A Summer of Chicago Reads – Chicago Review of Books

Summer brings warm weather and even hotter new releases, especially in Chicago. If you’re looking for a book to nestle up with as you dig your toes in the sand along Lake Michigan or another distant beach, our neighborhood authors are here to please. 

Here are some of the best Chicago-inspired fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and essays to add to your reading list before fall arrives.

Last Summer on State Street
By Toya Wolfe
William Morrow & Company

Felicia “Fe Fe” Stevens is reaching the end of her childhood days in 1999, the year her building is scheduled to be torn down as part of the Chicago Housing Authority’s larger campaign to dissemble the Robert Taylor Homes. This life-changing event threatens to uproot her friendships and family, launching an unforgettable story about finding a home in others. Chicago Magazine recently named Last Summer on State Street one of the 10 best 21st century Chicago novels among instant-classics such as The Great Believers and The Time Traveler’s Wife, and it certainly deserves its spot. Filled with nostalgia and a sharp eye at our city, Toya Wolfe has written an essential depiction of Chicago. 

By Jesse Ball

Few writers can match the productivity of Jesse Ball. In fact, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, Ball wrote Autoportrait in just a day! The author of fourteen darkly absurd works of poetry and fiction brings mesmerizing style to his first memoir, which weaves together brief moments of joy and love with tragic accounts of illness and grief to create a haunting account of catharsis.  

By Adam Langer
Bloomsbury Publishing

Adam Langer—who’s perhaps best known for his breakout account of Rogers Park Crossing California— is finally back after nearly ten years since his last novel, and I can say with certainty that Cyclorama was worth the wait. Set in Evanston in 1982, this witty and moving novel follows ten teenagers who are brought together by their high school production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Their experience haunts them long after the curtains close, and after a jump in time to fall 2016 readers can see how these lives have unfolded during a time of fraught and dangerous politics in the United States. Be sure to also check out our interview with Langer about his new book!

Refuse to Disappear
By Tara Betts
Word Works

In her most recent poetry collection Refuse to Disappear, Tara Betts conjures the spirit of science and magic in celebration of Black women. Betts, who also founded the cultural and community space The Whirlwind Learning Center on Chicago’s South Side, writes poems that are meant to be savored, read aloud, and shared widely. 

Where Are the Snows
By Kathleen Rooney
Texas Review Press

Our 2021 Adam Morgan Literary Citizen Award recipient Kathleen Rooney has a new poetry collection forthcoming from Texas Review Press! Where Are the Snows juxtaposes the tragedies of our current age and those throughout history to explore the beauty and absurdity of life’s transience. Both unapologetically political and proudly anti-capitalist, Rooney directly takes on the question that we all have on our minds these days: where are we and where are we headed?

Crying in the Bathroom: A Memoir
By Erika L Sánchez

See Also

National Book Award finalist author Erika L. Sánchez follows up her New York Times bestseller I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter with an equally enjoyable memoir. In nine hilarious and emotionally cutting essays, Crying in the Bathroom tackles everything from sex to white feminism to debilitating depression. The result is a rich and rewarding read about Chicago in the nineties and the people that call it home. 

Some short reads for your commute:

“Reconsidering Public Housing in America”
By Anjulie Rao
Belt Magazine

“It’s quiet around here until it’s not”
By Salem Collo-Julin
Chicago Reader

“In Rogers Park, glimpses of a neighborhood that reflects Chicago’s diversity more than any other,”
By Elvia Malagón & Pat Nabong
Chicago Sun Times

“A very dark place”
By Anthony Ehlers
Chicago Reader

Michael Welch

Michael Welch is a daily editor for the Chicago Review of Books. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Kenyon Review Online, Iron Horse Literary Review, North American Review, and elsewhere. Find him at www.michaelbwelch.com and @MBWwelch.

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