In Book Swap, a Reader staffer recommends two to five books and then asks a local wordsmith, literary enthusiast, or publishing-adjacent professional to do the same. In this week’s edition, Reader culture editor Aimee Levitt trades recommendations with Northwestern professor, Algren scholar, and fellow Rogers Parker Bill Savage.
Bill Savage, professor, Algren scholar, Rogers Park resident
Daniel Kay Hertz’s The Battle of Lincoln Park rocks: clean prose, tight focus, deep research, and it’s as much about Now as Then. He tells a never-ending tale: gentrification and the intellectual incoherence of people who move into a neighborhood because it’s diverse and interesting, and then labor mightily to make it less so.
Property values matter less in Theodore C. Van Alst Jr.’s Sacred Smokes. This book literally hit me close to home, with stories set in my native Rogers Park. But the first-person point of view (a Native American gangbanger up to . . . if not no good, indifferent good at best) could not be further from my own experience. Meanwhile, Laura Adamczyk’s Hardly Children hooked me with the first line of its first story: “If asked, I will not say that I love children.” Damn. That sentence could lead anywhere.
In comics, I’m a DCU guy, but Eve L. Ewing and Luciano Vecchio’s new ongoing Marvel series Ironheart should be on every Chicagoan’s pull list. Two issues in, a crucial theme: people (villains and victims alike) get her superhero name wrong, calling her “Irongirl” or “Little Iron” or “Iron Chick,” and Riri Williams (King College Prep alumna!) corrects them. What might seem to be a mere running gag evokes serious issues of misogyny and misogynoir: whether she just kicked your ass or saved your ass, it’s basic respect to get her damn name right. Back in the DCU, read Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Batman Damned, a limited series. Bermejo’s nightmarish Gotham cityscapes are unparalleled, and Azzarello’s stories always reveal the essential realities of mythic superheroes.
Aimee Levitt, Reader culture editor
Both The Battle of Lincoln Park and Hardly Children have been on my to-be-read pile for months. (My copy of The Battle of Lincoln Park is literally six inches from me as I type this.) But books I actually own get superseded by library books, which have built-in deadlines. So instead I read American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson by Peter Kurth. Thompson was an American foreign correspondent and journalist during the first half of the 20th century and an all-around badass. She was especially prescient about the dangers of Nazism, so much so that Hitler expelled her from Germany in 1934. “Who Goes Nazi?,” an essay she wrote in 1941, is just as applicable today; as Thompson wrote, “Nazism has nothing to do with race and nationality. It appeals to a certain type of mind.” And that certain type of mind hasn’t gone away, even if Hitler has.
I wanted to read Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road because its author, Kate Harris, was obsessed with Marco Polo as a kid and wanted to become an explorer and so did I! Except Harris actually got her childhood best friend to ride the Silk Road with her—well, from Istanbul to Leh, India, with a detour across Tibet—while I merely read about it, mostly on the el train to work. (Sometimes, though, I check the weather in Samarkand and imagine I’m there.) The lovely thing about this book was that it wasn’t a chest-beating account of adventure. It was more of a meditation on the nature of exploring and inner wildness. I thought about that the other day when I took my dog out for a walk on the lakefront. The ice and snow had made strange and beautiful sculptures and markings on the ground. We were three blocks from home, but we were also explorers in another country. I think I have Kate Harris to thank for that. v