Chris Skoglund’s Best Reads of 2016

skoglund
Photo by Katie Barthelemy

My name is Chris Skoglund, and I am the librarian at Willard Elementary School in Evanston, where I have worked for almost thirteen years.  I am an avid reader of books for both children and adults (which made picking only five books really difficult), so I consider myself to have the best job in the world!

1)  Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016)

An extraordinary mix of historical fiction and science fiction, this novel drew me in and would not let me go.  Full of elegant imagery and characters that will linger in your mind long after the story is finished, each element worked seamlessly together.

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Eric Robb’s Best Reads of 2016

eric-robbMy name is Eric Robb.  I am a resident of Evanston and work as an associate teacher at Baker Demonstration School.  Outside of my teaching duties, I volunteer for the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club – an organization that supports triathletes with disabilities.  My duties include fundraising as well as guiding and supporting athletes with a diverse array of disabilities toward their athletic goals.  I spend what free time I have left playing either guitar, bass guitar, or piano.

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1)  A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)

This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, so much so that this was actually my second time reading through it.  Toole’s main character, Ignatius Reilly, who considers himself a great misunderstood genius of his time, provides a perfect mixture of highbrow humor and slapstick comedy.

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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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Talking with Geralyn Hesslau Magrady, the 2016 Soon To Be Famous Illinois Author

Magrady Headshot
Author Geralyn Hesslau Magrady

The Soon To Be Famous Illinois Author Project recently announced the 2016 winner of its annual writing competition, and now your list of “must-read” books is officially one title longer.  Choosing from the best self-published fiction Illinois writers have to offer, librarians throughout the state selected Geralyn Hesslau Magrady as this year’s winning author for her excellent historical novel Lines–.  Set in 1870s-era Chicago and filled with incredible period detail, Magrady’s book explores the historical struggles for workers’ rights and gender equality while tracing the life of Livia Haas – a young German woman who experiences first love and terrible loss while surviving both the Great Fire and the Haymarket Affair.  Though her summer is packed with statewide book readings and signings, Magrady recently paused to speak with us via email about her contest experience, her real-life inspiration for Livia Haas, research at the Berwyn Public Library, Emily Dickinson, and what she hopes readers will take away from Lines–.

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Rosie Roche’s Best Reads of 2014

rosieMy name is Rosie Roche.  I have lived in Evanston for 8 years and have worked for the city and NU as an educator and teaching artist. I have 2 young boys who love the library and ask to visit at least once a week. I have never seen such an impressive public library and consider it a gem in Evanston’s crown in terms of inviting space, helpfulness of staff and breadth of collection.

1) The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014)

Her mastery is to write short stories that are intriguing and compelling to read and – in a way that is hard to pinpoint – leave the reader unsettled and disturbed. I see images from the stories at the most unexpected times, many months after reading them. She is so cutting in her condemnation that I wince and laugh to read them.

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There’s More Than Crime in Scandinavia

If you’re a connoisseur of fine Scandinavian crime fiction, 2011 has given you plenty more to enjoy.  Back in March, for instance, genre forefather Henning Mankell wrapped up his wildly-popular Kurt Wallander series with The Troubled Man, and a mere two months later rising star Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman finally hit U.S. shores.  Now with Hollywood’s take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hitting theaters in just a few short days, crime fiction lovers are likely giddy with their good fortune.  But what if you’re not a fan?  What if you’ve yet to acquire that particular taste for dark Nordic mysteries?  Well worry not, gentle reader, for there’s more than one dish cooking in Scandinavia’s literary kitchen.  Truth be told, the Scandinavian lit scene is a veritable smorgasbord of top-notch sci-fi, satire, historical and literary fiction, horror, and more.  So don’t delay in sampling Scandinavia’s full fiction menu.  The following list will get you started, but there is still plenty more to discover.

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Happy National Coffee Day!

If you’re looking to justify your second or sixth cup of coffee this morning, then my friend, you’re in luck.  Today from Philly to Phoenix and St. Paul to San Antone java junkies are hoisting their ceramic mugs high in celebration of National Coffee Day.  For the next twenty-four glorious hours, you can feel free to throw caution to the wind and make that extra coffee run, upsize to the venti, and drink in all the holiday cheer.  Chances are good, however, that after sipping Americanos all afternoon you’ll need some way to occupy your time as you lie awake into the wee hours humming with caffeine.  So as our holiday gift to you, allow us to present the following coffee-related books and movies in honor of today and your future sleepless night.  Without question, these histories, mysteries, travelogues, and thrillers are sure to become part of your Coffee Day traditions for years to come.

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Geraldine Brooks’ Latest Novel Debuts

Geraldine Brooks’ new novel is out and it sounds, like her other works, different and highly original. Caleb’s Crossing centers around the first American Indian to attend Harvard. The Pulitzer winner set this book in Martha’s Vineyard during the 17th century. (EPL has ordered it.)

Shira S.

An Interview with Tim W. Brown

Author Tim W. Brown reads at EPL on May 5th at 7 p.m.

Tim W. Brown is not an author to limit himself to a single genre.  In Second Acts – Brown’s latest novel following Deconstruction Acres (1997), Left of the Loop (2001), and Walking Man (2008) – the long-time Chicagoan and current New Yorker effortlessly blends sci-fi and western elements into the comic historical tale of Dan Connor, a 21st-century slacker who time travels to 1830s America in search of his adulterous wife.  Winner of the 2010 London Book Festival Award for General Fiction, Second Acts is a sly, satirical page-turner in the vein of Mark Twain that is guaranteed to leave readers laughing and thinking.  On Thursday, May 5th, you can hear Mr. Brown read from Second Acts when he visits EPL’s 1st Floor Community Meeting Room at 7 p.m. along with local author Paul McComas.  In anticipation of his visit, we recently spoke with him via email about his extensive research for Second Acts, Potawatomi berdaches, second chances in American life, and what he’s working on next.

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PS to Haggadah Post …

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (who won a Pulitzer for her 2006 work March) is a work of fiction based on the Sarajevo Hagadah. This is the only significant novel about hagadot I was able to find. One of the earliest illuminated Jewish manuscripts, the priceless antique haggadah serves as the vehicle for a 500-year worldwide journey tracing its ownership in an exciting adventure that takes Hanna Heath, an Australian rare book expert, to Europe in 1996. For more details, click on the author’s name above. Click here for the NY Times review in 2008.

Shira S.