11 St. Louis-Based Books to Put on Your 2022 List
The best part of my job is that I read a lot. If a St. Louis author has a new book – or even a non-St. Louis’ author’s new book touches the city so much that it almost always ends up in my mailbox. And then understand this: I get paid to read it.
Now the dirty little secret of publishing (and academia) in 2021 is that a lot of books aren’t very good, and I consider it my duty to be a little picky. If I’m not addicted after the first chapter, I doubt you are either. Most of you don’t get paid to read this stuff. Why push something that’s not worth your time?
Even with this high standard, we featured over 20 books with a strong local connection on Saint Louis on the air this past year. The following 11 are my favorites. Hope you find a book or two for your reading list in January.
And if you want more suggestions like this, sign up for our Saint Louis on the air bulletin, Microphone off. Every Monday you will receive a schedule for the coming week and streaming versions that will keep you up to date with the best of the previous week.
1. First to fall
Former LA Times reporter Ken Ellingwood brought a reporter’s sense of rhythm and suspense to this compulsively-read biography of Elijah Lovejoy, the first American journalist to be killed for his work. Neither St. Louis nor Alton presents itself well here, as the rabid defenders of slavery chased the preacher / publisher from one town and killed him in the next. But Lovejoy? He’s a hero for the ages.
2. The Snatch Racket
I’ve now given Carolyn Cox’s clever tale of how kidnappings flourished in America (and St. Louis in particular) to no less than three family members, and they’ve all been thrilled with it. This book helps you understand the world we live in by showing you how things used to be. The characters of St. Louis are unforgettable.
I love books that take childhood seriously, and Marisa Silver’s novel “The Mysteries” has a harder job than most: it tells the story of two 7-year-old children. Somehow, she captures their inner sensibilities perfectly. St. Louis of the 1970s also feels accurately portrayed (perhaps because Silver’s husband, film and television director Ken Kwapis, grew up around that time and here). I loved this book.
4. Bone broth
Florissant author Lyndsey Ellis’ debut novel depicts a widow with a secret – one that involves the St. Louis civil rights movement and the (real) unmasking of the Veiled Prophet. I’ve read many multigenerational novels exploring a character’s radical past in the ’60s, but they all feature white baby boomers going to Woodstock or bustling about in Chicago in 1968. Tell the story of a black woman is new and interesting – and Ellis gives her story scope and empathy.
5. Towards what is beautiful
Beautifully Written Debut Novel by St. Louis native Marian O’Shea Wernicke tells the story of a novice serving in Peru who finds herself questioning her faith, the vows she is about to take and the meaning of his life. Wernicke herself was a nun in Peru, which is why the landscape and the sisters are portrayed with unusual clarity and great human sympathy.
6. Profit and punishment
Pulitzer Prize-winning Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger tells an important story in this all-new non-fiction book, expanding the work he has done in exposing Missouri’s debtor prisons to a national scandal. Everyone should talk about this problem. If you’re not, well, read this first.
seven. Blue song
If you thought Tennessee Williams was a New Orleans playwright who only lived in St. Louis briefly, the enlightening non-fiction book by Wash U professor Henry Schvey will make you think again. In Schvey’s account, Williams didn’t just live here longer than elsewhere; St. Louis has helped shape its greatest plays and enduring themes.
8. The Beehive
Melissa Scholes Young, originally from Hannibal, understands blue-collar America, which gives this novel, set in 2008 in Cape Girardeau, an unusual rooting. By portraying four stubborn sisters and their mother Doomsday Prepper, she helps us understand the anxieties of America in 2008, anxieties that have brought us to where we are today.
9. You get paid what you are worth
Wash U professor Jake Rosenfeld wrote this captivating book before American workers began to quit their jobs en masse, but it seems shockingly prophetic of our current unease. Indeed, this very readable book explains so much that I had wondered about, from why trucking is no longer the job it used to be to what happens when wages are made public. Must read.
ten. The commune of Saint-Louis in 1877: communism in the heart of the country
Lawyer and professor Mark Kruger devoted his retirement to this documentary exploration of the revolutionaries who lived in Saint-Louis in the 19th century. It’s a captivating look at the many forces that led to a surprising fact: in 1877, St. Louis became the first American city to be briefly ruled by Communists. You’ll take a detour through France and Germany before you get to the main action, but Kruger makes it pay off with a shattering final chapter.
11. Well it’s exhausting
Hailing from Kirkwood, Sophia Benoit is a traveling, coarse voice of her generation who will make awake young readers laugh out loud and take courage in equal measure. The jokes erupt so quickly that it’s easy to miss the more serious topics lurking underneath.
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