I Know What I Saw: Modern-Day Encounters with Monsters of New Urban Legend and Ancient Lore

Linda Godfrey has spent almost 30 years hunting down tales of the supernatural.

       Linda Godfrey’s blog identifies her as an author and investigator of strange creatures and now in I Know What I Saw: Modern-Day Encounters with Monsters of New Urban Legend and Ancient Lore, her 18th book on such sightings as the Wernersville Dog Woman, Killer Clowns, The Red-Eyed Monster of Rusk County, Wisconsin, The Hillsboro Hairless Thing and the Goat Man of Roswell, New Mexico.

Linda Godfrey

      Godfrey, a journalist, never intended to become an expert on urban legends, ghostly tales and creatures half human and half animal or whatever—there are so many different things that she categorizes them in her book with chapter titles like “Haunts of the Werewolf,” “Phantom Quadrupeds,” “Other Nonconformist Canines”  and “I Saw Bigfoot.” 

      It all began in 1991 when Godfrey, a local interest reporter at The Week, a weekly county newspaper in Delavan, Wisconsin, was listening to similar stories told by sober locals about the frequent sightings of what they described as a large wolf walking—and sometimes running on its hind legs, devouring large amounts of road kill on Bray Road.

      “I was trying to keep an open mind,” says Godfrey, who was seriously skeptical.

      But when she kept hearing the same story—or relatively the same story—repeatedly from everyday type of reliable people, she began to reconsider, wondering what they really were seeing. Could it be a wolf that could, like trained dogs, walk up right like humans? Her first book, Beast of Bray Road, Godfrey shared results from her investigation and gained her national attention.

      “It’s easier to record encounters than understand them,” says Godfrey who has become more open to believing that there are other-worldly things as well as real. “There’s a good chance that what we call monsters are actually unknown and unidentified natural creatures that have learned to be very elusive. After all, the people who report monsters come from all demographics. They are police officers, businesspeople, teachers, housewives, doctors—they’re from all walks of life. Sometimes they are too traumatized to talk about it or report it.”

      Many of Godfrey’s stories reflect her geographic location—she still lives in Wisconsin. But she travels all over the country to follow up on sightings. They not only cross state lines but also timelines—many of the creatures she hears about today have their beginnings in legends hundreds of years ago.

      If you have a sighting you’d like to report, she’d like you to email her at lindagodfrey99@gmail.com says Godfrey, noting as a journalist, she’d like both facts as well as the feelings and emotions engendered by encounter.

      “Provide as much information as possible including date, time of day, weather, lighting conditions,” she says, citing a long list of what she’d like to know. These include physical characteristics as well as any thoughts or emotions that occurred when a person made a sighting, how they felt afterward, whether they observed the creature leave the scene, any interactions with the creature, whether, after the sighting, the person returned to check for evidence such as footprints or hair and such.  And for those who can draw, a sketch would be great. Those reporting sightings should know that Godfrey keeps all the information she gathers confidential unless she has permission to reveal it.

      “For those who do go looking for these creatures or who have encounters, Godfrey is both reassuring and cautioning.

      “We need to take care,” she says. “As we would of any wild thing.”

Ifyougo:

What: Reading, Q&A and signing with Linda Godfrey

When: Thursday, July 25 at 7:00 PM

Where: The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL

Fyi: (773) 293-2665; bookcellarinc.com

Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers.

              The end of the world is coming again—just as it was before Y2K and the Mayan Doomsday Calendar back to the calculations of Bishop Gregory of Tours, showing it would be all over sometimes between 799 and 806 and Christopher Columbus (yes, that Christopher Columbus) who it was ending in 1658.

              “It’s something that people have believed all through history,” says Tea Krulos author of the just released Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers. “There have been different takes on the end times throughout our culture. In 1844, people followed Father Miller and believed so very strongly that the world was going to end that they sold their property, gave away things in preparing for it.”

              Curious and somewhat amused about those who believe in end times and take steps to get ready, Krulos decided to explore the subject,

              “I have a strong interest in Utopian fiction like such classics as 1984,” says Krulos, a Milwaukee journalist. “And I’ve always wondered, if there was a huge disaster, how long I’d be able to survive. Not very long, I think.  I also wanted to get some answers about who these people were and to find out what prepping was about as well as to get out in the field, to experience some things and learn some things.”

              But Preppers, the term used for those who are preparing for the ultimate catastrophe, were definitely not interested in talking to Krulos.

              “I found out almost immediately it was going to be a challenge,” he says. “It’s a secretive group that distrusts media. So, I signed up for a prepper forum and attended a survival camp where I learned to build a fire, filter water and other simple things that might be helpful if something happens.”

              Prepping, in turns out, is a billion dollar industry and it’s not only isolated rural dwellers who are buying into the need to prep. Krulos also talked to preppers in New York City and says that Chicago has a chapter of the Zombie Squad.

              “They don’t really believe in a zombie apocalypse but think if you learn how to prepare to survive on, then you can survive hurricanes, mass rioting and other disasters,” he says.

              What apocalyptic scenario should we fear the most? Krulos says it’s climate change.  And he also thinks we need to pay attention to why the Doomsday Clock is now just three seconds before midnight.

              “That’s the closest it’s been since they invented the hydrogen bomb,” he says.

              So, what sorts of items does Krulos think are important when prepping for the apocalypse?

              “A good water filter is a very good thing to have,” he says. “Food, comfortable gear for hiking, tools, a renewable food supply like extra seeds and books. I’ve always wanted to read War and Peace, I just haven’t had time.”

Ifyougo:

What: Tea Krulos book signing

When: Friday, June 21 at 7 p.m.

Where: The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: 773-293-2665; words@bookcellarinc.com

Park Avenue Summer

              Chicago-based author Renee Rosen typically writes novels about historic periods and people in Chicago such as the age of jazz (Windy City Blues); mid-20th century journalism (White Collar Girl) and the Roaring Twenties (Dollface). But in Park Avenue Summer, her latest novel which she describes as “Mad Men the Devil Wears Prada,” she takes us to New York City during the era of Helen Gurley Brown, first female Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine and the author of the scandalous best seller, Sex and the Single Girl.

              Like many of us, Rosen read Cosmo (as it was known) when young.

              Rosen remembers quickly flipping to “Bedside Astrologer” column.

              “I was looking for guidance on my 16-year-old love life,” she says, noting that all the time she spent poring over the glossy pages of Cosmo essentially shaped my view of female sexuality and female empowerment, too. “She changed the face of women’s magazine.”

              Park Avenue Summer tells the story of Alice (Ali), who moves to New York City after breaking up with her boyfriend and ends up getting her dream job, working for Cosmo.

              Like she does for all her books, Rosen threw herself into full research mode, wanting to convey the story through Alice’s eyes.

              “I even went down to the Port Authority to get the feel of what Alice would have seen and felt when she arrived,” says Rosen.  

              Because Rosen had lived on the Upper West side in New York for a year she knew where Ali, as a single working girl would live—an area in the East 60s called “the girl’s ghetto.” She walked the streets until she found the exact apartment she had envisioned for Ali.

              All in the name of research, she visited Tavern on the Green, 21 Club, St. Regis and the Russian Tearoom, all swank places still in business that were very popular back then. But best of all, a friend introduced her to Lois Cahall who had worked for Brown.

              “Helen Gurley Brown was like a second mother to Lois,” says Rosen. “She and I became good friends and she vetted the book for me. It was like a gift from the gods, because she knew so much about Brown and Cosmo and that time.”

              Rosen is very much an admirer of Brown and what she accomplished.

              “She really wanted to help women be their best,” she says. “She wanted them to know that they could get what they want even in what was then a man’s world.”

Ifyougo:

What: Rene Rosen has several book signing events in the Chicago area.

When & Where: Tuesday, April 30th at 7 p.m.  Launch party at The Book Cellar Launch Party, 4736 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL.

When & Where: Wednesday, May 1 at 11:30 a.m., Luncheon at The Deer Path Inn, 255 East Illinois St., Lake Forest, IL. $55 includes lunch and book. Seating is limited and reservations are required. Sponsored by Lake Forest Bookstore. 847-234-4420; lakeforestbookstore.com

When & Where: Wednesday, May 1 at 6:30 p.m. The Book Stall, 811 Elm St, Winnetka, IL 847-446-8880; thebookstall.com.  In conversation with Susanna Calkins who is celebrating the release of Murder Knocks Twice, the start of a new mystery series set in the world of Chicago speakeasy in the 1920s.

When & Where: Monday, May 13 at 7 p.m. The Book Table’s Authors on Tap series with author Jamie Freveletti. Beer Shop 1026 North Blvd., Chicago, IL. 847- 946-4164; beershophq.com

Save Me the Plums: Ruth Reichl’s Memoir

            A decade ago, out of all the food magazines published, the most famous was Gourmet, which offered a sophisticated look at culinary trends and cookery. And Ruth Reichl, who formerly had been the food critic for the New York Times, a job that entailed wearing disguises because her photo was plastered on a large number of kitchen walls in the city’s restaurants, was the editor-in-chief of the magazine. It’s a story she recounts in her latest book, Save Me the Plumst (Random House; 2019 $27). You don’t need to be a serious foodie to enjoy her take on what she calls “the golden age of magazines.”

            Reichl didn’t want the job and though she had collected Gourmet magazines starting when she was eight, she saw it as old fashioned and stuffy and at first said no. But the publisher wanted to take the magazine in a different direction and saw Reichl as the person to be able to make that happened. So, she signed on to a job that included a limousine service, first class airfare and a lavish expense account. The selling point after turning it down the first time was that she would be home in the evenings with her son, not critiquing restaurants.

            “I never wanted to become that person,” says Reichl about the luxuries and perks. She recalls flying coach and seeing two of her colleagues boarding the same flight as they were going to the same place and they looked at her in wonderment as they headed to the first class section. She took the bus until a limo driver shamed her into using his service on a regular basis.

             Despite being the food editor and restaurant critic at the Los Angeles Times, the experience of being Gourmet’s editor-in-chief made Reichl quickly learned how much she didn’t know. She recalls freaking her first day when the staff started talking about TOCs and she had to desperately call a friend and ask what that meant as she didn’t want to look ignorant in front of her employees.

            “Table of Contents,” she was told. How simple but it shows the type of learning curve Reichl was encountering in her new career.

            Being Reichl, multiple James Beard-winning and bestselling author, she also includes a few recipes in her book.

            “All of my books have recipes, so I had to have some,” she says. That includes the turkey chili she and her staff used when the gathered in the Gourmet test kitchen on 9/11 and cooked for the first responders.

 “I still love cooking and get an enormous amount of pleasure from it,” she says. “And I like to cook for other people. Every morning I ask my husband what he would like to eat.”

Indeed, for Reichl, food is such a sensory experience that she often likes to eat alone so she can savor every mouthful, letting it take her back to the source of what she’s consuming.

            From the magazine folded and everyone went home, Reichl knew she’d write a book about her time at Gourmet and kept copious notes and saved emails. “But then my editor had to torture me into actually writing it.”

            She wants readers to come along for the ride when reading her book.

            “I want them to get the sense of what it was like,” says Reichl. “I want them to enjoy themselves as much as I did.”

Ifyougo:

What: Ruth Reichl in-conversation with Louisa Chu, a Chicago based food writer.

When: Wednesday, April 24 at 6 pm

Where: 210 Design House, 210 West Illinois, Chicago, IL

Cost: The cost of on ticket is $56 ($58.95 w/service fee) and includes a copy of the book, wine, and tastes made from Ruth’s book My Kitchen Year. 2 tickets include one book, wine and tastes for $80 ($83.79 w/service fee). To purchase, visit brownpapertickets.com/event/4102551

FYI: The event is sponsored by the Book Cellar. For more information, (773) 293-2665.

Brett Paesel’s Everything is Just Fine: Life for a Beverly Hills Soccer Team

Everything is Just Fine, a social satire about families on a Beverly Hills soccer team for 10-year-old boys told partially in e-mails, explores the secrets and failings of the parents as they connect with each other throughout the season’s wins and losses.

Written by Brett Paesel, who also authored the bestselling Mommies Who Drink: Sex, Drugs, and Other Distant Memories of an Ordinary Mom, the book could have been full of stock characters. We have the divorcee who drinks too much and spends way too much time flirting with other women’s husbands, the vaguely zoned-out housewife who keeps telling herself she is really, really grateful for what she has until she lands in bed with the sexy Latin soccer star who is helping coach the team and Coach Randy, who after losing his job, hides out at the library so his wife doesn’t know he’s unemployed.

But Paesel goes beyond the stereotypes and we come to know and care about these people as we follow what they’re dealing with in their lives.

“Because of an over-parenting snafu–I wanted to get my son on his friend’s team–I ended up in the Beverly Hills soccer league,” says Paesel about what inspired her to write her book. “My neighborhood league would have been much more modest. Suddenly, I was in a world that was rarified. The fields are lovely and have shade, parents lived in McMansions and some of them even owned restaurants. My son’s team played Beckham’s kid’s team. Paparazzi regularly staked out the games. Will Farrell was a coach at one point. My son wasn’t a gifted player and he landed on a team that really didn’t have a super-strong athlete, but the coach was hugely enthusiastic, and they became the little team that could. The coach sent long e-mails giving shout-outs to each player. I remember he called my son a Lion which he wasn’t – he was deathly afraid of the ball. I started out wondering what was going on with the coach because he was so zealous and seemed to have lots of time to craft these e-mails.”

At first Paesel thought she was writing a short story parody of the email chain she was reading but soon started feeling compassion for her characters.

“I wanted to know them better,” says Paesel who is also an actress and producer. “They are all very flawed people, but I was moved by their intense desire to connect – even when they fell disastrously short.”

Though she initially based most of her characters on people she knew, Paesel says they quickly became their own people and so now, when she sees them in her mind, she no longer sees the real people they were based on.

Does she worry that someone will know themselves when reading her book?

“People never recognize themselves in my writing for some reason,” says Paesel. “I found this to be true in my memoir writing as well.”

              Besides a good read and a lot of laughs, Paesel hopes that people put her book down feeling a sense of belonging to this great human drama we get to live through.

“The characters in my book get too caught up in things that are simply unimportant and won’t get them the happiness that they are desperately seeking,” she says. “At the heart of my book is an exhortation to keep paying attention to what’s really important. Which is always – very simply – love.”

Ifyougo:

What: Brett Paesel has several book events in Chicago.

Monday, April 15 at 8 pm. Brett Paesel at Louder Than A Mom, 3855 N, Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL. louderthanamom@gmail.com; louderthanamom.com

Wednesday, April 17 at 6 pm. Brett Paesel at The Annoyance Theatre & Bar, 851 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL. 773-697-9693; theannoyance.com

Thursday, April 18 7 pm. The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL. 773-293-2665; bookcellarinc.com

50 Ways to Love Wine More: Adventures in Wine Appreciation!

Jim Laughren wants to keep it real when talking about wine. No pretentions, no superciliousness.

It’s about what you like, not what the big time wine critics say you should like says Laughren, author of 50 Ways to Love Wine More: Adventures in Wine Appreciation! (Crosstown Publishing 2018; $26.95), an NYC Big Book Award winner and finalist in the American Book Fest Best Book Awards.

“I wrote the book with the intention of starting a conversation about wine,” says Laughren, a Certified Wine Educator and former president of a wine import and distribution company. ““I wanted my book to be for people who really like wine but are put off by wine snobs. All of my writing and teaching is about letting people know that what other people think doesn’t matter, that there are no secrets to wine though many wine critics would have you believe otherwise and that only they hold the secrets. Historically, there’s never been a wine or gate keeper.”

Indeed, says Laughren, wine was, for centuries both seasonal and also for everyone.

“In Rome, they even gave their slaves wine though it was the dregs, of course,” he says. “Wine’s greatest gift is to give pleasure and we’re all entitled to that.”

Determining your own palate means trusting your own preferences. And though wine can be complex, it becomes easier to appreciate when a person understands how memory and emotion are inextricably tied to taste and are determining factors in all of our personal wine journeys.

“At the top of the nasal passage is the olfactory epithelium that connects directly to the area of the brain where memories are stored,” explains Laughren. “You know how some wines have tastes of tobacco. If as a child you had a kindly grandfather who smoked a pipe, contrasted with a child whose parents chain smokers and a house that reeked of cigarettes, those memories would impact how the two would feel about the taste or aromas of tobacco in wine.”

Laughren, founder of WineHead Consulting, encourages people to explore new wines while still enjoying your favorites.

“There are 10,000 different grape varietals,” he says. “Look at Italy, there are probably 800 varieties in that country alone.”

                     Like most of us, Laughren drank some funky wines in college.

                     “Most wines made in the 1970s were very sweet,” he says. “Group think changes. Now those in the know pooh-pooh sweet table wines as the drinks of the unwashed masses. But if that’s what you like, don’t spend too much time thinking about it, just enjoy them. Instead think about exposing yourself to other wines and widening your experience.”

          Ifyougo:

          What: Reading, signing, and wine tasting with renowned wine expert Jim Laughren who be discussing his new book, 50 Ways to Love Wine More.

          Where: The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL

          When: Friday, March 29 at 7 p.m.

          Cost: Free

          FYI: Please call (773) 293-2665 to confirm

Food of the Italian South by Katie Parla



U Pan Cuott. Photo credit Ed Anderson.

It’s personal for Katie Parla, award winning cookbook author, travel guide and food blogger who now has turned her passion for all things Italian to the off-the-beaten paths of Southern Italy, with its small villages, endless coastline, vast pastures and rolling hills.
“Three of my grandmother’s four grandparents are from Spinoso, deep in a remote center of Basilicata,” says Parla, the author of the just released Food of the Italian South: Recipes for Classic, Disappearing Lost Dishes (Clarkson Potter 2019; $30).

Katie Parla in Southern Italy. Photo credit Ed Anderson.


Parla is a journalist but she’s also a culinary sleuth, eager to learn all about foodways as well as to chronicle and save dishes that are quickly disappearing from modern Italian tables. She’s lived in Rome since graduating with a degree from Yale in art history and her first cookbook was the IACP award winning Tasting Rome. She’s also so immersed herself in Italian cuisine that after moving to Rome, she earned a master’s degree in Italian Gastronomic Culture from the Università degli Studi di Roma “Tor Vergata”, a sommelier certificate from the Federazione Italiana Sommelier Albergatori Ristoratori, and an archeological speleology certification from the city of Rome.



Matera. Photo credit Ed Anderson.


In tiny Spinoso, Parla and her mother checked into one of the few available rooms for rent and went to office of vital statistics to find out more about family history.
“We made the mistake of getting there before lunch,” she says. “You could tell they really want to go home and eat. They told us there were only four or five last names in the village and since ours wasn’t one of them, then we couldn’t be there.”



Caiazzo. Photo credit Ed Anderson.


But Parla found that sharing wine with the officers soon produced friendlier results (“wine and food always does that in Italy,” she says) and after leafing through dusty, oversized ledgers written in fading, neat cursive they were able to locate the tiny house where her grandfather had lived as well as other extensive family history.
“Thank goodness for Napoleon, who was really into record keeping, no matter his other faults” says Parla.

Katie Parla. Photo credit Ed Anderson.


Many of her ancestors were sheepherders, tending sheep, staying with a flock for a week in exchange for a loaf of bread. This poverty was one reason so many Southern Italians left for America. But it also is the basis for their pasta and bread heavy cuisine says Parla.
To capture the flavors of this pastoral area, Parla visited restaurants and kitchens, asking questions and writing down recipes which had evolved over the centuries from oral traditions.
Describing Rome, Venice and Florence as “insanely packed,” Parla believes that those looking for a less traveled road will love Southern Italy, an ultra-authentic region to the extent that in Cilento, for example, there are more cars than people on the road.




Spezzatino all Uva . Photo credit Ed Anderson.


“There’s all this amazing food,” she says. “But also, there’s all this unspoiled beauty such as the interior of Basilicata. And the emptiness, because so many people are gone, creates this sense of haunted mystery. It’s so special, I want people to understand the food and to visit if they can.”
For more information, visit katieparla.com


’U Pan’ Cuott’
Baked Bread and Provolone Casserole

Serves 4 to 6
1 pound day-old durum wheat bread (I like Matera-style; see page 198), torn into bite-size pieces
3 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
7 ounces provolone cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 teaspoon peperoni cruschi powder or sweet paprika
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon peperoncino or red pepper flakes
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt

Overview:
In Bernalda, a town in Basilicata best known as the ancestral village of Francis Ford Coppola, there are many ancient bread traditions. The town isn’t far from the durum wheat fields of the Murgia plateau and the famous bread towns Matera and Altamura. One of the town’s classic dishes is ’u pan’ cuott’ (Bernaldese dialect for pane cotto, “cooked bread”). Families would bake stale slices of Bernalda’s enormous 3-kilogram loaves with whatever food scraps they could find, resulting in a savory, delicious bread casserole bound by gooey bits of melted provolone. Use the crustiest durum bread you can find or bake.
Method:
Preheat the oven to 475°F with a rack in the center position.
Place the bread in a colander, rinse with warm water, and set aside to soften. The bread should be moistened but not sopping wet.
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, provolone, peperoni cruschi, garlic, oregano, peperoncino, and ¼ cup of the olive oil. Season with salt.
When the bread crusts have softened, squeeze out any excess liquid and add the bread to the bowl with the tomato mixture. Stir to combine.
Grease a baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, pour in the tomato mixture, and drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil on top. Bake until the top is heavily browned, and the provolone has melted, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.
Spezzatino all’Uva
Pork Cooked with Grapes

Serves 6 to 8
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, salted and cut into 2-inch cubes
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 cup dry red wine (I like Aglianico del Vulture)
2 bay leaves
4 cups pork stock or water
1 bunch of red grapes (I like Tintilia grapes), halved and seeded

Overview:
The foothills east of the Apennines in Molise grow Tintilia, an indigenous red grape known for its low yield and pleasant notes of red fruit and spices. Each year, the majority of the harvested grapes are pressed to make wine, with the remainder reserved for jams and even savory dishes like this pork and grape stew, which is only made at harvest time. The slight sweetness of the grapes mingles beautifully with the savory pork and herbaceous notes of the bay leaves. Salt the pork 24 hours in advance.
Method:
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the pork, working in batches as needed, and cook, turning, until it is browned on all sides, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove the pork and set aside on a plate.
Reduce the heat to low. Add the garlic and cook until just golden, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, increase the heat to medium, and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When the alcohol aroma dissipates and the liquid has nearly evaporated, about 2 minutes, add the bay leaves.
Return the pork to the pan. Add enough stock so the meat is mostly submerged and season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1½ hours more, until the pork is fork-tender. Add the grapes at the 1 ¼ hour mark and continue cooking until they are tender. If the sauce becomes too dry, add a bit more stock (you may not need all the stock). Serve immediately. 
Ifyougo:
What: Katie Parla has three events in Chicago
When & Where: March 19 from 6:30 to 9pm. Katie will be celebrating the release of her cookbook with her friends at Monteverde, 1020 West Madison Street, Chicago, IL. The cost of the dinner is $150 including food, wine pairings, tax, gratuity and copy of the book. (312) 888-3041.
When & Where: March 20 from 6 to 9pm. Katie will be hosting an aperitivo and signing at Lost Lake’s Stranger in Paradise, 3154 W Diversey Ave., Chicago, IL. No booking necessary, just come on down. Books will be sold on site by Book Cellar. (773) 293-6048.
Menu of five cocktails from the book, $12.
Three small plates (two pastas from Pastificio di Martino and olive oil poached tuna, endive and olives) from Chef Fred Noinaj, $12-15.
When & Where: March 21 from 6 to 7:30pm. Katie will host an aperitivo and sign books, which will be available for purchase at Bonci Wicker Park, 1566 N Damen Ave., Chicago, IL. (872) 829-3144.

The Lost Night by Andrea Bartz

              In Andrea Bartz’s mystery novel, The Lost Night, Lindsay Bach believes she remembers the night her once-best friend Edie committed suicide. It’s seared into her brain. Or so she thinks. Over dinner, a long ago friend who has just moved back to New York suggests that she wasn’t with the group like she believes. Could that be true? Getting a friend to hack into her old email account, Bach backtracks a decade ago to when she and her group of friends were post graduates starting jobs, consuming too much alcohol, partying too hard and falling in love—often.

(Photo by Kate Lord)

              With each new revelation about that time and her part in the days leading up to Edie’s death, Bach has to employ the skills she uses to fact check magazine articles for her job to do the same in her life. The questions are many, but the most important ones are did the captivating and beautiful Edie really commit suicide or was she murdered? And did Bach have something to do with her death that she can no longer remember.

              Bartz, who earned her master’s degree at Northwestern University and the author of Stuff Hipsters Hate, her blog turned book, says she wanted to write a book like those she likes to read—tomes by female mystery writers like Tana French, Gillian Flynn and Jessica Knoll. For inspiration, she turned to a time in her life—New York City in 2009. Like her favorite writers, the novel struck a note and even before the book was published at the end of February, it had already been optioned by Cartel Entertainment as a limited series with actress Mila Kunis’ Orchard Farm set to produce.

              “It was a crazy time and we were partying while the world was burning,” she says of her time as a 23-year-old.   “I thought of this time and how bizarre it all was and then interlaid it with a mysterious death. It opens up a certain subculture that I hope is interesting to readers, it certainly was introspective for me.”

              The novel, atmospheric, intense and intriguing, reflects an interest in psychology and memory that has always interested Bartz—and Bach, the character Bartz describes as being most like her. In an early chapter, Bartz tells a lover how drunk blackouts mean that the incidents that occurred never were recorded in our memories. They don’t exist and yet they happened.

              “We’ve all had those incidents where someone will describe an event and say you were there and you don’t remember it,” says Bartz, noting there’s something both creepy and disorienting about how there’s no hard and fast truth just different memories

              So, it is with Bach, who is shaken out of her of complacent lifestyle by having to grapple with the truth—as elusive as it is.        

Ifyougo:

What: Author Andrea Bartz will be answering questions about her new novel The Lost Night, and magician Jeanette Andrews will be wowing the audience with a short performance.

When: Wednesday, March 13 at 7-9 pm

Where: The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: (773) 293-2665; words@bookcellarinc.com

Let’s Play Two: The Life and Times of Ernie Banks

“People couldn’t see beyond his optimistic outlook and took him to be naïve and have a simplistic outlook on life,” says Wilson. “But Banks was a very deep thinker, he’s someone who overcame a lot of obstacles but never said anything bad about people.

              A college baseball player whose batting average was lower than his grade point average, Columbus, Indiana ophthalmologist Doug Wilson turned his passion for the sport to writing about the iconic players he admired in his youth.

              His latest, Let’s Play Two: The Life and Times of Ernie Banks (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 2019; Amazon price $23.95), tells the story of the first African American to play for the Chicago Cubs. Recruited from the Kansas City Monarchs and raised in a segregated community in Texas, Banks was always positive and had a good word to say about everything. These characteristics often led to people underestimating the man who would become known as “Mr. Cub.”

              “People couldn’t see beyond his optimistic outlook and took him to be naïve and have a simplistic outlook on life,” says Wilson. “But Banks was a very deep thinker, he’s someone who overcame a lot of obstacles but never said anything bad about people. If reporters asked him about someone who had said something negative about him, Banks would change things around so that he deflected the question without being rude.”

              But in the end, it was Banks good natured spirits that won the day says Wilson, recounting the rocky relationship between Leo Durocher and Banks.

              “You couldn’t have come up with two different kind of guys,” says Wilson. “Durocher, well…the title of his book Nice Guys Finish Last says it all and Banks was the ultimate nice guy. Durocher hated Banks’s guts and tried everything he could to run him out of town but there was no way PK Wrigley was going to let that happened. And all the time Durocher was trying to get rid of him, Banks just smiled. When Durocher would talk to reporters about how Banks was ruining the Cubs, they’d run to him and ask him about that, and Banks would just say “Leo Durocher is the best manager ever. He always took the high road.”

              Wilson whose previous books include Fred Hutchinson and the 1964 Cincinnati Reds, The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych which was selected by the Library of Michigan as a Michigan Notable book for 2014, Brooks: The Biography of Brooks Robinson (2014) and Pudge: The Biography of Carlton Fisk, not only read every interview he could find with Banks dating back to 1950 as well as endless newspaper accounts and books, says he also was able to located several friends from Banks’s youth including those who knew him when was seven years old and another who played bay with him in high school.

              “I also found three guys who played with Ernie in the Negro League when he was with the Kansas City Monarchs,” says Wilson. “They said he was shy around people. But his persona changed after he became comfortable in Chicago.”

              By interviewing friends from his boyhood, Wilson says it helped him see how overwhelming it must have been to be confined to segregated schools and neighborhoods and the challenges that Banks faced in becoming a player at a time when African Americans were just beginning to be allowed to play in the major league. Amazingly, Banks would be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a place in the Hall of Fame and he would always remain optimistic.

              “Years later, Leo Durocher had a change of heart, perhaps surgically induced, in 1983 a very contrite 78-year-old Leo, recovering from a recent open heart procedure, perhaps seeing his own mortality at last, spoke at a Cubs reunion and tearfully apologized to the team in general and Ernie Banks specifically for how he had behaved,” writes Wilson.

              In other words, says Wilson, “Ernie won.”

              Ifyougo:

              What: Doug Wilson has several book events in the Chicagoland area.

              When & Where: Saturday, February 16 at 2 pm at Anderson’s Bookshop, 5112 Main St, Downers Grove, IL. This event is free and open to the public. To join the signing line, please purchase the author’s latest book, Let’s Play Two, from Anderson’s Bookshop. Call Anderson’s Bookshop Downers Grove (630) 963-2665.

              When & Where: Saturday, March 2 at 6 pm at the Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL. Free.  (773) 293-2665.

              For more information, visit dougwilsonbaseball.blogspot.com/

Book Signings: Lost Restaurants of Chicago by Greg Borzo

For those of us who grew up in and around Chicago, there are names of long gone restaurants that still tug at our heart, evoking memories of foods no longer served, surroundings replaced and aromas we many never smell again.

Hoe Sai Gai

          For me, that’s the allure of Greg Borzo’s latest book, Lost Restaurants of Chicago with foreword by Dough Sohn, the owner of the now closed Hot Doug’s.

          Borzo, a Chicagoan historian who has written several books about the city’s bicycling, transportation and history including its fountains frequently gives tours and talks for organizations such as Forgotten Chicago, the Chicago History Museum and Chicago Cycling Club. The idea for his latest came about when he and his friends were chatting about the good times they’d had at restaurants over the years and how many were gone. His book goes further back though, starting over a century-and-a-half ago.

Jacques

          “My list of restaurants to research from at least a hundred people,” he says, noting that he still gets some complaints about places he left out but then with seven out of eight restaurants closing within a few years of opening, the number of those gone are overwhelming.

          I ask Borzo what some of his favorite are “lost” restaurants. Some he had dined at, like The Great Gritzbe’s Flying Food Show, a Richard Melman restaurant that opened in 1974.

Maxim’s

          “It had a dessert bar and you could get as many desserts as you wanted, like a salad bar,” he recalls about the restaurant that closed in 1883. “There’s also Trader Vic’s which was in the Palmer House. Its décor was completely over the top.”

          When Trader Vic’s, a Tiki bar extraordinaire first opened in 1957, bringing it up to its Polynesian zenith cost $500,000 which included a décor boasting huge Eastern Island carved wooden heads, totem poles, canoes and massive Maori beams. It was part of the Tiki rage that swept the U.S. and Trader Vic’s had its competitors include Don the Beachcomber which featured 85 types of run and 65 different cocktails.

          There are also places he wishes he ate at but didn’t such as Maxim’s de Paris, which was opened from 1963 to 1982.

          “It was a replica of the Maxim’s in Paris,” says Borzo. “I went to it when it later when the building was an event space.”

          Which is another phenomena of Chicago restaurants.

          “Many single locations have been many different restaurants,” says Borzo.

Indeed, Bistro 110 at 110 East Pearson used to be the Blackhawk, then became Bar Toma Restaurant which is now closed.

“This book is a history book too,” says Borzo. “It reflects the character of the city through the food and showing the different income levels. Some people were going to diners, others to the Pump Room.”

The girl on the trapeze at Flo’s Restaurant and Cocktail Parlous

Borzo and I both share a laugh about the now closed Flo’s Restaurant and Cocktail Parlor which was located at 17 West Randolph, near what is now Macy’s flagship store. I used to see it as a kid when my parents took me shopping in the Loop. It was notable because a woman in a form fitting Playboy-bunny like costume and spiked heels climbed out on a swing on the second floor balcony to advertise the place.         

Greg Borzo

          “I’ve eaten at a lot of the places I write about,” says Borzo. “And those that were already closed I tried to find people who had eaten there, researched old newspaper stories and searched through vintage photos.”

Ifyougo:

What: Greg Borzo talk and book signing

When, Where and Contact Information:

Thursday, January 24 at 5 p.m.  

Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State St., 6-7 p.m. A free raffle will give away more than $1,000 of gifts: trips, tours, food, books and more.

(312) 747-4300; slpl.bibliocommons.com/events

Saturday, February 9 at 5 p.m.

The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL

(773) 293-2665; bookcellarinc.com

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