As 2013 winds to a close, we thought we'd take one more look back at the year's literary highlights. We asked Printers Row Journal contributors to write about a book they read this year that will linger in their minds well into 2014. Here's what they had to say.
The Architecture of Barry Byrne: Taking the Prairie School to Europe by Vincent Michael (University of Illinois, $60)
"We know too much about surface things, too little about what lies beyond the surface." The source of this quotation? Chicago architect Barry Byrne, a Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice spotlighted in a new biography, "The Architecture of Barry Byrne: Taking the Prairie School to Europe." The book, by Vincent Michael, executive director of the Global Heritage Fund in Palo Alto, Calif., and a faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, reveals how Byrne carved a path separate from Wright's and sheds light on his interactions with Europe's architectural avant-garde.
Byrne, who died in 1967 at 83, was a devout Catholic who pushed his church in new architectural directions. Above all, as his quotation shows, he believed that function, not fashion, should determine a building's form.
Heroines by Kate Zambreno (Semiotext(e), $17.95)
Former Chicagoan Kate Zambreno's audacious "Heroines" landed late last year, but it stuck with me through all of 2013 and I don't see it going anywhere soon. Furiously researched and fearlessly personal, it is Zambreno's insistent attempt to move the "lost wives" of modernism — Jane Bowles, Vivienne Eliot, Zelda Fitzgerald — out from the shadows cast by their formidable husbands and into the light of their own life stories.
Why, Zambreno demands, as she simultaneously struggles to untangle her own creative frustration, has women's artistic ambition so often been pathologized, marginalized and dismissed as hysteria? Smart and sexy, "Heroines" reads with an almost physical urgency and has indelibly stained my own thinking about creativity and ambition.
— Martha Bayne
Daily Rituals by Mason Currey (Knopf, $24.95)
Ever since I discovered "Daily Rituals," Mason Currey's fascinating compilation of the work patterns, rituals and odd habits of more than 150 famous writers, painters, composers, poets, scientists and choreographers of genius, I've been dining out on these accounts of multiple eccentricities by many of the geniuses of our age.
Did you know that Hemingway awoke to the first light of day and set to work? And that Sylvia Plath raced through the housework so she could begin writing by 9 a.m., but that Alice Munro waited until the kids went to school? And then there are the night owls and the drug fiends, the coffee addicts and the secretive scribblers, a hundred more stories at least of fascinating anecdotal sketches about great artists and their work patterns. Many will just plain amaze you.
— Alan Cheuse
Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater by Michael Sokolove(Riverhead, $27.95)
Michael Sokolove's "Drama High" caught me so off guard toward this end of year. It's a magnificent, personal story about an underdog school in a broken town and the drama program that has sustained the teens and the teachers for many years. The care with which Sokolove reported on this manifold cast touched me deeply. It's a book that feels important on every page.
— Beth Kephart
What Art Is by Arthur C. Danto (Yale, $24)
Arthur C. Danto was perhaps most famous for proclaiming the "end of art"; yet, paradoxically, he was also arguably the most inspired interpreter of the increasingly abstruse art world that emerged during the past half century. In "What Art Is," Danto's freewheeling erudition and knack for unpacking complex subjects is on display. Danto expands upon his long-held obsession with how to present a unifying definition of art in a milieu where such things as "ready-mades" can be wrenched out of the commonplace and placed in the gallery.