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A Very Chicago Summer Reading List

Adam Morgan picks eight titles for your beach tote.

‘Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage’ by Bette Howland
Photo: A Public Space Books

Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage by Bette Howland (May 7, APS Books)

Bette Howland was a Chicago librarian and a protégé of Saul Bellow. But despite winning Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships in the ’70s and ’80s, her fiction was largely forgotten until 2013, when the editor of a literary magazine, A Public Space, stumbled upon a $1 copy of Howland’s memoir at a New York bookstore. Here, Howland’s best short stories and essays are collected for the first time, offering a one-of-a-kind perspective of Chicago from Hyde Park to the North Shore.
 

‘1919’ by Haymarket Books
Photo: Haymarket Books

1919 by Eve Ewing (June 4, Haymarket Books)

Ewing’s latest book — on the heels of her nonfiction debut, Ghosts in the Schoolyard, and her work on Ironheart for Marvel Comics — is a return to poetry. 1919 is an eye-opening look at the riots that broke out on the South Side one hundred summers ago, when white Chicagoans staged violent attacks in black neighborhoods. Somehow, it’s even better than Eve’s first poetry book, Electric Arches.
 

‘Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly’ by Jim DeRogatis
Photo: Abrams Press

Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly by Jim DeRogatis (June 4, Abrams Press)

In 2000, former Chicago Sun-Times music critic DeRogatis broke the first story detailing abuse allegations against R&B singer R. Kelly. On the heels of Kelly’s indictment on 10 counts of sexual abuse this past February, DeRogatis’s book is a scathing narrative nonfiction account of Kelly’s entire career, based on nearly two decades of investigative journalism.
 

‘BTTM FDRS’ by Ezra Claytan Daniels and Ben Passmore
Photo: Fantagraphics

BTTM FDRS by Ezra Claytan Daniels and Ben Passmore (June 25, Fantagraphics)

This laugh-out-loud graphic novel is set in a fictional South Side neighborhood called “The Bottomyards,” where gentrification isn’t the only encroaching horror: there’s also a haunted apartment building that may or may not be a living creature of some sort. Best of all, Daniels and Passmore fill the pages with Chicago easter eggs like Child’s Play, Candyman, and Bertrand Goldberg’s former Prentice Women’s Hospital.
 

‘Ironheart’ Vol. 1 by Eve Ewing and Kevin Libranda
Photo: Marvel Comics

Ironheart Vol. 1 by Eve Ewing and Kevin Libranda (July 23, Marvel Comics)

Ewing’s first foray into writing comics has been a huge critical and commercial success. This trade paperback collects her first five issues telling the story of Riri Williams, a South Shore native who builds her own suit of Iron Man armor, enrolls at M.I.T., and battles a Chicago-based supervillain named Midnight’s Fire. If and when Ewing’s take on the character heads for the big screen, this volume will be the perfect entry point for MCU fans.
 

‘Burn the Place’ by Iliana Regan
Photo: Agate Midway

Burn the Place by Iliana Regan (July 16, Agate Midway)

Regan grew up on a family farm in rural Indiana. Today, she’s the Michelin-starred chef behind two of Chicago’s best restaurants: Elizabeth (farm-to-table fine dining in Lincoln Square) and Kitsune (casual Japanese fare in North Center). In her memoir, Regan details how her almost supernatural connection with food helped her cope with life as “a little girl who longed to be a boy, gay in an intolerant community, an alcoholic before she turned twenty, and a woman in an industry dominated by men.”
 

‘Ensemble: An Oral History of Chicago Theater’ by Mark Larson
Photo: Agate Midway

Ensemble: An Oral History of Chicago Theater by Mark Larson (August 13, Agate Midway)

In this sweeping history of Chicago’s theater scene, Larson makes a compelling case that “Hollywood, Broadway, and Studio 8H” would be much poorer without the second city’s (and The Second City’s) homegrown talent. Don’t expect a dry academic text: based on more than 300 interviews with everyone from Ed Asner to Julia Louis-Dreyfus, it’s an eminently readable, fascinating peek behind the curtain.
 

‘The Jungle’ by Upton Sinclair
Photo: Penguin

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, adapted and illustrated by Kristina Gehrmann (July 2, Ten Speed Press)

You were probably forced to read Sinclair’s 1906 book in high school, but you’ve never seen it like this. Gehrmann’s graphic novel is a gorgeous, immersive reading experience. She brings the Union Stock Yards to life in a new way Sinclair couldn’t, but it’s the intimate visual details in the lives and homes of the Lithuainian immigrants at the heart of the story that make this book a vital companion to the classic.

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