Staff Selections


Corvus: A Life with Birds
Esther Woolfson

Ever since her daughter rescued a fledgling rook, Esther Woolfson has been fascinated with corvids, the bird group that includes crows, rooks, magpies, and ravens. Today, the rook, named Chicken, is a member of the Woolfson family along with other winged creatures. From their elaborate bathing rituals to their springtime broodiness and tendency to cache food in the most unlikely places, these corvids each share a bond with Woolfson that would have been considered rare if not impossible before this collection of essays. 

Letting her experience speak for itself, Woolfson takes into account the science of bird intelligence, evolution, song, and flight. It is through this intimate lens that Woolfson invites us to reconsider the kind of creature capable of being man's best friend. 


Dark Constellations
Pola Oloixarac, trns. by Roy Kesey

Is literature about cyber-punk hackers set in the Argentine jungle your cup of tea? It sure wasn't mine until I started reading Dark Constellations and was hooked. Pola Oloixarac's mind-bending novel is a critique of tech and surveillance culture that explores the concepts of science, genius, and justice all while following an awkward hacker through his formative years. The prose style is undeniably addictive; lightning fast and written in the style of an automaton, this exhilarating  translation by Roy Kesey is out of this world. This book is strange, sexy, and surprising.


Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit
Eliese Colette Goldbach

Goldbach returned to her hometown of Cleveland with a Master's degree in writing and nothing but low-paying job prospects that barely kept her solvent. At a friend's suggestion, she  applied for and worked hard to get a dangerous yet lucrative job at as a steelworker at the Mill. Learning the strenous and often life-threatening work was paired with navigating the social hierarchies, workplace codes of loyalty, and the personalities of a wide range of people. The book honestly depicts coping with Bipolar Disorder, and examines a personal religious and political internal struggle and evolution. I loved reading about someone really working hard physically and appreciated the honest mental rigor with with she challenged her own beliefs. 


Having and Being Had
Eula Biss

After years of struggle as a working writer, which included living in Iowa City with curbside furniture, Eula Biss feels pride and relief securing a solid place in the middle class with the purchase of a house in Evanston and prestigious job as a writing professor at Northwestern. She becomes a mother as she enters her middle age. However, her new societal position is uncomfortable for her and the values she is living are problematic.    She began a diary, examining her experience in relation to money, gender, class and race.  This catalog of observations addresses this moment, and, as with all of her work, is an inspiration for living the examined life.  Can be illuminated by cross-referencing with Wilkerson’s CASTE: THE ORIGINS OF OUR DISCONTENTS.

No One is Talking About This

Generally classified as an Internet Novel, No One is Talking About This accurately captures the affect of endless scrolling (i.e., one’s brain slowly but surely melting in a vat of acid). But while being Extremely Online can feel incredibly dire, this novel’s beautiful, sad, and redemptive turn is a phenomenal reminder of the power of love IRL. Plus, Lockwood is hilarious. Read if you’ve been scrolling Twitter way too much and need to remember why life is worth living.  


The Mechanical Horse
Margaret Guroff

This book is a winner on several levels.  The bicycle’s progressive influences on American life are manifold, and Guroff manages to tell the story with a convincing thoroughness and a prose style that never drags.  The bicycle improved mobility for the working class, allowed women greater freedom and a more practical mode of dress.  Cyclists were instrumental in getting the awful 19th century road improved, and the list goes on.  For what is a relatively brief book, the notes and bibliography are impressive.



Tara Westover

Tara Westover describes her often harrowing path to maturity and independence, showing us th eintangible benefits as well as the unforseen costs of an education.  We feel her grief over all she has lost, but in the end it is outweighed by tremendous admiration for her intelligence and courage.


Haints Stay
Colin Winnette

A quirky and interesting take on the Western. It’s short (just a tad over 200 pages) but it packs an outsized wallop. It reminded me of Patrick DeWitt's excellent Sisters Brothers, but with all the fat stripped out. This is pure literary muscle. (And if you haven’t read Sisters Brothers, you now know what to read when you finish Haints Stay).


A Most Remarkable Creature
Jonathan Meiburg

The amazingly readable story of the caracara, a falcon with the personality of a crow, first noted by Darwin when he was on The Beagle.  Mr. Meiburg takes us on a journey to learn about these strange birds as he travels to remote jungles, educates us on natural history and evolution and provides some wonderful tangents on Darwin and the South American naturalist William Henry Hudson.  But the birds are the stars of the show.  I'd never heard of the caracara and picked this up simply to learn more about them.  It's a highly entertaining and informative read about a truly fascinating bird.


Home Made Winter
Yvette Van Boven

Perfect book for the upcoming frigid season: Beautiful photos and delicious recipes - a cookbook lover's must.


The Ocean of Life
Callum Roberts

If you like nature, swimming, going to the beach or eating fish, this is for you.  It consists of three sections: a fascinating history of human exploration and exploitation of the oceans, a clear-eyed account of the damages and dangers their ecosystems currently face, and a hopeful call to action to protect and heal the intricate, beautiful web of life under the sea.  An important book on ecology, but even more a great piece of natural history writing.


Beartown & Us Against You
Fredrik Backman

These books are about a minor league hockey team in the middle of nowhere. They are also about everything else in the universe. Families, small town mentalities, immigration, toxic masculinity, decisions that change the course of everyone's lives, the fragility and resilience of ourselves. Backman's prose reaches straight through your sternum to strangle your heart before he slowly resuscitates you. I cried cover to cover, laughed throughout, and found humanity in every character of this novel.


Susan Howe

Howe's gorgeous new poetry collection (rumored to possibly be her final) unspools over five sections, which also include an essay and her signature cut-up text. Written in part while in residence at the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston, Debths interrogates the curatorial/archival impulse, American history, aging, law, poetry, and above all, loss. I think it's Howe at her clearest.


The Vegetarian
Han Kang

I loved The Vegetarian so much. A beautiful, harrowing, bizarre short novel about a woman whose life unravels after a disturbing dream prompts her to give up meat. I couldn't put it down, and I can't stop thinking about it now.


Michelle Hoover

Michelle Hoover who wowed Prairie Lights’ audience, reading from her first book, The Quickening, now has a second book.  It’s called Bottomland and, like her first, deals with rural culture in Iowa in the early 20th Century.  This book is more of a thriller than The Quickening, involving a Germ, as always, well researched with characters formed by the dark circumstances of their lives.  She’ll be reading the end of April, a reading all lovers of Willa Cather and the great mid-western writers will not want to miss.