Summer of DCW Good Reads

Summer of DCW Good Reads

Photo by Todd DeSantis

Photo: Todd DeSantis

At the time of my writing this, there are two weeks left in the semester before summer vacation! Which means two weeks left until I’m able to read freely! The semester comes with a lot of assigned reading and work, making it hard to read for self. If you’re like me, you may have a backlog of books just waiting to be read. But if not, don’t worry! One great place to start creating a summer reading list is with Columbia College Chicago’s own department of Creative Writing graduate fiction faculty.

American Skin by Don De Grazia

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American Skin was first published in the United Kingdom to resounding acclaim after the author used his last seventy-five dollars to make an unsolicited submission to the publisher of the Scottish beats, whose work he admired. It is a timeless story about a young man’s coming-of-age as well as a stunning portrait of the class and racial tensions that pervade our society.

Alex Verdi is on the lam, fleeing from the police who have arrested his parents on drug charges and want him for questioning. Traveling to Chicago, he joins a multiracial group of anti-Nazi skinheads and embarks on an odyssey that takes him from the city’s embattled streets to an Army boot camp to Northwestern’s plush campus, and finally lands him amid the horrors of maximum-security prison.

The Making of Zombie Wars by Aleksandar Hemon



Script idea #196: Rock star high out of his mind freaks out during a show, runs offstage, and is lost in streets crowded with his hallucinations. The teenage fan who finds him keeps the rock star for himself for the night. Mishaps and adventures follow. This one could be a musical: Singin’ in the Brain.

Josh Levin is an aspiring screenwriter teaching ESL classes in Chicago. His laptop is full of ideas, but the only one to really take root is Zombie Wars. When Josh comes home to discover his landlord, an unhinged army vet, rifling through his dirty laundry, he decides to move in with his girlfriend, Kimmy. It’s domestic bliss for a moment, but Josh becomes entangled with a student, a Bosnian woman named Ana, whose husband is jealous and violent. Disaster ensues, and as Josh’s choices move from silly to profoundly absurd, The Making of Zombie Wars takes on real consequence.

Swarm to Glory by Garnett Kilberg-Cohen


The central motif and conflict that run through Kilberg Cohen’s newest collection are endings. Some are monumental endings, such as the end of a relationship in “Bottle of Wine,” or the end of life itself in “Appropriate Behavior.” Then again, some may be considered superficial endings, such as in “The Woman With the Longest Hair,” where a haircut is significant only to the characters involved. In the face of such endings, Garnett’s characters must decide whether they will be ruled by them, or whether, in spite of the ephemeral nature of all things, they will swarm to glory. Nearly all these stories have been previously published in some of the nation’s finest journals—from the Crab Orchard Review to the Michigan Quarterly Review, where her story won the Lawrence Foundation Prize for best story to appear in the journal that year.

Marvel and a Wonder by Joe Meno


Marvel and a Wonder is a darkly mesmerizing epic and literary page-turner set at the end of the 20th century. In summer 1995, Jim Falls, a Korean War vet, struggles to raise his 16-year-old grandson, Quentin, on a farm in southern Indiana. In July, they receive a mysterious gift—a beautiful quarter horse—which upends the balance of their difficult lives. The horse’s appearance catches the attention of a pair of troubled, meth-dealing brothers and, after a violent altercation, the horse is stolen and sold. Grandfather and grandson must travel the landscape of the bleak heartland to reclaim the animal and to confront the ruthless party that has taken possession of it. Along the way, both will be forced to face the misperceptions and tragedies of their past.

Evoking the writing of William Faulkner and Denis Johnson, this brilliant, deeply moving work explores the harrowing, often beautiful marvels of a nation challenged by its own beliefs. Ambitious, expansive, and laden with suspense, Marvel and a Wonder presents an unforgettable pair of protagonists at the beginning of one America and the end of another.

Miles From Nowhere by Nami Mun


Teenage Joon is a Korean immigrant living in the Bronx of the 1980s. Her parents have crumbled under the weight of her father’s infidelity; he has left the family, and mental illness has rendered her mother nearly catatonic. So Joon, at the age of 13, decides she would be better off on her own, a choice that commences a harrowing and often tragic journey that exposes the painful difficulties of a life lived on the margins. Joon’s adolescent years take her from a homeless shelter to an escort club, through struggles with addiction, to jobs selling newspapers and cosmetics, committing petty crimes, and, finally, toward something resembling hope.

In raw and beautiful prose, Nami Mun delivers the story of a young woman who is at once tough and vulnerable, world-weary and naive, faced with insurmountable odds and yet fiercely determined to survive. In the process, Mun creates one of the most indelible characters in recent fiction and establishes herself as an extraordinarily talented new voice.

Brutally honest, linguistically inventive, and profoundly moving, Miles from Nowhere is a work of fiction that will haunt and inspire a generation of readers.

This Burns My Heart by Samuel Par


Chamara is a difficult word to translate from Korean to English: To stand it, to bear it, to grit your teeth and not cry out? To hold on, to wait until the worst is over? Such is the burden Samuel Park’s audacious, beautiful, and strong heroine, Soo-Ja Choi, faces in This Burns My Heart, an epic love story set in the intriguing landscape of postwar South Korea. On the eve of marriage to her weak, timid fiancé, Soo-Ja falls in love with a young medical student. But out of duty to her family and her culture she turns him away, choosing instead a world that leaves her trapped by suffocating customs.

In a country torn between past and present, Soo-Ja struggles to find happiness in a loveless marriage and to carve out a successful future for her only daughter. Forced by tradition to move in with her in-laws, she must navigate the dangers of a cruel household and pay the price of choosing the wrong husband. Meanwhile, the man she truly loves remains a lurking shadow in her life, reminding her constantly of the love she could have had.

Will Soo-Ja find a way to reunite with her one true love or be forced to live out her days wondering “what if ” and begin to fully understand the meaning of chamara?

Where the River Ends by Alexis Pride


Born in 1948, Emma Rivers’ dark skin becomes the source of psychological scars, and she develops a razor-sharp tongue she comes to wield without thought or restraint. As an adult she stands nearly 6 feet tall with a massive build that would intimidate most. She fights with her three sisters, and she hungers for her mother’s affection. Her only comfort is her friendships with a neighborhood boy, Ezy, and a young girl, Hannah, who becomes her surrogate sister and, ultimately, a lifetime friend.

Immediately after her high school graduation, Emma joins the Navy but is discharged following an explosive violent outburst. She heads to New York City, where she eyewitnesses her roommate’s murder, a woman who is suspected to have stolen drug money. She eventually marries Ezy, though they split under the strain of poverty and domestic violence. Ezy’s sudden death, however, causes Emma’s downward spiral into heavy drinking and late-night rambling.

The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury by Sam Weller


Accomplished journalist Sam Weller met the author Ray Bradbury while writing a cover story for the Trib Magazine. Weller spent hundreds of hours interviewing Bradbury, his editors, family members, and longtime friends. With unprecedented access to private archives, he uncovered never-before-published letters, documents, and photographs that help tell the story of this literary genius and his remarkable creative journey. The result is a richly textured, detailed biography that illuminates the origins and accomplishments of Bradbury’s fascinating mind.