2021 Reading List: Local books to add to your collection

Stack your bookshelf with these Wisconsin-connected titles.
Photo by Nikki Hansen

Every year we publish a list of books that have Wisconsin authors or connections. From “Wisconsin cocktails” to “Storied and Scandalous Wisconsin,” you might find an interesting read to add to your own 2021 reading list.

Think Like a DJ: 7 Steps to Spin Poverty Into Prosperity” by Martinez White
Martinez White says, “You are the DJ of your life, and you are also the music.” In his debut book, “Think Like a DJ,” he offers advice on how to find your passion and cultivate it. Using metaphors in music, White’s self-help book released in August 2020 is written with people of color, the LGBTQ community and female leaders in mind. This quick read promotes interaction, leaving room for you to write down your own dream statement and list ways to connect your talents to potential revenue streams — plus, there are multiple “dream pages” in the back of the book to help you start crafting your own master plan. White is a firm believer that “artre-preneurship” — the monetization of artistic gifts — is the “best defense against institutionalized racism.” He is an Emmy Award recipient, a founding member of the Wisconsin Association of Black Men, CEO of Intuition Productions and the son of legendary radio DJ O.C. White. –AB

Every Now and Then” by Lesley Kagen
Set in Summit, Wisconsin, Lesley Kagen’s latest novel is a suspenseful coming-of-age tale that follows the story of three 11-year-old girls one fateful summer in 1960. After three patients escape from Broadhurst Mental Institution, Frankie, Viv and Biz set out on an adventure to uncover secrets that they have no idea might cost them their lives. Six decades later, Biz is still haunted by what happened that summer. Kagen, a New York Times bestselling author living in a small Wisconsin town, adds “Every Now and Then” to her eight previous titles. Novel writing is only one of Kagen’s many talents. She is also an actress, a voice-over talent, a sought-after speaker and a child advocate. –AB

Everything’s Not Fine” by Sarah J. Carlson
Sarah J. Carlson must have had a crystal ball when she decided to write a contemporary young adult fiction novel about discovering resiliency and facing things you can’t control. While Carlson’s story of 17-year-old Rose Hemmersbach doesn’t cover the COVID-19 pandemic, it centers on another very real epidemic in the state of Wisconsin — the opioid overdose crisis. Living in Sparta, Wisconsin, Rose must find her footing after the traumatizing effects of her mother’s heroin overdose. “Everything’s Not Fine” follows Carlson’s debut 2019 novel, ¬¬¬“All the Walls of Belfast,” a past Madison Magazine local reading list pick. Carlson, who lives in the Madison area, works as a school psychologist at an elementary school with a diverse, mostly low-income population. –AB

The United States of Cocktails: Recipe, Tales, and Traditions From All 50 States (and the District of Columbia)” by Brian Bartels
“The United States of Cocktails,” released in September 2020, is a chronicle of America’s great communal gathering spots and the drinks that draw us there. Author Brian Bartels, who currently lives in Wisconsin and co-owns Settle Down Tavern at 117 S. Pinckney St., visited more than 700 establishments in 44 out of 50 states while working a full-time job in New York (approximately 60 hours per week) during a four-month period. This book — filled with recipes, history, advice, folklore, scene setting, entertaining illustrations and delicious direct quotes from stalwarts — captures the true spirit of enjoying spirits. But it’s a bit sad to read at times knowing that COVID-19 forced many local watering holes and cocktail dens to close doors that may never open again. It also triggers two currently insatiable cravings: wanderlust and a night out on the town. The curated approach to an encyclopedic subject matter provides readers with a guide that describes each state’s distinct bar culture. “I wanted to apply history and curiosity into the same wheelhouse and have a book that translated as informative and fun come from the research and experience,” Bartels says. –AB

Wisconsin Cocktails” by Jeanette Hurt
Jeanette Hurt’s “Wisconsin Cocktails” answers all your questions — historical as well as geographical — about bloody marys, hot toddies, slushes and more. “Wisconsin Cocktails” offers more than 130 recipes for the home bartender. The author of “The Cheeses of Wisconsin: A Culinary Travel Guide” (2008) also provides a handy appendix for Wisconsin cocktail and cheese pairings. With this book on hand, you will know how to order a proper brandy Old-Fashioned and no longer have to rely on the vaguely remembered mixology of your friends and relatives. –JP

A Small Earnest Question” by J.F. Riordan
Book No. 4 in the North of the Tension Line series, “A Small Earnest Question” opens a window into the imagined everyday life of Washington Island residents in Door County. With a year-round population of 708, Washington Island certainly makes a fun backdrop for a story involving many interconnected characters, including Elisabeth, who’s eager to open a remodeled hotel; Roger, an aspiring bartender; Marcie, a real estate agent; and Emily, who wants to start a literary festival. You might just have to take a trip to Door County and let this small-town story suck you in. J.F. Riordan, who has been called a modern-day Jane Austen, lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three dogs. –AB


Photo by Andrea Behling

Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die” by Steven Nadler
The radical thinking of 17th century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza has been the subject of several books by University of Wisconsin–Madison philosophy professor Steven Nadler. He wrote the biography “Spinoza: A Life” in 2001 and “A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age” in 2013, among others. But in this latest examination, “Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die,” Nadler zeros in on the enduring relevance of this early critic of biblical thinking. More than three centuries ago, Spinoza asked how a “free person” can lead a good and happy life without God. Nadler shares Spinoza’s conclusions in a way that’s easily understood by a 21st century reader looking to live their best life. –JP

Cheese: The Making of a Wisconsin Tradition” by Jerry Apps
Since “Cheese: The Making of a Wisconsin Tradition” was first published in 1998, the state’s dairy industry has undergone significant change led by large-scale factory farming and an increasing demand for artisan cheeses. For this second edition released in September 2020, Jerry Apps — a prolific chronicler of rural Wisconsin life — updates the story by finding, over the subsequent 22 years, far fewer dairy farms but a greater number of cheese plants producing specialty cheeses. Apps includes the voices of many of today’s cheesemakers and industry leaders who have adapted to uphold a Wisconsin tradition. –JP

When the White Pine Was King: A History of Lumberjacks, Log Drives, and Sawdust Cities in Wisconsin” by Jerry Apps
Logging, another industry that defined Wisconsin, especially in its early settlement days, is examined though a historical lens. Jerry Apps finds colorful characters among the lumberjacks, camp cooks and sawmill operators in the north woods. And the author doesn’t overlook the aftermath, when farming entered the cutover areas with mixed success and reforestation efforts were eventually undertaken. Reading “When the White Pine Was King” will leave you with greater appreciation for the vast majesty of northern Wisconsin’s forestlands. –JP

Coming Out, Moving Forward: Wisconsin’s Recent Gay History” by R. Richard Wagner
A follow-up to R. Richard Wagner’s 2019 book “We’ve Been Here All Along: Wisconsin’s Early Gay History,” this new volume picks up where the last ended — with the 1969 Stonewall riots — and continues the story to 2000. The events at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village proved pivotal for the struggle for LGBTQ rights across the country — a struggle that saw early success in Wisconsin. Although the state’s first gay pride event was held in Madison in 1970, it would take until 1982 for Wisconsin to become the first state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, education and public accommodations. Wisconsin was also the first state to elect an openly gay person to Senate in still-serving Sen. Tammy Baldwin. In “Coming Out, Moving Forward,” Wagner also traces local activism around the AIDS pandemic and in support of same-sex marriage. Personally engaged with much of this history was Wagner, the first openly gay member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors, co-chair of the Wisconsin Governor’s Council on Lesbian and Gay Issues and a board member for Fair Wisconsin, which fought for marriage equality. –JP

Make Way for Liberty: Wisconsin African Americans in the Civil War” by Jeff Kannel
Jeff Kannel, a volunteer at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha, fills a gap in our historical knowledge about the role Wisconsin’s Black soldiers played in the U.S. Civil War. His new book, “Make Way for Liberty,” asserts that while their total numbers were few, African Americans from the Badger state were significant in at least five regiments of the U.S. Colored Infantry, members of which died in combat at much higher rates than white Union Army troops. Black soldiers who survived and lived in Wisconsin after the war experienced “acceptance and respect for their service but rejection and discrimination based on their race,” according to the Wisconsin Historical Society Press prior to the book’s publication in November. –JP

Storied and Scandalous Wisconsin: A History of Mischief and Menace, Heroes and Heartbreak” by Anna Lardinois
Resident Milwaukee legends and lore expert Anna Lardinois released her latest book, “Storied and Scandalous Wisconsin,” in 2020. Each page details gripping tales of mob bosses, crimes, red light districts, suspicious deaths and scandals from all over the state. Lardinois shares insights and stories you may have never heard before, like the attempted assassination of Theodore Roosevelt or a murdered mistress at Taliesin. In 2021, Lardinois is also planning to publish “Shipwrecks of the Great Lakes: Tragedies and Legacies from the Inland Seas,” detailing the tragedies from the iconic lakes. –MI

I Thought You Said This Would Work” by Ann Garvin
USA Today bestselling author Ann Garvin is out with a new book to devour — “I Thought You Said This Would Work.” The novel, which comes out May 1, centers around two ex-best friends forced to travel together on a cross-country road trip to complete a favor for a mutual friend hospitalized with cancer. “I Thought You Said This Would Work” takes the reader on an adventure filled with twists and turns through the highs and lows of friendships and what it means to care about others. –MI

“Shoulder Season” by Christina Clancy
If you fell in love with the characters in Christina Clancy’s debut novel “The Second Home,” you’ll want to pick up her second book, “Shoulder Season,” to meet Sherri Taylor. The sophomore author, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, offers another story about defining moments in youth and finding “home.” Oh, and did we mention the setting? “Shoulder Season” takes you back to the 1980s at the Playboy resort in Lake Geneva. (It was a real place!) Clancy’s fascinating and well-researched book is available for pre-order now and goes on sale July, 6, 2021. –AB

“The Last Watch” by J.S. Dewes
Early reviews of “The Last Watch” are name dropping “Battlestar Galactica,” “Games of Thrones” and “The Expanse,” so you can imagine how excited the sci-fi reading community is for this new book. It’s the debut novel of J.S. Dewes, a Madison-based author. Her sci-fi tale featuring a motley crew of underdogs is being heralded as a funny, heart-pounding page turner. “The Last Watch” is available for pre-order and goes on sale April 20, 2021. –AB

“The Brain on Youth Sports: The Science, the Myths, and the Future” by Julie M. Stamm, Ph.D.
The conversation is certainly not over about the devastating head injuries that happen in sports — not just the NFL. Julie Stamm has a vested interest in and has spent years researching the consequences of repetitive brain trauma. Her soon-to-release book, “The Brain on Youth Sports,” dives into the real effects as well as the myths about head impacts in youth sports. In addition to her research as a scientist, Stamm is also an anatomist and was previously an athletic trainer and a three-sport high-school athlete. She’s received training in brain imaging and also conducted research on former NFL players. She’s currently a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her book goes on sale July 3, 2021, but can be pre-ordered now. –AB

3 Poetry Books to Awaken Your Soul
Poetry can both comfort you and make you uncomfortable. Three recently published collections offer musings from three local poets. “You Can Not Burn the Sun” is a collection of poetry from Matthew Charles, a 25-year-old who writes about his Black experiences in today’s world. The self-published poetry book was born from “the murder of George Floyd, tear gas, racism in the workplace, the pursuit of refuge and grief.” Heather Swan, who teaches writing and environmental literature at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, released “A Kinship With Ash,” in which she “uses nature to look inward,” according to Amaud Jamaul Johnson, a fellow poet and teacher at UW–Madison. In “Grimoire,” released in 2020, poet and UW–Madison professor Cherene Sherrard explores Black womanhood and motherhood and the recovery and preservation of ancestral knowledge. “Grimoire” begins with a series of poems that re-imagine recipes from one of the first cookbooks by a Black woman.

Four Children’s Book Authors Inspire
Children are encouraged to explore and celebrate the wider world around them in several new books by Madison authors.

In “The Grey Giant” and “Circus Freaks” by Jesse Brookstein, the main characters defy the prejudices of others and discover beauty and demonstrate heroism in the process. “Both books tackle the all-important concepts of acceptance, tolerance and inclusivity,” says Brookstein, who is selling the self-published titles at karatefightpublishing.com. Jessalyn Mailoa illustrated both books. Brookstein says the website will also “showcase the work of other local artists and authors, all free of charge, in hopes of highlighting the many unheralded creatives that live within our community.”

In her five self-published children’s books, Dineo Dowd, an avid hiker, urges young readers to spend time outside. The children in her books are depicted as racially diverse, something Dowd says she found lacking in much children’s literature. Dowd’s latest book, “Christmas From Both Worlds,” came out in November. It follows her other books — “Summer Camping,” “Spring Hike,” “Adventure Day” and “Sunset Hike” — all of which are available at dineodowd.com.

Getting kids talking about their mental health is the intention behind the new book “Exactly YOU! The Shape of Your Feelings,” written and illustrated by Sarah Krajewski. Krajewski hopes “Exactly YOU!” can start conversations between adults and young people about low self-esteem and depression. Krajewski promotes positivity as a Cambridge Elementary School art teacher. The 2018 Wisconsin Art Educator of the Year is known to her students as “The Glitter Fairy” because she dresses the part and distributes glitter in class.

Due out in April is a new book by former American Girl Magazine editor Andrea Debbink. “The Wild World Handbook: How Adventurers, Artists, Scientists — and You — Can Protect Earth’s Habitats” is the first of two illustrated guides by Quirk Books meant to inspire climate activism among Generation Z and Alpha. Debbink is the author of three other books for young readers: “Spark: A Guide to Ignite the Creativity Inside You,” “Think for Yourself: The Ultimate Guide to Critical Thinking in an Age of Information Overload” and “Trees (Field Guides for Kids).”

Itty Bitty Makes a Big Entrance
Dominique Lenaye opens first Black-owned brick-and-mortar bookstore in the Madison area.

The library was always Dominique Lenaye’s favorite spot to hang out at growing up, and owning her own bookstore was a childhood dream. “Into adulthood, I started to realize there was a lack of representation in almost everything I read,” she says. “I didn’t see myself in much around me, and as I started teaching my daughter to read it became more and more important to me that we bring representation into our household.”

Fast-forward to today, and Lenaye is the new owner of Stoughton’s Itty Bitty Bookstore, where she makes sure there are books on the shelves that provide diverse representation and storytelling. Located above the restaurant Wendigo, Itty Bitty Bookstore holds the title of the only Black-owned business on Stoughton’s Main Street.

The name is literal, as Itty Bitty is housed in a 120-square-foot midsize office space. “I live a very minimalistic lifestyle and have always loved the idea of having only what’s needed,” Lenaye says.

Lenaye’s call to action came when she decided to start a fundraiser to create yard signs for Stoughton residents to show that their town was a welcoming place for people of color. “Our community has been in need of more Black representation for years,” Lenaye wrote in an update on her GoFundMe page. Lenaye decided to take her initiative a step further by filling those shoes herself. “As an educator, a mother and person of color, I see every day how important it is to see yourself in your surroundings,” she says.