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Best New Chicago Books

by Greg Wahl

The Chicago area has a wealth of writerly and publishing talent producing a steady stream of new volumes. If you haven't yet burned through those Barnes & Noble and Amazon gift cards from the holidays, consider directing your book browsing to the city's literary scene and some of the latest Chicago-related offerings from the publishing world. Here is a selection of eight current releases to consider adding to the "local" section of your personal library.


Chicago: City on the Make (Sixtieth Anniversary Edition)

by Nelson Algren

$17.00, University Of Chicago Press

Yes, it's a 60-year-old book, but this gritty Chicago classic gets a good dusting off with the addition of historic Chicago photos and other updates. If you've not yet read this book, the anniversary edition makes for a great starter copy, with new reader-friendly annotations on obscure slang terms and references to local events of the day that help to reveal with greater clarity the beauty and brutality of Algren's Chicago at midcentury.

Mikita Blackhawks

Forever a Blackhawk

by Stan Mikita, with Bob Verdi

$26.95, Triumph Books

Printer's Row-based Triumph Books is the country's largest publisher of sports books. Their latest Chicago-related title celebrates the life and exemplary athletic career of beloved Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita. The autobiography traces Mikita's life from his youth in Czechoslovakia to being adopted by his aunt and uncle in Canada, earning a championship ring in 1961, induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, and his current role as goodwill ambassador to the Blackhawks.

Great American City

Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect

by Robert J. Sampson

$27.50, University Of Chicago Press

Due to be released on February 3, this book combines author Robert Sampson's personal observations and monumental social science research to show the far-reaching influence that neighborhoods and communities have over individual behavior. From Cabrini Green to Trump Tower, studies of a variety of Chicago areas reveal the powerful impact of "place" upon social phenomena such as crime, health, and immigration.


Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab

by Dmitry Samarov

$20.00, University of Chicago Press

No one sees the city quite like a cab driver does, and Dmitry Samarov eloquently presents a variety of fascinating city life snapshots in his first book, recently published by U of C Press. A visual artist and graduate of the School of the Art Institute (prior to becoming a full-time cab driver), Samarov combines humor and humanity to vividly render the city and its people in a manner reminiscent of Studs Terkel.

Cobb's Chicago

Henry Ives Cobb's Chicago: Architecture, Institutions, and the Making of a Modern Metropolis

by Edward D. Wolner

$45.00, University of Chicago Press

Fans of Chicago architecture will find a lot to admire in Edward Wolner's new profile of the life and work of Henry Ives Cobb. At age 22, Cobb won a competition to design the Union Club of Chicago, and many of the club's members tapped Cobb's architecture talents to help rebuild the city after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. While many of his buildings have been demolished, several still stand, such as the Newberry Library and the Chicago Athletic Association. Over 140 images are collected here, along with portraits of many of the city's colorful characters of the period.

Karaoke Singer's Guide To Self-Defense

The Karaoke Singer's Guide to Self-Defense

by Tim Kinsella

$14.95, Featherproof Books

Tim Kinsella may be better known as a local musician, having fronted bands such as Cap'n Jazz and Joan of Arc, but he also found time in between tours to earn his MFA in creative writing from the SAIC, and has published his work in various magazines. His first novel, The Karaoke Singer's Guide to Self-Defense, was released in October by Chicago-based publishers Featherproof Books. The dream-like narrative reveals the dark secrets of three siblings gathering for a funeral.

Queen of America

Queen of America

by Luis Alberto Urrea

$25.99, Little, Brown and Company/Hachette Book Group

Naperville resident Luis Alberto Urrea is a professor of creative writing at UIC, and has published several acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction. His latest book, Queen of America, is a historical novel, and the sequel to 2005's The Hummingbird's Daughter. For both books, Urrea spent nearly 20 years researching his family history to tell the story of his great aunt, Teresita Urrea, who was known as "The Saint of Cabora" and "The Mexican Joan of Arc."

Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier: Street Photographer

Ed. by John Maloof

$39.95, powerHouse Books

Vivian Maier was an amateur street photographer who took over 100,000 photographs throughout her life, most of which capture candid scenes of life in Chicago from the 1950s onward. Maier was a secretive woman who worked primarily as a nanny for various families on the North Shore (including a year spent working for Phil Donohue). Her photographs were "discovered" by a twenty-something real estate agent who had purchased the negatives at an auction in Portage Park in 2007, and this volume presents an impressive cross-section of Maier's images from the collection.

Chicago Stories
(credit: Rob Funderburk)

Editor's Picks

Yes, it is me, the editor. I'm here to ruin Greg's article by including a few recent and notable releases from some great Chicago fiction writers. So here we go!

Chicago Stories
by Michael Czyzniejewski
Curbside Splendor

Told from the fictional point-of-view of forty famous Chicagoans, Michael Czyzniejewski's forthcoming book will create a full picture of Chicago through this nice collection of wonderfully told vignettes. This collection is made even better with great art from Chicago's own Rob Funderburk.

Piano Rats
by Franki Elliot
Curbside Splendor

Also published by Logan Square's Curbside Splendor, Piano Rats is a wonderful, little collection that tells a surprisingly full story through a series of poems.

My Father's House
by Ben Tanzer
Main Street Rag

A book about grief, among many, many other things, My Father's House is composed of lightning-quick moments that jolt you from chapter to chapter. Ben Tanzer is one of Chicago's most prolific writers you probably haven't heard of, why not make his acquaintance with this great novella?

Everyone Remain Calm
by Megan Stielstra
ECW Press

Those who know of Chicago author Megan Stielstra are probably more aware of her 2nd Story readings: amazing theatrical readings that are usually held at Webster's Wine bar. Check them out. Megan's performances are intense, composed of a powerful cadence of speech and strong storytelling you won't find anywhere else. Somehow she has bottled the presence of her performances and sprinkled a little bit on each story contained within Everyone Remain Calm. Each story has a presence that is similar to the intense Megan Stielstra sitting a few feet away from you on a stage telling you a really good story. So check it out.

Greg Wahl can often be found browsing/squeezing into a comfortable space at Ravenswood Used Books in Lincoln Square, where the Chicago Books section is particularly well-tended.
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