The 2022 big book list of Wisconsin-connected reads

This year we present our largest annual look at the literary scene, featuring author profiles, a guide to independent bookshops and more local reads than ever before.
stack of books with a graphic cat sitting on top
Photo by Nikki Hansen/Illustrations by Getty Image and Tim Burton

This year we present our largest annual look at the literary scene, featuring author profiles, a guide to independent bookshops and more local reads than ever before.

Every year we publish a list of books that have Wisconsin authors or connections, but this is our biggest list to date. Take a look at this year’s reading list.

A Perfect Pair, Crossing the Pressure Line, God Human Animal Machine covers

Courtesy of authors

“A Perfect Pair” by Jesse Brookstein
Known for its cheese production, Green County is the only place in the country where the infamously odorous Limburger is made. But the county should also be credited for its production of another food item that borders on being a regional delicacy: landjaeger. Jesse Brookstein introduces readers to the history of the sausage snack through “A Perfect Pair: The History of Landjaeger in Green County, Wisconsin,” published by Karate Fight Publishing, an imprint he founded in 2020. Brookstein shares photos and stories in 140 pages after exploring six different meat shops and other spots to chat with local producers and meat science experts in “Landjaeger County, USA.” –MI

“Crossing the Pressure Line” by Laura Anne Bird
Laura Anne Bird might be the city’s biggest literary fan; she’s a voracious reader and book reviewer on Readers Lane and Instagram, and a tireless champion of local authors. Now she’s become an author herself with her debut middle-grade novel, “Crossing the Pressure Line,” due out in March. It follows Clare Burch, a 12-year-old girl who is grieving the loss of her grandfather. Clare travels to the north woods for the summer with her little blind dog to carry out her grandfather’s final wishes and reconcile her grief, but she finds herself in an unexpected position to help someone else. –MG

“God, Human, Animal, Machine” by Meghan O’Gieblyn
Madison essayist, cultural critic and three-time winner of The Pushcart Prize author Meghan O’Gieblyn’s second nonfiction book, “God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning,” is a fresh, philosophical examination of artificial intelligence, religion and the human experience. O’Gieblyn’s first essay collection, “Interior States,” won The Believer Book Award for Nonfiction. This new book has been similarly well received, with The New York Times Book Review calling it “a hybrid beast, a remarkably erudite work of history, criticism and philosophy, but it is also, crucially, a memoir.” –MG

the comfort of monsters, the good son and the last watch book covers

Courtesy of authors

“The Comfort of Monsters” by Willa C. Richards
In the summer of 1991 — otherwise known as the “Dahmer Summer,” in which serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s heinous crimes dominated headlines — the fictional Peg McBride’s teenage sister, Dee, went missing. Nearly 30 years later, Peg and her mother, with the help of a psychic, try to piece together what happened to Dee in this novel, Milwaukee author Willa C. Richards’ debut. Richards was a Truman Capote Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Although the account is fictional, Richards’ real-life experience with a cold case led her to wonder why some victims garner attention while others don’t. –MG

“The Good Son” by Jacquelyn Mitchard
Although she moved out east after more than 35 years in the Madison area, New York Times bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard will always belong to Madison in our hearts. Her debut novel, “The Deep End of the Ocean,” was Oprah’s very first book club pick back in 1996, selling millions of copies. Twenty-two books later, Mitchard’s latest release, “The Good Son,” tracks a mother’s experience after her son is released from prison for a drug-fueled murder. He struggles to regain his footing while her former good friend — the mother of the victim — rallies the community against him. –MG

“The Last Watch” by J.S. Dewes
Life aboard the SCS Argus — an immobile spacecraft on the edge of the universe — is morose and mundane for its misfit crew members until the unthinkable happens. The seemingly ever-expanding universe starts closing in on them. This band of soldiers begins a heart-pounding race against the barren void that waits on the other side of the collapsing Divide in order to save their lives and possibly the universe. This sci-fi tale is written by J.S. Dewes, a Madison-based author who has already followed up this 2021 debut novel with a second book in The Divide Series, “The Exiled Fleet.” –AB

the midwest survival guide and the one-bowl baker books

Courtesy of authors

“The Midwest Survival Guide” by Charlie Berens
Comedian and newly minted author Charlie Berens has “ope’d” and “oh my gosh’d” his way into a career that celebrates Midwestern culture with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor. Those familiar with the thick Wisconsin accent that made Berens famous through his “Manitowoc Minute” series will likely find themselves hearing his signature dialect when reading his new book, “The Midwest Survival Guide: How We Talk, Love, Work, Drink, and Eat … Everything With Ranch.” Playful and hilarious illustrations, quizzes, jokes and how-to’s make for a fun read that nails what life is like in the land of casserole-loving, flannel-wearing Midwesterners. –AB

“The One-Bowl Baker” by Stephanie Simmons
Stephanie Simmons, the founder of the Blue Bowl Recipes food blog, says it’s time to ditch the dirty dishes and boxed baking mixes. Find 60 of her “easy, unfussy recipes” in her first book, “The One-Bowl Baker,” which is set to be released this month. The book begins with basic baking tips, and each chapter provides simple ingredients and instructions for crafting savory and sweet creations that any amateur baker could handle. Recipes include salted caramel sauce, butterbeer cupcakes and heirloom tomato galette with Gouda and Asiago cheese. –Gaby Vinick

Shoulder Season, Something Wild and Wisconsin Farms and Farmers Markets covers

Courtesy of authors

“Shoulder Season” by Christina Clancy
It’s 1981 and 19-year-old Sherri Taylor is squeezing into a bodysuit as one of the newest bunnies at the Lake Geneva Playboy Club. Her mesmerizing coming-of-age story in “Shoulder Season” is dotted with love, lust, nights of reverie, tears, lessons and life-altering moments. Madison author Christina Clancy’s well-researched work gives readers a sexy and sumptuous look into a fictional story that might not be that different from those of the small-town Wisconsin girls who traded farm boots for bunny ears. –AB

“Something Wild” by Hanna Halperin
UW–Madison MFA graduate Hanna Halperin’s somber and lyrical debut novel provides a rare glimpse into the nuances of domestic violence and the complexities of sibling relationships. Two sisters share a traumatic childhood experience, the details of which are revealed over a weekend as they help their mother move out of the family house. Halperin deftly demonstrates how siblings can be shaped differently by the same experience, how trauma ripples through generations and how helpless we feel when our loved ones need help most. –MG

“Wisconsin Farms and Farmers Markets” by Kristine Hansen
Kristine Hansen’s second solo book is a handy guide to Wisconsin’s robust agritourism community. Breaking the state into four distinct regions, Hansen showcases creameries, farmers’ markets, farm stays and stands, orchards, wineries, cideries, county fairs and more. The nationally recognized freelance journalist has explored the state throughout her writing career and incorporates that knowledge into this resource for both travelers and locals. “Wisconsin’s Farms and Farmers Markets: Tours, Trails and Attractions” is a book Hansen has wanted to write since a Willy Street Co-op-sponsored trip when she visited farms with chefs, including eight-time James Beard Award winner Rick Bayless. –MI

More Can’t-Miss Nonfiction
In “Half in Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Nellie Y. McKay,” Shanna Greene Benjamin excavates a personal history of her late mentor and fellow alumna, McKay, a UW–Madison professor who helped pioneer the scholarly study of Black writing that had been ignored by white academia. “Shape” by UW–Madison mathematics professor Jordan Ellenberg was an instant New York Times bestseller, and its subtitle says it all: “The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else.” “Redeeming Justice: From Defendant to Defender, My Fight for Equity on Both Sides of a Broken System” is a new book by attorney Jarrett Adams, a Black man exonerated by the Wisconsin Innocence Project after being convicted by an all-white jury and serving nearly 10 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. –MG

20 Other Wisconsin-Connected Reads:
“A Driftless Murder” by Jerry McGinley
“Agatha of Little Neon” by Claire Luchette
“Bad Moon Rising” by John Galligan
“Brave Crossing: A Journey In-Between” by Maria Alvarez Stroud
“Coercive Relationships: Find the Answers You Seek” by Jennifer C. Parker
“Dead Lines: Slices of Life from the Obit Beat” by George Hesselberg
“Godspeed” by Nickolas Butler
“Hello, Transcriber” by Hannah Morrissey
“Hope Is the Thing: Wisconsinites on Perseverance in a Pandemic” edited by B.J. Hollars
“How the Arts Can Save Education: Transforming Teaching, Learning, and Instruction” by Erica Halverson
“How to Walk with Steve” by Robert Fromberg
“Lies of Omission: A Hanneke Bauer Mystery” by Kathleen Ernst
“Lucky Girl” by Jamie Pacton
“Raft of Stars” by Andrew J. Graff
“Snippets of Soul, Too: Healing from Love” by Roderick ‘Rudy’ Bankston
“Stealing Away: Stories” by Kevin Revolinski
“The Seven Day Switch” by Kelly Harms
“The Wild World Handbook: Creatures” by Andrea Debbink
“Tomboyland” by Melissa Faliveno
“12 Ways to Save Democracy in Wisconsin” by Matthew Rothschild

Read more from the February cover story:

Turning the Page: Once thought endangered, the area’s indie bookshops are ringing in a new era.

Meet five local authors who have released new books into one of the most challenging times in history:

Order the full February issue here. Read more book content from Madison Magazine here.

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