Kathleen Kuiper, Senior editor of arts and culture at Encyclopaedia Britannica, saw:

Agitprop at the Art Institute

This is not the pick-me-up show of the summer, but the Art Institute’s excellent exhibition “Windows on the War” is worth a visit. The oversize posters that constitute the show, long buried in the museum vaults, are gruesome and harrowing, and not for the fainthearted. Wolves, pigs, and monsters of all sorts bear the caricatured face of the maniacal ruler of the Third Reich. German soldiers are brutal buffoons. I left the show admiring the skill and dedication of the Soviet artists—they produced nearly a poster a day for the duration of the war—and their propaganda hit its mark. Yet (if you’re like me) you’ll leave disturbed by the nature of propaganda. (If only we could recognize our human monsters before they wreaked havoc. Hitler was unquestionably a monster, but he looked just like us. That’s the scary thing.)

Alex Shakar, author of

Luminarium, couldn’t put down:

Stacey Levine’s The Girl With Brown Fur

I just finished this new story collection and can say with certainty you won’t find anything else like it. To say they’re like Kafka’s stories would get at some of the dreamlike atmospherics, but miss Levine’s own peculiar wit and humor. Her sentences are inspired by the naive stylistics of 1950s nurse novels, but manage to be supremely weird and beautiful nonetheless. Her characters live small lives in surreally twisted worlds—forests inhabited by grandmothers who sprout parthenogenetically from identical grandmothers; families so tight-knit they go wild with joy when their children intermarry, then wild with rage when those same children want to move down the block. One story is about a rather depressed bean. Human or legume, these are simple folk, but with complexes that focus us on our own.

Philip Dawkins, author of The Homosexuals (closing this week at the Victory Gardens Theater), read:

The Normal Heart and The Destiny of Me by Larry Kramer (foreword by Tony Kushner)

Since I couldn’t afford a trip to New York to see Larry Kramer’s or Tony Kushner’s plays, I stopped by Unabridged and bought two plays by the former with an introduction by the latter. The Grove Press edition of The Normal Heart and its companion piece The Destiny of Me includes a thesis-esque introduction from Kushner that’s so charged it almost makes the edition feel like a trilogy. Reading Kushner’s observations on these plays felt like listening in on a conversation between two of the smartest men still writing about the AIDS pandemic. Taken together, their words gave me new perspective on a play I thought I knew. At play’s end, I was reduced to a mess of tears and pain, but a return to Kushner’s words helped me figure out what to do with those tears. These are necessary plays, and I’m glad I now own them, to place on my shelf like scripture, for whenever I lose my way.