Elizabeth Taylor, literary editor at large of the Chicago Tribune, is past president of the National Books Critics Circle and has served on ...

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Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor

Editor's Choice

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Editor's Choice: 'Hold the Dark' by William Giraldi

Editor's Choice: 'Hold the Dark' by William Giraldi

September 4, 2014

If dark, violent novels aren't usually my cup of tea, why did "Hold the Dark" exert such a hold over me, right from the start?

  • Editor's choice: 'The Story of Land and Sea' by Katy Simpson Smith

    August 28, 2014

    This may be a novel of ships and sea adventure, Revolutionary War battles and the brutality of slavery, but it is no period-piece costume drama. Far from the power centers of Paul Revere and Betsy Ross in Boston and Philadelphia, Katy Simpson Smith brings readers into a small North Carolina coastal town in this wonderful debut novel, "The Story of Land and Sea: A Novel."

  • Editor's choice: 'All Our Names' by Dinaw Mengestu

    August 13, 2014

    At first glance, "All Our Names" seems to be a straightforward immigrant story. A young man, carrying the name of Isaac on his passport, has come from Uganda to Laurel, a small Midwestern town, on a one-year student visa. His case is assigned to Helen, with Lutheran Relief Services. Chapters segue between those in Uganda narrated by Isaac, and those in America, narrated by Helen.

  • Editor's choice: 'Flying Shoes' by Lisa Howorth

    July 30, 2014

    In the opening pages of Lisa Howorth's "Flying Shoes," it seems that we're heading into a crime novel. Mary Byrd Thornton is unloading the dishwasher, half-listening to NPR when she answers the phone. A detective is on the line with the news that the case of her stepbrother's murder, on Mother's Day 1966, has been reopened because new evidence has emerged.

  • Editor's choice: 'The Stager' by Susan Coll

    July 16, 2014

    "This elegant 4.5 bedroom, 4 full and 2 half bath Flemish Villa sits on 1.5 meticulously landscaped acres in the private, gated enclave known as The Flanders!"

  • Editor's choice: 'Last Night at the Blue Angel' by Rebecca Rotert

    July 10, 2014

    The floorboards are rotting, the plumbing pipes drip and tables are stabilized by matchbooks jammed under their legs. The Chicago jazz club may be in decline, but on stage a sultry singer in silver sequins is on the rise. Her 10-year-old daughter sits behind the stage's velvet curtain, on a yellow tape X marking the floor. She watches her mother and studies the crowd.

  • Editor's choice: 'Revolutionary Summer' by Joseph J. Ellis

    July 3, 2014

    For "Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence," Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Joseph J. Ellis time-travels to the summer of 1776, when the 13 colonies agreed to secede from the British Empire.

  • Editor's choice: 'The Shelf' by Phyllis Rose

    June 25, 2014

    How I miss the random discoveries of the library card catalog. The pull of the drawer, the worn edges on the cards, how the row seemed to fall open on the popular letters — like A or S.

  • Editor's choice: 'Above the East China Sea' by Sarah Bird

    June 23, 2014

    When conversation about World War II turns toward the East, toward Asia, attention generally focuses on the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Battle of Iwo Jima or the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

  • Editor's choice: 'The Frangipani Hotel' by Violet Kupersmith

    March 29, 2014

    "The Frangipani Hotel," a debut collection of thematically linked short stories, opens with "Boat Story," in which a girl working on a school project meets her Vietnamese grandmother's resistance and is told to consult her father. The girl complains: "He came over on a plane in the eighties, and that's not half as exciting. That'll get me a B if I'm lucky. But your boat person story? Jackpot. Communists! Thai pirates! Starvation! That's an A-plus story."

  • Editor's choice: 'The Opposite of Loneliness' by Marina Keegan

    March 21, 2014

    "We don't have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that's what I want in life," wrote Marina Keegan.

  • Editor's choice: 'Body Counts' by Sean Strub

    March 7, 2014

    In the mid-1980s, a friend of mine summoned me to the hospital and designated me responsible for decisions regarding his medical care. He had walked into the emergency room and been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS a few hours before. He was dead within two weeks.

  • Editor's choice: Kinder Than Solitude

    March 1, 2014

    How can a novel feel so suspenseful yet its plot seem so beside the point? How can a work of fiction be so slender yet so broad in scope? Only a great talent like Yiyun Li could perform this magic.

  • Editor's choice: 'For the Benefit of Those Who See'

    February 21, 2014

    One summer, teenage Rosemary Mahoney worked on Martha's Vineyard for hard-drinking, chain-smoking, social-climbing, brilliant Lillian Hellman. What could have been a snarky recounting became Mahoney's unforgettable memoir, "A Likely Story," which I rushed to read.

  • Editor's Choice: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

    February 15, 2014

    Once Marilyn Monroe bewitched the world with her rendition of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," in the 1953 film "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," her performance eclipsed what Edith Wharton called "the great American Novel (at last!)."

  • 'The Novel Cure' by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin

    December 21, 2013

    "Can you recommend a book?" is a frequent question in my line of work, and I plan to recommend "The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You" to the next person who asks me.

  • 'My Mistake' by Daniel Menaker is this week's Editor's Choice

    November 23, 2013

    At the epicenter of literary New York, Daniel Menaker is an irreverent guide to the publishing world's inner workings. In "My Mistake," Menaker, who worked 26 years at The New Yorker and was editor in chief of Random House, tells great stories about editors William Shawn (quirky), Tina Brown (in hot pursuit of what's hot), William Maxwell, Roger Angell and others.

  • 'Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy' by Helen Fielding

    October 14, 2013

    Monday 23 April 2012

  • 'Early Decision' by Lacy Crawford

    August 30, 2013

    It used to be that April was the cruelest month for high school seniors applying to colleges, but with rolling acceptance and early action, college admissions are a year-round affair — or lifetime campaign.

  • 'The Measures Between Us' by Ethan Hauser

    August 2, 2013

    He captured my attention with his resonant short story "Vigilance," about a father who is summoned by the police to answer questions about his missing child. With his new novel, Ethan Hauser fulfills the promise of his story, which was a Nelson Algren Short Story Award finalist in 2008, and demonstrates his ability to sustain multiple interlocking narratives.

  • 'The Engagements' by J. Courtney Sullivan

    July 26, 2013

    Samuel Johnson said that marriage is a triumph of hope over experience. Oscar Wilde said that it's a triumph over intelligence. But J. Courtney Sullivan takes the cake when it comes to tying the knot.

  • 'Appointment in Samarra' by John O'Hara

    July 19, 2013

    With a dazzling new cover and smart new introduction, one of my favorite novels, "Appointment in Samarra" by John O'Hara, is reborn.

  • 'The Woman Upstairs' by Claire Messud

    June 28, 2013

    A novel with a first-person narrator — a frustrated elementary schoolteacher with thwarted artistic ambitions — may not seem like the most promising or original premise. But even the most skeptical of readers will be seduced by the opening lines: "How angry am I? You don't want to know."

  • 'Sparta' by Roxana Robinson

    June 21, 2013

    "What was there to say?" wonders Conrad Farrell, a 26-year-old Marine, just home from Iraq. He doesn't like the thought that the war had twisted him inside, made it so he couldn't fit in back home. But that is his reality — and the profound question he poses is at the heart of "Sparta," Roxana Robinson's wonderful new novel.

  • 'Hold Fast' by Blue Balliett

    May 17, 2013

    Hold fast to dreams

  • Editor's choice: "The Humanity Project" by Jean Thompson

    May 13, 2013

    Jean Thompson is one of my favorite fiction writers, and her new novel, "The Humanity Project," didn't let me down.

  • "A Nearly Perfect Copy" by Allison Amend

    April 26, 2013

    In the gifted hands of Allison Amend, the international art world is so full of intrigue and makes for such a smart page turner that when one is finished with the delicious novel "A Nearly Perfect Copy," a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago is in order.

  • 'Significant Objects' Edited by Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker

    April 5, 2013

    The "Significant Objects" project posed a simple question: Can a great story transform a worthless trinket into a significant object?

  • 'Mary Coin' by Marisa Silver

    April 1, 2013

    Though it may be accurate to say that Marisa Silver's novel "Mary Coin" was inspired by Dorothea Lange's iconic Depression-era "Migrant Mother" photograph, it does not do justice to this extraordinary work of fiction. Silver infuses the vague outlines of the image — a 32-year-old mother supporting her six children picking peas, sitting at the roadside — with the power of her imagination.

  • 'Always Apprentices' edited by Sheila Heti, Ross Simonini and Vendela Vida

    March 23, 2013

    In "Always Apprentices: The Believer Magazine Presents Twenty-Two Conversations Between Writers," we learn that when Joan Didion was learning to write, she would retype the beginning passages from Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms" on her standard Royal typewriter.

  • 'Sticks and Stones' by Emily Bazelon

    March 15, 2013

    While sticks and stones may break bones, words really can hurt. But what's the responsibility of everyone in the orbit of teenage drama? Emily Bazelon wrestles that question to the ground in her important new book, "Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy."

  • 'Little Known Facts' by Christine Sneed

    February 23, 2013

    The expression "Hollywood novel" brings to mind cartoonish characters and outlandish plots, but Christine Sneed's "Little Known Facts" is anything but a tabloid novel. Sneed is an accomplished short story writer, and she makes that talent abundantly clear in this debut novel.

  • 'Schroder' by Amity Gaige

    February 15, 2013

    Here's the basic elevator speech for "Schroder": A divorced father, in jail after absconding with his 6-year-old daughter, writes a letter to his ex-wife.

  • 'News From Heaven: The Bakerton Stories' by Jennifer Haigh

    February 1, 2013

    Fans of Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Olive Kitteridge" will succumb to the lure of Jennifer Haigh's latest book, "News From Heaven: The Bakerton Stories." Haigh's latest book, like Strout's, is a series of interconnected stories that come together and tap into a wide range of human emotions.

  • 'The Next Time You See Me' by Holly Goddard Jones

    January 25, 2013

    Have you turned the last pages of Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" and don't know what to pick up next?

  • 'In the House of the Interpreter' by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

    January 18, 2013

    Returning from his first term at boarding school by train, proudly wearing his uniform and eager to share the news with his mother that he is among the top in his class, Ngugi wa Thiong'o arrives home in Kenya, but his family is not there.

  • 'Magical Journey' by Katrina Kenison

    January 11, 2013

    In this moving memoir, Katrina Kenison beckons readers into her world and proves to be an insightful guide and companion through the vicissitudes of life.

  • 'Open Heart' by Elie Wiesel

    December 14, 2012

    Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, underwent emergency open-heart surgery two years ago at age 82 after doctors discovered he had five blocked arteries. For three days, physicians didn't know whether he would live.

  • 'The Twelve Tribes of Hattie' by Ayana Mathis

    December 7, 2012

    Because I have roots in Philadelphia, my enthusiasm for a novel set in the City of Brotherly Love may be regarded as reflexive by some, knowing and discerning by others.

  • 'Walter's Perspective' by Walter Jacobson

    December 3, 2012

    In a town where politics is local sport, Walter Jacobson had a ringside seat, and he shares it in his new book, "Walter's Perspective: A Memoir of Fifty Years in Chicago TV News." Earning his stripes at the City News Bureau as a reporter, he skyrocketed to television, where he became a commentator and anchor. With co-anchor Bill Kurtis, Jacobson enjoyed TV's glory in its golden age.

  • 'Walter's Perspective' by Walter Jacobson

    December 1, 2012

    In a town where politics is local sport, Walter Jacobson had a ringside seat, and he shares it in his new book, "Walter's Perspective: A Memoir of Fifty Years in Chicago TV News." Earning his stripes at the City News Bureau as a reporter, he skyrocketed to television, where he became a commentator and anchor. With co-anchor Bill Kurtis, Jacobson enjoyed TV's glory in its golden age.

  • 'American Lady' by Caroline de Margerie

    November 10, 2012

    Before blue states and red states, PACs or cable news, there was the era of Susan Mary Alsop, known as "the second lady of Camelot," who ruled a kingdom called Georgetown beginning in the 1960s. More than just a hostess, Alsop — a descendant of founding father John Jay and married to columnist Joe Alsop — reigned for more than four decades. Her home was a gathering place for real conversation about issues like the SALT talks and the war in Vietnam, not the shallow meet-and-greet affairs that characterize parties today.

  • The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

    November 6, 2012

    The yellow and red McDonalds hued cover of "The Middlesteins" suggests that readers are in for a trip into the world of the supersized. In one way, Jami Attenberg's new novel is about a woman's obsession with food, but it's also about her family and all those who are part of her suburban Chicago and Jewish world.

  • 'Canada' by Richard Ford

    October 27, 2012

    This is a hard book to read, because while the story compels readers to read with urgency, the linguistic prowess is so stunning that one is forced to slow down and reread passages.

  • 'The Scientists: A Family Romance' by Marco Roth

    October 16, 2012

    Woody Allen's Manhattan movies, particularly "Hannah and Her Sisters" (1986) inhabit the same liberal, Jewish, Upper West Side life as Marco Roth's affecting memoir "The Scientists," which evokes that world of intellectuals, Oriental rugs and a postwar highbrow aesthetic of Schubert, Turgenev and Mann.

  • 'How Children Succeed' by Paul Tough

    October 1, 2012

    In Paul Tough's first book, "Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America," he focused on the Harlem Children's Zone, a 97-block area where Canada set about overhauling the neighborhood with comprehensive social programs, such as after-school activities and parenting classes, that extended beyond the classroom and reshaped the childhood experience.

  • 'The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012'

    September 21, 2012

    As a devoted fan of this series (this is the 11th volume), I can report that this year's anthology of 32 selections might be the best yet. High school students from 826Michigan and 826 Valencia, parts of Dave Eggers' network of nonprofit writing and tutoring centers, helped select these eclectic pieces of writing, which include short fiction, essays and less formal expressions of thought.

  • 'The Other America' by Michael Harrington

    September 14, 2012

    A new edition of Michael Harrington's "The Other America: Poverty in the United States," an eloquent appeal to the American conscience, has been published on the occasion of the book's 50th anniversary.

  • 'Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures' by Emma Straub

    September 2, 2012

    When Elsa Emerson, the youngest of three sisters and mascot of her family's Cherry County Playhouse in Door County, Wis., is beckoned to the stage by her director father to toss paper petals out of a little basket, the audience greets her with wild applause. The transformation of the little blonde girl into a sultry brunette Academy-Award-winning Hollywood movie star renamed Laura Lamont provides the structure of Emma Straub's debut novel, "Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures."

  • Nuclear stories

    August 26, 2012

    Kristen Iversen grew up in Colorado, in a small town near a secret nuclear bomb factory, although she didn't know it at the time. The factory was so under the radar that many believed the plant made cleaning supplies, like Scrubbing Bubbles. After years abroad, Iversen returned home, and the result is Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats. It's part memoir, part investigation and, as Rebecca Skloot, author of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," put it, "as personal and powerful as Silkwood."

  • 'We Sinners' by Hanna Pylvainen

    August 18, 2012

    "She should have told him already about the church but she hadn't," begins this kaleidoscopic debut novel, at the center of which is a Midwest family of 11 — parents and nine children — who are adherents to a conservative Finnish faith. (No TV, dancing, drinking.)

  • 'The Lifeboat' by Charlotte Rogan

    August 11, 2012

    My kind of beach read is short, intense and sufficiently morally complex that it sustains me through a good swim and compels me to keep reading when I'm out of the water.

  • 'Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now' by Craig Taylor

    August 1, 2012

    What's it like to live in London, the real London? The real London, beyond the fanciful equestrian courses with jumps styled as chess boards or crescent moons, or the vast, wavelike Olympic Aquatics Centre designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Zaha Hadid.



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