A Literary Look Back at 2019

The Third Coast Review Lit Department had a very full year, with new writers Patrick T. Reardon, Terry Galvan, and Carr Harkrader joining us and sharing their impeccable insights. Reardon looked into several books covering less-visited Chicago/African-American topics such as the South Side’s amazing but unappreciated architecture; Jesse Binga, Chicago’s first black banker; and the lovely vanishing murals of artist William Walker. Reardon also reviewed the highly evocative poetry of Renny Golden’s The Music of Her Rivers, and gave a second look at Adam Levin’s The Instructions, exploring that work’s themes of Torah and Talmudic scholarship and “the interior lives of pre-teens”.

Contributor Carr Harkrader covered the fiction beat, touching on family dynamics and the challenges of child-raising in Julie E. Justicz’s first novel Degrees of Difficulty and the “lovestruck teenagers and demanding teachers” clashing and crashing into one another in a high school theater class in Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise.

Reviewer Terry Galvan recently shared some hopeful thoughts on Hopey: From Commune to Corner Office, a memoir of a hippie childhood, as well as a fictional account of 1990s Paris, The Art of Regret by Mary Fleming. Galvan also conducted several of this year’s Third Coast Review interviews with local and regional writers. Starting with a chat about fiction, fairy tales, and feminist theory with author Julia Fine, Galvan also spoke on the topic of super heroics and science fiction with writers T.J. Martinson and Alec Nevala-Lee.

Lit Editor Dan Kelly provided a selection of talks with other area writers. Daniel X. O’Neil spoke about his book Arte Agora and its rumination on street art and artists—from stickers and band posters, to Wesley Willis (RIP) and Lajuana Lampkins. Moving to the silver and small screens, Kelly also spoke with local cinéaste and teen sex comedy/heavy metal film scholar Mike McPadden, and the editor of the Video Game Art Reader Tiffany Funk. We also heard from bookstore owner Grant McKee of Bucket O’ Blood about the store’s third annual H.P. Lovecraft Soirée, with biographical info about the influential, yet troubled and troubling, horror writer.

Whoever said “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” would have shut their damned mouth after perusing our reviews of new explorations of two intriguing musical geniuses: a biography of mysterious bluesman Robert Johnson Up Jumped the Devil, and Long Walk Home: Reflections On Bruce Springsteen, a collection of essays about the Boss.

Comics were represented too, with reviews of new work by cartoonist Ken Krimstein (The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt), Lisa Naffziger (Minus), and a new biography of the grimly loopy Chicago-born cartoonist Edward Gorey. In a similarly grim but fun turn, this Halloween several local writers shared their greatest literary fears and freakouts in a anthology of childhood memories of scary stories and terrifying book covers. In a similar vein, crime paid…in literary terms with reviews of The Leopold and Loeb Files, a comprehensive look at the original crime of the century through original documents. We also saw the artsy side of gangbanging with a review of Jinx and Mr. C’s Compliments of Chicagohoodz.

Finally, TCR explored what makes Chicago Chicago with deep dives into wide-screen and microscopic looks at our city, respectively, writer Whet Moser’s Chicago: From Vision to Metropolis and Belt Publishing editor Martha Bayne’s The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook.

Here’s to more books in 2020! Happy New Year!

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Dan Kelly

Dan Kelly has been a writer and editor for 30 years, contributing work to the Chicago Reader, Chicago Journal, The Baffler, Harvard Magazine, The University of Chicago Magazine, and others.

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