Books to read in 2014
The books we're looking forward to reading in 2014 include new Stuart Dybek, Cristina Henríquez, Haruki Murakami and more
Wed Jan 8 2014
From Going Clear to Tenth of December, from The Flamethrowers to less-talked-about-but-no-less-brilliant books (i.e., Mindsploitation), 2013 was a good year for reading. 2014 carries on strong, with a slew of noteworthy debut novels, new works by local authors and fresh fiction by familiar names such as E.L. Doctorow, Haruki Murakami and Lorrie Moore. With all the staring at screens we do, our resolution is to better balance a mostly web-based media diet with a healthy serving of escapist lit—both smart fiction and transporting nonfiction. No disrespect to e-readers, but we're talking real books on real paper. Printed matter. Gutenberg shit. Here's what will top our bedside stack of books this year. (It's a tall stack.)
Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart (Random House, $27) The satirical novelist and prolific blurber's first memoir recalls his aspirations, struggles and family's immigration to the U.S. from the Soviet Union. Out now.
Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen (Riverhead, $16) Examining the arrest and incarceration of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, which captured international attention, this book by a Russian-American journalist was published early due to two members' release from prison. Out now.
A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World by Rachel Cantor (Melville House, $16.95) In a future world where competing fast-food factions rule, an employee at a pizza chain manages the complaints hotline. It's a mind-numbing job—until he's contacted by a 13th-century explorer named Marco. Drawing comparisons to A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, this debut novel sounds anything but boring. Jan 14.
The Last Days of California by Mary Miller (Liveright, $24.95) We enjoyed Miller's story collection, Big World, and don't want to be left behind in reading her first novel, about a family from Montgomery, Alabama, on a westward road trip in anticipation of the Rapture. Jan 20.
Andrew's Brain by E.L. Doctorow (Random House, $26) Exploring themes of truth and memory, Doctorow tells the story of a man with a habit of wreaking havoc. Jan 26.
Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball (Pantheon, $23.95) The Chicago-based author of Samedi the Deafness and The Curfew returns with a story of the "Narito Disappearances," in which eight people vanish from their homes in the same Japanese town, a single playing card left on each door. A journalist—also named Jesse Ball—is swept into the case. Jan 28.
A Life in Men by Gina Frangello (Algonquin, $15) The Chicago novelist, editor of The Nervous Breakdown and Sunday Editor of The Rumpus publishes her third book of fiction, about a woman with cystic fibrosis attempting to understand why a relationship with her best friend unraveled years prior—an investigation that leads to both questionable decisions and valuable discoveries. Feb 4.
The Dismal Science by Peter Mountford (Tin House, $15.95) A novel about identity, rationality and starting over, Mountford's book follows a former VP at the World Bank as he tries to rebuild his life following a series of scandals and losses. Feb 11.
Bark by Lorrie Moore (Knopf, $24.95) Moore is often praised for her humor but we find many of her stories depressing. In particular, her most recent novel, A Gate at the Stairs, felt emotionally unsatisfying. That said, we're still eager to read her first new collection in 15 years. The form suits her. Less is Moore. Feb 26.
A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man by Holly George-Warren (Viking, $27.95) The first biography of the teen rock star, Big Star frontman, dishwasher and influential solo artist (in that order) was written by a Chilton acquaintance and draws on interviews with more than 100 bandmates, family members and friends. In the words of Big Star: Thank you, friends. Mar 20.
Every Day Is for the Thief by Teju Cole (Random House, $23) Revised and updated, this 2007 book by Nigerian-American writer Cole (Open City) was originally published in Africa and now makes its highly anticipated English-language debut. Mar 25.
You Feel So Mortal by Peggy Shinner (University of Chicago Press, $22) In a series of essays, the Chicago-based writer considers the body through various lenses—historical, social and political—and via topics such as bras, feet and hair. Apr 1.
Let Go and Go On and On by Tim Kinsella (Curbside Splendor, $15,95) We're fascinated by the premise of Kinsella's second novel, a fictional riff on what happened to real-life cult actress Laurie Bird, who appeared in the films Two Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter and Annie Hall before committing suicide at age 26. Told in the second person, the novel considers the timeless lure of celebrity. Apr 15.
Walter Potter's Curious World of Taxidermy by Dr. Pat Morris with Joanna Epstein (Blue Rider Press, $19.95) We wish we could go back in time and visit the quirky collection of curios of Walter Potter, a country taxidermist who created storybook-like scenes of kitten tea parties and sword-fighting squirrels. This book, stocked with photos, is the next best thing. Apr 17.
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris (Little, Brown, $26) This novel follows the life of Paul O'Rourke, a man of many contradictions (i.e., a dentist who smokes), as someone begins to impersonate him online—and pretty well, creepily enough. It considers the real versus the virtual aspects of everyday life, and the absurdity of both. May 6.
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay (Grove Press, $16) In her first novel, Gay—co-editor of PANK, essays editor for The Rumpus and teacher at Eastern Illinois University (among other things; she's everywhere!)—writes of a Haitian woman kidnapped for ransom, and what happens when her father refuses to pay her captors. May 6.
The WORN Archive: A Fashion Journal about the Art, Ideas, & History of What We Wear by Serah-Marie McMahon (Drawn and Quarterly, $29.95) This best-of collection of the smart Canadian fashion journal explores the places where fashion, art and pop culture intersect. Seems like a must-read for people who love clothes but, for example, hate the word "clothes horse." May 6.
The 40s: The Story of a Decade by the New Yorker Magazine (Random House, $30) This portrait of an endlessly fascinating decade, from the perspective of The New Yorker, features contributors old and new, including Elizabeth Bishop, John Cheever, Shirley Jackson, Jill Lepore, Susan Orlean and Zadie Smith. May 6.
Once I Was Cool by Megan Stielstra (Curbside Splendor, $15.95) The seasoned storyteller—who, in addition to teaching and writing, has performed at Chicago's 2nd Story storytelling series for more than a decade—presents a collection of personal essays that sounds quite cool. May 13.
Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush by Geoff Dyer (Pantheon, $24.95) The veteran writer recalls his time aboard the American aircraft carrier and his lifelong fascination with military service. May 20.
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez (Knopf, $24.95) The Chicago writer's highly anticipated novel tells the love story of a Pananamian boy and Mexican girl—the latter of whom suffers a near-fatal accident—and the language, racial and cultural obstacles their families face in America. Jun 3.
Paper Lantern: Love Stories by Stuart Dybek (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24) The distinguished author of I Sailed with Magellan and The Coast of Chicago publishes a collection of love stories, the titular one of which first appeared in The New Yorker in 1995. Jun 3.
Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey (FSG Originals, $14) In this new novel, a woman abruptly leaves her life in Manhattan, including a husband who has no idea what happened to her, on a one-way flight to New Zealand. There, she drifts farther into unknown territory—emotionally, mentally, as well as physically. Jul 8.
California by Edan Lepucki (Little, Brown, $26) Lepucki's debut is an inventive take on the post-apocalytic novel, about a couple who moves from an isolated existence in the wilderness to a guarded community that, they soon realize, harbors terrifying secrets and unforeseen dangers. We'll probably read this one on the morning commute instead of at bedtime. Jul 8.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, $25) The English translation of the latest work by the much-loved Japanese writer arrives this summer. Thousands of people lined up at Tokyo bookstores at midnight to buy a copy. Aug 12.
Ancient Oceans of Kentucky by David Connerley Nahm (Two Dollar Radio, $15.50) Exploring small-town life in the middle of Kentucky, this debut novel tells the story of Leah, whose brother, Jacob, disappeared during their childhood. Now, as an adult, she directs a nonprofit organization, and a man shows up at work claiming to be Jacob. We anticipate a haunting and riveting read. Aug 12.
The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin (Dutton, $27.95) What can we distractible types learn from those who manage to stay focused in a hyperconnected, details-drenched, technology-dependent world? Levitin lets us know. Aug 19.
The Fame Lunches: On Wounded Icons, Money, Sex, the Importance of Handbags, and Other Cultural Inquiries by Daphne Merkin (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27) The former New Yorker columnist examines faded icons, famous writers and the pervasive desire for celebrity in our present world. Aug 19.
A Load of Hooey by Bob Odenkirk (McSweeney's, $24) We're not quite sure what to expect from this first book by the hilarious comedian-writer, which promises to contain absurdist monologues, intentionally bad theater and "free-verse more powerful than the work of Calvin Trillin, Jewel and Robert Louis Stevenson combined"—besides utter hilarity. Sept 9.
A Different Bed Every Time by Jac Jemc (Dzanc Books, price not yet listed) Following her highly praise poetic novel, My Only Wife, the Chicago writer, poetry editor of decomP and fiction web editor for Hobart returns with a story collection this fall. Don't miss it. October.
RECOMMENDED: Best books of 2013