12 Must-Read Books of January – Chicago Review of Books


Well everyone, we’ve made it to the start of another year, though not without some bumps and scrapes along the way. As we round day six-hundred-and-seventy of the pandemic, give or take, it can be easy to lose sight of all the good that’s happened, too. There are still things to celebrate. If you resolved to get rid of some of your books this month, then we’ll be of no help there. But if you’re hoping to read more in 2022, we’ve got twelve excellent places to start.

Happy reading!

Cover of Brown Girls

Brown Girls
By Daphne Palasi Andreades
Random House

Of the five New York boroughs, Queens still feels like the scrappy kid sibling, underestimated, perhaps, and underexplored. Daphne Palasi Andreades’s exuberant debut novel offers a corrective to that assumption of the neighborhood and its denizens with its kaleidoscopic portrait of the young women of color who call it home. Written in a choral “we” voice, Brown Girls feels like finding your favorite song on the radio and singing along with the windows down.

Cover of Velorio

Velorio
By Xavier Navarro Aquino
HarperVia

Four years on from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rican native Xavier Navarro Aquino brings the island to vivid life in his haunting debut novel set in the aftermath of that disaster, as a ragtag group of survivors falls under the sway of a sinister cult leader. Like Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones before it, Velorio is both a complex, politically engaged work and deeply human story from a writer who’s surely at the start of a long career.

Cover of My Annihilation

My Annihilation
By Fuminori Nakamura; Translated by Sam Bett
Soho Crime

Sam Bett was one half of the team behind the translation of Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs, a surprise hit for publisher Europa Editions in 2020, and he may well have another cult classic on his hands with My Annihilation by Japanese literary sensation Fuminori Nakamura. A tricky and taut work of literary noir that implicates the reader in a disturbing murder, it might just be the antidote for anyone who’s addicted to pressing play on another true crime doc.

Cover of Lacuna

Lacuna
By Fiona Snyckers
Europa Editions

Already a prize winner in Fiona Snyckers’ native South Africa, Lacuna seems destined to cause a similar stir here in America, where lit Twitter regularly erupts with heated discussion of appropriation and agency in storytelling. Using Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee’s celebrated Disgrace as a jumping off point, Snyckers re-centers that novel’s victim Lucy as her book’s main character as she seeks reparations from the author himself for his recreation of her trauma.

Cover of Lost & Found

Lost & Found
By Kathryn Schulz
Random House

We at the CHIRB have been keeping an eye on Kathryn Schulz’s career since her Pulitzer Prize-winning New Yorker piece “The Really Big One.” A canny writer with an enviably wide span of expertise and curiosity, Schulz builds on that early promise with this memoir-guidebook hybrid that explores how grief and loss can coexist with gratitude, as profound and startling an excavation of her own life as her reportage of fault lines in the Pacific Northwest.

Cover of Primo Levi

Primo Levi: An Identikit
By Marco Belpoliti; Translated by Clarissa Botsford
Seagull Books

One of the foremost chroniclers of the Holocaust, Primo Levi is certainly no stranger to plumbing the depths of his own experiences in literature. Now, with this massive, and massively researched, biography, the lens is turned on his own body of work as author Marco Belpoliti traces his development as a writer and intellectual through each of Levi’s books. Featuring a treasure trove of new letters and photographs, it’s a stunning tribute to a twentieth century giant.

Cover of More Than Meat and Raiment

More Than Meat and Raiment
By Angela Jackson
TriQuarterly

Beloved Chicago writer and current Illinois Poet Laureate Angela Jackson returns this month with a characteristically vibrant and variegated portrait of her South Side neighborhoods. A celebration of Black voices in all their many manifestations, More Than Meat and Raiment draws on everything from Hausa folklore to the Black Arts Movement to stories told on front porches and cements Jackson as one of our country’s premier wordsmiths.

Cover of How How We Go

How High We Go in the Dark
By Sequoia Nagamatsu
William Morrow

Pitch a book as in the vein of David Mitchell and Emily St. John Mandel and the ears of CHIRB staffers will perk right up. Luckily Sequoia Nagamatsu’s debut novel, following his story collection Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone, lives up to those lofty comparisons and then some with a feat of literary imagination set in the aftermath of a climate plague. A work ten years in the making, it’s accidentally timely in some ways but it’s also arriving just in time.

See Also


Cover of Free

Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History
By Lea Ypi
W.W. Norton

Lea Ypi’s richly textured and intellectually acute memoir of growing up in post-Communist Albania comes to American shores already highly decorated, with 2021 Baillie Gifford Prize and 2021 Costa Award shortlistings among its honors. Shedding much-needed light on a country and regime that’s remained largely in the shadows, Free explores the growing pains of a new democracy alongside a young leftist’s coming-of-age with an infectious, spirited rigor. 

Cover of Devil House

Devil House
By John Darnielle
MCD

John Darnielle has long been one of indie rock’s most respected elders as the lead singer and songwriter of The Mountain Goats, where his gifts for storytelling often manifest in painfully intimate stories of familial discord and dysfunctional relationships. He’s equally adept with prose and Devil House marks his third foray into the literary world, a wily and unpredictable portrait of a crime novelist that’s a sure bet for fans of House of Leaves’s puzzle box structure.

Cover of Seasons of Purgatory

Seasons of Purgatory
By Shahriar Mandanipour; Translated by Sara Khalili
Bellevue Literary Press

Seasons of Purgatory marks the first English-language translation of a story collection by one of Iran’s most important living fiction writers, which is cause for celebration. Though currently exiled from his home country, Shahriar Mandanipour provides readers with a vivid and idiosyncratic map of its people and places, effortlessly translated by Sara Khalili whose close collaboration with the author is palpable on every gleaming, blade-sharp page. 

Cover of South to America

South to America
By Imani Perry
Ecco

Currently serving as the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, Imani Perry is one of our most radiant intellectual lights, with a biography of Lorraine Hansberry and a memoir dedicated to her sons already under her belt. With South to America, she expands her focus to explore a nation via one of its most misunderstood regions, making the case for breaking through stereotypes and Mason-Dixon lines to become whole again.



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