In Book Swap, a regular feature that is entirely unique, about books, and not at all related to the music feature In Rotation, a Reader staffer recommends three to five books and then asks a local wordsmith, literary enthusiast, or publishing-adjacent professional to do the same. It is awesome. Way better than it would be if it were about records.
In our inaugural edition, editor in chief Anne Elizabeth Moore swaps book suggestions with Salem Collo-Julin, a writer, comedian, and artist who lives in New City, a community area on the southwest side. From 2000 to 2014, Collo-Julin collaborated with the artists Brett Bloom and Marc Fischer in the art and publishing collective Temporary Services, and she cofounded the publishing imprint Half Letter Press. She was one of the “keyholders” at Mess Hall, the Rogers Park experimental cultural center that closed in 2013 after offering completely free programming for ten years.
Anne Elizabeth Moore, Reader editor in chief
I read two incredible books this fall by Chicagoans:
Selling the Race by Adam Green, a narrative about black Chicago in the 1940s and ’50s, with a gripping (yes!) publishing procedural on the Associated Negro Press and the founding of Johnson Publishing. Published in 2007 by the University of Chicago Press, it is written in incredibly lively prose that’s a sheer joy to soak in.
On Immunity: An Inoculation, Eula Biss’s 2014 Graywolf Press book, is a series of personal essays that tease through notions of illness, politics, care work, and vaccinations to pose questions about what makes us feel safe. I loved the way Biss infused research into the story of the birth of her first child—although not being the childbearing type I was less compelled by her descriptions of maternity. Her arguments about immunity are nonetheless compelling: that it is a “shared space,” truly public, and one that will only last if we tend it together.
Earlier this summer, OR Books rereleased one of the most influential books I have ever read: How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Matellart, which was originally published in Chile in 1971. The Chilean navy dumped the entire third printing into the ocean and burned all previous editions, yet the book and its steady narration of the economic infrastructure that underlies the Disney comics have persisted—and may be more relevant than ever. If you haven’t read it yet but have ever in your life experienced a Disney media product, the clarity of this book nearly five decades on might stun you.
I asked Salem for a few Chicago book reccos because she too just returned to the city after some years away.
Salem Collo-Julin, writer, comedian, and artist
Two or three books for Chicagoans who want some context (but not knowledge or clarity, because Chicago is not something one can understand by reading nor love by proxy):
The Chicago Race Riots: July, 1919 by Carl Sandburg (Dover Books reprinted this in 2013). The city was angry at itself, littered with knives, and anxious. Thousands of black workers at the stockyards lost their jobs when white veterans of WWI returned and forced them out. A black boy was killed on the beach, riots ensued, knives were grabbed and distributed, and by the end of it all, 38 people were dead. There is a good new book about this (A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 by Claire Hartfield, published early 2018 by Clarion Books), but pick up the Sandburg first so you can transport yourself to early Chicago. These were columns Sandburg posted for the Chicago Daily News at the time, and some are raw, so you might want to take breaks with poetry. Sandburg’s own poems “At a Window” and “Bricklayer Love” should shake you out of it. See also my friend Melinda Fries’s publication The Red Summer Self-Guided Walking Tour: Chicago (viewable at https://temporaryservices.org/served/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Red_Summer_72.pdf).
To Be Young, Gifted and Black, by Lorraine Hansberry (the “informal autobiography” has several reprints, including a Signet Classics version from 2011 that has a nice intro by James Baldwin). Hansberry’s letters, notes from journals, and bits and pieces were curated into this portrait by her longtime friend and ex-husband shortly after her death in 1965. This was a play first, but I prefer reading the book version. These sometimes furious and sometimes longing interior dialogues between Lorraine and the universe will give you a entry point into what makes the soul of a Chicagoan—a belly that is hungry for justice and peace, a mind that is filled with guideposts to home. A bonus suggestion for those who prefer their agitators to have both big minds and big hearts: follow this one up with Fire on the Prairie: Chicago’s Harold Washington and the Politics of Race by [longtime Reader contributor] Gary Rivlin (Henry Holt, 1992).
. . . And two suggestions for everyone who wants some love (but not clarity or context because love is not something one can understand by analysis or education):
Audre Lorde’s books (Sister Outsider, especially the essay “Poetry is not a Luxury,” and don’t sleep on her Collected Poems, especially “Recreation”) may seem like they are for someone specific from some specific time, but really, they are for you and you need to pick them up already.
The Wisdom of Sun Ra (edited by my friend Anthony Elms and the almighty John Corbett for Whitewalls, 2006) will give you something to quietly memorize while you’re waiting for the mother ship to pull up. v