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From July through September, CHIRP Radio is sharing reading recommendations from its DJs and volunteers. Our first list is from DJ Mike Bennett.
This list consists of six recommendations of old favorites, the novel I’m reading at the time I’m writing this, and three new books I hope to read before September 22 rolls around.
So here’s a sample of some favorite books:
This is the best novel I’ve ever read dealing with the impact of slavery in America. Gyasi’s amazing debut follows the lives of two half-sisters in Africa, one who marries a British army officer, the other who is sold into slavery, and then each chapter moves forward chronologically, dealing with one of their descendants. With an ability to capture character equal to Edward P. Jones (whose brilliant novel The Known World is an influence on Gyasi), this is an absorbing and enlightening book.
After winning a tidy sum as a literary prize, Scotsman (and Western Swing fan) McLean decided to use the money to travel to Texas, to go to a celebration of Bob Wills, the King of Western Swing. Before getting to his final destination, he drives across the backroads of Texas, talking to musicians who were there during the genre's heyday. The book is both a travelogue and a musical education. And when McLean finally gets to watch some of the surviving Texas Playboys (Bob Wills's band) perform, the way he describes the thrill of it...if you're a passionate music fan, you'll understand.
Another Scotsman, Gray is probably the greatest novelist the country has ever produced. A disciple of writers like Jorge Luis Borges and Flann O’Brien, Gray creates a feminist-socialist variation on the Frankenstein story, centered on what is purportedly a medical journal Gray discovered, augmented by writings from the perspective of another major character. The book is playful while playing with literary form, and the shifting perspectives leave one wondering what the real story actually is.
The book sounds like a gimmick. A lifelong baseball fan picks up an old pack of baseball cards from the ‘80s, opens it up, and tries to meet with every former player whose card was in the pack. Balukjan intertwines his personal life with the far flung road trip he takes to meet these ex-jocks in a way that I first thought would turn out cheesy, and instead ended up being very resonant.
Russian academic Grigori Chkhartishvili thought he could write better novels than the potboilers his wife read on the beach, so he created the Russian Sherlock Holmes – Erast Fandorin, a shy, mysterious man who learned martial arts in Japan. His unassuming manner, slight stammer, and handsome countenance hide a master detective. The Winter Queen is the debut of Fandorin, set in pre-Soviet Russia in 1876, and Chkartishvili, writing under the pen name Akunin, crafts a witty, stylish tale that reads almost like it is an 1876 novel, while he finds ways to slyly comment on modern life. He wrote numerous Fandorin novels, as the character aged into the communist revolution, each novel using different stylistic devices.
A superbly structured book from Smith, the former drummer of Blake Babies, Antenna, The Mysteries of Life, and local band Sunshine Boys). The memoir is structured around a year of cooking lessons she gives to her oldest son during his senior year of high school. These lessons are then connected to experiences from Smith's rock band days. Smith does a wonderful job balancing the two, aided by the fact that she makes her more current parenting and cooking experiences as involving as her remarkable past. Smith's prose is, for the most part, not flashy, but her direct, concise writing is a real virtue. As the book moves along, I found myself really empathizing with what she was going through as a parent. Thus, the book is emotionally resonant. And let's not forget the many recipes, all coming at the end of each chapter. It's not often you get and entertaining and emotionally enriching memoir that will also enrich your dining room table.
This is the book I’m reading now. It centers a transgender woman and her former partner, who, when they were together, was also a transgender woman, but subsequently detransitioned (hey, that’s where the title comes from). I’m not quite a third of the way through it and hit a major plot twist. Anyway, Peters is a breezy, observant writer, and the book sucked me in pretty much instantly, so I’m curious where this book will take me.
The first upcoming book on my list is from the author of a great novel, America Is Not the Heart, about Filipino immigrants in California. One of the reasons I read is to empathize with others and learn more about people not like me (which is why I’m reading Detransition, Baby). This is a collection of essays which posits that one can go beyond that. It sounds challenging in a really good way.
This got a really nice write up in the Chicago Reader, and I love reading books from local writers set here in Chicago. I don’t even recall the outline of the plot, which is how I like it, as I’ll go into this book cold. This is already out, so I know I’ll get to it soon.
This Band Has No Past: How Cheap Trick Became Cheap Trick by Brian J. Kramp
This book takes you to the ground floor of this quintessentially Midwestern band that played all around Illinois and Wisconsin, honing their sound (including venues like B’Ginnings in Schaumburg and The Brat Stop in Kenosha). Kramp is promoting the book with a blog which has tidbits and photos that show that he has access to some amazing information that will fill in a lot of blanks about these power pop legends.
Keep an eye out for more book recommendations coming soon!
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