Before the Fall: A Riveting Mystery by Noah Hawley

A Great Beach Read!

I wasn’t sure that I’d like Noah Hawley’s “Before the Fall”(Grand Central 2016; $26) because I already knew it involved a plane crash and that didn’t sound too appealing. But this mystery about a rich media titan and his family and friends is so absorbing, I kept turning the pages way after it should have been lights out.

Only two people survive plane crash — Scott Burroughs, a once very promising artist and now a recovering alcoholic barely able to make ends meet, and the mogul’s 4-year-old son. Both end up in the dark Atlantic waters, and Burroughs, who has achieved sobriety by intensive swimming, pops the kid on his back and heads for land — an epic swim against currents and gigantic waves. But that’s the least of his problems.

Once ashore, he’s hailed as a hero until the media titan’s star anchor concocts conspiracies about Burroughs’ part in the plane’s crash. It all ends very satisfying and the plot is mesmerizing. Just watch out for sunburn if you pick up this book.

Adult-ish: Record Your Highs and Lows on the Road to the Real World by Cristina Vanko

At 27, Cristina Vanko began to feel herself metamorphosing into adulthood — at least in some ways.

“Adulthood was a topic of conversation among my friends who were doing all these movement things towards being adults — they were getting real jobs, getting married and moving away,” says Vanko, the author of the just released “Adult-ish: Record Your Highs and Lows on the Road to the Real World” (Penguin Random House 2017; $15).

Now that she’s 28 and finally deciding that yes, she is after all an adult, Vanko decided to record her transformation and create prompts for others who are following in her footsteps.

Designed like a journal, her book has lots of space to answer such questions and tackle topics: “What’s the first song that made you feel out of touch with kids today?” “What’s the first plant you kept alive?” “Describe the first time you felt lost. How did you find yourself again?”

“Overall, I want people (to focus on) good memories,” Vanko says about the book. “If they do write something sad, hopefully they’ll be able to look back at it later and laugh.”

Vanko also created an Instagram page to go with the book called “100 Days of Adulting,” which, like her book, is filled with her insights and drawings. Besides being an artist, Vanko is a dedicated calligrapher who learned to perfect her skills after discovering her father’s nibs and pens. He was an art teacher at Hyde Park High School for 36 years. She also authored “Hand-Lettering for Everyone.”

“Until I got to college, I didn’t realize calligraphy really existed,” says Vanko, who graduated from Munster High School, studied graphic design and Spanish at Indiana University and now works as a freelance graphic designer, illustrator and author in Chicago. “IU has a program that focuses on typography and has the largest letter press shop in the U.S. I loved working in there.”

When asked what her favorite prompt is in “Adult-ish,” Vanko mentions the pizza page. There are no page numbers in the book so finding what she’s talking about means flipping through the book until I located the prompt, written in cursive over an empty picture frame, reading, “Whether you’re engaged to a human or a slice of pizza, draw a silly engagement photo.”

I ask what that means.

“I was somewhat bummed that so many of my friends were getting married and posting photos of their engagement — it’s annoying,” she says.

So if you were going to get engaged to a slice of pizza, what kind would it be?

“Probably pepperoni with extra sauce,” Vanko says.

“Adult-ish: Record Your Highs and Lows on the Road to the Real World” is available at Barnes & Noble and also through online book dealers.

Testimony by Scott Turow

More than 30 years ago, Scott Turow released his first legal mystery, Presumed Innocent, a best seller that soon had any lawyer with a modicum of writing ability penning novels. Since then, Turow, a Chicago attorney, has continued to specialize in complex, multi-faceted books about the legal scene in scene in Kindle County—think Cook County. But in the just released Testimony (Grand Central 2017; $28) Turow moves beyond Kindle when his protagonist, United States attorney and criminal defender Bill ten Boom accepts a job working for the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. ten Boom is suffering mid-life crisis blues and prosecuting the genocide of 400 Roma men, women and children who were buried alive in a cave is just the uber change he needs as the typical solution of a red sports car just wasn’t going to do it for him.

ten Boom has a witness, the lone survivor of the massacre which took place in Bosnia. It should be easy but there are layers upon layers of misperceptions, lies and half-truths as well as centuries of nationalistic pride and grievances, the prejudices against the Roma (or gypsies) and his own vulnerabilities for ten Boom to sort through. It doesn’t help when he finds himself engulfed in an affair with sexy Esma Czarni, a time-bomb of a woman with a law degree from Cambridge and a Roma background. Czarni, who gobbles up ten Boom like he’s so much candy, is, of course, not to be trusted.

So how did Turow come up with all these thread to weave such a story?

“In 2000, I was at a reception in The Hague and found myself in a circle of lawyers who said you have to write about this–it’s an amazing case,” he recalls. “Usually when people say they have an amazing case it’s about their divorce but this actually did sound fascinating.”

His interest in the Roma culture goes much further back to some 40 years ago when he was visiting a sick relative at Rush Hospital.

“The King of the Gypsies was ill and there were Roma camped all over the hospital, the staff had to lock patients’ doors because things were disappearing,” he recalls.

When their king died, the Roma departed as well but not before removing all the large metal ash trays (smoking was permitted in hospitals back then) in the waiting rooms.

“At the time I thought to myself I have to figure these people out—they’re clearly coming from a different place than me,” says Turow. “Why would they do this knowing it would make people hate them and less willing to deal with them in the future. What I later learned when researching for this book is that there’s no tense but the present in the Roma language and no written or oral tradition for passing down information. Their history goes only as far back as the oldest Roma alive.  So that’s a big cultural difference from us.”

Scott Turow has three book events in the Chicago area.

What: Scott Turow in-conversation with Dave Berner (journalist, NPR’s Weekend Edition contributor and associate professor at Columbia College Chicago).

When: Wednesday, May 24 at 6:30pm

Where: Hollywood Blvd. Cinema, Bar & Eatery, 1001 West 75th St., Woodridge, IL

Cost: Advance tickets are required and may be purchased from Frugal Muse by calling (630) 427-1140 or stopping in the store.

FYI: This will be a ticketed event, the discussion and audience Q&A will take place at the theater and then the book signing will be at the museum.

What: Talk, Q&A and book signing with Scott Turow

When: Thursday, May 25 at 7pm

Where: Barnes & Noble Old Orchard, 55 Old Orchard Center, Skokie, IL

FYI: 847-676-2230

When: Saturday, June 10 at 11:00am- 11:45am

Where: Harold Washington Library Center, Multipurpose Room, 400 S State St, Chicago, IL

FYI: (312) 747-4300

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