The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home

More than just a lovely French Renaissance chateau set in amazing landscape of forests, formal gardens and mountains, Biltmore, the home of George and Edith Vanderbilt as told by Denise Kiernan in her latest book, The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home, is also a main character in this account of one of this country’s most amazing homes.

Comprised of four acres of floor space, Biltmore dwarfs even the most opulent McMansion of today. The numbers tell all. The home, the largest privately owned house in the U.S., has 250 rooms including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, three kitchens, 65 fireplaces and a library.

But beyond the immense magnificence of the house, Kiernan, whose previous book, The Girls of Atomic City, was a New York Times best seller, brings the house alive with stories of its owners. Meticulously detailed, Kiernan is someone who loves to immerse herself in research. But the Vanderbilt mansion in Ashville, North Carolina is also very personal. A resident of this mountain town for the last 11 years, Kiernan’s connection to the mansion goes back even further when she first visited when in high school.

“This place is unique in that it is still standing and all the original things are still in it,” says Kiernan who describes her book as asking people to go for a walk back in time.  “Many of the great mansions are gone. That’s one more reason why Biltmore is one of the main characters. Those that lived there were just passing through.”

Besides its sumptuousness as well as being a perfect example of how the very rich lived in the Gilded Age (before all those nasty income taxes made the rich just a little less rich), George Vanderbilt also was ahead of his time in that he bought up large tracks of the failing farms surrounding the estate. Then, he hired landscaping genius Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York and the University of Chicago campus, to create America’s first managed forest.

When asked what she would like readers to take away from The Last Castle, Kiernan says she’d like to instill a curiosity of our own history and that people read the book and take away a new appreciation for historic preservation.

“Everyone brings a little bit of themselves to stories they read and I hope the story of The Last Castle is relatable enough that readers will be able to engage with it in their own unique way,” says Kiernan who marvels how interconnected many of the events from the sinking of the Titanic to the invention of the Teddy Bear touch upon the home.  “I also find that no matter how much money you have, there is no protection from harrowing tragedy and personal loss. What is impressive to me is how people handle those kinds of situations.”

Ifyougo:

What: Denise Kiernan Chicago book events.

Where & When:

Anderson’s Bookshop,

123 W Jefferson Ave., Naperville, IL

Wednesday, September 27 at 7pm

(630) 355-2665

The University Club of Chicago

76 E. Monroe St. Chicago, IL

Thursday, September 28 at noon

Tickets available at 847-446-8880

Woman’s Athletic Club

626 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL

Thursday, September 28 at 6-8 pm

312-944-6123

 

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Into the Water: A New Thriller by Paula Hawkins

Paula Hawking, author of the international best-selling The Girl on the Train, which was translated into 40 languages and made into a movie, will be in Chicago next Friday, May 19 to talk about her newest book, Into the Water (Riverhead Books 2017; $A tense, psychological thriller told from the different viewpoints of all those involved in the life—and possibly the death-of Nel, an artist, who either fell, jumped or was pushed into what locals call “the drowning pool,” a placid body of water by an old mill with deadly undercurrents and weeds that easily ensnare. It was a place where in Medieval times, trials by water took place.

“After being tied up, they’d toss you into the water and if you rose to the surface you were guilty and if you sank, you were innocent,” says Hawkins, who, born in Zimbabwe, now lives in London. A journalist for 15 years, she also wrote romantic comedies.

“I found that even when I was writing romances, I kept adding darker undertones,” she says. So she gave into her urges for deeper and more mysterious stories starting with

Into the Water revolves around the memories of the characters as they come to grip with the mysteries behind Nel’s death and also her life. The idea of how we all remember things differently and how our memories become our own reality intrigues her.

“I thought about how we tell the stories of our lives and how you remember something that is absolutely fundamental to who you are, and what would happen if you had misremembered it or if you disagreed with someone who remembers it as completely different,” she says.

Hawkins, who set her story in Beckford, a fictional English village dissected by a flowing river, chose water as her theme for this novel, because it fascinates so many of us. The river is a character with its own personality, one with a long evil history of luring women in particular to their deaths. She recalls thinking, when walking alongside a pretty stream, what a pretty place for a swim. But then she rounded a bend and discovered a dead animal along the shallows of the shore.

In other words, says Hawkins, nothing is as it seems.

Ifyougo:

What: Paula Hawkins in conversation with Mary Kubica

When: Friday, May 19, 7:00 PM

Where: Community Christian Church, hosted by Anderson’s Bookshop, 1635 Emerson Lane

Naperville, IL

Cost: $39.29 for one copy of “Into the Water,” event admission and a service fee

FYI: paulahawkinsandersons.brownpapertickets.com or (630) 355-2665

My Cubs: A Love Story by Scott Simon

Change is an important part of life says Scott Simon, now a devoted husband and father who at one time was
 happy being single and childless.

But for Simon, the award winning host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, there’s one change that’s just not going to happen. Enamored (or should we say obsessed) with the Chicago Cubs is a never ending constant.

“I can’t imagine not being a Cubs fan,” says Simon who grew up in Chicago and attended games with his father.  “I’ll be a Cubs fan until the hereafter. I’m convinced the Almighty God would say to me in heaven, I gave you a big test–like the trials of Abraham and that was the Cubs.”

After 108 years in the proverbial desert, Simon has written about this passion in his recently released (The Blue Rider Press, 2017; $23).

It didn’t occur to me that I’d ever write this book,” says Simon who like many of us thought our Cubbies would always find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

But their enduring losses weren’t because of a goat says Simon.

Sure, Cubs authorities kicked Billy Sianis and the baby goat he nursed back to health out of the box office seats that had cost him $7.20 during the 1945 World Series against Detroit. There was talk that the goat, named Murphy, smelled like a…well…goat. But the cops and the ushers had always accepted free drinks at the Sianis’s tavern which he’d renamed—in honor of his goat–the Billy Goat Tavern. Sianis was angry and for years told reporters he sent a telegram to Phil Wrigley reading “Who stinks now?” at the end of each season when the Cubs failed to make the Series.

But the real reason they didn’t play in the World Series for another 71 years has to do with racism.

“Historically, though it eventually got hung on the Sianis family but no one at the time thought that,” says Simon who when he was writing his book Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball learned that the Boston Red Sox had a chance to sign the Hall of Famer three months before the Brooklyn Dodgers added him to their roster in 1947. “Ernie Banks and Gene Baker didn’t come to the Cubs as their first black players until 1953. They could have signed some great players before that but they didn’t. So it wasn’t the Curse of the Billy Goat but the curse of not signing African Americans until later that made the Cubs lose.”

Simon isn’t sure if the Cubs will repeat their victory.

“I think the hardest thing to do is repeat a professional championship, everyone thinks they figured out how to beat you,” he says. “But the core of this team is signed and is very good. But, as anyone will tell you, only so much of what gets you to the World Series you realize there are so many unforeseen things that can happen like injuries is talent.”

Even if they don’t win—ever again—Simon won’t waiver in his devotion to his team.
“I would have continued to be a Cubs fan even if they never won,” he says. “And I will always be a Cubs fan not matter what.”

Ifyougo:

What: Scott Simon has several book signings in the Chicago area.

When & Where:

April 11 at 6 p.m.

The Seminary Co-op Bookstore

5751 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL

April 12 at 3:45 p.m.

Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Conference Center

130 East Randolph Street, First Floor,

Chicago, IL

April 12 at 7 p.m.

Anderson’s Bookshop Naperville

123 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville, IL

April 13 at 7 p.m.

Barnes and Noble

55 Old Orchard Center, Skokie, IL