Jay Robinson’s Best Reads of 2016

3_headshot-2016-jayMy name is Jay Robinson.  I am an industrial designer for Robinson Design – my own consultancy firm that creates interiors for private aircraft. Five years ago I moved with my family from Andersonville to Evanston, and I couldn’t be happier to be part of this amazing community. In my spare time I enjoy reading, cooking, listening to podcasts, and obsessing over home improvement projects.

1)  Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (2015)

This is a sprawling, old-school hard-science-fiction novel packed to the gunwales with ideas. Set before and after a freak event creates a cataclysm on Earth, it subjects its characters to a gantlet of perils which they must overcome with wit, determination, and limited resources. A good one for fans of The Martian.

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Gail Schechter’s Best Reads of 2016

gail-schecterMy name is Gail Schechter.  I am a co-founder of the newly launched Addie Wyatt Center for Nonviolence Training in Chicago, aiming to create a culture of peace in the region starting with our city and suburban high schools, including Evanston Township High School.  From 1993 to 2016, I served as Executive Director of Open Communities, the north suburban Chicago area’s housing, economic and social justice organization.  By appointment of former Governor Pat Quinn, I sit in the “affordable housing advocate” seat of the State Housing Appeals Board, the enforcement body for the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act whose passage, I am proud to say, was led by north suburban elected officials.  I also serve on the Board of Directors of Chicago Area Peace Action.  I have taught graduate courses in public policy and civic engagement for Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies.  Most recently, I authored the definitive history of the North Shore Summer Project and its evolution into Open Communities for The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Activism in the North.  I was born and raised in New York City and have two children.  While most people know me as a community organizer and fair and affordable housing advocate, I’m also an active clarinetist – and an avid reader.

1)  Where Do We Go From Here?: Chaos or Community by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968)

This year I read all five of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s books starting with his first, Stride Toward Freedom, his description of the Montgomery bus boycott that launched the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks as the catalyst for this major nonviolent direct action led by African Americans, and Dr. King himself into national prominence.  Where Do We Go From Here? is his last complete book and a work of profound wisdom about racial reconciliation that resonates today.  Dr. King writes from the vantage point of distress about white backlash to freedom movement gains; African American anger that manifested itself in the Black Power Movement; and the tragic eclipsing of a unified, national push for anti-poverty programs by the Vietnam War.  If anything, toward the end of his life Dr. King was even more convinced of the power of nonviolence.  He presented our national challenge as a choice between “nonviolent coexistence” or “violent coannhiliation.”  He could have been describing himself when he wrote, “Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus but a molder of consensus.”

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Hilde Kaiser’s Best Reads of 2016

image1My name is Hilde Kaiser.  I live in northwest Evanston where I am a Jill-of-all-trades: writer, lead parent, certified Nia instructor, student of earth medicine, knitter, film buff, and home baker, with a bundle of volunteer work thrown in (all in the domain of parenting, education, and personal development). My idea of heaven is reading a book at the Evanston lakefront with a little something to eat from Hewn bakery.  As an avid reader (75 books so far this year) I am grateful for our area libraries and their superb programming (hey, how about Our Mutual Friend for Mission: Impossible?). My secret confession is that my favorite thing to read is “The Traffic Guy” column in The Round Table.

1)  Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton (2016)

I’m not above choosing a book by its cover, and the lush, evocative, and eccentric portrait of its subject, Margaret Cavendish, convinced me to pick this novella up, knowing nothing about it.  It’s so pretty.  It’s one of my favorite books of the year because I’m still thinking about this poetic, experimental, slightly odd gem of a historical novel that deserves lots of readers.  “Mad Madge” was a 17th-century proto-feminist who was one of the first women to publish under her own name and to earn a living by writing.  She also dressed herself on her own terms – crowds assembled to see what she was wearing when she went out for walk.  There’s a fab article in the New Yorker on the book as an example of “archival historical fiction” (as opposed to “realistic historical fiction”).  Which is another way of warning you this book is anything but straightforward, but it is one-of-a-kind, like its subject.  And the language is oh-so-pretty, like the cover.

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John Manos’s Best Reads of 2016

john-manosMy name is John Manos, and I’ve lived in Evanston since 1976.  My mother grew up here (her father was an architect named Joseph Bristle who designed many homes and other buildings in the northwest part of town), and I had relatives who spent their lives here.  I’m a self-employed writer and editor.  My novel Dialogues of a Crime was included by Kirkus Reviews among their “best books of 2013.”  I’ve written other books, a couple of movies that never made it to the theaters, and the documentary The History of the Horse for Luminair Films in Chicago.  I am also a professional guitar player and a gardener.



1)  The North Water by Ian MacGuire (2016)

This is a very dark book but a tremendous exploration of the true nature of evil.  I agreed with the author’s definition – a willingness to follow every impulse that satisfies personal desires, regardless of the consequences for others.  The writing is exceptionally good, and the structure is as complex and thoughtfully layered as such great novels as Disgrace by Coetzee.

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Local Art @ EPL: Anthony Stetina


We are pleased to welcome Vietnam veteran and Chicagoland photographer Anthony Stetina as the next featured artist in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL.  His show is currently on display on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Library where you can catch it through the end of December.  Featuring photos taken in 1967 during “non-stressful situations” in South Vietnam’s Central Highlands, the exhibit superimposes black-and-white images of military equipment and Stetina’s Army buddies with snapshots of Vietnam’s people and landscape.  Thought-provoking, moving, and sometimes haunting, Stetina’s exhibit is not to be missed.

Sara Grady’s Best Reads of 2016

sg-treeMy name is Sara Grady, and I’m a former engineer with the heart of a poet.  As a Road Scholar with the Illinois Humanities Council, I travel the state talking about how stories, myths, and words influence our culture and communities.  I love language, breathe books, and teach science writing at Northwestern University.  I wish I had a green thumb.




1)  The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf (2015)

You’ve probably never heard of Alexander von Humbolt, and neither had I.  But his prolific, revolutionary nature writing and scientific explorations inspired a 19th century whos-who, from Charles Darwin and Thomas Jefferson to Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Muir.  Wulf’s detailed biography reads like a novel and quickens the senses like the very best nature writing can.  Rightfully winning a glut of prizes this year, it is a delightful read — and now I truly appreciate the namesake of one of my favorite Chicago parks.

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EPL’s Best Reads of 2016

book-loverWe’ve turned Thanksgiving to leftovers, cyber shopped ’til we’ve cyber dropped, and now at long last, our “most wonderful time of the year” has finally arrived. That’s right, ’tis the season for “Best Book” lists, and much to our page-turning delight, the NY Times, NPR, and many others will soon be casting their votes for the top reads of 2016. In fact, we’re so excited for the coming of the lists that this year we’re adding a local flavor to “Best Books” season. Throughout December, we’ll be featuring real-life EPL patrons and their favorite 2016 reads regardless of what years their picks were published. So grab a pen, grab some paper, and get ready to visit Off the Shelf early and often. Thanks to your fellow Evanston bookworms, your next favorite read is likely right around the corner.

Author Event: ‘The Secrets of Story’

secretsofstoryAttention all Chicagoland writers!  Don’t miss Evanston author Matt Bird when he visits EPL this Thursday at 7 pm to discuss his invaluable new book The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers.  Described as “a certifiable writing-craft genius” by Arthur A. Levine Books editor Cheryl Klein, Bird holds an MFA in screenwriting from Columbia University and writes the popular blog Cockeyed Caravan.  In The Secrets of Story, he offers comprehensive, audience-focused strategies for becoming a master novelist, storyteller, or screenwriter using innovative tools such as his Ultimate Story Checklist.  Bird will take questions following his presentation, and copies of The Secrets of Story will be available to purchase courtesy of Bookends & Beginnings.  Reserve your seat today!

An Interview with Poet Amy Newman


If Amy Newman’s On This Day in Poetry History is topping your must-read list, you’re certainly not alone.  Poetry lovers here at EPL have been clamoring for a copy since the summer, and demand for her follow-up to Dear Editor only continues to grow.  Described as a “dazzling new collection” by the NY Times, On This Day in Poetry History finds Newman exploring the lives of poetry heavyweights such as Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Berryman in search of that elusive “moment when a person becomes a poet.”  A wholly innovative mix of biography and stunning verse, Newman’s latest showcases what Image praised as her “true mastery [of the] ability to play with language.”  We recently spoke with the Northern Illinois University professor via email about rediscovering poetry in Manhattan, the history and allure of the “Confessional” poets, the challenges of biographical poetry, and how her favorite poem from the book came into being.

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Book Trailer of the Week

Our latest Book Trailer of the Week is for Amor Towles’ stylish new novel A Gentleman in Moscow.  Already a NY Times bestseller, the novel follows Count Alexander Rostov after a 1922 Bolshevik tribunal orders him to spend the rest of his life inside the luxury Metropol hotel for being an unrepentant aristocrat.  Described by theSkimm as crossing The Grand Budapest Hotel and Eloise with all the Bond villains, A Gentleman in Moscow is Rules of Civility-author Towles at his best.  Don’t miss it.