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Brad Morgan writesCHIRP Radio Summer Reading List 2022: Bradley Morgan

From July through September, CHIRP Radio is sharing reading recommendations from its DJs and volunteers. Up next is a list from CHIRP volunteer Bradley Morgan.

Nothing beats a good book during the summertime. Whether you’re sitting on a park bench, swinging in a hammock, or lounging on a sunny beach, books are often our best companion when the days are at their longest (there’s more light out to read by)!

I always suggest going with whatever turns your page. A harlequin romance? It isn’t just the sun that’s hot! The latest in your favorite graphic novel series? No spoilers because I’m still catching up! Early 20th century French philosophy? Ooh la la!

As for myself, I like a good mix. I like to keep it both serious and silly, reading something for a good laugh and then something that challenges and expands my surroundings. As Fran Lebowitz says, “A book is not supposed to be a mirror. It's supposed to be a door.” Books convey ideas and encourage us to live our lives beyond what we just see right in front of us.

Here’s a list of books that recently did that for me and much more. 

A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

In his latest collection of essays, Abdurraqib waxes poetic about the extent and scope of Black performance since the early 20th century and how it is inextricably woven into the fabric of American culture. With thoughtful reflections on well-known touchstones and hidden cultural gems, Abdurraqib reveals the depth of his humanity as he expounds upon his feelings of jubilation, sadness, rage, and wonder at the many ways Black performance has touched his life as well as others, often delving into his personal history of love and grief. With thoughtful critiques of Black and white culture as they relate to social politics in America, Abdurraqib’s essays reveal a desperate urgency.


Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

From the acclaimed Nobel Laureate, Ishiguro’s latest novel is a poignant and contemplative narrative about unconditional love and the connection between humans and their relationship with the world around them. Klara is an Artificial Friend, an intelligent and highly observational automaton. As a being of artificial intelligence, Klara’s purpose is to provide assistance and comfort to those who have purchased her—in this case, a teenage girl named Josie with an unspecified, and potentially life threatening, disease. As Klara learns everything there is to know about Josie, she eventually comes to understand she was selected for a very specific purpose, a worst-case scenario involving life and death. Just as Klara gets her energy from the sun, so does she project the same on Josie and her illness. With a singular goal of protecting Josie, Klara’s naïveté sets her on a mission to cure Josie of her disease, navigating the human landscape as best as she can.


All About Me!: My Remarkable Life in Show Business by Mel Brooks

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

At 95, the legendary filmmaker, writer, actor, Broadway producer, and comedian keeps the laughs coming in this brilliant swan song. Chronicling his life from growing up in Brooklyn during the Depression to serving during World War II as a combat engineer and from his early days in entertainment writing for comedic legend Sid Caesar to sending up classic Hollywood in his groundbreaking genre film parodies, Brooks takes the reader on a journey through his legendary comedic life and shares the laughs of those experiences along the way. An impressive and intimate look into his life and work, Brooks is a man who lives for the laughter of an audience so it is impressive that he manages to keep those laughs coming with this memoir, a new medium for Brooks that challenges how he has traditionally engaged with audiences. He accomplishes this wonderfully and maintains a comedic consistency despite the distance created through the page. Whether you’re a lifelong fan or new to his work, you’ll get an overview that makes you want to dive even deeper into his comedic genius and legacy. Funny, heartfelt, and charming, Brooks’ memoir is a masterclass in comedy writing and it showcases that his anarchic yet disciplined approach to his craft has proven that he is one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century. It’s a book that leaves you thinking “it’s good to be Mel Brooks.”


On Tyranny (Graphic Edition): Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

The acclaimed historian of fascism offers a guide for surviving and resisting America’s turn towards authoritarianism. Through drawing parallels in history between America in the 2010s and 2020s to the crumbling of democracies across Europe in the 1920s through 40s and the recent crumbling of democratic ideals at the hands of Russia since the end of the Cold War, Snyder’s book illustrates the need to look towards Europe’s history to recognize the signs of decline around us in America. With invaluable ideas, Snyder makes a strong case for the need to stay informed, invest in community organizations, and create human connections with the different types of people around us if we are to drive away the creeping authoritarianism that is moving across the globe. With beautiful illustrations by Norah Krug, Snyder’s storytelling is enhanced.


Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

Murakami’s classic novel is a triumph of metaphysical reality, with a complex narrative woven together by its two lead characters embarking on their own journeys. Kafka Tamura is a 15-year-old runaway with a violent past, desperately searching for his mother who abandoned him at an early age and was left to be raised by his famous sculptor father. Nakata is an elderly simpleton who lost his ability to read or write, but gained the power to communicate with cats, after an unexplained supernatural event put him into a coma for several weeks as a child during World War II. Though these two people have never met, their fates are linked with the actions and consequences of one bleeding into the reality of the other. Kafka is on a journey to find his mother to fulfill an oedipal prophecy and Nakata is seeking to fill an empty void inside and restore his shadow. When a brutal murder occurs, with both characters simultaneously the victim and perpetrator, their paths must eventually cross to realize their entwined destinies. Beautifully written and incorporating European philosophy and Japanese mythology, Murakami’s book is a smartly elegant tale of escaping fate as well as determining your own.


East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

Published in 1952, Steinbeck's proclaimed magnum opus is a modern retelling of the Book of Genesis set in the Salinas Valley of California and chronicles three generations of the Trask family. Cyrus Trask, a Civil War veteran who cons his way into an enduring political and military legacy, inflicts brutal treatment on his two sons, Adam and Charles, on their farm in Connecticut, dreaming they follow in his footsteps and enlist for military service. Charles, driven by his jealousy for his father's love of Adam, routinely beats, and very nearly murders, his brother. As the years go by, Adam joins the cavalry before wandering around as a vagrant while Charles stays behind and manages the farm in a vain attempt to live up to his father, and both men struggle to form a peaceful relationship. When a mysterious woman appears at the brothers’ home, living as an alternate persona named Cathy after murdering her entire family, Adam becomes enchanted by her and his misplaced affection causes a further rift between his brother and him, with Adam deciding to uproot his life, marry Cathy, and build her a garden of paradise in California. Adam's attempt at crafting his own Eden becomes in vain as Cathy bears children that may belong to his brother, and she leaves him for dead after shooting him shortly after giving birth. The years go by and Adam lives a quiet life as a broken man, living with a Chinese servant named Lee who single-handedly raises the kids, Cal and Aron, while their mother becomes a wealthy brothel owner living under another false identity. As the boys grow, they wrestle with their identity and upbringing, emotionally maligned and longing for something from the ghost of a father. When Cal and Aron discover the truth about their mother, the existential crisis that befalls them becomes a struggle for self-actualization as they grapple with the inner demons that have plagued every man in history. Stunning, beautiful, heart-wrenching, and masterful.


The Fran Lebowitz Reader by Fran Lebowitz

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

Compiling her only publications, 1978’s Metropolitan Life and the follow-up Social Studies, Lebowitz demonstrates her most enduring quality; the way she brilliantly eviscerates contemporary urban life, despite not having written another book due a legendary case of writer’s block over the last four decades. With wit and irony, Lebowitz expresses outrage toward humanity and takes umbrage at all of the consequences of society’s ills, like discos and no-smoking sections. The way she breaks down social constructs is as scathing as it is truthful. Incredibly funny and raw, Lebowitz demonstrates her talent as one of the greatest satirists and social commentators of our, and all, time.


Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance by John Waters

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

The Pope of Trash’s debut novel is a literary successor to the films that defined his legacy, a comedic tour de force of sex, crime, and brilliantly twisted dysfunction. Marsha Sprinkle is a skilled liar and criminal master of disguise who makes a living stealing luggage from the airport, the only profession suitable for someone who indulges in hatred from children, animals, and even her family, who all want her dead. Marsha is driven around by Daryl, her scamming co-conspirator masquerading as her chauffeur, employed by Marsha under the promised compensation of getting to sleep with her once a year which is a payment Marsha plans to deny because she refuses to be defiled by any man. When a luggage scam runs afoul, Marsha and Daryl are forced to go on the lam, with Marsha ditching Daryl in order to find her mother and daughter and rob them before hunting down and killing her ex-husband for destroying the sanctity of her womb. On the run from the law, Marsha makes her way across the Northeast scamming homicidal perverts, trampoline fetishists, flight attendants, and even a talking penis. When Marsha comes across an insane man who opens within her a sexual awakening, Marsha is shocked to find herself finally telling the truth. Waters’ literary foray is a riotous road trip of revenge.


Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

Published in 1943, and set in the 1930s, Bowles’ only novel is a comedic and mysterious tale about two women who desperately want to live outside of their own heads. Adventurous and eccentric, Christina Goering is a wealthy spinster who fantasizes about religion. Frieda Copperfield is an anxious but curious wife to a boring and wealthy man. After the two meet at a party, they set out into the world in search of salvation. Christina decides to live like a pauper with her two friends and pursue sainthood through sordid encounters with men while Frieda abandons her husband and finds happiness with a female teenage prostitute in Panama. After their respective adventures, the two women meet again to discuss their lives and what they have learned along the way.


The Fuck-Up by Arthur Neresian

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

Nersesian’s underground classic is a seedy and gritty slice of life set in New York during the early 80s following an unnamed slacker who is just trying to survive in a city indifferent to his struggles. After being dumped by his girlfriend, our slacker protagonist makes ends meet by posing as a gay man so he can stay employed at a rundown porno theater. With everyone he meets, from an editor at a respected cultural magazine to an emotionally frail lover suffering through heartbreak and from a renowned foreign filmmaker to the hippie porno theater manager, our everyman slacker hero burns bridges along the way until he learns the dark lessons of just how low someone can sink in a sea of urban desperation. When his best friend kills himself by jumping off the Brooklyn bridge, our slacker protagonist embarks on an existential journey to squeeze out what happiness he is lucky enough to find, only to discover just how fleeting it can be. Hilarious and dark, Nersesian’s guttural love letter to the Big Apple is a cult literary masterpiece.


Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the latest book from Applebaum is an analysis of the global political shift occurring in recent years where liberal democracy is under siege by a rising authoritarianism, from both the left and right of the political spectrum, across Europe, the United States, and beyond. With several decades of experience writing about communism and the development of civil society across central and Eastern Europe, Applebaum is uniquely poised to offer her expertise in the myriad of ways in which authoritarianism takes root in society. With several rich examples, as well as some of her own professional anecdotes, Applebaum’s analysis puts a lens on how institutions can be broken down by key players including journalists, academic, and politicians in order to sow chaos and delegitimize democratic order in favor of a different and illiberal version of society. Motivated by such things as cultural grievances, lust for power, dissatisfaction with career development, nihilism, racism, evangelism, and so much more, Applebaum’s book is a chilling and measured look into how different people from different backgrounds and different ideas can elevate and champion like-minded authoritarian principles and rhetoric that blurs the political line between left and right.


The Twilight World by Wernor Herzog

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

While directing an opera in Tokyo in 1997, the legendary filmmaker was informed the Emperor of Japan wanted to meet him. Failing to understand what he could discuss with an emperor, he respectfully declined, met with silenced embarrassment. When asked who he would like to meet instead, he replied instantly: Hiroo Onodo, a former solider famous for having quixotically defended an island in the Philippines for decades after World War II, living as a guerilla in the jungle refusing to believe the war was over. They would meet several times and develop a rapport. In his first novel, Herzog tells this surreal and tragic story, poetically weaving a dreamscape where weeks melt away into months and further into years. Very hypnotic, this book blends Herzog’s documentary style with poetry and jungle dreamscapes, resulting in a doorway into a world where one’s reality is another’s madness. A mesmerizing and hazy work of art.


Keep an eye out for more book recommendations coming soon!

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