Check It Out Category: Staff Picks

Staff Pick: The Long Goodbye

Picture of JohnRobert Altman’s pastel-noir subversion of the hard-boiled detective genre, The Long Goodbye, replaces Bogart’s iconic version of Philip Marlowe with a mumbling, likably disheveled portrayal by Elliott Gould. The film’s labyrinthine plot duels a loose, improvisational tone against a backdrop of playful details – until things suddenly get less playful…

Algren: A Life by Mary Wisniewski

Frank from Administration suggests Algren: A Life by Mary Wisniewski.

Algren Book CoverNelson Algren was one of the most important yet underappreciated American authors of the Twentieth Century. He wrote about what he knew and what he knew was life on the fringes of society. And more than any other writer, Algren knew Chicago. “Like loving a woman with a broken nose,” he wrote, “you may well find lovelier lovelies, but never a lovely so real.”

In her fascinating biography, Algren: A Life, Mary Wisniewski illuminates this brilliant, enigmatic Chicagoan whose own turbulent “life on the fringes”—drinking, gambling, womanizing—led to some of the most memorable and powerful works in American literature.

Algren maintained through the years a torrid, on-again/off-again love affair with French feminist writer and philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir, herself in a relationship with existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. “On the outs” with Algren when he died in 1981, de Beauvoir refused thereafter to visit his grave on Long Island. She was buried in Paris alongside Sartre five year later, wearing Algren’s ring.  Algren: A Life by Mary Wisniewski is a fascinating book.

Haven’t read anything by Nelson Algren? Start here!

The Man with the Golden Arm
Widely regarded as Algren’s most powerful and enduring work, this novel chronicles war veteran and hustler “Frankie Machine’s” downward spiral into an ever-deepening morphine addiction.
The Neon Wilderness
A collection of short stories giving voice to the insulted and injured, to those at the rough edges of society struggling to make ends meet while playing a losing—often fixed—hand.


Chicago: City on the Make
A social document and a love poem, Chicago: City on the Make is a bold, hard-hitting ode to this “most real of all” cities. Studs Terkel said it’s “the best book about Chicago.”
A Walk on the Wild Side
With its depictions of the downtrodden prostitutes, bootleggers, and hustlers of Perdido Street in the old French Quarter of 1930s New Orleans, this novel packs a wallop. As Algren admitted, the book “… wasn’t written until long after it had been walked.”
Nonconformity: Writing on Writing
Editor Daniel Simon assembles into this brief but compelling work Algren’s previously unpublished credo of his craft. Algren identifies the essential nature of the writer’s relation to society and shares his deepest beliefs about the state of literature and its role in society.

Jenny’s Pick: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

Picture of JennyA mosaic of stray thoughts, stories and poems,  You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie is a powerful meditation on Alexie’s complicated relationship with his mother in the aftermath of her passing. This book left me in awe of Alexie’s ability to wring your heart as he reaches into his history one moment and have you bursting out in laughter the next.

Spooky Stories – Reader Beware

We’ve sourced some staff favorites to get you in the mood for Halloween.

If it’s a ghostly, ghoulish or spine-tingling read you’re after, look no further than these creepy gems…if you dare!

Forests of the Heart by Charles de Lint

In the Old Country, they called them the Gentry: ancient spirits of the land, magical, amoral, and dangerous. When the Irish emigrated to North America, some of the Gentry followed… only to find that the New World already had spirits of its own, called manitou and other such names by the Native tribes. Now generations have passed, and the Irish have made homes in the new land, but the Gentry still wander homeless on the city streets. Gathering in the city shadows, they bide their time and dream of power. As their dreams grow harder, darker, fiercer, so do the Gentry themselves.



Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Days before a massive exhibition at the New York Museum of Natural History, visitors are being murdered. Autopsies indicate that the killer cannot be human. The museum’s directors decide to go ahead with the bash in spite of the murders. Now museum researcher Margo Green must find out who or what is doing the killing.






Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion.





The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson


The story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.






And for those of you who want to sink your fangs into yet more great choices, here are more wicked good books…

Salem’s Lot
Stephen King
13th Tale
Diane Setterfield
William Peter Blatty


Lincoln in the Bardo
George Saunders
The Monster’s Corner
Christopher Golden


The Troop
Nick Cutter
F. Paul Wilson

Andrea’s Pick: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Andrea Staff Pick photoIt’s Leonard Peacock’s birthday today, and instead of receiving gifts, he’s giving them. He’s giving a gift and saying goodbye to each of the people he cares most about. After that, he’s going to do something horrible. It’s Leonard Peacock’s birthday, and he’s going to school with a gun in his backpack.

The heartbreaking, luminous, and ultimately hopeful Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick is a challenging read that will touch readers deeply.

Cathleen’s Pick: Something Rotten!

Cathleen Staff Pick photoIn a hilariously meta production, Something Rotten! imagines the birth of musical theater as the only recourse left to brother playwrights trying to compete with bad-boy superstar Will Shakespeare. The Broadway cast recording shows off the talent, the fun, the puns, and Easter eggs aplenty to tickle the fancy of any drama geek.

Staff Pick: Greetings from Utopia Park by Claire Hoffman

Dale from Research Services suggests Greeting from Utopia Park by Claire Hoffman

Greetings from Utopia Park book coverGreetings from Utopia Park chronicles author Claire Hoffman’s personal experiences living and participating in the Transcendental Meditation movement. At age 5, Claire moves with her mother and brother to Fairfield, Iowa to join the followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This book is both the story of Claire’s childhood spent living in this community and a history of what Maharishi called the Global Headquarters of World Peace. Claire eventually rebels, moving away from the teachings of Transcendental Meditation, only to return later in life to examine and attempt to reconnect with her spiritual upbringing. If you have ever been curious about Transcendental Meditation and wanted to learn more about both the positive and negative aspects of this practice, you will find this book fascinating and enlightening.


Looking for something similar? Try one of these books!

Cover of Free Spirit Growing Up on the Road and Off the Grid

Free Spirit: Growing Up on the Road and Off the Grid
by Joshua Safran
A mother and son head for the road to find a utopia they could call home

by Augusten Burroughs
 A memoir detailing the unusual childhood of a boy sent to live with his mother’s eccentric psychiatrist.


A Tale of Love and Darkness book coverA Tale of Love and Darkness
by Amos Oz
Chronicles the author’s childhood in 40’s and 50’s Jerusalem.
Trancendence healing and transformation through transcendental meditation book coverTranscendence: healing and transformation through transcendental meditation
by Norman E. Rosenthal
This book discusses the benefits of Transcendental Meditation through stories of both ordinary people and well-known artists.
A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel book coverA Girl Named Zippy
by Haven Kimmel
 A memoir about growing up in small town Indiana.


Staff Pick: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan

Picture of EvanMarko and Alana were soldiers on opposing sides of an ages-long intergalactic war, but Brian K. Vaughan’s epic sci-fi comic Saga opens with the birth of their daughter. With incredible artwork and hilarious wit, this tale of building a family unfolds in a harsh and multilayered universe with a cast of colorful, endearing characters (including the large green Lying Cat, snarling “Lying” at any untruth). A counsel for readers: it is a graphic story, both that it is in comic form as well as its depictions of violence and sexuality.