The best books about Illinois

Who picked these books? Meet our 113 experts.

113 authors created a book list connected to Illinois, and here are their favorite Illinois books.
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Book cover of The Sinking of the Eastland: America's Forgotten Tragedy

Sylvia Shults Author Of Spirits of Christmas: The Dark Side of the Holidays

From the list on nonfiction books that read like a novel.

Who am I?

Sylvia Shults is a librarian by day, a ghost hunter by night, and the “hostess with the mostest ghosties” of the Lights Out podcast. During her twenty-plus-year career in libraries, she has managed to smuggle enough words out in her pockets to put together several books of her own, including 44 Years in Darkness, Fractured Spirits: Hauntings at the Peoria State Hospital, and Spirits of Christmas. She sits in dark, spooky places so you don't have to, and shares her experiences of her brushes with the other side of the Veil.

Sylvia's book list on nonfiction books that read like a novel

Discover why each book is one of Sylvia's favorite books.

Why did Sylvia love this book?

Jay Bonansinga is best known as a horror writer – he took over the Walking Dead novels when Robert Kirkman “handed him the keys to the Jaguar”, as Jay charmingly puts it. He brings that visceral immediacy and intensity to his nonfiction as well. This is his book on the sinking of the Eastland as it was being loaded with passengers for a picnic excursion. On July 24, 1915, this tragedy claimed more lives than the Chicago Fire. Nearly 10,000 people could only stand by and watch helplessly as the overloaded Eastland rolled, righted itself, then counterbalanced and rolled to the other side, sinking in the Chicago River. Jay tells the story of the people (many of them immigrants) who lived this history, and brings their stories to life once more.

By Jay Bonansinga,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sinking of the Eastland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On July 24, 1915, the city of Chicago suffered a tragedy that was witnessed by nearly 10,000 bystanders and claimed more lives than the infamous Chicago Fire. But, unlike the Titanic three years before, the sinking of the steamship Eastland has been largely forgotten. Now award-winning writer and Chicagoan Jay Bonansinga has set out to discover why - and the result is a historical thriller.

Leopold and Loeb

By Hal Higdon,

Book cover of Leopold and Loeb: The Crime of the Century

Erik Rebain Author Of Arrested Adolescence: The Secret Life of Nathan Leopold

From the list on the Leopold-Loeb case.

Who am I?

I’ve been researching the Leopold-Loeb case for around a decade, ever since a documentary sparked my interest back in high school. That sent me on a quest for knowledge: devouring all the books I could find on the subject, before turning to archival collections to look at the primary source material. Flash forward to today and I’ve read thousands of newspaper stories, hundreds of scholarly articles and books on the subject and travelled around the country searching in over 50 archives, trying to understand this case as much as I possibly can. Here’s a list of books I found particularly helpful or inspiring on my journey.

Erik's book list on the Leopold-Loeb case

Discover why each book is one of Erik's favorite books.

Why did Erik love this book?

Despite being published in 1975, Hal Higdon’s book about the Leopold and Loeb case remains the definitive account, at least to me.

If you’re looking for a factual, in-depth look at the crime, investigation, and sentencing hearing, look no further. Higdon was able to interview and correspond with dozens of people who were close to the case and who personally knew the killers and victim. He weaved those recollections into the narrative along with newspaper reports and quotes from the court documents in addition to the rest of his vast research, which gives his book a wonderful richness and depth. 

By Hal Higdon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leopold and Loeb as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Among the criminal celebrities of Prohibition-era Chicago, not even Al Capone was more notorious than two well-educated and highly intelligent Jewish boys from wealthy South Side families. In a meticulously planned murder scheme disguised as a kidnapping, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb chose fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks at random as their victim, abandoning his crumpled body in a culvert before his parents had a chance to respond to the ransom demand. Revealing secret testimony and raising questions that have gone unanswered for decades, Hal Higdon separates fact from myth as he unravels the crime, the investigation, and the trial, in which…


By Michelle Obama,

Book cover of Becoming: Adapted for Young Readers

Marsha Hayles Author Of Breathing Room

From the list on when illness touches a young person's life.

Who am I?

I am an author fortunate to be alive because of emergency medical treatments I received as an infant, treatments not available to one of my older sisters who died as a result. That I grew up in Rochester Minnesota—home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic where my father worked as a pediatric endocrinologist—also may have increased my awareness of how illness and its medical treatments can affect a young person’s life. 

Marsha's book list on when illness touches a young person's life

Discover why each book is one of Marsha's favorite books.

Why did Marsha love this book?

I greatly admire Michelle Obama and thought I knew her story. I didn’t. In this version of her memoir Becoming, adapted for young readers and full of engaging photos, she shares how her father’s multiple sclerosis marked her life: she was a young child when he first needed a cane, a freshman in college when he needed two, and a young professional in love with a man named Barack Obama when her father died. Though he never wanted his multiple sclerosis to limit his children’s lives—and it didn’t—her father’s illness may also explain Michelle Obama’s remarkable strength in the face of adversity and her genuine compassion and concern for others. 

By Michelle Obama,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Becoming as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Michelle Obama’s worldwide bestselling memoir, Becoming, is now adapted for young readers.

Michelle Robinson was born on the South Side of Chicago. From her modest beginnings, she would become Michelle Obama, the inspiring and powerful First Lady of the United States, when her husband, Barack Obama, was elected the forty-fourth president. They would be the first Black First Family in the White House and serve the country for two terms.
Growing up, Michelle and her older brother, Craig, shared a bedroom in their family’s upstairs apartment in her great-aunt’s house. Her parents, Fraser and…

Book cover of First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt: Homicide in Chicago, 1875-1920

Peter Boag Author Of Pioneering Death: The Violence of Boyhood in Turn-Of-The-Century Oregon

From the list on death and violence of late-19th-century America.

Who am I?

As a student, the Gilded Age bored me to no end. Since then, I have come to understand that the era’s paradoxes, contingencies, and uncertainties are what has created modern America; they have preoccupied my research and writing since. I undertook Pioneering Death as a meditation on how one of the darkest and most intensely personal events—parricide—is both an expected and unexpected outcome of the interconnectedness between place, region, and nation during the Gilded Age. I hope my very select booklist about death, violence, and brutal killings assists you to recognize how these are central to the human condition and how they are foundational to modern America. 

Peter's book list on death and violence of late-19th-century America

Discover why each book is one of Peter's favorite books.

Why did Peter love this book?

Lynching is central to the late 19th century and thus the theme that I explore in my recommendations, but covers this tragic subject elsewhere. Instead, for my last book, I offer Adler’s study that explains the persistently high and even increasing rates of violence and homicide in Chicago during an era when varied modern social controls—urban reform, the discipline of the factory floor, expanding education and the bureaucratic state—swept over that city as they did over America, too. According to older theories about social turbulence and murder, these should have declined. Instead, the opposite was true, though the forms that violence took did change. Perhaps it was Adler’s intention to leave frighteningly unanswered what it is about people generally, and Americans specifically, that the dark impulses they have run so deeply that they are impervious to social control.

By Jeffrey S. Adler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Between 1875 and 1920, Chicago's homicide rate more than quadrupled, making it the most violent major urban center in the United States--or, in the words of Lincoln Steffens, "first in violence, deepest in dirt." In many ways, however, Chicago became more orderly as it grew. Hundreds of thousands of newcomers poured into the city, yet levels of disorder fell and rates of drunkenness, brawling, and accidental death dropped. But if Chicagoans became less volatile and less impulsive, they also became more homicidal.

Based on an analysis of nearly six thousand homicide cases, First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt examines the…


By Margo Jefferson,

Book cover of Negroland: A Memoir

Meghan Flaherty Author Of Tango Lessons: A Memoir

From the list on memoirs for snobs who don’t read memoirs.

Who am I?

I write memoir. I didn’t set out to write memoir. But I’ve become convinced by the power of personal narrative, both on its own merits, and as a frame and lens through which to view the world—a way to take a reader by the hand before slipping into whatever other subject matter sings its siren call. And the memoirs I love best are always in conversation with something bigger, or beyond the self. As Annie Dillard wrote, “there’s nothing you can’t do with [literary nonfiction]. No subject matter is forbidden, no structure is proscribed. You get to make up your own form every time.” I like to see these works as doing just that.

Meghan's book list on memoirs for snobs who don’t read memoirs

Discover why each book is one of Meghan's favorite books.

Why did Meghan love this book?

Margo Jefferson is one of the smartest humans on the planet and her memoir reflects that. She tells her story as intertwined with the story of her first cultural context—the Black elite of the 1950s, and the crisis of identity she experienced with the rise of the Black Power movement of the 1960s. She brings her critic’s sharp intelligence and wit to bear in every paragraph, but doesn’t hold back any of her heart. It’s a terrifically moving book and a masterpiece of personal/cultural criticism, full of elegance and nuance. 

By Margo Jefferson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Negroland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The daughter of a successful paediatrician and a fashionable socialite, Margo Jefferson spent her childhood among Chicago's black elite. She calls this society 'Negroland': 'a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty'. With privilege came expectation. Reckoning with the strictures and demands of Negroland at crucial historical moments - the civil rights movement, the dawn of feminism, the fallacy of post-racial America - Jefferson brilliantly charts the twists and turns of a life informed by psychological and moral contradictions.

Left Behind

By Tim LaHaye, Jerry B. Jenkins,

Book cover of Left Behind

Randy C. Dockens Author Of Mercy of the Iron Scepter

From the list on biblical prophecy in fiction format.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by science fiction and by Biblical Scripture. That may seem dichotomous to some, but not to me. I have a passion for science and for Scripture because both bring understanding about our world from the microcosm to the macrocosm. My writings are a mixture of science and mystery with a science fiction feel and a Christian perspective. I like stories that show how truth arises even from the dark, confusing, and ambiguity of life to help one discover something about God they may not have considered before, and at the same time enjoy a fun, fast-paced, and exciting journey as they read.

Randy's book list on biblical prophecy in fiction format

Discover why each book is one of Randy's favorite books.

Why did Randy love this book?

This book was one of the first to provide a fictional storyline in the setting of a future time in history known in the Bible as the Tribulation Period and shows how God still works even through the darkest times. A great story that shows how evil can rule the world yet still cannot ultimately overcome truth and goodness.

By Tim LaHaye, Jerry B. Jenkins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Left Behind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book 1 in the 12-book series that has sold over 63 million copies!

Read the books that launched a cultural phenomenon!

“This is the most successful Christian fiction series ever.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Combines Tom Clancy–like suspense with touches of romance, high-tech flash, and biblical references.”
—New York Times

“Call it what you like, the Left Behind series . . . now has a label its creators could have never predicted: blockbuster success.”

Are you ready for the moment of truth? Mass disappearances Political crisis Economic crisis Worldwide epidemics Environmental catastrophe Military apocalypseAnd that’s just the beginning . . .…

Family Properties

By Beryl Satter,

Book cover of Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America

Deborah Dash Moore Author Of Urban Origins of American Judaism

From the list on Jewish lives in urban America.

Who am I?

I grew up in New York City on the corner of 16th Street and 7th Avenue in an apartment on the 11th floor. I loved the city’s pace, diversity, and freedom. So, I decided to study New York Jews, to learn about them from not just from census records and institutional reports but also from interviews. After publishing my first book, I followed New York Jews as they moved to other cities, especially Miami and Los Angeles. Recently, I’ve been intrigued by what is often called street photography and the ways photographs let you see all sorts of details that potentially tell a story. 

Deborah's book list on Jewish lives in urban America

Discover why each book is one of Deborah's favorite books.

Why did Deborah love this book?

The key to Beryl Satter’s book lies in her title, Family Properties. The book grew out of a daughter’s desire to know her father, who died when she was young. Satter peels back layers of her Jewish father’s fierce advocacy for Blacks in Chicago, his relentless effort to uncover and hold accountable the white men (both Jewish and Christian) who were profiting from the housing segregation that made Blacks desperate to move out of the ghetto. Satter follows her father’s ultimate failure to prevent the exploitation of Blacks. She also reveals the anger directed at him by many Jews who were on the other side. Satter writes with empathy, showing her father’s complexity (he was a landlord as well as a lawyer), and resists the impulse to judge him. 

By Beryl Satter,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Family Properties as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Beryl Satter's Family Properties is really an incredible book. It is, by far, the best book I've ever read on the relationship between blacks and Jews. That's because it hones in on the relationship between one specific black community and one specific Jewish community and thus revels in the particular humanity of all its actors. In going small, it ultimately goes big.” ―Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

Part family story and part urban history, a landmark investigation of segregation and urban decay in Chicago -- and cities across the nation

The "promised land" for thousands of Southern blacks, postwar Chicago quickly…


By Michelle Obama,

Book cover of Becoming

Keisha Blair Author Of Holistic Wealth: 32 Life Lessons to Help You Find Purpose, Prosperity, and Happiness

From the list on resilience and overcoming setbacks.

Who am I?

I'm a trained Economist and Harvard Trained Policy Expert. I was part of the Prime Minister's supporting delegation to the World Economic Forum, ASEAN, and APEC Summits in Singapore. I'm the Founder of the Institute on Holistic Wealth and host of the Holistic Wealth podcast. I wrote a viral article entitled "My Husband Died At Age 34. Here Are 40 Life Lessons I Learned From It". I coined the term Holistic Wealth with the publication of the first book on Holistic Wealth. I am the founder of the Holistic Wealth movement and known as the Mother of Holistic Wealth. I've written three books on Holistic Wealth (series). 

Keisha's book list on resilience and overcoming setbacks

Discover why each book is one of Keisha's favorite books.

Why did Keisha love this book?

I’ve done extensive writing about the Holistic Wealth mindset that I developed, and about women who embody this mindset including Michelle Obama.

Her story of becoming the first African American first lady on the life experiences that shaped her journey from the south side of Chicago to the White House. Michelle titled her book Becoming because she is constantly evolving, “becoming” the woman she aspires to be, which is part and parcel of the Holistic Wealth mindset.

It’s a great book on resilience and overcoming setbacks. Michelle stated in an interview with Oprah Winfrey: “My journey is the journey of always, continually evolving, that there is never a point where you arrive at a thing. And if you do, that’s kind of sad, you know?” said Obama.

“If you think there is a point in your life when you stop growing or stop learning, that’s kind of sad, because what…

By Michelle Obama,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Becoming as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir; 17 million copies sold worldwide





Now in paperback featuring a new introduction by Michelle Obama, a letter from the author to her younger self, and a book club guide with 20 discussion questions and a 5-question Q&A, the intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama…

Once You Know This

By Emily Blejwas,

Book cover of Once You Know This

Lisa Lewis Tyre Author Of Hope in the Holler

From the list on to help kids build empathy for those in need.

Who am I?

I am the author of two middle grade books, and I love writing about kids who may not have much materially but abound in heart and courage. I grew up in a small southern town and my childhood was just like that—low on income but full of love, hope, and friendship. I want kids to know that despite their circumstances there is hope for a better life. Like Wavie’s mom tells her in my book, Hope In The Holler, “You’ve got as much right to a good life as anybody. So go find it!”

Lisa's book list on to help kids build empathy for those in need

Discover why each book is one of Lisa's favorite books.

Why did Lisa love this book?

This beautiful book opens with the line, “Every day Mr. McInnis tells us to imagine our future.” Unfortunately, for Brittany, she can’t envision a future that holds anything good. Her mother is in an abusive and controlling relationship and her grandmother suffers from dementia. I love that this book shows a positive teacher, a mom who, despite her own bad choices, truly loves her children, and a family willing to go to bat for one another. Extra points for the intergenerational storyline of a grandmother who lives with the family.

By Emily Blejwas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Once You Know This as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A girl wishes for a better life for herself, her mom, and her baby brother and musters the courage to make it happen in this moving and emotionally satisfying story for readers of Kate DiCamillo and Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

“Once You Know This reminds me of a flower blooming in the crack of a sidewalk. It’s important, and it’s special. Just read it.”—Ali Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Thing About Jellyfish
Eleven-year-old Brittany knows there has to be a better world out there. Lately, though, it sure doesn’t feel like it. She and her best friend, Marisol,…


By Renee Rosen,

Book cover of Dollface: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties

Susan Sage Author Of Dancing in the Ring

From the list on the ‘herstory’ of women of the 1920s.

Who am I?

I have always been intrigued by the Roaring 20s, and specifically in how the lives of women truly began to change during this time. My grandmother loved to boast about how she had been a flapper as a young woman. Her sister-in-law was one of the first female attorneys in Detroit in the mid-20s. The era brought about opportunities and freedoms previously unknown to women. Many women suddenly had options, both in terms of careers and lifestyles. Goals of first wave feminists were beginning to be reached. The research I did for my book furthered my understanding of society at the time, particularly in America. 

Susan's book list on the ‘herstory’ of women of the 1920s

Discover why each book is one of Susan's favorite books.

Why did Susan love this book?

Vera Abramowitz, ‘Dollface,’ was a flapper who got caught up with the mob.

Her two mobster lovers cause her life to take a downward spiral. Read how she puts the broken pieces of her life back together. Realistic and gritty, we see the flip side of the frivolous life of flappers seen in the movies.

By Renee Rosen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dollface as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

America in the 1920s was a country alive with the wild fun of jazz, speakeasies, and a new kind of woman—the flapper.

Vera Abramowitz is determined to leave her gritty childhood behind and live a more exciting life, one that her mother never dreamed of. Bobbing her hair and showing her knees, the lipsticked beauty dazzles, doing the Charleston in nightclubs and earning the nickname “Dollface.” 

As the ultimate flapper, Vera captures the attention of two high rollers, a handsome nightclub owner and a sexy gambler. On their arms, she gains entrée into a world filled with bootleg bourbon, wailing…

Making the Second Ghetto

By Arnold R. Hirsch,

Book cover of Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960

Beryl Satter Author Of Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America

From the list on urban history.

Who am I?

I never read much urban history until I wrote one. For me, the problem was that most urban histories felt repetitive – they presented the same story over and over, just set in different locations. This was because most narrated the results of deeper, structural shifts (in spheres such as federal strategies of home finance, technological developments, demographic shifts, the rise or decline of manufacturing, political realignments, etc.) without sufficiently illuminating the causes. Regardless of whether they focus on Las Vegas or Philadelphia or Chicago or Dallas, each of these books – which I am presenting in order of publication date, not quality, as they are all excellent – will leave you smarter about the forces that shape our cities.  

Beryl's book list on urban history

Discover why each book is one of Beryl's favorite books.

Why did Beryl love this book?

Many believe the myth that post-war public housing was constructed to help house the poor.  Hirsch focuses on the business and educational leaders who created urban renewal and public housing legislation to reveal their actual goal – to grab valuable land and displace African American residents who they viewed as threats to their investments. Like white working-class Chicagoans, these elites sought to exclude Black Chicagoans, but the white working class used riots and overt violence against Black residents who dared to enter their communities, while elites simply changed the laws to enable their more genteel form of ethnic cleansing. Published in 1983, Hirsch’s book pioneered whiteness studies. It remains a brilliant, scathing work on the mechanics of white supremacy and the racial politics of urban space.  

By Arnold R. Hirsch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Making the Second Ghetto as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1983 and praised by the likes of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Thomas Sugrue, Arnold R. Hirsch's Making the Second Ghetto is the rare book that has only become more piercingly prescient over the years.

Hirsch's classic and groundbreaking work of urban history is a revelatory look at Chicago in the decades after the Great Depression, a period when the city dealt with its rapidly growing Black population not by working to abolish its stark segregation but by expanding and solidifying it. Even as the civil rights movement rose to prominence, Chicago exploited a variety of methods of segregation-including…

The Growing Season

By Sarah Frey,

Book cover of The Growing Season: How I Built a New Life--and Saved an American Farm

JQ Rose Author Of Arranging A Dream

From the list on extraordinary life stories about ordinary people.

Who am I?

My author friend, Mary, brought her great, great, great + grandfather’s journal to our writers' group and shared excerpts from the pages written in the 1800s. When her grandfather was window shopping in downtown London, he peered into the bookstore window. He yearned to own the books on display, but he couldn’t afford them on a minister’s income. Only the rich could purchase books. The journal excerpts brought the 1800s to life. I decided then to begin recording my life experiences to make our lives today real for the generations of tomorrow. I share my enthusiasm for telling life stories by presenting workshops on how to write life stories. 

JQ's book list on extraordinary life stories about ordinary people

Discover why each book is one of JQ's favorite books.

Why did JQ love this book?

My husband, Ted, is a gardening fanatic, so we listened to The Growing Season audiobook together to find out more about vegetable gardening. Instead, we happily discovered the story was about Sarah Frey’s business growing commercial crops rather than a backyard garden. She grew up in Illinois helping her mother deliver cantaloupe to local grocery stores. At 15 years old, when her mother could no longer make the deliveries, Sarah took on the route. I cheered her on as she lived her life with determination and purpose to grow that business for her family. The small route developed into a well-respected family-owned multi-state produce business.

By Sarah Frey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Growing Season as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A gutsy success story” (The New York Times Book Review) about one tenacious woman’s journey to escape rural poverty and create a billion-dollar farming business—without ever leaving the land she loves

The youngest of her parents’ combined twenty-one children, Sarah Frey grew up on a struggling farm in southern Illinois, often having to grow, catch, or hunt her own dinner alongside her brothers. She spent much of her early childhood dreaming of running away to the big city—or really anywhere with central heating. At fifteen, she moved out of her family home and started her own fresh produce delivery business…

Eight Faces at Three

By Craig Rice,

Book cover of Eight Faces at Three: A John J. Malone Mystery

Angela M. Sanders Author Of Witch upon a Star

From the list on screwball mysteries from the golden age of detection.

Who am I?

Between humor and pathos, I lean humor. Even the saddest, most shocking events—murder, for instance—can be wrapped in kookiness. Combine this outlook with my love of old things (I’m sitting on a 1920s Chinese wedding bed and drinking from an etched Victorian tumbler at this very moment), and you’ll understand why I’m drawn to vintage screwball detective fiction. Although my mystery novels are cozies, I can’t help but infuse them with some of this screwball wackiness. I want readers to laugh, of course, but also to use my stories as springboards to see the hilarity and wonder in their own lives. 

Angela's book list on screwball mysteries from the golden age of detection

Discover why each book is one of Angela's favorite books.

Why did Angela love this book?

If screwball detective fiction intrigues you, you must read Craig Rice. Why not start with Eight Faces of Three, the mystery introducing the wacky, rye-soaked team of Jake Justus, Helene Brand, and John Joseph Malone?

Justus is a good-looking press agent and the book’s moral center; Brand is a gorgeous heiress and non-stop partier; and Malone is a stumpy lawyer-slash-PI with good instincts and better luck. Imagine Philip Marlowe meets the Marx Brothers.

In Eight Faces of Three, a young woman awakes to find her aunt murdered, all the house’s clocks set to 3 am, and herself the prime suspect.

Craig Rice was the first mystery writer to grace the cover of Time magazine. Her private life was strewn with ex-husbands and empty booze bottles, and she died way too young at 49.

However, her literary legacy—one critic dubbed her the “Dorothy Parker of detective fiction”—will keep her…

By Craig Rice,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eight Faces at Three as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pioneering woman crime writer Craig Rice introduces her series sleuth, gin-soaked Chicago lawyer John J. Malone

John J. Malone, defender of the guilty, is notorious for getting his culpable clients off. It’s the innocent ones who are problems. Like Holly Inglehart, accused of piercing the black heart of her well-heeled and tyrannical aunt Alexandria with a lovely Florentine paper cutter. No one who knew the old battle-ax liked her, but Holly’s prints were found on the murder weapon. Plus, she had a motive: She was about to be disinherited for marrying a common bandleader.

With each new lurid headline, Holly’s…

A Power Stronger Than Itself

By George E. Lewis,

Book cover of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music

Paul Austerlitz Author Of Jazz Consciousness: Music, Race, and Humanity

From the list on scholarly reads on jazz.

Who am I?

As a scholar as well as performer of the African American creative improvised music usually called jazz, my attunement to this art form resonates with its historico-cultural matrix as much as with the sounds themselves.  These books distinguish themselves for being well-researched and rigorous.  They are the real deal, doing justice to the heart as well as the intellect of this  art form.  

Paul's book list on scholarly reads on jazz

Discover why each book is one of Paul's favorite books.

Why did Paul love this book?

This book is remarkable for Lewis’s unique profile, which combines status as a major contributor to, as well as a critic of, creative improvised African-American music. It tells of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM), an organization focused on freely improvised music, which is unique for having wedded aesthetic innovation with the struggle for social justice.

By George E. Lewis,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Power Stronger Than Itself as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Founded in 1965 and still active today, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is an American institution with an international reputation. George E. Lewis, who joined the collective as a teenager in 1971, establishes the full importance and vitality of the AACM with this communal history, written with a symphonic sweep that draws on a cross-generational chorus of voices and a rich collection of rare images. Moving from Chicago to New York to Paris, and from founding member Steve McCall's kitchen table to Carnegie Hall, "A Power Stronger Than Itself" uncovers a vibrant, multicultural universe and brings…

Dandelion Wine

By Ray Bradbury,

Book cover of Dandelion Wine

Kim M. Watt Author Of Baking Bad

From the list on the humour, confusion, and beauty of being human.

Who am I?

I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on, but my main loves have always been fantasy and sci-fi. Not so much because of the strange worlds their doors open onto, but because of what they tell us about being human. Because humans are odd and strange and beautiful and full of magic, and it seems more important than ever that we remember that. And not just remember it, but celebrate it, especially as it relates to those of us that are a little different and out of the ordinary. So I hunt out books that remind me how special it is to simply be delightfully, weirdly human. I hope you enjoy them!

Kim's book list on the humour, confusion, and beauty of being human

Discover why each book is one of Kim's favorite books.

Why did Kim love this book?

A mix of coming of age in the first half of the twentieth century, and Bradbury’s peculiar brand of very earthly oddness and sci-fi strangeness, Dandelion Wine is full of all sorts of magic. It reminds you of what it is to be a small human again, when everything seems possible, and aliens and monsters are as likely (and as important) as long summer days spent outside, barefoot and sunburnt and a little feral. Even when we don’t recognise the details of the childhood described, we remember the feeling, and it reawakens a sense of wonder that’s incredibly precious.

By Ray Bradbury,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Dandelion Wine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Dandelion Wine is a 1957 semi-autobiographical novel by Ray Bradbury, taking place in the summer of 1928 in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois — a pseudonym for Bradbury's childhood home of Waukegan, Illinois. The novel developed from the short story "Dandelion Wine" which appeared in the June 1953 issue of Gourmet magazine.

Die Trying

By Lee Child,

Book cover of Die Trying

Cam Torrens Author Of Stable: Someone is Taking Them...

From the list on suspense about veterans solving problems as civilians.

Who am I?

When I retired from the service, I wanted to be done with big decisions and just focus on family. I’d had enough war-zone drama. I’m drawn to stories where the veteran finds he/she just can’t do that. My protagonist in my debut, Stable deals with this. He’s overcome so much…the loss of his son, the loss of an aircrew, and years of depression. Now that he’s “back,” he just wants to lead a normal life. I wanted to show you can pull the veteran from the battlefield, but it’s hard to quell his or her desire to continue to serve—and the inherent conflict of service before self or family remains.

Cam's book list on suspense about veterans solving problems as civilians

Discover why each book is one of Cam's favorite books.

Why did Cam love this book?

It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of Lee Child’s protagonist Jack Reacher.

I recommend his second in the series to start with because that’s when Child started writing the rest of the series in third person as opposed to first.

Die Trying has Reacher witnessing a kidnapping, and ultimately being captured himself. As Reacher and the woman try to outsmart their captors and uncover the truth behind their abduction, the tension never lets up. 

But what really sets this book apart is how Reacher's military background is woven into the fabric of the story, creating a character whose unique perspective, skills, and experience make him an unstoppable force.

By Lee Child,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Die Trying as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jack Reacher, alone, strolling nowhere.

A Chicago street in bright sunshine. A young woman, struggling on crutches. He offers her a steadying arm.

And turns to see a handgun aimed at his stomach.

Chained in a dark van racing across America, Reacher doesn't know why they've been kidnapped. The woman claims to be FBI. She's certainly tough enough. But at their remote destination, will raw courage be enough to overcome the hopeless odds?

Never Come Morning

By Nelson Algren,

Book cover of Never Come Morning

Colin Asher Author Of Never a Lovely so Real: The Life and Work of Nelson Algren

From the list on Works Progress Administration or by WPA authors.

Who am I?

While writing Never a Lovely so Real, I fell into many traps. The Federal Writers Project was one of the deepest. Nelson Algren’s time at the project in Chicago saved him from personal and professional ruin. And I became a bit obsessed with the idea that, during the Great Depression, there had been a government program that hired writers by the hundreds and brought them together to work toward a common goal; one that helped shape a literary generation. As I say though, it was a pitfall. Most of what I learned wouldn’t fit in my book, but I’m grateful for all of the writing my research introduced me to.      

Colin's book list on Works Progress Administration or by WPA authors

Discover why each book is one of Colin's favorite books.

Why did Colin love this book?

Never Come Morning is Nelson Algren’s second novel and his first great book.  He wrote it during his time with the Federal Writers’ Project in Chicago, between working on a cookbook, a travel guide, and sundry other assignments. In some ways, this book feels of a piece with his first. In some ways, this book feels like a piece with his first. Both books center on alienated young men; both are coming-of-age stories (after a manner). But this novel was a leap forward for Algren. The psychological portrait of its protagonist is fully realized, and the prose sings. Algren had the project to thank for both developments. He used the access his job afforded him to conduct interviews, portions of which made their way into the novel verbatim. And with the projects’ financial support, he was able to revise for months, and months – folding nuance, insight, and poetry into…

By Nelson Algren,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Never Come Morning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Never Come Morning is unique among the novels of Algren. The author's only romance, the novel concerns Brun Bicek, a would-be pub from Chicago's Northwest side, and Steffi, the woman who shares his dream while living his nightmare. "It is an unusual and brilliant book," said The New York Times. "A bold scribbling upon the wall for comfortable Americans to ponder and digest." This new edition features an introduction by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and an interview with Nelson Algren by H.E.F. Donohue.

Weird Illinois

By Troy Taylor,

Book cover of Weird Illinois: Your Travel Guide to Illinois' Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets

Bill Lindsay Author Of Curse of a Devil

From the list on variety of quest for knowledge.

Who am I?

Ghost stories were always a part of my childhood. I believe most people wonder about what comes ‘after’. I have tried to keep up with the latest information regarding the unusual. I was a paranormal searcher and spent much time in the woods and forests. I have seen a few unusual, unexplained things. Curiosity and the thirst for knowledge still burn inside me. I suppose the mundane and redundant characteristics of my job gave me a desire to keep my mind searching for answers to difficult questions.  

Bill's book list on variety of quest for knowledge

Discover why each book is one of Bill's favorite books.

Why did Bill love this book?

I have always sought out the strange and unusual. This book covers many different phenomena. Whether it is ghosts, aliens, legends, cryptids, or just weird lore, this book has a wide scope. I live in the state and occasionally participate in investigations of these subjects. I even wrote a play Ghosts, Aliens, and Bigfoot. This book almost reminds me of being with my grandfather as a child. He loved to scare with local legends and ghost stories spun with his special brand of creepiness and humor. Reading this late at night took me back to those special times.

By Troy Taylor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Weird Illinois as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Explores bizarre sights and stories found in Illinois.

So Big

By Edna Ferber,

Book cover of So Big

Eileen Brill Author Of A Letter in the Wall

From the list on female protagonists who challenge norms.

Who am I?

Change is essential for growth. My degree is in economics and I started out in the corporate world until I had my second child, after which I became a painter and, eventually, a sign language interpreter. My mother was an inspiration to me, believing that learning and adapting are essential to knowing oneself. She was true to her values, proud and independent, rarely caring if others felt differently. At the age of 45, she earned her Bachelor’s degree and began a 30-year career in social work. Because of her influence on me, I tend to gravitate toward protagonists who are headstrong and evolve into self-sufficient, fulfilled individuals.

Eileen's book list on female protagonists who challenge norms

Discover why each book is one of Eileen's favorite books.

Why did Eileen love this book?

Novels really are timeless and this one, written almost 100 years ago, gives a portrait of feminism before it was a term. The protagonist Selena has a strong work ethic and doesn’t fear the implications of being a widowed mother of a young son and needing to run a small farm on her own. I loved that she relishes the challenge of her responsibility and thinks outside the box to find a niche market, becoming successful by not succumbing to the expectations of others. She doesn’t feel tamped down by her farming community’s judgments of what she can and cannot accomplish. Reading, and enjoying, a novel published in 1924 reminded me that oldies are quite often the besties.

By Edna Ferber,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked So Big as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inspired by the life events of Antje Paarlberg, So Big is an award-winning drama that depicts the life of Selina Peake de Jong. Raised in a strict farming community, Selina decides to be a schoolteacher. Good-hearted and kind, she attempts to inspire her students to work for their dreams, no matter how nontraditional they seem. By encouraging artistic expression, Selina changes the lives of her students. When she marries a farmer named Pervus, the two welcome a baby boy into their family, naming their child Dirk. However, after the family suffers a tragic loss, Selina is forced to quit her…

Monster Theory

By Jeffrey Jerome Cohen,

Book cover of Monster Theory: Reading Culture

Michael E. Heyes Author Of Margaret's Monsters: Women, Identity, and the Life of St. Margaret in Medieval England

From the list on understanding monsters.

Who am I?

What could possibly captivate the mind more than monsters? As a kid, I eagerly consumed books from authors like R.L. Stine, Stephen King, and HP Lovecraft. I watched George Romero, Wes Craven, and John Carpenter, and played games like Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire: The Masquerade, and The Call of Cthulhu. When I discovered monster studies in my PhD years—a way to read monsters as cultural productions that tell us something about the people that create them—I was hooked. Ever since, I get to continue reading my favorite books, watching my favorite movies, and playing my favorite games. It’s just that now someone’s paying me to do it.

Michael's book list on understanding monsters

Discover why each book is one of Michael's favorite books.

Why did Michael love this book?

There aren’t many discussions in my field that don’t at least nod to, if not begin with, Cohen’s contribution, "Monster Culture". Cohen lays out a way to think about monsters as embodiments of culture that has been invaluable to their study, a way to “mine” monsters for the cultural “gold” from which they are made. While the field has expanded since Cohen, it should be the starting point for anyone seriously interested in monstrosity. There are also stand-out chapters on a variety of topics, from Frankenstein and Jurassic Park to Beowulf and the perception of medieval Muslim monstrosity. 

By Jeffrey Jerome Cohen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Monster Theory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Monsters provide a key to understanding the culture that spawned them. So argues the essays in this wide-ranging collection that asks the question, what happens when critical theorists take the study of monsters seriously as a means of examining our culture? In viewing the monstrous body as metaphor for the cultural body, the contributors consider beasts, demons, freaks, and fiends as symbolic expressions of very real fears and desires, signs of cultural unease that pervade society and shape its collective behaviour. Through a sampling of monsters as a conceptual category, these essays argue that our fascination for the monstrous testifies…