5 Books That Changed My Life: Adam Morgan

Female writers lead Chicago's premier literary critic's list

June 26, 2018 9:00 am

Words, words, words. It’s the literary life for Adam Morgan, alright.

Writer, editor and teacher, this Southerner has not only made Chicago his home, but as a book critic for the Chicago Tribune and editor-in-chief of the Chicago Review of Books, he’s made a pretty powerful contribution to the city’s literary scene.

In the latter position, Morgan has long championed Windy City writers, especially those whose work may fall under the radar of traditional lit-crit outlets. And as much as he’s got his ear cocked for the latest voices, he’s not shy about celebrating local talents of the past, such as Nelson Algren and Gwendolyn Brooks.

Sensitive to the ups and downs a literary reputation can undergo, he’s now launched The Chicago Review of Books Press, dedicated to reissuing out-of-print or hard-to-find Chicago classics. First up is The Cliff Dwellers, Henry Blake Fuller’s 1893 novel of a city on the make. Now at work on his own first novel, we asked Morgan to name a few titles that have made their mark on him.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
“I know a lot of people read this book in middle school, but I came to it relatively late, during my sophomore year of college, before I was a huge reader. I’d grown up obsessed with movies instead of books, but The Giver does something (a brilliant narrative device that I won’t spoil) that I realized would never be possible on film. From then on, I was a reader.”

The Places That Scare You by Pema Chödrön
“When I first struggled with anxiety in college, this book was a revelation. It helped me understand that anxiety is a lens that distorts reality — that the ugly thoughts and feelings it produces don’t define you or the world around you. That’s easier said than practiced, but Chödrön’s wisdom and compassion made my life tangibly better.”

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
“It’s hard to point to a single book that made me want to become a writer, but just after college, The Time Traveler’s Wife convinced me of two things. First, that speculative fiction could also be literary, and second, that I wanted to try it myself . . . in Chicago. I still recommend Niffenegger’s debut novel to people looking for a book to fall in love with.”

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
“Housekeeping was the first novel I studied in graduate school. More than any other book, it taught me that the most beautiful prose is often deceptively simple — that a writer doesn’t need a vast vocabulary, colorful adjectives or architectural sentences. A lot of talented beginning writers tend to overwrite, to pack every sentence with poetry, but reading Robinson is a great lesson in the power of speaking clearly.”

Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks
“I’ve always been drawn to writing with a strong sense of place, and no poet has ever captured a city the way Gwendolyn Brooks captured Chicago during the first half of her career. In addition to the sheer miracles contained within this book, it also served as my gateway to the entire Black Chicago Renaissance and the rich cultural history of the city’s South Side.”

Image credit: Joe Mazza / Brave Lux

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