RaveChicago TribuneI’ve said in the past in this space that when you see me dedicating a column to the virtues of a single book or author, I am not acting as a book critic or book reviewer, but as a book enthusiast who has had a reading experience so enjoyable, that he can’t help but share this enjoyment with the wider world. The subject of today’s enthusiasm is Anthony Marra’s latest novel, Mercury Pictures Presents ... With Mercury Pictures Presents he cements himself as one of the most deft and most enjoyable novelists working today ... The result is a fully inhabited world where one moment you are in the midst of a thriller...and in the next you might be in a bit of slapstick comedy ... No character is too small for their entire story to be told. Marra uses a technique of prolepsis (flash forward) to fill us in on the entire life trajectory of a person we may have encountered for only a few paragraphs ... I could go on for pages about my admiration for Marra’s technique and execution...but what I most recall is the general warmth of feeling every time I picked up the book and spent time in that world.
RaveThe Chicago Review of Books... funny, sweet, romantic, deeply honest ... a testament to the complexities of marriage as explored via Havrilesky’s particular union. The sweeping statements Havrilesky throws into the mix, such as \'marriage is a spectacle, and everyone is invited to watch,\' are more like hypotheticals drawn from her life about to be explored, rather than declarations of iron laws ... Havrilesky has always done her thinking on the page, and a number of times you will see her at the end of a chapter amending a view shared at the beginning. This is the pleasure of reading her.
MixedChicago TribuneIt was with the spirit of that much younger self that I looked forward to Led Zeppelin: The Biography by noted music biographer Bob Spitz ... What resulted — through no fault of Spitz’s, who does an exacting job on both the broad narrative and fine details — is one my saddest reading experiences in recent memory. The story of Led Zeppelin is not just one of a legendary rock band, but one of a colossal waste of talent ... Spitz covers it all ... In Spitz’s telling, for much of their time together, even Led Zeppelin could not be Led Zeppelin ... While the story is laced with tragedy — the death of Plant’s son, Bonham’s death — I can’t say the book reads like a cautionary tale ... No, it’s more like the story of a relic that you once treasured, but may now find hard to separate from the destruction that surrounded it. The music of Led Zeppelin is worth still celebrating, but the culture surrounding it damaged many, including on the band itself.
RaveChicago Tribune... the [genre] label we put on a book isn’t important if the book makes you want to keep reading. Dream Girl passes that test easily ... Building suspense is Lippman’s stock-in-trade that travels book-to-book, but rather than relying on surface-level twists, the suspense comes from a deeper and deeper burrowing in to her characters and the difficult situations she’s placed them in ... it\'s a page-turning thriller ... I marked a good dozen or so passages taking on the publishing industry to go back to and savor. Some final twists in the story made those passages even more delicious. It’s a book I could read again tomorrow and take away a whole list of different pleasures than the first time.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneLaura Lippman is one of the best novelists working today, period. Seeing her name on the cover of a book is a guarantee of a highly satisfying reading experience ... one of the best three book runs this side of Colson Whitehead ... Building suspense is Lippman’s stock-in-trade that travels book-to-book, but rather than relying on surface-level twists, the suspense comes from a deeper and deeper burrowing in to her characters and the difficult situations she’s placed them in ... a sharp satire of publishing itself, a commentary on how and why we slot writers into genres, and what this does to our perceptions of their work...Also, it’s a page-turning thriller ... I marked a good dozen or so passages taking on the publishing industry to go back to and savor. Some final twists in the story made those passages even more delicious. It’s a book I could read again tomorrow and take away a whole list of different pleasures than the first time ... Laura Lippman is a major writer. If you don’t know her, there’s 25 books waiting for you.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneIt is rare that I will purchase a second copy of a book that I already own and have read more than once, but I am making an exception with the recently revised and re-issued edition of Kiese Laymon’s Long Division ... Reading the opening pages of Long Division not long after its release in 2013 was like getting a lightning bolt to the brain. The energy in the language and propulsive storytelling was off-the-charts ... Laymon is a singular voice in American literature.
RaveChicago TribuneEvery so often a book comes along that seems perfectly timed to the moment and has the potential to radically shift our cultural conversation. The Sum of Us...is one of those books ... It is a sometimes angry or frustrated book, rooted in McGhee’s long career at Demos trying and mostly failing to secure legislation that would benefit the public. But in the end, it’s a hopeful book because McGhee’s vision is so clear and so convincing.
PositiveChicago TribuneA Bright Ray of Darkness does not quite appear to be a sequel to The Hottest State so much as a do-over, as Hawke attempts to write a novel drawn from the rich experience of life ... This time around, the novel is quite good, provided you are in the mood for the story of a successful, young-ish actor rending his emotional guts on the page ... It doesn’t pain me to admit that Ethan Hawke, successful actor, writer, director, producer, has written a very good novel.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneThe ironies mount as Lockwood’s deft humor shows how everything important and meaningful must be digested by the portal, but its presence on the portal soon turns the meaningful into seeming nonsense ... In Part 1, just about every moment, I thought I’d put the book down and never pick it up again, but I kept reading, a neat trick, given that it mimics the experience of engaging with social media ... It is in Part 2...I realized that we need not worry about our culture as long as there are people like Patricia Lockwood who can render the human experience out of it ... She has made a novel out of life, just as Joyce did over a century ago ... To understand Ulysses‚ I needed a companion book that explained all the references I was missing to the Odyssey. Some may require something similar for Lockwood’s portal, but do not dismiss it because you believe social media is trivial.
RaveChicago TribuneA Swim in the Pond in the Rain is a lesson in looking closely at narrative to understand how and why it can weave such a spell ... Reading A Swim in the Pond in the Rain is like taking a class with the kindest, most open-minded professor you can imagine. Saunders is an engaging guide, earnest almost to a fault at times, but the enthusiasm is clearly genuine and ultimately winning.
Anne Helen Petersen
PositiveChicago Tribune... Petersen—to use a phrase popular with millennials—\'brings the receipts\' ... If you are feeling frustrated, wondering how you’re going to be able to keep it together, you may find some solace in Petersen’s book. It argues persuasively: You’re not alone, and there are things to do be done about it.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune... not a slog through terrible news. The book is, perhaps counterintuitively, terrifically entertaining and engaging. Andersen is a lively and funny writer who has honed his voice through a long career as a journalist, novelist, humorist and radio host/podcaster for Studio 360. The elements he is able to pull together and weave into a narrative that so convincingly pinpoints how we arrived at this moment are consistently novel and interesting ... Neither is Andersen’s book without hope.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune\"The quality of Wiener’s on-the-ground observations, coupled with acuity she brings to understanding the psychology at work, makes the book illuminating on a page-by-page basis. It is as though Wiener found herself under a spell that separated her from herself, a temporary state she still finds a little baffling ... Nonetheless, Uncanny Valley is a kind of compassionate condemnation. Wiener extends great empathy to the people she once moved among ... But that empathy makes the portrait all the more damning. These men consider themselves masters of the universe, but Wiener reveals their flaws and frailty.\
RaveThe Chicago Tribune... while the plot is wholly involving and had me eagerly turning pages ... I think what I loved about the novel is the kitchen-sink quality of its ideas and obsessions ... There were periods while reading the book when I knew I was only understanding a portion of the references to art, to philosophy, to politics, but I did not care; all of those references created a kind of tapestry in which the individual threads didn\'t matter because I was captivated by the whole ... I fell in love with the book because it is one of a handful of books I will read in a given year that remind me of the potential of literature to mine our obsessions and share them with others. It is a novel that could only be written by one person, at one particular time. It gives the lie to the notion that literature could ever be considered product ... the most \'alive\' book I\'ve read this year.
J. Ryan Stradal
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneStradal is not exactly kind to his characters along the way, as Edith (and Diana) particularly endure hardship and setbacks. His books bring to mind the early novels of John Irving. For me, he conjures Jon Hassler, another Minnesotan who had an ability to populate his world with specific characters that also are instantly recognizable as being of a specific place. As a native Midwesterner, these people all feel very familiar to me and I love them for it ... Stradal’s gift for getting the reader to invest in these lives is particularly profound; when some of the novel’s bad moments strike, they land as real emotional blows ... By the end of the book, we are in the years when Trump is indeed president, but he remains invisible. These characters are apparently immune to his influence, even as some of them (or at least some of those surrounding them) would have found his candidacy quite appealing ... As a reader, it was a deep pleasure to spend time in a world where I do not routinely doubt the decency of my fellow citizens and where I do not doubt my own decency, as fear and loathing rises within me for a president who seems to be aiming to divide and destroy the country in the service of gratifying his own ego.
Tressie McMillan Cottom
RaveThe Chicago TribuneThick is an invitation into the life and mind of a person with ferocious intelligence combined with a wicked sense of humor, stunning erudition and a spirit of not giving a hoot about what others think in the best possible way ... Cottom’s intersectionality is the work of a writer seeing the world clearly and deeply, and connecting the dots in fresh and revealing ways.
RaveChicago TribuneThe book represents the sum total of a life thinking and talking about books; it’s an attempt to capture what that means in the form of a list ... The book is entirely personal ... The end goal was \'a browser’s version of paradise\' ... He succeeded ... it’s equal fun to page through sequentially or dive in at random — a perfect mirroring of the browsing experience ... Each book is accompanied by a short, contextual entry, which never seem to read as formulaic. The unique intelligence of Mustich as an individual processing his own thinking is present in every sentence ... Sometimes these sorts of lists seem more trivial than substantive, but 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die is the opposite.
PositiveChicago Tribune\"\'The customer is always right\' has little currency with Bythell, who writes with biting humor about some of the shenanigans people try to pull as they bargain over items already deeply discounted ... Like most diaries, the book isn’t heavy on plot; threads of story appear and resolve ... Bythell is a man on a mission, and a year seen through his eyes convinces the reader that it is a mission worthy of undertaking.\
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune\"As an anthropologist, Graeber is less concerned with validating...statistic[s] and more interested in exploring why so many people believe this about their own jobs. In doing so, he helps the reader better understand not just the nature of one’s own job, but jobs in general ... Reading through his taxonomy, one engages with what I believe to be the central pleasure of the book, trying to figure out whether you or people you know have jobs that fit these categories ... Reading Graeber’s book made me appreciate how fortunate I am. I can’t claim to do the most important work in the world, but I can report finding great personal satisfaction in the work I do.\
PanThe Chicago Tribune[T]his is not a review of Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, because it is not a book that deserves to be taken seriously enough to be reviewed ... In a fair world, writing would be left to those of us who aren’t stars, but the world isn’t obligated to be fair. Penn’s book, on the other hand, is an insult. Without Penn’s fame, it never would have seen the light of day. It reads like a purely cynical exercise, from its conception, execution, publication, to that blurb from Rushdie ... he has soaked up valuable real estate at book reviewing outlets, which does crowd out a chance for readers to become familiar with actually worthy work. And here I am, spending my weekly words on Penn, rather than telling you about terrific new books like Don't Skip Out on Me by Wily Vlautin, Sunburn by Laura Lippman, Laura and Emma by Kate Greathead, and The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman. Do better than me. Ignore Penn. Read them instead.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneMcPhee is the master of, in the words of McPhee profiler Sam Anderson, 'small detonations of knowledge,' which Draft No. 4 reveals are aided by obsessive note-taking and a customized word processing program that is used by only a handful of people ... Structure especially is an obsession of McPhee’s. The book is dotted with drawings representing his different approaches, each a puzzle that he both created and solved himself ... McPhee brings considerable clarity to the profound sense of doubt that simultaneously drives writing and threatens to derail it ... The trick is learn to think and act as genuine version of oneself. Let Draft No. 4 serve as inspiration, not a how-to.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneThe pleasure in Zapruder's book is in going beyond those feelings into an exploration into the hows and whys of poetry. Zapruder acts as a guide showing us some of the epiphanies he experienced as he developed his own craft. It is not a 'how-to' book, so do not be put off if you feel no desire to write poetry. At its core, the book isn't even necessarily about poetry, but is instead a testament to a way of seeing and moving through the world that puts experience and wonder first. It recaptures that which draws us to poetry as children, while showing us the even deeper pleasures we are capable of as adults.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneAndre's testimony, which is the text of the book, would be powerful all by itself, but as enhanced by Delisle's art, using a color palette out of Picasso's Blue Period, we are immersed in the experience of being held alone in a room, chained to a radiator. The internal experience of Andre's terror/boredom is conveyed by text that often crowds the panels, obscuring the images as Andre drowns in his own worries. It is harrowing and beautiful. I've felt haunted by the book since I finished it. I'm looking forward to experiencing it again.
MixedThe Chicago Tribune...Stone's approach is somewhat less measured than in The Everything Store. It's filled with a bit more marvel at the expansion of these companies than skepticism over what this disruption might mean ... We shouldn't be afraid of progress, and Stone's book helps map out possibilities, but it would be nice if the author wasn't quite so faithful in [his] steadfast belief that technology necessarily leads to better solutions. Some things deserve preserving, not disrupting.