When Aimee Levitt made her New Year’s reading list back in January, I was trapped somewhere around page 250 of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, with no evident escape route. I was stuck on that book for a solid month. My life at Northwestern University wasn’t allowing me much reading time. I needed a spark, and right on cue, the bathroom strategy emerged.
I set Lonesome Dove on the little table between my desk and my bedroom door, and every time I left my room to take care of business, I took the Western epic with me. One stall-session at a time, I knocked that sucker out, and when the book ended, a new one took its place on the table. I was back in gear—I had finally learned how to read in college (did I make you proud, Mom and Dad?), and that means reading lists are no longer out of the question. Levitt’s recommendations took us to the edge of summer, and now, it’s time to close out the year. Here are some noteworthy (bathroom?) reads for the rest of 2015.
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (June) The Parks and Recreation actor veers away from the current trend of canned celebrity memoirs to explore love in the Tinder age. With some help from NYU sociology professor Eric Klinenberg, Ansari’s book is equal parts research and laughs.
Music for Wartime: Stories by Rebecca Makkai (June) Levitt liked Makkai’s structure-bending last novel, and under her recommendation I’m throwing in this short story collection. While not as rooted in a lack of convention, it sets the author’s pure talent front and center.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (July) I love when America has a “book everyone’s reading,” and I’m excited to see the country taken by a novel that isn’t full of graphic sex or torture . . . unless this book is full of graphic sex and torture. Wouldn’t that be a surprise.
What Pet Should I Get? By Dr. Seuss (July) What? “This list is for adults,” you say? I can’t quite hear you. My inner child is jumping up and down and making too much noise.
Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot by Dav Pilkey (August) STILL CAN’T HEAR YOU. STILL CAN’T HEAR YOU. PHBBBTTTTTT I’M AN ADULT.
The Insane Chicago Way by John M. Hagedorn (August) This nonfiction work by a UIC criminology professor explores the attempt by Chicago street gangs in the 1990s to create a Spanish Mafia.
The Secret Lives of Teachers by Anonymous (August) Written by an unidentified teacher at a private New York high school and published by the University of Chicago Press, this is a through-the-microscope look at the teaching world—from helicopter parents to problem kids.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz (September) Stieg Larsson didn’t write this third sequel to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and while printing numbers are high, the new author is already ducking criticism. Larsson’s longtime partner Eva Gabrielsson called Lagercrantz a “completely idiotic choice”—so we should buy it and find out, right?
The University of Chicago: A History by John W. Boyer (September) The five-term dean of the college wrote a book about his own school. Makes a Wildcat like me want to puke, but fans of the Maroons (seriously WTF is that?) have something right up their alley.
Slaughterhouse by Dominic A. Pacyga (September) The history and impact of the Union Stock Yard is chronicled by a Columbia College history professor who used to spend his summers working in the hog house and cattle yards. Perhaps a good time to start that postsummer vegetarian kick?
Purity: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen (September) The highly vocal Pulitzer finalist is back with another sprawling family epic, although this time the story leaves the United States to touch down in South America and Europe.
Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling (September) In her follow-up to 2011’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Kaling enters the world of personal essays, sharing secrets of Hollywood makeup sessions and griping about the pain of being friend dumped.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (September) Yup, the Eat, Pray, Love author is still the life coach you didn’t ask for.
Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson (September) The author discusses her upbringing in upper-class black Chicago, where self-distinguishment clashed with inevitable interracial comparisons.
Players and Pawns by Gary Alan Fine (September) From a Northwestern sociology professor comes the sports book you’ve always wanted: an examination of chess culture and community through the window of an Atlantic City tournament. I hope they make a movie out of this.
The Third City by Larry Bennett (September) A DePaul prof places Chicago at the third of three developmental stages (hence the title), discussing its rising immigrant communities and changing middle-class landscape.
Are We Having Any Fun Yet? By Sammy Hagar (September) Quick question: What does a former Van Halen frontman do after he’s done with rock ‘n’ roll? If you answered, “Why, he writes a cookbook, of course!” you’re absolutely right. God bless America.
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson (September) Aside from promising to be an honestly raw and honestly humorous look at mental health struggles, the cover features a bug-eyed raccoon standing on two feet and cheesing like he just won the raccoon lottery. I don’t think we need to talk about this any further.
Mothers, Tell Your Daughters: Stories by Bonnie Jo Campbell (October) This is Campbell‘s first story collection since her National Book Award finalist American Salvage. Word is that one tale features a new bride who thinks her dead ex has reappeared in her life . . . as a dog. I’m excited.
The Amazing Book is Not on Fire by Dan Howell and Phil Lester (October) With over eight million YouTube subscribers between them, this pair of vloggers open up about their lives being famous on the Internet. It’s probably going to make you upset that you didn’t just do the same thing.
The Rap Year Book by Shea Serrano (October) Bringing his goofball humor and genuine hip hop passion over from Grantland, Serrano discusses and dissects the quintessential rap song of every year from 1979 to now. I love this guy’s writing, but so help me God, if he doesn’t pick “In Da Club” for 2003, I’m going to have words, man.
A House of My Own: Stories from My Life by Sandra Cisneros (October) The Reader camp is a big fan of Cisneros (her excellent House on Mango Street ripped through to the Final Four of our Greatest Ever Chicago Book Tournament back in February), and this collection of nonfiction and personal stories looks to continue her local hot streak. Subjects span from Chicago to Mexico to liberty in Sarajevo.
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (October) J.K. Rowling’s no-nonsense, throwback detective series continues with its third installment, in which Cormoran Strike investigates the mailing of a severed leg. Man, someone must be hopping mad now, amiright? I’ll see myself out.
Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (October) The same guys who made the Welcome to Night Vale podcast present their spooky, supernatural, southwestern town in literary form, which means ghosts, aliens, and government conspiracies abound. (Bonus points if Amelia Earhart and Tupac make cameos, preferably together.)
M Train by Patti Smith (October) Smith at this point in her career has put so much talent on display that if she were to put out one of those books with a hole in the back leading to those little finger puppets, it would probably still be on this list.
A Portal in Space by Mahmoud Saeed (November) A former professor of Arabic at DePaul, Saeed comes from Iraq originally, where his controversial and outspoken works landed him in prison six times before age 50. This novel focuses on one Iraqi family during the events of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories by Stephen King (November) This collection of the spook writer’s short stories is a hefty 512 pages of fun, including works titled, “The Little Green God of Agony,” “The Bone Church,” and something called “Mister Yummy” that I’m totally fine not reading about, actually. Also if there was one book on this list I had to read in the bathroom, it would probably be this one. For obvious reasons.
My Kind of Sound: The Secret History of Chicago Music by Steve Krakow (November) Local psychedelic musician and pop-culture collector Plastic Crimewave uses his birth name on the cover of this title, a collection of his “Secret History of Chicago Music” comics that publish semimonthly right here, in the Reader. Yes, we are promoting something that you can already read in our own pages. What’s your point?