My column this week is a tribute to Graywolf Press, which just announced the planned departure of their Director and Publisher, Fiona McCrae, next year.
One of the motivating impulses behind establishing this newsletter was a frustration that sometimes I needed more than my 600 word Tribune allotment. It seemed like occasionally using this space for a kind of expansion and commentary version of the column might be nice.
This is one of those times. In the column itself, I list some of the books and authors I’ve most enjoyed over the years, but why not make a more handy and comprehensive list of those titles?
Also, why not also make a subsection of The Biblioracle Recommends bookstore at Bookshop.org in case readers want a convenient place to order those books online?
Even this list is not comprehensive. If I included every last Graywolf book I’ve read and liked it would take me a day to write this newsletter. For a deeper dive, you can check out the full catalog of books at the company website.
In no particular order, or rather in the order they’re shelved in different spots in my house.
(A titles are linked for purchasing at Bookshop.org.)
The Trees by Percival Everett
A brilliant satire that also manages to unsettle the spirit. Don’t miss Lincoln Michel’s review from a previous edition of The Biblioracle Recommends.
Telephone by Percival Everett
Zach Wells, a professor geologist is losing his daughter to a rare disease and gets wrapped up in a dangerous rescue mission of women being held captive. Both a meditation on grief and loss and a thriller wrapped up in one.
I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett
I could list every Everett book that Graywolf has published, but I’ll move on after this one. This is a satire written mixing a deadpan style with zany events about an orphaned eleven-year-old boy who resembles the famous actor, but whose name is “Not Sidney.”
Duplex by Kathryn Davis
A book that defies description, though it’s frequently described as “fantastical.” I just know it’s unlike any novel I’ve ever read and if it gets its hooks in you, you’ll never forget it.
Out Stealing Horses by Per Peterson
Probably the best selling book in Graywolf’s history, and one of the early arrivals in North America of contemporary nordic literature.
Grief Is a Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
A powerful amalgam of fiction, poetry, and essaying that probes the grief of a man left to raise his two sons after the sudden death of his wife.
Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
Another great satire about Furo, a Nigerian who wakes up one morning to discover that he is now a white man. Complications that peel back issues of race and power ensue.
Cities I’ve Never Lived In by Sara Majka
I recommend this collection often as one that has simply stuck with me over the years. Stories about stories and how we make sense of the world when our lives are upended.
Familiar by J. Robert Lennon
Lennon is another writer where I could include any one of his books here, but I’ve chosen Familiar because when I looked at its spine on my shelf I remembered how unsettled (in the best way) it left me. The story of a woman who in an instant shifts into a life similar, but not the same as the one she thought she was living. What happens when you have to fake your way through your own existence?
The Report by Jessica Francis Kane
Another book I recommend frequently about a man tasked with investigating the death of 173 seeking shelter in a London Tube station from an air raid during World War II.
White Flights: Race, Fiction, and the American Imagination by Jess Row
Really just an amazing work of close reading and literary analysis that extends into a broader theory and commentary about the ways white writers write around dealing with issues of race, and what that means for the literature we consume. Thoughtful and thought provoking.
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang
A powerful blend of looking at chronic mental illness from both the inside of the experience and the outside of the experience.
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
One of the most profound and powerful explorations of race in America in the 21st century. A book that will be read a hundred years from now.
Blackboard: A Personal History in the Classroom by Lewis Buzbee
Buzbee uses his own life as a learner to discuss bigger questions around how we conduct schooling in this country. You will wonder why we do things the way we do when we’ve known better for a long time.
Burning Down the House by Charles Baxter
Baxter is one of my favorite contemporary writers, and this collection of his essays on literature peels back the lid on what’s meaningful (and not) about much of what we read today.
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
Another collection of essays that will rejigger your notions of the world and make you observe and think more deeply about the people around you.
Open Books is doing a pop-up shop through January at Cornelia McNamara Flowers (2130 W Chicago Ave). Go check it out for yourself.
Mother Biblioracle alerted me to this story of the struggles of Powell’s Bookstore to pivot and return from the pandemic, and now I’m alerting you because it’s an interesting microcosm of a lot of different forces at work.
At LitHub, Dave Eggers, my friend, and author of The Every gives some rapid-fire recommendations and offers a very insightful take on Frankenstein.
Writing at Business Insider, Katherine Fiorillo has the 23 best history books written by women.
The Washington Post has named their favorite thrillers and mysteries of the year, including one of my absolute favorites, Dream Girl by Laura Lippman.
At the Chicago Tribune this week, Christopher Borrelli connects with Ken Krimstein (who I published many times when I was editing the McSweeney’s website) on his graphic novel, When I Grow Up which is born from stories written by Yiddish teenagers prior to Hitler’s march through Europe.
Some really top notch books are included in this piece by Leah Schnelbach at Tor.com, looking at “8 SFF Twists on Literary Classics.”
All books linked below and above are part of The Biblioracle Recommends bookshop at Bookshop.org. Affiliate income for purchases through the bookshop goes to Open Books in Chicago.
We inch closer to my 2021 goal of $300, coming in at $213.25. Remember, for every dollar up to $300 in affiliate income, I’ll match it with a donation of my own to Open Books.
If you’d like to see every book I’ve recommended in this space this year, check out my list of 2021 Recommendations at the Bookshop.org bookshop.
Recommendations are always open for. Wait times should be minimal and some will even be featured in the print edition of the Chicago Tribune.
1. Working by Studs Terkel
2. Harrow by Joy Williams
3. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
4. Kindred by Octavia Butler
5. Dune by Frank Herbert
George P. - Chicago, IL
There’s some significant variety here, which makes me think George is primarily drawn to books with single word titles, so maybe I should just go with that. The strange little fable, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke feels like a good fit.
1. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
2. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
3. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
4. The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
5. Going There by Kate Couric
Linda T. - Portland, OR
This is a book that will wind up in my Biblioracle Book Awards for 2021, Dream Girl by Laura Lippman.
Enjoy your coming holidays, everyone. Eat, read, and be thankful.
A great way to support Graywolf Press is to join their Galley Club. You get 6 pre-published titles and $120 of the cost is tax deductible and supports their efforts. I have been doing this for over 2 years and have found all galleys sent thought provoking. Here is the link if you are interested. https://graywolfpress.salsalabs.org/galleyclub/index.html
Graywolf has been on my reading radar for years with two of my favorite authors: Sven Birkerts and Per Petterson.