Arts & Culture » Lit Feature

Our favorite books of 2014

A look back at the year in words, from the best reads by Chicago authors to new bookstores and live-lit events

by

comment

Year In Review

In the book world, 2014 will be remembered as the year when Amazon and Hachette spent 11 months fighting about whether the retailer or the publisher had the right to set prices on e-books. Karl Ove Knausgaard became famous for writing a six-volume autobiographical novel and Lena Dunham got a lot of attention for her essay collection Not That Kind of Girl, but it was really the year of Roxane Gay, who not only published her own essay collection (Bad Feminist), but also a novel (An Untamed State).

The Chicago book world was a little quieter. Local publisher Curbside Splendor continued to grow and throw the city's best book-release parties, and even put out a cassingle. (Among its more notable titles by Chicago authors were The Old Neighborhood by Bill Hillmann, Let Go and Go On and On by Tim Kinsella, Losing Gainesville by Brian Costello, Once I Was Cool by Megan Stielstra, and Where To: A Hack Memoir by Dmitry Samarov.) HoZac Records branched out into publishing too, with its first book, Noise in My Head: Voices From the Ugly Australian Underground. Although the venerable Encyclopedia Show ended its five-year run, several more live-lit series—including Story Luck, Story Collector Presents, and the Marrow—rose to take its place.

Women & Children First got new owners. The Seminary Co-op and 57th Street Books got a new manager. Roscoe Village got a new shop, Roscoe Books. And the city's book buyers got the first Independent Bookstore Day, during which the stores celebrated and sang themselves with special events, discounts, and gifts.

But most of all, Chicagoans wrote and read, and some wrote in the Reader about what they read. Here are some of the books from local writers and publishers that our reviewers particularly liked.

Joel Greenberg's A Feathered River Across the Sky eloquently mourned the demise of the passenger pigeon in time for the hundredth anniversary of its extinction. This year marked another important centennial, the opening of Wrigley Field, but the best local sports book was Outsider Baseball, Scott Simkus's enthusiastic exploration of the lesser-known minor leagues during the first 75 years of professional baseball.

In The Answer to the Riddle Is Me, David MacLean rose to the challenge of writing a memoir about not being able to remember. Peggy Shinner used her body as a jumping-off point to examine her own life and also the world in the essays in You Feel So Mortal. And in On Immunity , a study of vaccination, Eula Biss established herself as one of the smartest "citizen-thinkers" (in the words of her editor) working today.

Two short-story writers, one an established master, the other a newcomer, pushed the form into unfamiliar territory: Stuart Dybek with Paper Lantern and Ecstatic Cahoots, his first collections in ten years, and Jac Jemc with A Different Bed Every Time, her first ever.

In Bedrock Faith and The Hundred Year House, novelists Eric May and Rebecca Makkai explored the secrets hidden in a south-side neighborhood and an old North Shore mansion, while in The Book of Unknown Americans and Pioneer Girl, Cristina Henríquez and Bich Minh Nguyen delved into the secret lives and dreams of immigrants.

A new edition of the venerable AIA Guide to Chicago showed us the way to some interesting corners of our city. Anthropologist Laurence Ralph settled into one of those corners for Renegade Dreams, an in-depth study of gang life. Anna Blessing, meanwhile, set out across the midwest to study microbreweries, reporting her findings in Locally Brewed.

Rick Perlstein continued his history of the rise of conservatism in America with The Invisible Bridge, which covers the advent of Ronald Reagan. Edie Fake produced a history of LGBT Chicago in comic form with Memory Palaces. And Monte Beauchamp and Hillary Chute each contributed a history of the comics form itself, he with the graphic history Masterful Marks, she with the interview collection Outside the Box.

Finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention The Carnival at Bray, Jessie Ann Foley's first novel, a lovely coming-of-age story set on the northwest side and in Dublin, which got its start five years ago as the winner of our annual fiction contest. Speaking of which: Foley's the judge of this year's contest, the winners of which will be announced in just a few weeks. And so begins another year in Chicago books.

Correction: This story has been amended to correct the title of Jac Jemc's short story collection.

Add a comment