With the first month of 2017 coming to a close, you’re probably seeing fewer and fewer posts and headlines about New Years Resolutions. In fact, we’ve already passed the date when most people decide to toss their resolutions aside for another year (“Ditch Day” is January 17 for those wondering). Maybe you’re still going strong on your resolution to cut back on caffeine or save a certain amount of dollars per paycheck for a rainy day–in which case, you go Glen Coco!
One of the more popular resolutions that I see in my social circle is the promise to read more books over the course of the calendar year. My favorite nerdy activity every January is setting my Goodreads Challenge goal for the year (my goal is 40 books). Setting a goal to read more books is one thing. Finding the right books to devour is the real challenge, which is why I reached out to Rebecca George, co-owner of local Chicago bookcafe, Volumes, for her must-read picks for 2017.
2017 READING RECOMMENDATIONS FROM REBECCA GEORGE @ VOLUMES BOOKCAFE
The Evening Road by Laird Hunt
Rebecca says: I’ve been a fan of Hunt’s for years. I was fortunate to take a class with him when I was in grad school as well. I think he is one of the most talented voices out there. Neverhome, his last novel, was absolutely wonderful. This new book will make you feel uncomfortable in so many ways, but I think if you recognize that sense of discomfort for what it is, that is a good thing.
Goodreads Summary: Meet Ottie Lee Henshaw, a startling, challenging beauty in small-town Indiana. Quick of mind, she navigates a stifling marriage, a lecherous boss, and on one day in the summer of 1930, an odyssey across the countryside to witness a dark and fearful event.
Meet Calla Destry, a young black woman desperate to escape the violence of her town, and to find the lover who has promised her a new life.
Every road leads to the bedlam of Marvel, a town where lives will collide and be changed forever. Reminiscent of the works of Louise Erdrich, Edward P. Jones and Marilynne Robinson, The Evening Road is the story of two remarkable women on the move through an America riven by fear and hatred, and eager to flee the secrets they have left behind.
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
Rebecca Says: She also has a book, Hunger, out this summer. I am excited for both. Difficult Women came out at the beginning of the month. I think she is one of the most amazing voices for women, and everyone.
Goodreads Summary: Gay returns with Difficult Women, a collection of stories of rare force and beauty, of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection.
The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the marriage of one of them. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
Rebecca says: I feel like I aspire to be this protagonist in so many ways. Just a witty, life worn glamorous lady who intimately knows herself in a really honest way. Kathleen is a gifted (and local) writer.
Goodreads Summary: It’s the last day of 1984, and 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish is about to take a walk.
As she traverses a grittier Manhattan, a city anxious after an attack by a still-at-large subway vigilante, she encounters bartenders, bodega clerks, chauffeurs, security guards, bohemians, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be—in surprising moments of generosity and grace. While she strolls, Lillian recalls a long and eventful life that included a brief reign as the highest-paid advertising woman in America—a career cut short by marriage, motherhood, divorce, and a breakdown.
A love letter to city life—however shiny or sleazy—Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Rebecca says: I pretty much love everything he does.
Goodreads Summary: The captivating first novel by the best-selling, National Book Award nominee George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War
On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body.
Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel – in its form and voice – completely unlike anything you have read before. It is also, in the end, an exploration of the deeper meaning and possibilities of life, written as only George Saunders can: with humor, pathos, and grace.
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Rebecca says: I love Shotgun Lovesongs. I love this book. He is really gifted at capturing, in an incredibly honest way, the way that men hold friendships (for good or bad). He creates compelling characters that you want to read more about. I love Butler. I think he will have a long career ahead of him and he is just getting started at wowing us.
Goodreads Summary: Camp Chippewa, 1962. Nelson Doughty, age thirteen, social outcast and overachiever, is the Bugler, sounding the reveille proudly each morning. Yet this particular summer marks the beginning of an uncertain and tenuous friendship with a popular boy named Jonathan.
Over the years, Nelson, irrevocably scarred from the Vietnam War, becomes Scoutmaster of Camp Chippewa, while Jonathan marries, divorces, and turns his father’s business into a highly profitable company. And when something unthinkable happens at a camp get-together with Nelson as Scoutmaster and Jonathan’s teenage grandson and daughter-in-law as campers, the aftermath demonstrates the depths—and the limits—of Nelson’s selflessness and bravery.
The Hearts of Men is a sweeping, panoramic novel about the slippery definitions of good and evil, family and fidelity, the challenges and rewards of lifelong friendships, the bounds of morality—and redemption.
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston: Since the days of conquistador Hernán Cortés, rumors have circulated about a lost city of immense wealth hidden somewhere in the Honduran interior, called the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God. Indigenous tribes speak of ancestors who fled there to escape the Spanish invaders, and they warn that anyone who enters this sacred city will fall ill and die. In 1940, swashbuckling journalist Theodore Morde returned from the rainforest with hundreds of artifacts and an electrifying story of having found the Lost City of the Monkey God-but then committed suicide without revealing its location.
Three quarters of a century later, bestselling author Doug Preston joined a team of scientists on a groundbreaking new quest. In 2012 he climbed aboard a rickety, single-engine plane carrying the machine that would change everything: lidar, a highly advanced, classified technology that could map the terrain under the densest rainforest canopy. In an unexplored valley ringed by steep mountains, that flight revealed the unmistakable image of a sprawling metropolis, tantalizing evidence of not just an undiscovered city but an enigmatic, lost civilization.
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer: In a ruined, nameless city of the future, a woman named Rachel, who makes her living as a scavenger, finds a creature she names “Borne” entangled in the fur of Mord, a gigantic, despotic bear. Mord once prowled the corridors of the biotech organization known as the Company, which lies at the outskirts of the city, until he was experimented on, grew large, learned to fly and broke free. Driven insane by his torture at the Company, Mord terrorizes the city even as he provides sustenance for scavengers like Rachel.
At first, Borne looks like nothing at all—just a green lump that might be a Company discard. The Company, although severely damaged, is rumoured to still make creatures and send them to distant places that have not yet suffered Collapse.
Borne somehow reminds Rachel of the island nation of her birth, now long lost to rising seas. She feels an attachment she resents; attachments are traps, and in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet when she takes Borne to her subterranean sanctuary, the Balcony Cliffs, Rachel convinces her lover, Wick, not to render Borne down to raw genetic material for the drugs he sells—she cannot break that bond.
Wick is a special kind of supplier, because the drug dealers in the city don’t sell the usual things. They sell tiny creatures that can be swallowed or stuck in the ear, and that release powerful memories of other people’s happier times or pull out forgotten memories from the user’s own mind—or just produce beautiful visions that provide escape from the barren, craterous landscapes of the city.
Against his better judgment, out of affection for Rachel or perhaps some other impulse, Wick respects her decision. Rachel, meanwhile, despite her loyalty to Wick, knows he has kept secrets from her. Searching his apartment, she finds a burnt, unreadable journal titled “Mord,” a cryptic reference to the Magician (a rival drug dealer) and evidence that Wick has planned the layout of the Balcony Cliffs to match the blueprint of the Company building. What is he hiding? Why won’t he tell her about what happened when he worked for the Company?
ABOUT VOLUMES BOOKCAFE
Volumes Bookcafe, located at 1474 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park, opened 10 months ago and is equal parts independent bookstore, café and community events space. Before I was a resident of Chicago, I stopped into Volumes to grab a coffee and get out of the cold after walking around the city. I immediately fell in love with the store’s welcoming and homey atmosphere. Volumes has a full section of staff picks as well as staff recommendation notes peppering the shelves and tables (my personal favorite part of any bookstore experience is reading these recs!).
The café portion of the shop offers not only delicious and creative drinks, but also a nice selection of pastries and baked goods (which you KNOW I appreciate. Books + cookies every day, please). Rebecca recommends the latte mash-ups for first time visitors, particularly “The Nutella Two Cities” and the “Ulysses.” When it comes to food, I personally recommend the banana nut muffin or one of those giant cookies, while Rebecca suggests trying the “Everything But The Bagel” pastry (“Its like a croissant/bagel/goat cheese mash up”).
Looking to connect with other bookworms in the city? Volumes Bookcafe boasts a full calendar of community events, from author readings to comedy showcases to weekly trivia nights. Head over to their website to check out their calendar of events.
LOCAL BUSINESS Q&A WITH REBECCA GEORGE
Q: I’d love to hear your story. I saw on the website that you opened the store with your sister. What led you to start to your own business?
Rebecca says: Well, if you had asked me five years ago if I would be here, I would have laughed at the question. I was teaching college kids and prepping to go and get my PhD in a field I was marginally interested in, but knew was marketable for a full-time position. I had always dreamed of owning a bookstore…ever since I was a kid. I was a super bibliophile (or, not was, as I still am). Bookstores were always magical places for me.
I started seeing a number of articles about the state of bookstores in America. Slowly but surely I began actually doing research on how one might open one, the finances involved, etc. A year later I was attending conferences all around the country so I carting around a 90-page business plan and begging banks to fund my dream. Thankfully, my sister was also looking for a career change (she was in early childhood education). She climbed on board as co-owner and now here we are!
Q: You hold a number of community events at the store. Can you tell me more about the Volumes community you’ve created and what your favorite or most popular events have been?
Rebecca says: Well, I think what makes independent bookstores nationwide so interesting and important are their robust event calendars. Creating a safe and welcoming space for artistic expression, conversation and community is so important in today’s world. We’ve tried to create events that appeal to everyone in the neighborhood. Trivia night has been a weekly favorite since it began. Our #youjokelikeagirl women’s comedy night is fantastic. It is always a full house on those nights, and we love everyone involved in that. Story time twice a week has created a different sort of community with young moms and nannies (and the adorable children, of course). Author events, poetry readings, open mic…they all suit a different member of the community. Now we are starting to get bigger events that can’t fit in the store and attract people from all over the Chicagoland area. That stuff is exciting as well!
Q: What is your favorite part of being a small business owner and running your shop?
The people. 100%. I get to meet so many amazing people every day. Great conversations. So many new friends. Seeing the kids smile when they find a book they want. All of that. It is an exhausting job. I am here every day. Sometimes 12 hours a day. We are basically running three businesses in one. We have the cafe, the bookstore, and then all of the events. It is non-stop, but I never feel tired of it.
Thanks for reading! Let’s connect in the comments below. What book are you most looking forward to reading in 2017? I personally can’t wait to read Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women. How are your New Years Resolutions going? Do you have a favorite local bookstore in your city?