Since the last embers of 2015 died away, I have spent the past few days peering into the future of the nation’s bookshelves. Alas, I cannot see very much beyond June, and the status of The Winds of Winter, the latest in George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series (aka Game of Thrones) remains murky. But if you think you missed some of the finer plot points of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, boy do I have some good news for you: there are nearly 300 novelizations, encyclopedias, and visual dictionaries to help you out, not to mention an art-therapy coloring book (due 2/25, Egmont) and a new memoir by Carrie Fisher (The Princess Diarist, 4/26, Blue Rider)! If Star Wars isn’t quite your thing, I promise, there is an adult coloring book for whatever your thing happens to be. There’s also a glut of paleo cookbooks and neuroscientific explanations for any bizarre behavior you can think of.
Although the masochist in me is strangely drawn to Men Don’t Love Women Like You!: The Brutal Truth About Dating, Relationships, and How to Go from Placeholder to Game Changer by G.L. Lambert (2/9, Viceroy), I’m afraid I might not have time for it this year because there are too many other books I’m looking forward to. Darn! Anyway, here’s a list of 44 titles that have caught my attention. I’m sure it—and the tottering pile of books on my desk—is only going to grow.
Alive, Alive, Oh!: And Other Things That Matter by Diana Athill (1/4, Norton) Athill’s previous book, Somewhere Towards the End, was a refreshingly unsentimental reflection on her long life and the process of aging. Alive, Alive, Oh!, written when she was 98, promises more of the same—despite the crappy title and cover. (Why does everyone associate old women with purple flowers?)
My Kind of Sound: The Secret History of Chicago Music by Steve Krakow and J.C. Gabel (1/5, Curbside Splendor) Krakow, aka Plastic Crimewave, has been contributing the biweekly comic “The Secret History of Chicago Music” in the Reader since 2005. Here, at last, is a complete compendium.
Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics by Rick Shenkman (1/5, Basic) Of all the neuroscience-explains-everything books that are due out this year, this one seems like it will be of most practical use.
American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis (1/12, Doubleday) Sometimes you do want to judge a book by its cover, and also the author bio. Which is: “HELEN ELLIS is the acclaimed author of Eating the Cheshire Cat. She is a poker player who competes on the national tournament circuit.”
The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It . . . Every Time by Maria Konnikova (1/12, Viking) When I saw this title, I immediately thought of the el version of three-card Monte (with bottle caps and a tiny wad of paper), which appeared to be making a small a comeback this fall except that, unlike during the glory days of the 90s, el riders don’t carry that much cash and the hustlers don’t take debit or credit. But if they did, I’ll bet they would find plenty of suckers, even though everyone should know better.
The Name of God Is Mercy by Pope Francis (1/12, Random House) Francis speaks!
The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie (1/19, Penguin Press) Novels that make fun of the Way We Live Now, particularly the Way They Live Now in California (it’s cold and snowy as I write this and I am bitter), are always welcome, at least on my bookshelf.
The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship by Paul Lisicky (1/19, Graywolf) Lisicky’s essay about coming of age as a gay man during the AIDS crisis was one of the highlights, for me, of the anthology Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, so I’m really looking forward to this full-length memoir of his long friendship with a woman novelist and his relationship with his ex-husband.
Waiting for Buddy Guy: Chicago Blues at the Crossroads by Alan Harper (2/1, University of Illinois) Harper, an Englishman, traveled to Chicago in the late 1970s for the express purpose of listening to the blues. This is his chronicle of the city’s changing blues scene, from its southern black roots to its current guitar-centered, white-friendly incarnation.
Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis (2/2, Haymarket) Here’s a collection of essays by the longtime activist that attempt to make sense of the past two years.
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant (2/2, Viking) This winter’s most likely fodder for Internet think pieces and cocktail party conversation. Get on it so you, too, can have an informed opinion!
Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee (2/2, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) A frontier girl turned courtesan turned opera singer in 1850s Paris finally gets a starring role in an opera that, mysteriously, appears to be based on her secret, scandalous past.
Sing to Me: My Story of Making Music, Finding Magic, and Searching for Who’s Next by LA Reid (2/2, Harper) The legendary producer records his memoirs. With lots and lots of photos.
Wild by Nature: From Siberia to Australia, Three Years Alone in the Wilderness on Foot by Sarah Marquis (2/9, Thomas Dunne) I’m sure the use of the word “wild” in the title of this hiking memoir is not an accident. But I, for one, am always up for a good travel story, particularly if it involves Siberia. (Note: Marquis doesn’t walk from Thailand to Australia. She takes a boat.)
The Fugitives by Christopher Sorrentino (2/9, Simon & Schuster): The “fugitives” in the title are a Brooklyn novelist, a Chicago reporter, and an Ojibway storyteller, all hiding out in a small town in Michigan; the publisher promises it’s “a hell of a yarn.”
In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri (2/9, Knopf) Lahiri’s memoir of learning Italian, written in Italian and then translated (by Ann Goldstein). So meta!
The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray (2/9, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) The cover copy promises a blend of time travel, history, romance, and scientific mystery, with an appearance by Einstein. If it works, it sounds awesome.
My Father, the Pornographer by Chris Offutt (2/9, Atria) A short version of this memoir ran in the New York Times Magazine last year and was just as good as the title promised. Offutt’s father was, indeed, a prolific writer of porn, a job originally undertaken to pay orthodontist bills but which eventually took on a life of its own. After he died, he left Offutt 1,800 pounds of manuscripts to sort through, both physically and psychologically.
How to Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Tudor Life by Ruth Goodman (2/15, Liveright) Goodman is a British historical re-creator who knows the ins and outs of wearing corsets and going to the toilet in petticoats, not to mention how to survive coal smog, unrefrigerated food, and 19th-century sex and childbirth, subjects she covered in great and entertaining detail in her previous book, How to Be a Victorian (which also made me glad the experience of being Victorian was merely vicarious). I am expecting equally delightful things from her take on 16th-century Britain.
Painting the Gospel: Black Public Art and Religion in Chicago by Kymberly N. Pinder (2/15, University of Illinois) Here’s a tour of religious-themed public art on the south side, from stained glass and sculptures to contemporary street art, and an excellent excuse to get out and go exploring.
Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA by Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss (2/16, Portfolio) Remember when the Northwestern football team tried to unionize? Here’s the story of how it all began.
Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbø (2/16, Knopf) Only a Swedish thriller can make the darkest days of a Chicago winter seem bright and cheerful.
Living Like a Runaway by Lita Ford (2/23, Dey Street) After Jackie Fox, the Runaways’ bassist, revealed last summer that she’d been raped at a party by Kim Fowley, the group’s manager, while bandmates Joan Jett and Cherie Currie watched, Ford said that was the first she’d heard of the incident. But she also said she believed Fox and that she was postponing the release of this memoir so she could change a few things. And now here it is.
Really the Blues by Mezz Mezzrow and Bernard Wolfe (2/23, NYRB) NYRB has the excellent habit of finding and reprinting lost books that should have been classics. On the docket for this year is this autobiography of a Chicago-born jazzman who learned to play the clarinet in reform school and then embarked on an itinerant life of music and crime.
The Empty Bottle: 21+ Years of Music/Friendly/Dancing edited by John E. Dugan (March, Curbside Splendor) Here’s a collection of stories by musicians, bartenders, bouncers, and fans that celebrates one of Chicago’s finest clubs, edited by Reader contributor Dugan, with an introduction by the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle.
All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister (3/1, Simon & Schuster) The most disappointing book I read in 2015 was Kate Bolick’s Spinster, which was supposed to be an examination of the life of the unmarried woman but was instead an unnecessary justification of singlehood. Or something. It was a mess. I have faith that Traister, who consistently produces brilliant essays for New York about feminism and changing gender roles, will do better. Please, please don’t let it be misplaced.
At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Others by Sarah Bakewell (3/1, Other Press) I’m not sure how long I’d want to stick around a cocktail party with a group of existentialist philosophers, but if anyone could make me want to at least check it out, it’s Bakewell, whose previous book, How to Live, was an excellent introduction to Montaigne.
Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements by Bob Mehr (3/1, Da Capo) The Replacements broke up for good last year, again, probably, but the living members, plus Bob Stinson’s family, all cooperated in the writing of this book.
The Private Heinrich Himmler: Letters of a Mass Murderer edited by Katrin Himmler and Michael Wildt, translated by Thomas Hansen and Abby J. Hansen (3/8, Saint Martins) Now that you know that this exists, aren’t you morbidly curious about what these letters have to say? Even if they do turn out to be amazingly boring? (And, good Lord, what must it be like to go through life with the last name Himmler?)
Patience by Daniel Clowes (3/21, Fantagraphics) Look, it’s a new graphic novel by Daniel Clowes! The publisher describes it as “a psychedelic science-fiction love story”: something for everyone.
The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers (3/22, Universe) Well, haven’t you always wondered what they’d taste like?
Blowin’ Up: Rap Dreams in South Central by Jooyoung Lee (3/25, University of Chicago) Many rappers have gotten their start at Project Blowed, an open-mike workshop in Leimert Park in LA. Here’s an investigation into how a hip-hop artist is made.
Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the 15th Century to the 21st by Frank Trentman (3/29, Harper) Maybe this is interesting to me because it’s so soon after Christmas—since my friends prefer to communicate through texts or social media, my personal e-mail is full of alerts about exciting sales—but it’s comforting to know that the pressure to keep buying things is not just a result of 21st-century decadence.
Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 by Adam Hochschild (3/29, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Hochschild’s last book, To End All Wars, a history of World War I, was terrific. If anyone can get beyond the Hemingway bluster—which seems to be the prevailing association with the term “Americans in the Spanish Civil War”—he can.
Something to Food About: Exploring Creativity With Innovative Chefs by Questlove and Ben Greenman (4/12, Clarkson Potter) I’m looking forward to this just because there is something irresistible about Questlove exploring food, and also because the cover features an excellent portrait of Questlove executed in vegetables.
The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us by Joel Kotkin (4/12, Agate) Kotkin, a scholar of urban studies, presents a vision for the modern city that is less dense and more humane than the high-rise cities we’re currently living in.
What Is a Dog? by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger (4/25, University of Chicago) I’ve often wondered how my dog understands that Chihuahuas and Great Danes are also dogs that might be willing to play with her if she stretches the right way. The Coppingers, who have spent decades studying canines, explain.
Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets by Jessica Pierce (5/6, University of Chicago) But is my dog really happy being my dog, or would she rather be living in the wild or working on a fishing boat (the purpose for which she was at least partially bred)? That’s also something I wonder about a lot. I am hoping that Pierce, a bioethicist, can put me at ease.
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe (5/24, Knopf) Thorpe’s first novel, 2014’s The Girls from Corona Del Mar, was a refreshingly spiky take on the female-friendship novel. I’m hoping for the same from this follow-up about an estranged father and daughter pursuing their family roots in Lithuania.
Live Form: Women, Ceramics, and Community by Jenni Sorkin (6/10, University of Chicago) Sorkin and I grew up next door to each other, so I know how sharp she is, and that seems as good a reason as any to recommend her first book about how female ceramics artists in the mid-20th century influenced modern social movements, including feminism.
The Girls by Emma Cline (6/14, Random House) This first novel has been billed as The Virgin Suicides meets the Manson family. Also, Random House paid $2 million for the privilege of publishing it. Resistance is futile.
Kedzie Avenue: Stories Drawn From a City Street by Darryl Holliday, Jamie Hibdon, and E.N. Rodriguez (August, Curbside Splendor) Four years in the making, including a year of on-the-ground reporting, the three collaborators (and Reader contributors) known as Illustrated Press have created a portrait of our city, encapsulated in one street.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (8/23, Random House) Here’s maybe the first literary novel about the 2008 financial crisis, as told through the eyes of a Lehman Brothers banker’s Cameroonian immigrant driver.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (September, Little Brown) Donoghue’s last few books have been hit (Room) or miss (Frog Music) for me, but I’m still excited about her new one, about a girl in 1850s Ireland who mysteriously survives without eating and the English nurse who tries to determine if she’s a fraud.
PS: — Yes, I’m aware of the impending arrival of volume five of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard (4/19, Archipelago). But you know what? I’ve decided my own life is too short to devote so much time to reading about someone else’s. Especially when there’s already so much to read.