peaceful Thanksgiving for you and yours, wherever you are in the world, however way you prefer your pizza.
By Haleh Liza Gafori
Translated from the Persian by Haleh Liza Gafori
New York Review of Books
This year I feel particularly thankful for poetry, and the collection I’ve returned to the most has been Gold: the new translation of Rumi’s poetry published by NYRB Classics, translated by Haleh Liza Gafori. I could feel my heart expanding while reading these poems. Rumi’s poems are simultaneously playful and probing, asking me questions and laughing at my desire to answer them with mere words. The translations are sparkling, and Gafori’s introduction to the collection explains her approach to the text. The poems had a way of decentering the self, and many times throughout this year I found (and continue to find) myself reflecting on his words: “Whatever the ways of the world, what fruits do you bring?”
— Farooq Chaudhry, Daily Editor, CHIRB
By Octavia E. Butler
I’m so thankful I finally read Kindred by Octavia E. Butler! It’s been on my list for a long time. This story is often categorized as science fiction, but it delves into much deeper themes of race, gender, power struggles, and generational trauma.
— Jen Coffeen, Events Director, StoryStudio
The School for Good Mothers
By Jessamine Chan
Simon & Schuster
I’m thankful for Jessamine Chan’s The School for Good Mothers, for an unflinching exploration of how women and mothers are expected to meet the highest, most unattainable standards, and also for imagining the (maybe soon not-so) radical ways in which control over women who don’t meet those standards is deployed. For a debut novel, it’s astounding, and I think of it often. As a writer, I’m also grateful for True Biz, by Sara Nović. This part coming-of-age tale, part romance, part political commentary book explores how language is vital to individuals, and communities at large. A love letter to the Deaf community, True Biz covers multiple layers of history, culture, and storytelling.
— Sara Cutaia, Director of Signature Programs, StoryStudio
By Elif Batuman
I’m thankful for Elif Batuman’s Either/Or, for reminding me how grateful I am to longer to be a young woman in college, and also for introducing me to Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James, a book I had previously brushed off as not being my thing (but it totally was, and I adored it). I’m also grateful for Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s beautiful debut, Woman of Light, for reminding me of the power of unheralded, overlooked histories, and how knowing these stories deepens our relationship to the places we love.
— Sarah Kokernot, Programs Curator, StoryStudio
I’m Not Hungry But I Could Eat
Santa Fe Writers Project
I’m thankful for so many books from this past year—including those by writers I’m lucky to call friends—so it feels quite impossible to pick just one 2022 title. But since the past year includes December 2021, I’m choosing Christopher Gonzalez’s I’m Not Hungry but I Could Eat. Books published at the end of the year often don’t get enough attention, and that’s certainly the case with this powerhouse debut story collection. Gonzalez’s writing is special: sharp and intimate, and each of these fifteen stories wrestles with desire and self-discovery, beautifully capturing the ache of wanting to belong. It’s a book I know I’ll return to, both for pleasure and to study how Gonzalez works such magic on the page.
— Rachel Léon, Daily Editor, CHIRB
Thin Places: A Natural History of Healing and Home
By Kerri ní Dochartaigh
For readers of Katherine May’s Wintering and Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the Throat, Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s Thin Places is ideal for contemplative winter days. A keen to the people and places—and selves—forever lost in Northern Ireland’s Troubles, Thin Places witnesses the reverberations of a people’s grief with stunning clarity. Viewers of Derry Girls are primed for this book. Ní Dochartaigh spent her girlhood in Derry, where three decades of sectarian violence have left residents searching for posttraumatic methods of release. (Recall, in Derry Girls, how frequently the grandfather verbally abuses the father. Add less public television-appropriate methods of release. Give them to every adult.) Ní Dochartaigh achieves far more than a rare account from both sides—and therefore, a third side—of the Troubles’ Catholic/Protestant division. Thin Places is one of the most evocative, unexpected testaments to natural spaces I’ve ever read. Oriented in the Irish language’s ability to describe what English cannot, ní Dochartaigh faces her past by finding a home in weathered rocks and rivers, white moths and feathers. The reader can’t help but find a home there, too.
— Elizabeth McNeill, Daily Editor, CHIRB
By Michael Winkler
Coach House Books
I am an avid boxing fan, but until coming across Michael Winkler’s memorable novel-thing, Grimmish, I had never heard of Joe Grim. Nicknamed “Iron Man,” he was an early-twentieth-century American boxer known not for winning fights but for the immense amount of punishment he could endure in the ring without succumbing.
Grimmish chronicles the man’s 1908–1909 tour of Australia, where some of the world’s best boxers beat him pillar to post without knocking him out. Does that sound like a boring historical account? Witness then the talking goat, foul of mouth and pure of heart. Witness the headbutting contest featuring characters named Billabong Koufax and Pig Thug. Witness the jagged recursion of the narration, the startling vocabulary, the exhaustive study of pain and pugilism and privation presented through outside quotation, interpolated poetry, and archived news copy. Winkler describes his book as an “exploded nonfiction novel.” I describe it as a haymaker to the temple.
I should mention the remarkable history of Grimmish: it was originally self-published in Australia in 2021. After the book found some traction with readers, the respected Australian independent publisher Puncher & Wattmann picked it up. In 2022, it became the first originally self-published book ever to be shortlisted for the country’s prestigious Miles Franklin Award. Coach House Books will publish Grimmish in North America in spring 2023.
— Victor Ladis Schultz, Daily Editor, CHIRB
By Akwaeke Emezi
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
I’m thankful to have read Pet by Akwaeke Emezi this year, for its reminder that while the looming threat of monsters will stay present at the onset of our new worlds, trusting and protecting our youth out of love is the best form of accountability. The fantastical entrance of Pet into Jam’s life helps nurture her agency towards asking questions that the adults in her life assume don’t need answers. This book is a reminder to honor the curiosity of youth, whether in children we have in our lives or our own inner child, as it can only lead us to banishing more monsters.
— Czaerra Ucol, Administrative Assistant, StoryStudio Chicago
Book of Extraordinary Tragedies
By Joe Meno
I’ve long been a fan of Joe Meno’s work, so his new novel about a young man in Chicago trying to keep his family together through illness, dysfunction, and economic instability was such a memorable reading experience this year. Growing up in Chicago, I was always surprised about how much of a small town it can feel like, with so many people I knew from childhood choosing to stay in the same neighborhood or block they were raised in. Regardless of its size, variety, and purported opportunities, home can at times feel suffocating and inescapable. Book of Extraordinary Tragedies captures this sentiment perfectly. Intimate, bittersweet, and deeply funny, the novel is a reminder of how difficult it can be to catch your footing as you enter adulthood, especially when surrounded by the memories of your childhood home.
— Michael Welch, Editor-in-Chief, CHIRB
Last Summer on State Street
William Morrow & Company
This year has been a feast of Chicago-set novels by Chicago-connected authors (Joe Meno, Adam Levin, Adam Langer, Jennifer Close), but Toya Wolfe’s novel Last Summer on State Street stands out for being so unflinching, and so fierce. I’m thankful for this novel because I learned about a chapter in Chicago history—the Robert Taylor Homes—I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know much about before reading this. It’s a masterful debut, and one every Chicagoan should read.
— Greg Zimmerman, Marketing and Communications Manager, StoryStudio
Mandana Chaffa is founder and editor-in-chief of Nowruz Journal, a periodical of Persian arts and letters and a finalist for the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses’s Best Magazine/Debut; and an editor-at-large at Chicago Review of Books. She serves on the board of the National Book Critics Circle, where she is VP of the Barrios Book in Translation Prize, and is president of the board of The Flow Chart Foundation. Born in Tehran, Iran, she lives in New York.