The best part of my job is that I get to read, a lot. If a St. Louis author has a new book out — or even if a non-St. Louis author’s new book so much as touches on the city — it almost always ends up in my mailbox. And then, get this: I get paid to read it.
Now, the dirty little secret of publishing (and academia) in 2021 is that a whole lot of books aren’t very good, and I consider it my duty to be a little bit picky. If I’m not hooked after the first chapter, I doubt you’ll be, either. Most of you do not get paid to read this stuff. Why push something that isn’t worth your time?
Even with that high standard, we featured more than 20 books with a strong local connection on St. Louis on the Air this past year. The 11 that follow were my favorites. I hope you’ll find a book or two for your reading list this January.
And if you want more suggestions like this, sign up for our St. Louis on the Air newsletter, Off Mic. Every Monday, you’ll get a schedule for the week ahead and streaming versions that let you get caught up on the best of the previous week.
1. First to Fall
Former L.A. Times reporter Ken Ellingwood brought a journalist’s sense of pacing and suspense to this compulsively readable biography of Elijah Lovejoy, the first American journalist to be slain for his work. Neither St. Louis nor Alton comes out looking good here, as rabid defenders of slavery chased the preacher/publisher from one city 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 smart nonfiction account of how kidnapping flourished in America (and St. Louis in particular) to no less than three family members, and they’ve all raved about it. This book helps you understand the world we live in by showing you the way things used to be. The St. Louis characters are unforgettable.
3. The Mysteries
I love books that take girlhood seriously, and Marisa Silver’s novel “The Mysteries” has a more difficult job than most: It tells the story of two 7-year-olds. Somehow she gets their interior sensibilities exactly right. 1970s St. Louis also feels precisely depicted (perhaps because Silver’s husband, film and TV director Ken Kwapis, grew up in that time and place). I loved this book.
4. Bone Broth
Florissant author Lyndsey Ellis’ debut novel depicts a widow with a secret — one that involves St. Louis’ civil rights movement and the (real-life) unmasking of the Veiled Prophet. I’ve read numerous multi-generational novels exploring a character’s ’60s radical past, but they all center white Boomers going to Woodstock or agitating in 1968 Chicago. Telling a Black woman’s story feels new and interesting — and Ellis gives her tale scope and empathy.
5. Toward That Which Is Beautiful
St. Louis native Marian …….