Arts and Culture

Add these local books to your 2018 reading list

Books by local authors and other Wisconsin ties

While we turn the page to 2018, now is as good a time as any to pick up a great book and put a dent in your yearly reading list. Below, our staff recommends 10 books—some brand new this year—written by local authors. We've also included a few books written by some of our very own contributors to Madison Magazine, as well as a list of 32 other books written by local authors or books that have Wisconsin ties. We'd say that part of the fun of starting a new book is the time you get to yourself—maybe wrapping up with a blanket by the fire and sipping on a cup of coffee or cocoa. (But that's not even the best part—we hear that comes in chapter 10.)  

“Enchantress of Numbers” by Jennifer Chiaverini
All hail the unheralded women of the world. Jennifer Chiaverini, a Madison resident and the New York Times best-selling author of “Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker,” is a champion of little-known women who’ve helped shape history. In the Madison resident’s newest book, “Enchantress of Numbers,” Chiaverini tells the tale of Ada Lovelace, credited with inventing the first computer code for Charles Babbage’s “Difference Engine” in 19th century England. The story starts with Lovelace’s calculating mother, who makes the ill-fated decision to marry Lord Byron, the era’s best-known and most admired Romantic poet turned madman. Ada becomes estranged from her famous father before she has a chance to know him, and her mother vows to raise Ada in the embrace of math and science, so as not to spark the sinister and dangerous creative attributes she might have inherited from her talented albeit maniacal father. Little does Ada’s mother realize, it would be the young countess of Lovelace’s imagination that helps her become an influential female figure still celebrated in the STEM world today. Dedicated to Chiaverini’s mathematician mother, this piece of historical fiction is a beautifully written story detailing the tenacity of a brilliant woman who steps out from the darkness of her father’s shadow. Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2017. –AB

“Into the Mystic: The Visionary and Ecstatic Roots of 1960s Rock and Roll” by Christopher Hill
The psychedelic context of popular music in the 1960s has been largely forgotten, leaving the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and The Velvet Underground as still loved and lauded but significantly diminished. So argues Madison writer Christopher Hill in his enthusiastic new book “Into the Mystic.” Hill resets the clock by tracing the influence of West African spiritualism, the British Invasion “detonator” (i.e., the arrival of the Beatles and other bands) and experimentation with psychedelic drugs. Understanding, rather than dismissing, “earlier visionary traditions” is key, Hill argues, because “if you can feel even a little of it, you will know the music better.” Hill dedicates entire chapters to illuminating the importance of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” and Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” albums. But his nostalgia trip makes a convincing case for the canon of rock and roll to also include prominently The Left Banke and The Incredible String Band, which seemed to spring from the tradition of medieval troubadours. Hill has written about rock music for Spin, Downbeat and Deep Roots Magazine, among other publications. “Into the Mystic” pushes his music journalism to new heights. Park Street Press, 2017. –JP

“The Hearts of Men” by Nickolas Butler
Explore northern Wisconsin’s Camp Chippewa in 1962 through Nickolas Butler’s 2017 novel “The Hearts of Men.” By following main character Nelson Doughty through three generations, Butler, a University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate and current Wisconsin resident, explores the relationship between parents and their children, the durability of friendships, the limits of bravery and the possibilities for the future. The novel is divided into four parts spanning 57 years. The story starts with Nelson, a lonely 13-year-old boy aiming to become an Eagle scout. Only one person befriends him, an older boy named Jonathan. This friendship extends throughout the novel as Jonathan’s son, daughter-in-law and grandson visit the summer camp where Nelson becomes the scoutmaster. Butler’s writing is so detailed, you can almost smell the Wisconsin woods. “The Hearts of Men” was a finalist for the 2016 Prix Médicis Étranger, a French literary award honoring a translated novel. It’s more than just a story about boy scouts experiencing summer camp—Butler brings up important questions about humanity and the world we live in today. HarperCollins Publishers, 2017. –MI

“If You Don’t Laugh You’ll Cry: The Occupational Humor of White Wisconsin Prison Workers” by Claire Schmidt
Let’s be clear: This is not a prison joke book. Rather, it’s an academic approach to explaining the always-fraught give-and-take between inmates and correctional officers. More fascinating than funny, this study of a very particular “occupational folklore” is based largely on the author’s interviews with members—generations, even—of her family who have worked in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. Subsequently, “If You Don’t Laugh You’ll Cry” offers a great deal of empathy for how humor makes life tolerable inside the state prison system. The books often strains but largely succeeds in explaining the context of the often racist and homophobic humor of guards and inmates. That can leave readers wondering if they “had to be there”—but grateful they weren’t—to get the jokes. University of Wisconsin Press, 2017. –JP

“In Warm Blood: Prison and Privilege, Hurt and Heart” by Judith Gwinn Adrian and DarRen Morris
This is a story of two people—a respected and accomplished professor at Edgewood College and an inmate at Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage serving a life term for murder—whose lives could not be more different and whose relationship could not be more profound. It’s a book about inherent differences and discovered similarities, told with brutal honesty and heartrending beauty. HenschelHAUS Publishing Inc., 2014 –NH

“Crossing the Driftless: A Canoe Trip Through a Midwestern Landscape” by Lynne Diebel
“Crossing the Driftless” is the account of a 359-mile paddling trip the author and her husband, Bob, took from Faribault, Minnesota, to their home in Stoughton. But “Crossing the Driftless” is far more than a travelogue. The relatively thin volume is a meticulously researched historical tour with ecologically minded observations and poetic descriptions of a regional river system being radically remade by commercial pressures. Terrace Books, a trade imprint of the University of Wisconsin Press, 2015. –JP

“The Immortalists” by Chloe Benjamin
On New York City’s Lower East Side in 1969, curiosity and fate lead four adolescent siblings to a fortune teller who changes all of their lives—by revealing when each of theirs will end. Twenty-nine-year-old author Chloe Benjamin, a University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate and Madison resident, goes on to tell the stories of the Gold children as they deal with love, life and impending death. “The Immortalists” was named by BookExpo of America as a 2017 “buzz” book, and Entertainment Weekly dubbed it one of 2018’s first must-reads. Before the book was officially published, The Jackal Group bought the television rights, and the story is slated to become a cable series. Putnam/Penguin Random House, 2018. –AB

“I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around” by Ann Garvin
Tig Monahan says all the things you’re not supposed to say. That's what lands Monahan, Ann Garvin’s main character, on a radio therapy show as host, in which she tries to unravel other people's problems while dealing with a heap of her own troubles, which hilariously and heartbreakingly reveal themselves on-air from time to time. Garvin, a Stoughton resident and professor at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, writes about tough topics, including the delicate role reversal of becoming the caretaker of a parent with Alzheimer’s disease. Garvin stresses the importance of loyalty, shame, self-care, a faithful dog and a good therapist in her latest novel, which is a USA Today bestseller. The local author also founded Tall Poppy Writers, a collective that connects authors to writers. Tall Poppy Writers also recently partnered with Francis Ford Coppola Winery to create Books & Bottles, a book club starter pack. Learn more about Books & Bottles here. Tyrus, an imprint of F+W Media Inc., 2016. –AB

“Braving It: A Father, a Daughter, and an Unforgettable Journey into the Alaskan Wild” by James Campbell
It’s not your average 15-year-old who knows how to fish for Arctic grayling, limb and peel logs with an axe and drawknife or brave wind chills 50 degrees below zero in a remote part of the Alaskan tundra. But this describes Lodi native Aidan Campbell, whose trips to Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with her father provided life skills earned through often dangerous journeys backpacking Alaska’s northernmost mountains, paddling a folding canoe 110 miles to the Arctic Ocean and even warming her frozen fingers in the carcass of a caribou. James Campbell, Aidan’s father and author of “Braving It,” writes this memoir about beauty—in the wilderness, in disconnecting and in the father-daughter bonding during an unforgettable journey. The Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, 2016. $16.86 –AB

“Indian Mounds of Wisconsin,” Second Edition, by Robert A. Birmingham and Amy L. Rosebrough
Mounds, sacred in Native American culture, are one of the most wondrous and significant remnants of any ancient civilization—and Wisconsin is home to some of the most significant. Mounds, specifically effigy mounds, are huge “earthworks” that appear as raised landscape features that take the shape of animals and other forms, and they acted as burial sites. There are more concentrations of mounds in Wisconsin built by an ancient civilization than anywhere else in the world. Authors Robert A. Birmingham, who for many years served as the state archaeologist of Wisconsin, and Amy L. Rosebrough, who is a Wisconsin archaeologist, explain the intriguing phenomenon and share recent findings in this second edition, adding more evidence that mound groups act as cosmological maps relating to the spiritual world. University of Wisconsin Press, 2017. –AB

TITLES BY OUR VERY OWN

Two longtime contributors and our editorial director have published or edited books.

“Love Poems Again” by Fabu
Fabu Phillis Carter, professionally known as Fabu, is a contributor to Madison Magazine and also served as Madison’s poet laureate from 2008 to 2011. Carter’s most recent work is her fourth collection of poetry titled “Love Poems Again,” is a collection that celebrates all kinds of love. Fabu wrote in her introduction that “all kinds of love are integral to our lives and need to be fully explored and expressed.” Fabu’s love poetry is stamped into the sidewalks at Willy Street Cooperative and in front of the Weary Traveler’s Restaurant. She also has poetry in the Atrium of the Park Villager Mall and in the South Madison Library. You can purchase her book at local bookstores and through her website artistfabu.com. 2015.

“Lords of the Ring: The Triumph and Tragedy of College Boxing’s Greatest Team” by Doug Moe
Doug Moe, a current columnist and blogger and former editor of Madison Magazine, has spent his career telling fascinating stories, and his 2005 book about the rise and fall of varsity boxing at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is no exception. Moe tells the story of a forgotten era in which Madison was the epicenter of a collegiate sport that drew larger crowds than heavyweight fights held at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Visit dougmoe.org to check out Moe’s six other books. University of Wisconsin Press, 2005.

“Drawn to Art: Works by People with Developmental Disabilities, the Collection at the Waisman Center,” a collection of art released by The Friends of the Waisman Center with a foreword by Timothy Shriver.
Neil Heinen, editorial director of Madison Magazine and WISC-TV, edited this first-of-its-kind collection of art. For the past four decades, the Waisman Center has curated artwork by the very people they try to help in the Harvey A. Stevens International Collection of Art, named after the center’s first administrator. Read more about this book by clicking here. The Waisman Center, 2017.

OTHER AUTHORS AND STORIES WITH WISCONSIN TIES

100 Things to Do in Madison Before You Dieby Katie Vaughn (Click here for a Q&A with the author)
America: The Cookbook by Gabrielle Langholtz and regional contributors Christine Muhlke and Ari Weinzweig
Cataclysm: Secrets of the Horn of Africaby Zeynab Ali
Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlifes of Our Nations Leadersby Brady Carlson
The Death and Life of the Great Lakesby Dan Egan
“Death in Cold Waterby Patricia Skalka
The Driftless Readerby Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley
Flock Together: A Love Affair with Extinct Birdsby B. J. Hollars
The Geiger Counter: Raised by Wolves & Other Storiesby Matt Geiger (Click here for a feature on Matt Geiger by Doug Moe)
The Genome Factor: What the Social Genomics Revolution Reveals about Ourselves, Our History, and the Future by Jason Fletcher and Dalton Conley
The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death, and the Search for the Meaning of the World’s Strangest Syndromesby Frank Bures
Heretics! The Wondrous (and Dangerous) Beginnings of Modern Philosophy by Steven Nadler and Ben Nadler (Click here to read a Madison Magazine feature about the book)
How to Be an Indian in the 21st Centuryby Louis V. Clark III
I Didn't Know There Were Latinos in Wisconsin: Three Decades of Hispanic Writing by Oscar Mireles (Learn more about the author through a Q&A, in his M List writeup or in his "Spectrum Voices" column.)
Infamous Mothersby Sagashus T. Levingston (Click here to read a feature on the author)
Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
Learning to Stay by Erin Celello (Click here to read a review of the Learning to Stay production by Forward Theater)
Life in a Northern Town: Cooking, Eating, and Other Adventures along Lake Superiorby Mary Dougherty
Mexicans in Wisconsinby Sergio M. González
Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy by Michael Perry
Networked News, Racial Divides: How Power & Privilege Shape Public Discourse in Progressive Communitiesby Sue Robinson (Click here to read an edited excerpt from the book published in Madison Magazine.)
Poker Brat: Phil Hellmuth’s Autobiographyby Phil Hellmuth (Click here for a feature on Phil Hellmuth by Doug Moe)
The Politics of Value: Three Movements to Change How We Think About the Economy by Jane L. Collins
Preservation: The Art and Science of Canning, Fermentation and Dehydrationby Christina Ward
The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic by Mike Duncan
Thousand-Miler: Adventures Hiking the Ice Age Trailby Melanie Radzicki McManus
Warriors, Saints and Scoundrels: Brief Portraits of Real People Who Shaped Wisconsinby Michael Edmonds and Samantha Snyder
We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam Warby Doug Bradley and Craig Werner
Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook: Iconic Fare and Nostalgia from Landmark Eateries by Mary Bergin


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