CrimeReads: Gone, But Not Forgotten: 12 Great Mystery Authors Readers Still Love. https://crimereads.com/12-great-mystery-authors-readers-still-love/
Category: New York Times Best Seller
An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz
Chicago author Alex Kotlowitz has always been willing to tackle the big issues that impact our society and in his book An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago, he looks at one summer in Chicago to tell the story about violence throughout the United States. Kotlowitz discussed his book with Northwest Indiana Times correspondent Jane Ammeson.
What was the inspiration for writing An American Summer? And can you give us a synopsis of the book in your own words?
I feel like I’ve been working my way to this book for a long while. When some thirty years ago I was reporting There Are No Children Here, it was the violence that unmoored me. The numbers are staggering. In the twenty years between 1990 and 2010, in Chicago 14,033 people have been killed, another 60,000 wounded by gunfire. I’ve long felt we’ve completely underestimated the effect of that violence on the spirit of individuals and the spirit of community. And so I set out to tell the stories of those emerging from the violence and trying to reckon with it, people who are standing tall in a world slumping around them. The book is set in one summer, 2013, and it’s a collection of 14 stories, intimate tales that speak to the capacity of the human heart, stories that I hope will upend what you think you know.
How did you choose who to talk to? How did you find them? And how did you go about choosing which stories to use?
I spent that summer speaking with as many people as I could. I’ve been reporting on many of these neighborhoods for thirty years, so I visited with many of the people I knew. I embedded with a homicide unit. I spent time at a trauma center. I hung out at the criminal courthouse. I spent time on the streets, in churches, at taverns, halfway houses. I was looking for stories that surprised me, that knocked me off balance, hoping they might do the same for readers. And as is often the case, I wrote about people who on some level I admired. For who they are. For how they persevered. For their character. I wrote about people who I came to deeply care about. I wrote about stories that made me smile and that left me anger. I wrote about stories that left me with a sense of hope.
You’ve been writing about violence for 30 years? Do you ever get worn out by it?
It’s by no means all that I’ve written about, but, yes, a lot of my work has dealt with the profound poverty of our cities. I write out of a fundamental belief that life ought to be fair, and so much of the time I land in corners of the country where life isn’t fair at all. Do I get worn out by it? Sometimes. But I come away each time inspired by the people I meet along the way.
I know the number of murders has gone down but so has the number of murders and shootings that are solved. Any thoughts on why that is? And does that have an impact on the continuing violence?
Murders have gone down from the early 1990s, though we saw an unsettling spike in 2016 which approached those numbers of 30 years ago. And, yes, you’re right the clearance rate on homicides and shootings are remarkably low. You have a three in four chance of getting away with murder in Chicago, and a nine in ten chance of getting away with shooting someone and wounding them. Those numbers aren’t a misprint. That inability to solve violent crimes only erodes even further the distrust between communities of color and the police. It erodes even further that there will be justice. And as a result when there’s a sense that there’s no justice, people take matters into their own hands.
What would you like readers to take away from your book?
The humanity of the people I write about. I’m a storyteller. My ambitions are reasonably modest. I guess my hope in the end is after reading these stories, readers will think of themselves and the world around just a little bit differently. And maybe it will nudge along politicians and policy makers to act, to recognize the urgency.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
One final thought. This book takes place in Chicago, but Chicago, despite its reputation, isn’t even among the top ten most violent cities in the country. I could’ve written this book about so many other cities. What’s more, these stories speak to who we are as a nation. In the wake of the tragedies at Newtown and Parkland, we asked all the right questions. How could this happen? What would bring a young man to commit such an atrocity? How do the families and the community continue on while carrying the full weight of this tragedy? In Chicago, in Baltimore, in New Orleans, in the cities across the nation, no one’s asking those questions. What does that say about us?
An American Summer is available in hard cover, digital, and as an audiobook.
President Obama’s Annual List of Favorites
“As 2020 comes to a close, I wanted to share my annual lists of favorites,” Barack Obama, the 42nd President of the United States, tweeted to his 127.5 million followers. “I’ll start by sharing my favorite books this year, deliberately omitting what I think is a pretty good book – A Promised Land – by a certain 44th president. I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I did.”
Somehow, the President forgot to include adding one of my books to his list again. Well, there’s always next year.
Trust: America’s Best Chance
Buttigieg, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and then studied politics, philosophy, and economics at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, has also written his second book, the just released “Trust: America’s Best Chance “(Liveright 2020; $23.95).
If you’re wondering what Mayor Pete, aka Pete Buttigieg the former two term mayor of South Bend, Indiana has been doing since he dropped his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination in May, the answer is a lot. Since then, Buttigieg has accepted a position as a Faculty Fellow for the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Advanced Studies (NDIAS) and launched “Win the Era,” a political action committee aimed at electing a new generation of leaders who bring new ideas and generational vision to down-ballot races.
“We are calling out to a new generation,” he says.
Buttigieg, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and then studied politics, philosophy, and economics at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, has also written his second book, the just released “Trust: America’s Best Chance “(Liveright 2020; $23.95).
“I believe our country faces a three-fold crisis in trust,” says Buttigieg, listing those as the lack of trust in America’s institutions and in each other as well as trust in America around the world. His belief in the need for a global renewal in trust ties in with his work at NDAIS. Besides teaching an interdisciplinary undergraduate course on the importance of trust as understood through different fields, he is working on two research projects–exploring how to restore trust in political institutions and another focusing on the forces distinctively shaping the 2020s.
The book is another way of starting a conversation about trust and how we can, as he says, “move on from this pandemic, to deliver racial and economic justice, and how trust can be earned and how it can restore America’s leadership role in this world.”
Buttigieg believes that America offers a type of leadership that the world needs.
“Not just any kind of American leadership,” he says. “But America at its best.”
This previous was published in The Times of Northwest Indiana.
Virtual Book Event: Ask Me Anything with True Crime Authors
Log on to Reddit on Saturday August 22nd at 4:30 p.m. for “Ask Me Anything with True Crime Authors,” featuring four best selling authors who will be answering your questions live!
Submit your question about writing, work, real-life crimes, cover-ups, covert operations, all-time favorite snacks, and anything in between and read through responses as the authors write them!
Registrants will receive a direct link to the Ask Me Anything hosted on Reddit.com; in order to ask a question, please note you will need access to a free Reddit account.
This text-only event will be hosted on a specific Reddit page. You can access this event by clicking the orange “GO TO ONLINE EVENT PAGE” button in your Eventbrite email confirmation or by following the direct link that will be shared via email about 10 minutes before scheduled start time.
Visit BookYourSummerLive.com for more information!
Maureen Callahan, author of American Predator, is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, columnist, and commentator. She has covered everything from pop culture to politics. Her writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, New York, Spin, and the New York Post, where she is currently critic-at-large. She lives in New York.
Amaryllis Fox, author of Life Undercover, had a CIA career in the field and now covers current events and offered analysis for CNN, National Geographic, Al Jazeera, the BBC, and other global news outlets. She speaks at events and universities around the world on the topic of peacemaking. She is the co-host of History Channel’s series American Ripper and lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter.
Dr. Lee Mellor Ph.D. is a criminologist, lecturer, musician, and the author of seven books on crime including Behind the Horror. He received his doctorate from Montreal’s Concordia University after specializing in abnormal homicide and sex crimes. As the chair of the American Investigative Society of Cold Cases’ academic committee, he has consulted with police on cold cases in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Ohio, and London, Ontario. He resides in Ontario, Canada.
Ariel Sabar, is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, The Washington Post, and many other publications. He is the author of My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. He also authored Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.
The Splendid and the Vile. A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz
When New York Times bestselling author Erik Larson (Devil in the White City; Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania) moved to New York five years ago, he had what he describes as a revelation. He had watched, horrified, as 911 unfolded on CNN.
“But I wondered what was it like for people living in New York to have their city invaded and all the fear they must have felt,” he says. “Then I started thinking about the bombing of London by the Germans during World War II. It was 57 nights of consecutive bombings. 911 shook us all but how did Londoners cope, knowing that every night their city would be bombed—that every night, hundreds of German bombers were flying over with high-explosive bombs?”
At first Larson thought he’d tell his story about an ordinary family living in London at the time.
“Then I thought why not a quintessential London family—the Churchills,” he says. “So much as been written about him, but this gave me the lens through which to tell the story.”
The result is The Splendid and the Vile. A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz (Crown Publishing), Larson’s saga about how Churchill, as prime minister, kept the country strong and together through his wit, his ability to speak to everyday people and by his own determination during the time of the Blitz from May of 1940 through May of 1941.
” I think the things that surprised me the most was the fact that Churchill was a lot of fun,” says Larson. “Even though his staff was really overworked, even though they knew Churchill was inconsiderate, but he worked just as hard or harder than anyone. They loved working with him, he was able to do that.”
He also had some intriguing habits—his drinking and his long soaks in the bathtub, smoking cigars and having his secretary take dictation, getting out, naked and wet to answer the phone and then getting back into the tub.
Churchill was also fearless and without vanity says Larson.
It drove the Nazis crazy.
Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, cursed him, writing in his diary, “When will that creature Churchill finally surrender? England cannot hold out forever!”
His speeches were so effective with the British that Goebbels was alarmed when he learned that Germans were listening to them as well and ordered them to stop, saying it was treachery.
“Churchill would visit a city that had been bombed, and people would flock to him,” says Larson. “I have no question that these visits were absolutely important to helping Britain get through this period. He was often filmed doing so for newsreels, and it was reported by newspapers and radio. This was leadership by demonstration, by showing the world that he cared, and he was fearless.”
Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope
Tightrope tells the tale of an America that is still in the process of losing well-paying jobs, where people work two or more jobs just to make ends meet, where one illness can turn into a bankruptcy for those who are uninsured or underinsured and where opioids and other drugs lead to incarceration, early death and family destruction
“You wrote about my life,” I say when Nicholas Kristoff and his wife Sheryl WuDunn call me from their hotel room on a stop of their multi-city tour promoting their new book Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope.
I tell them about growing up in East Chicago. Sure, it was always a blue collar town but when I was young both East Chicago and, across the Columbus Avenue bridge, Indiana Harbor where I grew up, had a vital economy, two separate but thriving downtowns and work for all those graduating from the two high schools, Roosevelt and Washington.
My mother worked at the East Chicago Public Library for 50 years and in the 1960s bought clothes at Broadway Dress Shoppe with its sleek curved window exterior. Albert’s Jewelers had a store on Main Street, and I remember my dad saying they held on as long as they could as Indiana Harbor continued to lose population and other stores closed as the manufacturing slowed down before moving. My friends and I perused the racks at the Mademoiselle Shop on Main Street, wondering if we could talk our parents into buying the latest Bobby Brooks sweater and skirt set. We bought Nancy Drew books, dress patterns and sodas at one of the two dime stores just down the street.
For children’s clothes there was Jack and Jill’s owned by my friend’s family. After he retired, my father would walk from our home by St. Catherine’s Hospital to the Olympia, the ultimate busy Greek diner or as a family we’d eat at the Trolley Diner. I’d buy freshly made bread on my way home from school at the bakery; my Romanian grandmother would get freshly butchered chicken at a meat story further south on Main always asking that the head remain on so she could make sure it really was fresh. Both the A&P and Kroger’s in Indiana Harbor gave out stamps that you’d paste in books and exchange, when you had enough for items in a catalogue.
Both downtowns were vital and busy, there were no empty store fronts. I told Kristoff and WuDunn, the only husband and wife journalist team to win a Pulitzer Prize. about how kids would graduate from high school and go straight into the mills, even those who in other cities would have gone to college. The starting pay was at least four times more than minimum wage at the time. It was hard work, sometimes dirty and dangerous but my friends whose parents worked in the mills had good solid middle class lives with the added values of health insurance and pensions and saved money because they wanted their kids to go to college. When there was a strike—particularly one that lasted for weeks and weeks—there was a feeling of unease and sadness and even fear. The annual fair held at the Katherine House where I went to day care was canceled. My friends’ families couldn’t afford to get candy and comic books after school like we used to. But then the strike was settled, and the world righted itself until it finally didn’t.
I wasn’t the first person to tell Kristoff and WuDunn about such a loss—because seeing your hometown hollowed out, losing population and good paying manufacturing jobs, echoes through you–it’s a sadness because I loved growing up there.
“Sheryl and I are so struck with stories like yours,” Kristoff tells me, noting that he’s familiar with what happened to the steel mill cities of Northwest Indiana and even their current commitments to rebuild/reimagine their identities. “wherever we are, whenever we talk about the book, people come up to us and say I grew up in a tiny town in Tennessee, Ohio or West Virginia, anywhere and say this happened to me.”
Tightrope tells the tale of an America that is still in the process of losing well-paying jobs, where people work two or more jobs just to make ends meet, where one illness can turn into a bankruptcy for those who are uninsured or underinsured and where opioids and other drugs lead to incarceration, early death and family destruction.
Like me, like most of us, Kristoff has seen it firsthand as well and he propels the book from that point of view. He grew up in Yamhill, Oregon on a sheep and cherry farm and traces what happened to the kids who rode with him on the Number 6 bus to Yamhill Grade School and then Yamhill Carlton High School. Kristoff went on to graduate from Harvard and as a Rhodes Scholar, studied law Magdalen College, Oxford. He’s a New York Times columnist, won two Pulitzer Prizes, is a frequent CNN contributor and is the author of several books.
Life wasn’t as good for many of his bus mates. About one-fourth are dead from drug overdoses, suicide from depression and despair, alcohol, obesity, reckless accidents and from what WuDunn and Kristoff call “pathologies.” Of the five Knapp children who lived next door to the Kristoff family and rode Number 6, four are dead and the fifth most likely survived because he spent 13 years in the Oregon State Penitentiary.
“We wrote this book to help change the narrative and to put human faces on issues,” says Kristoff. “Our hope is by using the narrative of the old school bus we can help generate a conversation that would lead to change. It’s deeply painful to see this happen to a community which Sheryl and I loved, where those I grew up with were opportunistic about the future when we were young. Now people are dying unnecessary.”
Each time Kristoff returned home he’d hear more horror stories. He was, he realized, watching the lives of his classmates implode and along with them, the lives of their children.
“We have so many young children now growing up in toxic environment,” he says.
“That’s why the situation is so critical,” says WuDunn, who also worked at the New York Times and is now a senior banker specializing in growth companies in technology, new media and the emerging markets. “It’s like compound interest rates on steroids –kids getting taken away by the state, trying to place them in stable foster homes, their progeny going through the same cycle.”
But WuDunn and Kristoff aren’t just about detailing the destruction and despair, they’re all about solutions as well.
“Remarkably, even during the Great Depression life expectancy didn’t fall the way it is now,” says WuDunn. “For the last three years in a row, life expectancy has decreased in the U.S. unlike other first world countries. That’s because during the depression they had a process and plans for getting back on track.”
It’s not only about the outsourcing of jobs to other countries where labor is cheaper and environmental rules lax, it’s about how America’s politicians react—or don’t– to it.
“Globalization is global, and it affects all countries, particularly our peer countries in Europe but they’re not exhibiting the same challenges that we are, to the degree that we are experiencing them,” says WuDunn. “We’re absolutely capable of changing. There’s evidence based research showing the solution of these issues. Great Britain decided to do something about children living in poverty and were able to reduce it by 50%. Portugal is the best example of dealing with drug use, they don’t jail drug users, they place them in rehab.”
Indeed, statistics indicate that a dollar invested in addiction treatment saves about $12 in reduced crime, court costs and health care savings.
“We’ve been paralyzed by this idea that nothing works,” says Kristoff. “The narrative is we waged the war on poverty and poverty won, this obsession with personal responsibility and that poverty is a choice, these false narratives are powering what’s going on in this country.”
America is crippling itself by not taking care of its own, by spending more money on incarceration that rehabilitation, by short funding schools and by a tax system that benefits the rich and takes away from the poor.
WuDunn worries about how we can maintain our primacy in the world when so many of our families are failing.
“Change will only work if everyone says we need to advocate for this,” she says. “One man came up to me and said it’s really important to invest in human capital. We need to do that if we want to be able to compete against China and India. Taking care of Americans is an investment in all of America.”
Kristoff sums it up succinctly.
“There’s real desperation out there,” he says.
Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators
Ronan Farrow’s book reads like a fast-paced mystery/thriller with hired spies, tapped phones, double and triple crosses, stalking by hired thugs and threats.
Scary! Fantastic! Disgusting! Riveting! Hats off to Ronan Farrow for his excellent work, dogged research and risking his own career–and maybe his life– to find out the truth and make it public as he outed predatory behavior at the top of the food chain. A real expose, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators (Little, Brown & Company) chronicles the sexual abuse of women by powerful men and how their companies/corporations enable them to continue on no matter what. The focus of the book is Harvey Weinstein, the famed produced of such award winning films as “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” “The Crying Game,” “Pulp Fiction,” “The English Patient,” “Shakespeare in Love,” and “The King’s Speech” though Farrow also includes several chilling chapters about Matt Lauer, who co-hosted NBC’s Today show from 1997 to 2017, and also was a contributor for Dateline NBC. We see the savage effects on the victims–loss of jobs and financial stability, physical and emotional harm–and how disposable they are to the powerful who then move on to their next victims. Farrow’s book reads like a fast-paced mystery/thriller with hired spies, tapped phones, double and triple crosses, stalking by hired thugs and threats. Sadly, it’s all true.
As he investigated Harvey Weinstein’s “business” practices, Farrow, the son of actress Mia Farrow and director Woody Allen, also had to re-evaluate and come to terms with his thoughts and feelings about his own sister’s alleged abuse when young by her powerful and famous father. Allen later married another one of Ronan’s sisters who he had adopted. At the time, he was 56 and his daughter was 21. Farrow famously tweeted in 2012 “Happy father’s day — or as they call it in my family, happy brother-in-law’s day.” All this adds to the multi-layered account of Farrow’s pursuit of the Harvey Weinstein story and his sympathy and understanding of the traumatized women and their fears of speaking out against the famed producer. Farrow accurately portrays the emotionality and fears even famous actresses such as Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino and Rose McGowan experience as they balance the career-killing aspects of going up against such a powerful man–one who has former Israeli operatives working for him as well as the best of lawyers to counter attack any woman who talks–and the need to tell their stories as well as protect other women by revealing the truth.
Farrow’s list of accomplishments is long and extremely impressive. According to his Amazon biography, he currently is a contributing writer to The New Yorker, where his investigative reporting has won the Pulitzer Prize for public service, the National Magazine Award, and the George Polk Award, among other honors. He previously worked as an anchor and investigative reporter at MSNBC and NBC News–a job he lost because of the network’s pushback against his pursuing the Weinstein story and his print commentary and reporting has appeared in publications including the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.
Before his career in journalism, Farrow served as a State Department official in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence. Farrow has been named one of Time Magazine‘s 100 Most Influential People and one of GQ‘s Men of the Year. He is a graduate of Yale Law School and a member of the New York Bar. He recently completed a Ph.D. in political science at Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar. He lives in New York.
Catch and Kill has received numerous awards and accolades including Washington Post Best Nonfiction Book of 2019, Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2019, Chicago Tribune Best Book of 2019 and Fortune Best Business Book of 2019.
1000 Places to See Before You Die: The World As You’ve Never Seen It Before
Patricia Schultz and I had only been on the phone together for five minutes before we decided to make the trip to New Zealand—neither of us had been and both of us wanted to go. And no, I haven’t bought my ticket yet but that’s how mesmerizing Schultz, who introduced the concept of bucket list travel when she wrote the first edition of her #1 New York Times bestseller 1000 Places to See Before You Die in 2003. It was so popular that over the years more than 3.5 million copies have been sold.
Now Schultz has updated her book with a new twist, her words accompanied by mesmerizing and amazing handpicked photos of some of the most beautiful places in world. The book itself, weighing six pounds with 544 pages, is oversized eye candy—compelling us to pack our bags and head out to explore.
1,000 Places to See Before You Die (Deluxe Edition): The World as You’ve Never Seen It Before was years in the making—after all Schultz had to travel to all those places.
Calling her new book, a veritable scrapbook of her life, she says she became teary eyed when choosing the photos. In its pages she takes us to destinations so exotic many might have remained unknown to most of us if not for her writing. One such is Masai Mara, the world’s greatest animal migration that takes place each May when hundreds of thousands of wildebeests travel north from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the grasslands of Kenya’s Masai Mara. It’s a two to three month journey and the wildebeests are joining by other migrating herds including antelope, zebras and gazelles swelling the animal population to a million or so. There’s also ballooning over Cappadocia, a Byzantine wonderland encompassing a natural and seemingly endless landscape of caves and peaks of shaped by eons of weather with wonderfully colored striations of stone. Even better, Schultz points out, you can take a side trip to Kaymakli, an ancient underground city just 12 miles away.
For those less inclined for such travels or whose pocketbooks don’t open that large, Schultz features closer to home destinations that are still special such as Mackinac Island where cars were banned in the mid-1890s, New York City (where Schultz resides when not on the road) and one of my favorites, Stowe, Vermont. And, of course, the majestic Grand Canyon.
While Schultz’s parents weren’t world travelers, they encouraged her to find her way to what she loved. But for her, it’s not just the road, it’s the people she meets as well. When the first editor of her book proved so successful, she treated herself to a trip to Machu Picchu in the Urubamba Valley of the Cuzco Region of Peru often known as the Lost City of the Incas. Located 7800-feet above sea level, it’s isolated at the top of a mountain surrounded by jungles and other peaks. There she met a 90-year-old woman who had been inspired by her book to travel there.
“She asked me if I had heard of the book,” says Schultz. “Peru was the first stamp in her first passport.”
This venturesome woman who had traveled outside the U.S. for the first time in her ninth decade, offered the seasoned travel writer a pearl of wisdom that has remained with her for the last16 years.
“She told me to make sure to see the difficult places first,” recalls Schultz. “You can see the easy ones when you’re not as active or energetic.”
Is Schultz burned out by travel? Has she reached the point of been-there-done-that?
Schultz answers with an emphatic no.
“There are still so many places I want to visit,” she says, noting that her list remains long. “I doubt if I’ll get to do them all, but I will try to do as many as I can.”
What: Authors Group Presents Patricia Schultz, 1000 Places to See Before You Die; Luncheon
When: Tue, Oct 29, 2019 from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Where: Union League Club of Chicago, 65 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL
Cost: $35 per ticket
FYI: 312-427-7800; ulcc.org
What: Cocktails with Patricia Schultz & Lake Forest Bookstore
When: Tue., Oct. 29. 6 p.m.
Where: North Shore Distillery, 13990 Rockland Rd, Libertyville, IL
Cost: $65 for individual or $75 per couple (includes 1 book, 1 drink and appetizers)
FYI: RSVP required. Call 847-234-4420; lakeforestbookstore.com
When’ Wed. Oct 30 at 7 p.m.
Where: Anderson’s Bookshop La Grange, 26 S La Grange Rd, La Grange, IL
Cost: This event is free and open to the public. To join the signing line, please purchase the author’s latest book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die Deluxe Edition, from Anderson’s Bookshop. To purchase please stop into or call Anderson’s Bookshop La Grange (708) 582-6353 or order online andersonsbookshop.com
A Cloud in The Shape of a Girl
Intrigued by the passage of time, the choices we make and the constraints life forces upon us, Jean Thompson, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist author, let a swirl of happenings and thoughts combine to create her latest novel, A Cloud in The Shape of a Girl (Simon & Schuster 2018; $26.00).“The inspiration for the book came at me from different directions,” she says. “I was interested in how different generations pass on their memories, what the context of our day-to-day life is and how we choose to remember our past. At the time I was putting this all together, there were all these violent family episodes in the news and that played a part too. As a sidebar, so did the unearthing of my grandmother’s 1922 Rockford College yearbook and my grandfather’s from Lombard High School in 1912.”
Using one family in a time span from World War II to now, Thompson follows the changing American culture over the years as seen through the lives of three women—mother, daughter and granddaughter living in an unnamed Midwestern college town (note: Thompson lives in Urbana, Illinois), dealing with the cards they’ve been dealt and yearning for so much more.
“For some of these women, the choices are made for them,” says Thompson. “Evelyn, the grandmother can’t achieve what she wants and so settles. Laura, the mother, always wanted to be have a family, but as she says, ‘just not the family I have.’ And Grace has endless options, but still struggles.”
It’s a melancholic novel at times but exceptionally well-written, showing the ties and love binding three generations of women together and the need for all of us to avoid repeating the past by studying the history of those we love as well as ourselves and making decisions including what to leave behind and what we need to go forward to achieve what we desire.
What: Jean Thompson in conversation with award-winning author Beth Finke about Thompson’s new novel, A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl. This event will also include a reading and book-signing.
When: Thursday, October 11 at 7pm
Where: Women & Children First, 5233 North Clark St., Chicago, IL
FYI: 773-769.9299; womenandchildrenfirst