Fiction Review: “A Better World” by Marcus Sakey

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Fiction, Genres No Comments »

ABetterWorldAfter all the time Marcus Sakey spent creating a stratified, believable world of gifted and normal races, all he intended to do was knock the blocks over. Pour the bucket of water on the sand castle.

Let’s back up. Last summer Sakey released the thriller “Brilliance,” where about one-percent of the population had strange talents, like the ability to anticipate body motion, count large numbers in seconds, or see computer code. “Brilliance” was a marvel of total immersion. The world felt fully explained and realized partly because almost every character the protagonist Nick Cooper (at the time a “gifted” government agent) encountered was dimensional. Every place fully drawn and realized.

“A Better World,” the sequel to “Brilliance” carries none of that over. For one thing, it likely wouldn’t stand alone if encountered first on a bookshelf. Compared to how thoroughly “Brilliance” delineated the systems we all encounter, “A Better World” just requires a lot of swallowing and accepting. Characters so pivotal and fascinating in “Brilliance,” like a financier gifted with supreme probability analysis, barely seem familiar here. The main characters—Cooper, his love interest Shannon, his ex-wife Natalie—don’t reveal any more of themselves. Read the rest of this entry »

Lit 50 2014: Who Really Books in Chicago

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Photo: Joe Mazza/BraveLux

When we began work on the 2012 version of Lit 50, there were some 200 published writers on our long list. This year, there were 437. As always, trimming the list to a mere fifty writers required a certain kind of agony (and a few sleepless nights), but we’re proud of the list we gathered here, and we feel it celebrates the wealth of talent and diversity of Chicago’s literary community.

Close followers of Lit 50 will know this year’s list celebrates writers across all forms: novelists, essayists, poets, graphic novelists, playwrights. Our call to local literary folk yielded a wealth of celebratory news: overseas teaching offers, sealed book deals, hard-earned fellowships and awards. It also introduced dozens of writers that were not already known to us. We’re proud that this year’s Lit 50 includes seventeen writers who are making their first appearance on this list, including Chris Abani, the Nigerian-born writer who escaped a death row sentence in 1991 and now teaches graduate students at Northwestern University. We’re thrilled to add Lindsay Hunter, Cristina Henriquez, and Kate Harding, women whose voices we’ve long admired and whose forthcoming books we’re impatient to read. We’re also eager to welcome a handful of poets, including Roger Reeves, Parneshia Jones, and Roger Bonair-Agard.  It’s our crazy hope that in 2016, the “short” list will have doubled once more. But someone’s going to have to bring us some whiskey. (Naomi Huffman)

Lit 50 was written by Liz Baudler, Brendan Buck, Brian Hieggelke, Alex Houston, Naomi Huffman, Megan Kirby, Micah McCrary and John Wilmes

All photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at Spertus Institute/Venue SIX10
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Fiction Review: “Brilliance” by Marcus Sakey

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brilliance_marcus_sakey_a_pRECOMMENDED

Like dystopia? Like thrillers, and like them smart? Marcus Sakey’s newest title “Brilliance” more than lives up to the title. It’s 2013 (but not ours), and government agent Nick Cooper is fighting an epidemic of savants. In the mid-1980s, children started being born with “gifts”— things like advanced insight into computer code, strategy, computation and, for Cooper himself, reading body language. The “brilliants” are isolated, sent to special schools and ostracized. Society tends to look at them askance. Random gifted terrorist attacks don’t help their case with the “normals” and Cooper’s job is to find the gifted terrorists before they strike—and kill them.

In the wake of the NSA scandals, “Brilliance” seems prescient. Longtime readers of Sakey will be thrilled that his high-stakes plotting hasn’t deserted him—terrible things happen early and just get worse. And he chose a fascinating subject—intelligence—to build a dystopia upon. Read the rest of this entry »

Lit 50: Who really books in Chicago 2010

Lit 50 14 Comments »

Illustration: Pamela Wishbow

A strange and unpleasant wind blows through the literary land. Our obsession with technocultural toys, whether iPhones, iPads or Kindles, makes the foundation of thought almost since thought was recorded, that is ink on paper, seem increasingly destined to be twittered into obsolescence. And it’s not just mere media frenzy, either. Massive upheaval among major publishers these last few years has left some of Chicago’s finest writers stranded in a strange land: that is, the work is finished, but no one is around to put it out. Who knows, maybe in two years when this version of Lit 50 returns, some, if not all, of our authors will be publishing mostly, if not entirely, in the digital realm. If that’s the case, let’s enjoy an old-fashioned book or two while we can. Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Preview: Literary Rock ‘n’ Roll/Metro

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RECOMMENDED

You can always count on Columbia College’s Story Week to provide some against-the-grain programming—its annual “Literary Rock ‘n’ Roll” evening, traditionally held at Metro, is usually the highlight of the festival. (Though one could imagine Joyce Carol Oates, this year, would be tough to beat.) Tonight features three authors—”Love & Obstacles” and “The Lazarus Project” scribe Aleksandar Hemon, pretty much the face of Chicago lit these days; Bonnie Jo Campbell, who penned the excellent 2009 short story collection “American Salvage”; and local crime author Marcus Sakey, whose most recent novel, “The Amateurs,” is a sharp, gritty read that you could take down in one sitting. On top of the live words, The Bread and Puppet Theater perform, and Joe Shanahan and Don De Grazia spin. Did I mention it’s free? Yeah, it’s free. (Tom Lynch)

March 18 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark, (773)549-0203, 6pm. Free.

Literary Events Preview: Columbia College’s Story Week

Lit Events, News Etc., Readings No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

The 2010 edition of Columbia College’s week-long festival kicks off Sunday and through the next seven days offers an array of readings and discussions with highly acclaimed authors, local and beyond.  At Martyrs’ on Sunday night, Randy Albers, Kim Morris, Sam Weller and more read as part of “2nd Story.” On Monday, literary legend Joyce Carol Oates examines her work as part of two separate discussions at the Harold Washington Library. Later that night, Sheffield’s Beer Garden hosts the “Down and Dirty Grad Reading,” with Jeff Jacobsen, J. Adams Oaks and Alexis Pride. On Tuesday evening at the Harold Washington Library, authors Achy Obejas and Alexandar Hemon discuss “Genres from Afar,” with John Dale and host Patricia Ann McNair. Wednesday afternoon at Harold Washington Library, Joe Meno hosts “Genre Bending—The Faces of Fiction” with Mort Castle, Maggie Estep, David Morrell and Kevin Nance; later that evening at 6pm Sam Weller hosts a similar discussion at the same location. Events continue through Friday, with appearances by Marcus Sakey, Rick Kogan, Sean Chercover, Stephanie Kuehnert and more. More details can be found on Newcity’s lit events page. (Tom Lynch)

Columbia College’s Story Week runs March 14-19 at various venues. The festival’s official website can be found at colum.edu/storyweek.

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2009: Books

Chicago Authors, Fiction, Top 5 Lists 3 Comments »

Top 5 Bookschronic_city
“Chronic City,” Jonathan Lethem (Doubleday)
“War Dances,” Sherman Alexie (Grove Press)
“Generosity: An Enhancement,” Richard Powers (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)
“Ruins,” Achy Obejas (Akashic Books)
“Inherent Vice,” Thomas Pynchon (Penguin Press)
—Tom Lynch

Top 5 Local Books
“Ruins,” Achy Obejas (Akashic Books)
“Her Fearful Symmetry,” Audrey Niffenegger (Scribner)
“How to Hold a Woman,” Billy Lombardo (OV Books)
“The Way Through Doors,” Jesse Ball (Vintage)
“The Adventures of Cancer Bitch,” S.L. Wisenberg (University of Iowa Press)
—Tom Lynch Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Word: Chicago’s Open Books arrives with a mission

Bookstores, Lit Events, News Etc. 1 Comment »

By Micah McCraryOBOOTeamPicAug2009

“More than fifty percent of the people in our city have low or limited literacy skills,” says Erin Walter, Literacy Director of Open Books in Chicago. “And sixty-one percent of low-income families nationwide have no children’s books at home.” Walter sits alongside Becca Keaty, Director of Marketing and Public Relations, and Stacy Ratner, Executive Director, in the soon-to-be-opened bookstore, which will house between 40,000 and 50,000 books by its grand opening November 21-22.

The store’s multicolored walls with inspirational and clever quotes like “He that loves reading has everything within his reach” resemble a painting of easter eggs, and ubiquitous shelves of purple, orange, green, pink and blue stand in ordered chaos, all of which can hold up to 60,000 books in total. In the children’s section, which is divided off by a standalone wall built to look like the front of a house, book clouds—donated books that have been painted to look like clouds in the sky—hang from a cerulean ceiling. A faux fireplace lounge hosts a wall covered by tiles purchased, customized and donated by both volunteers and by others who support the literary venture of Open Books. Read the rest of this entry »

Chasing the American Nightmare: Author Marcus Sakey turns Chicago’s shadows into his dream life

Chicago Authors, Fiction, Readings 1 Comment »

By Tom LynchSakey_Headshot_378

Marcus Sakey suggests we meet at the Starbucks at Clark and Belmont, just across the way from The Alley. Late afternoon on a weekday, the place is packed. Nowhere to sit, line out the door. Better idea—wanna get a beer at the L&L instead?

“Now you’re speaking my language,” he tells me, and we head over to the bar. Nobody wants to interview a crime writer in a Starbucks anyway.

Sakey grew up outside Flint, Michigan. His dad worked in the auto industry. He always loved to read and write, but didn’t study it at school. After college he landed an advertising job in Atlanta and spent years in that world, developing skills he jokingly says are “perfect for a crime novelist.” Met a girl at his office, married her.

Remember that scene in “Fight Club” when Tyler Durden turns the car into oncoming traffic and asks the passengers what they wish they would’ve done before they died? Sakey’s asking me. He says that’s what the moment was like when he decided to write books, or, at least, that’s how he would’ve answered that question. He left the advertising and marketing world, moved to Chicago and started to type. Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Preview: Story Week 2009

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RECOMMENDED

One of the city’s top literary events of the year, Columbia College’s Story Week begins on Sunday, and as usual features the best of the bunch-students and faculty-of the school, plus some high-profile outsiders, at various events scattered throughout the city. This week kicks off with the “2nd Story: Storytellers” event at Martyrs’ on Sunday night, featuring readings by CP Chang, Molly Each, Deb R. Lewis and Doug Whippo. Saturday features a Q&A with “Blue Angel” author Francine Prose at the Harold Washington Library, plus a reading at Sheffield’s Beer Garden by local crime guy Marcus Sakey. The Nelson Algren Tribute, Tuesday at the Harold Washington, features appearances by Joe Meno, Billy Lombardo, Stephanie Kuehnert, Bayo Ojikutu and J. Adams Oaks. On Wednesday at the Spertus Museum, Rick Kogan discusses Studs Terkel in a tribute to the man, with Donna Seaman, Bill Young, Alex Kotlowitz, Don De Grazia, Drew Ferguson and Ann Hemenway. And that’s just the first half of the festival. (Tom Lynch)

Story Week 2009 runs March 15-20 at various venues. Visit colum.edu/storyweek for complete details.