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12 Must-Read Books of February 2023

12 Must-Read Books of February 2023

February is here, which means love is in the air and a whole host of new books are on the horizon!

There’s so much to look forward to this month, including a number of exciting memoirs, debuts, and at least seven books from Chicago authors. Add that the days are slowly beginning to get longer again and you have yourself the perfect reason to treat yourself to one of these winter releases.

There’s never been a better time to fall in love with a new book, so here are 12 releases that we think will be the perfect match!

Empty Theatre: A Novel: or The Lives of King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Sisi of Austria (Queen of Hungary), Cousins, in Their Pursuit of Connection and Beauty…
By Jac Jemc

The saying goes that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but when it looks as great as Empty Theatre does we’ll gladly make an exception! 2019 CHIRBy Award winner Jac Jemc brings the characters of King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Elizabeth of Austria from history to the page in this audacious social satire. Comedic, tragic, and all around entertaining, Empty Theatre is a welcome addition to Jemc’s bibliography.

The In-Betweens
By Davon Loeb
West Virginia University Press

If you don’t believe that February is a fantastic month of memoir, look no further than Davon Loeb’s The In-Betweens. Drawing on the lyricism and rich narration of books like Justin Torres’s We the Animals and Bryan Washington’s Memorial, Loeb tells the story of a biracial boy becoming a man, all while trying to find himself, trying to come to terms with his white family, and trying to find his place in American society. Each vignette moves with power in every word, offering passing glimpses of a child learning about the world he finds himself in, a teenager searching for his way, and a man reflecting on his family roots and his passions. Utterly captivating and resonant, The In-Betweens deserves a top spot on your bookshelf. 

I Have Some Questions for You
By Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai’s followup to The Great Believers is one of the most anticipated books of the year, and for good reason! Years after her classmate was murdered at her boarding school, film professor and podcaster Bodie Kane returns to teach a class and finds herself revisiting what she believes may be a false conviction for the crime. I Have Some Questions For You is both a captivating mystery and an insightful reflection on our morbid fascination for stories that involve violence against women.

Promises of Gold
By José Olivarez
Spanish Translation by David Ruano
Henry Holt & Company

We’re huge fans of José Olivarez’s debut Citizen Illegal, which won a CHIRBy Award in 2018, so we can’t wait for the release of Promises of Gold. Bringing together his trademark wit, heart, and unparalleled attention to every word, Olivarez reckons with colonial legacy and the reality of what those promises have borne out for Mexican descendants. Perhaps one of the most compelling aspects of Promises of Gold is that it provides side-by-side English and Spanish translations of each poem, allowing readers to enter this collection through multiple languages and experience the full beauty of the art of translation on every page.

Drawing Breath: Essays on Writing, the Body, and Loss
By Gayle Brandeis
Overcup Press

Drawing Breath is the perfect book for the moment as we continue to learn about and reckon with the long-term effect of COVID infections. PEN/Bellwether Prize-winning author Gayle Brandeis delves deep into the intricacies of the writing life and the embodied life, as well the internal and external affiliations that threaten them. Her work highlights the true beauty of the essay form—probing and affecting, showing genuine love for both the body and the incorporeal source of creativity, this book is one to savor like a deep breath.

Divine Days
By Leon Forrest
Seminary Offsets

February brings the return of a Chicago masterpiece! First published in 1992, Divine Days follows Joubert Jones through one week as he pursues the lore and legends of fictional Forest County, a place inspired by the city’s South Side. Toni Morrison once said that “life has no more astute observer than Leon Forrest,” and his epic shows why; filled with an indelible cast of characters, music, and sharp dialogue, Divine Days has a special place in Chicago literary history. We’re thrilled to see it back in print where it belongs.

Choosing Family: A Memoir of Queer Motherhood and Black Resistance
By Francesa T. Royster
Abrams Press

Mark your calendars Maggie Nelson fans, because Francesca T. Royster’s upcoming memoir perfectly conjures the lyricism and insightfulness of The Argonauts. Choosing Family chronicles the messiness and complexity of adoption and parenthood from a Black, queer, and feminist perspective, set against the backdrop of Chicago’s North and South Sides. Interweaving personal experiences and critical analysis of queer thinkers throughout history, Royster argues that many Black families have historically had configurations that sit outside the white normative experience and are richer for their flexibility and generosity of spirit.

By Dizz Tate

See Also

Brutes is a coming-of-age story with a uniquely Florida spin. Among the theme parks and swampy lakes of Falls Landing, a group of thirteen-year-old girls find themselves enraptured by the local preacher’s daughter, Sammy. But when Sammy suddenly goes missing, the underlying violence and horror of their upbringings come to light. Told from a perspective reminiscent of The Virgins Suicide and the unflinching style of The Florida Project, Dizz Tate immediately makes her mark with her debut novel Brutes. 

Your Driver is Waiting
By Priya Guns
Doubleday Books

A gender-flipped reboot of Taxi Driver? Yes please! Priya Guns’s Your Driver is Waiting is a fierce and dynamic debut about Damani, a gig worker for a driving app who’s just trying to make enough money to survive as the city she lives in erupts in protest. When she falls for Jolene, a rich white woman who attends every protest, their romance takes Damani down a path she can’t escape from. Darkly comedic and piercing in its social commentary, Guns’s debut immediately marks her as a writer to watch for years to come. 

B.F.F.: A Memoir of Friendship Lost and Found
By Christie Tate
Avid Reader Press

From New York Times bestselling author Christie Tate comes B.F.F., a deeply moving account about her struggle to sustain female friendship and her journey to make a lasting connection. This heartwarming memoir is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever felt the difficulty of building and protecting friendships in adulthood. Tate perfectly captures the existential pain that comes with the routines and habits formed through modern hustle culture while also showing the possibility for healing through emotional vulnerability with others.

Tell Her Everything
By Mirza Waheed
Melville House Publishing

As retired surgeon Dr. K prepares for a visit from his estranged daughter, he rehearses the conversations he will have with her over the course of her visit. Thus begins a deep reflection on his home country of India and the price he paid to attain his dream job in the United Kingdom. This thoughtful, grief-filled novel explores the nature of familial love and sacrifice in the pursuit of what one may believe is a better life. 

A Spell of Good Things
By Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
Knopf Publishing Group

A Spell of Good Things follows Eniola, a boy who was forced to grow up quickly to support his out-of-work father, and Wuraola, the daughter of a wealthy family, whose lives become intertwined when a local politician takes interest in Eniola. Adébáyọ̀ shines a light on modern Nigeria in this dynamic political novel, crafting a dazzling tale of wealth and love in the process.  

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