Reading: Big books for summer

by anneMoore on June 6, 2016

Ah, summer. Some readers head to fluff, others head to big, long, challenging reads because summer offers unbroken stretches and quiet at the beach, by the pool, on a dock.

Here are three deep reads I can recommend.

imagesJon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (2015). Krakauer is the ace reporter and storyteller who has given us Into the Wild, Into Thin Air and Under the Banner of Heaven, each an unsettling, deeply researched read.

Same goes for Missoula, which details four years in this Montana college town, when young women who’d been raped by football players and other students forced police, the state’s attorney and university leaders to take action. An absorbing read.

images-1Joby Warrick’s Black Flags: The Rise of Isis reads like a thriller, but it’s the true story of the missteps by Presidents Bush and Obama that led to the powerful rise of al-Zarqawi.

Freed from prison in 1999, the radicalized Zarqawi aimed to create an Islamist caliphate throughout the Middle East; his terror attacks included suicide bombings and beheadings. A 2006 airstrike killed Zarqawi, but his organization lives on: when the Syrian civil war began in 2011, Zarqawi’s followers stepped in, raising the black flags of ISIS. Most interesting to me was Al-Quaeda’s initial rebuff of Zarqawi, whose leaders considered him a thug. A must read.

images-2And finally, fact-based fiction: Jonathan Lee’s High Dive, which imagines three people forever changed by the 1984 bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England. The target was then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; the long-delay-timer bomb was the master work of the Irish Republican Army, then fighting for independence from England.

Lee’s magnificent story unfolds the lives of IRA bomb expert Dan, hotel manager Moose, and teenage daughter Freya. We come to know the hotel’s every day workings, the life and times of Moose (a champion diver), his motherless daughter and her teen friends, Dan’s IRA initiation and fraught home life in Belfast.

At times I thought this book too long, but now that I’ve finished I wouldn’t know where to cut. I savored this read.

Happy summer, happy reading.

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Eating, touring: U.S. road trip

by anneMoore on May 5, 2016


We took our daughter Alex on a college tour that began in Berkeley atriceand ended in New Orleans, with stops in between in Austin and Houston. Along with the touring, we did a lot of good eating. Here’s a report.

Our host in Berkeley did all the cooking (thank you, Carl!) so I have no restaurants to recommend, only glowing reports of outrageous views, varied and interesting architecture, lush vegetation, and the magnificent University of California campus, carlsviewwhich, like the rest of Berkeley, is tiered. If you’ve never been, include Berkeley on your next trip to San Francisco.

Next stop: Austin, where we stayed at an unexceptional Hyatt on the Colorado River, nearish to University of Texas (which we loved for its sunny campus, happy students, many swimming pools.)

A short walk from the hotel, we found Coopers Old Time Pit Bar B Que, Home of the Big Chop. There, ribs and chicken and other texasmeats are sold by the pound. Sides include a jalapeno-bacon mac & cheese (spicy and delicious), tangy coleslaw and all-you-can eat beans. Yelpers complain about dry/overcooked meats, but that wasn’t our experience. Delicous que in a comfortable, casual spot.

On to Houston, to our favorite hotel of the trip. The Lancaster is an historic hotel in downtown Houston’s Fourth Ward; they upgraded us to a two-bedroom suite, which spoiled us forever. Downtown Houston is not a lively place, but we enjoyed the hotel’s European style breakfast, excellent service and central location for touring Rice University and later, the Rothko Chapel.

Mediocre dinners downtown forced us into Houston’s sprawl, goodecowhere we found Goode Company Seafood, a high temple to Southern seafood housed in a former railroad car.  Not to be missed.

We spent the rest of our trip in New Orleans, touring Tulane University, haunting the French Quarter from our charming and centrally located hotel,  and tulanespending time in our son’s Bayou St. Jean neighborhood, which is picture-postcard New Orleans. (Thank you for hospitality and Easter dinner, Evan and Sara!) There we had a tasty po’ boy lunch at Liuzza’s by the Track and twice took a walk to City Park, looping through the Museum of New Orlean’s Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

Memorable dinners downtown at Luke, a Franco-German brasserie. (We were the ones swarming a tower of seafood.) On Magazine Street, we savored the seasonal French food and fine service at Lilette.  Among my souvenirs, a pound of French roast from Cafe du Monde, like no other.


Books: Reading on the Road

by anneMoore on April 14, 2016

Two weeks of planes, trains and automobiles gave me plenty of time to read. Here’s what I liked:

images-5My sister Liza works in medicine and had two copies of Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm and so gave me one. Marsh is a British neurosurgeon and a very good storyteller. He brought me inside the heads and heart of his patients and himself and into the managed lunacy of England’s socialized healthcare system. There’s never enough beds, and he can’t operate on someone who doesn’t have a bed. A great read.

I’d never read Nora Ephron’s Heartburn and if you haven’t either, don’t be shy. Published in 1983, the story holds up. It’s a novel images-1about a marriage falling apart, based on Ephron’s failed marriage to journalist Carl Bernstein. Set among droll New Yorkers and Washington power brokers, the book is both very very funny (‘natch) and achingly sad. A swift read. Loved it.

I was quickly hooked by the teenage character in Shirley Jackson’s Hangsaman, (1951) one of the oddest reads ever. Natalie Waite is 17 and on her way out of her parent’s home, to college. As her overly-intelligent parents bicker, Natalie has a different soundtrack running through her head: she’s images-6being questioned by a policeman. “Confess, she thought, if I confess I might go free.” Later, she is the unwilling sex partner to a houseguest, but buries the event. “I will not think about it, it doesn’t matter…I don’t remember, nothing happened.” Life at college is similarly unsettling. Is all of this happening, or is Natalie losing her mind? I enjoyed this smart, spooky read.

Another creepy read was Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, a character images-7that will live on in my head for a very long time. In a rundown house, motherless Eileen is a slovenly young adult who cares for her alcoholic father. She works in a prison for teenage boys and pines for one of the guards. When a beautiful counselor arrives at the prison, menace follows. Moshfegh unspools this uncomfortable tale slowly, brilliantly.

I’m always looking for a New York read and lapped up Kristopher images-3Jansma’s Why We Came to the City, which follows five college friends as they marry, die, grieve, grow up. Nicely told.

Happy Spring! Next post: Eating our way through Austin, Houston, New Orleans.


Spring CHF: Style

by anneMoore on March 18, 2016

Expanding on what they do best, the Chicago Humanities Festival will present a themed four-day event this spring, their first ever. (April 28 – May 1.) The subject is style.

Headliners include fashion icon Iris Apfel, media entrepreneur imagesArianna Huffington, Washington Post fashion editor Robin Givhan, Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza, photographer Sally Mann, actress Mary Louise Parker. Featured writers are contemporary historian Andrew Solomon, “Negroland” author Margo Jefferson, “My Struggle” autobiographer Karl Ove Knausgaard.

“It’s a theme I’ve wanted to explore for a long time,” says Alison Cuddy, program director. “Style is everywhere and yet it’s elusive. It goes beyond fashion, it concerns the global economy, media, politics, communication, protest.”

CHF had been hosting one-off events outside the fall festival for several years. While successful, single subjects didn’t create the buzz and good will that comes from a thematically grouped festival. “When we looked at what people were most passionate about CHF, it was the theme, an uber theme that allowed for different experiences as one moved through the festival,” says Phillip Bahar, executive director. “We thought, ‘How do we create another moment like that?’”

And so, a spring “mini” festival was designed, with more than 20 events. It’s a lot like the fall festival, bringing authors, thinkers, doers, dreamers to Chicago under the umbrella of a broad common theme, in this case, style.

images-1 Begun as a one-day event in 1989, CHF’s fall festival runs over five weeks and draws 38,000 to 120 events in multiple sites across the city. CHF achieves its long-sought goal of year-round programming with the spring festival.

Also this spring, CHF hosts “H is for Hawk” memoirist Helen Macdonald May 11.

And a one-day event cohosted with the MacArthur Foundation May 15 brings together WBEZ journalist Natalie Moore, Story Corps founder Dave Isay, Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond in a conversation about cities, stories, words and images.

“Programming is not a formula,” says Cuddy. “These events reflect who we are.”

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Books: Reading on airplanes, reading in bed

by anneMoore on February 5, 2016

With two weekend trips that involved air travel and a week in bed with a respiratory flu, I read a lot.

Here goes: Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air is a seamless memoir of a young neurosurgeon’s last year. Woven into his dire situation is the story of his life: a happy, active Arizona childhood, his quenchless thirst for literature and learning, his reasons to go into medicine, a repaired marriage, the decision to father a child. We are with him as he becomes a doctor — his mistakes, his triumphs — and with him as he becomes the patient. He is so alive on the page I still can’t picture him dead. shoppingThis is a book I will press into the hands of others. It’s perfect.

Because my father died from the long-term effect of blows to the head, I have an interest in chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease to the brain found in football players, boxers, ice hockey players and others. There I was in the Phoenix airport with nothing to read, so I picked up Concussion, by Jeanne Marie Laskas. (Will Smith stars in the movie.) Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian immigrant, is a forensic pathologist working in a Pittsburgh morgue. He handles the images-1autopsy of a troubled young Hall of Fame football player: how did he end up like that? Omalu decides to study the player’s brain, and discovers CTE. This is the story of Omalu standing up to our country’s entrenched racism and the NFL. Cheesy storytelling, fascinating tale: I couldn’t put it down.

A summer friend pressed me to read Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, saying it was the future of literature. Hmm. I will say it is a images-2minutely observed story of a mostly grueling life in the Midwest. As a neglected toddler, Lila is stolen from her family and raised by a vagabond named Doll. They traipse the country, working on farms, in homes, in hotels. When Doll stabs and kills a man that may be Lila’s father, the two are separated. Lila settles in a shack outside a small town in Iowa, and wanders into a church to stay dry. From there, life changes for the better. She and the minister marry (a sweet love), but Lila is forever outside society. She’s odd; she’s always dreaming and talking of moving on. I didn’t appreciate Robinson’s layered storytelling until later, when I picked up…

shopping-1Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton, expecting a great read. Nope. A daughter and mother reunite in a New York City hospital room and share gossip from the rural town in Illinois from which Lucy escaped. It’s an airless read; I didn’t care about anyone back home and Lucy won’t reveal the why for the troubled marriage she’s in. She pines for her young daughters, but we don’t get a sense of how they live, the day to day life Lucy is missing. No one in this story is fleshed out. This book got (undeserved) rave reviews. Strout wrote Olive Kitteridge, the portrait of a difficult woman and the town she lives in; it’s among the best fiction I’ve ever read. Lucy Barton is a pale effort.

images-3From there I read Chicago authors, which I study for work. Abby Geni’s The Lightkeepers is a sturdy and dark first novel, though I’m still not sure who was pulling the strings. The book is set on a group of mostly uninhabited islands off the coast of California. Its only residents are scientists studying the area’s wildlife. When a photographer arrives to live among them, menace follows: bullying, sexual assault, drowning, death by birds, slips that end in broken limbs. By accident, or by design? Geni vividly describes the islands’ landscape, its creatures, the scientists’ way of life. A rich and terrifying read.

shopping-2Finally, I savored Vessels: A Love Story, Daniel Raeburn’s Chicago-based memoir about loss and love and becoming an adult. Raeburn and his wife, a potter, suffer a miscarriage and then a stillborn child, whose absence informs their lives. They go on to have two girls and struggle with how to tell those girls about their first born, whose ashes are stored in a plugged vase that is sometimes in a closet, sometimes on a shelf. Raeburn gets right both the joy and exhaustion of raising children, the messy business of marriage. My only complaint: I wanted more, especially about his friends.

And now, for all you grammar nerds, a funny Valentine’s Day infographic  from Grammerly. Enjoy!

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Reading: A New Year’s Binge

by anneMoore on January 11, 2016

Happy New Year!

I’ve been on a book binge, and have good things to report.

imagesFirst, Mary Gaitskill’s wondrous novel, The Mare. Ginger is a failed painter, a recovered alcoholic, the survivor of abuse. Now married and living in the country, she yearns to be a mother. Husband Paul is a father, of a college-age daughter. They compromise, agreeing to foster a child during the summer through the Fresh Air Fund.

Velveteen is that child, 11 when the story begins. Though she has grown up in Brooklyn, she quickly proves herself a natural with horses. Quickly, too, Ginger deceives Velvet’s mother, who is certain Velvet will fall from a horse to her death.

Class, race, education, mobility, sexuality, adultery, athleticism: Gaitskill effortlessly explores these themes through these characters’ journeys. I loved every page.

images-1Next I read Daniel Alarcón’s novel At Night We Walk in Circles (2013). I’d discovered Alarcón through his short story A City of Clowns  in The New Yorker. (Read it.)

A native of Peru, Alarcón was raised in the American South. He writes fiction in English and nonfiction in Spanish. His fiction haunts, and describes a South American society that’s brutal, stagnant, absurd: the promise of a better life in the U.S. is a constant distraction and lure.

This novel is the journey of Nelson, a struggling actor who leaves his widowed mother and pregnant girlfriend to join a traveling troupe headed by a once imprisoned playwright. It’s an entrancing ride that, of course, does not end well.

images-2Lori Osltund’s After the Parade is a steady read about a middle-age man who leaves his older lover for a new life in San Francisco. That act causes Aaron to revisit his Midwest childhood, when his abusive father fell from a parade float to his death and later, as a teen, when his troubled mother abandoned him and the cafe she’d run. Other memories flood in: of a trip to a family friend whose brother is a tusk-toothed dwarf, of a kind fat girl whose family takes Aaron in after his mother flees.

ln San Francisco, Aaron befriends a private investigator who tracks down Aaron’s now elderly mother. His visit to her is heartbreaking.

images-3I can’t recall where I read about Lauren Francis-Sharma’s Til the Well Run Dries (2014) but I’m glad I picked it up. Set in Trinidad during the 1960s, it tells the story of a beautiful seamstress with a secret past and the police officer who loves her but won’t marry her. Moving, surprisingly violent, well told.

images-4I read Rachel Cusk’s Outline, the story of a divorced mother of young children who goes to Athens, Greece to teach a writing seminar. She befriends an older man on the flight over, also divorced, who tells her of his marriages. (Their outings are the most interesting parts of the book.) Others — friends, writers, editors, students — tell their stories; the narrator mostly records. There’s no plot, and it can be maddeningly dull; still, I found the thinking and talking about marriage intriguing.

images-5Finally, thanks to this wise and funny essay by Ed Tarkington that touches on, among other things, why we read and why we write, I bought his just published novel Only Love Can Break Your Heart. It’s Southern Gothic, and very good, about a boy, his older brother and girlfriend, their parents, their neighbors, ghosts real and imagined. I’m halfway through.

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2015: Dining, movies, books

by anneMoore on December 12, 2015

New to my Old Town neighborhood is The Blanchard, a French restaurant I return to again and again. Odd, because the menu is heavily skewed towards meat, and while I eat it, I’m more a fish and greens person. Four kinds of foie gras are served nightly (again, not my thing) but for me there’s a perfectly composed frisee aux lardons, moules marniers, steak frites, and a burger so thick the chef said he’d pay for our meal if my rail-thin sister could finish it. (She couldn’t.) Service is formal and typically excellent. I like the separate bar, too, a moody spot to start or end a meal. Word has it they’ll have outdoor seating this summer, which would liven the area’s under-used plaza.

IMG_2670Kudos to Restoration Hardware, the national retailer that brought new life to The Three Arts Club, a 1920s Gold Coast building in need of it. There’s four floors of merchandise, a roof deck, a central glass-domed dining room and bar that’s both elegant and casual. Limited menu and hours.

FullSizeRenderAnother Chicago highlight: the Chicago Athletic Association is dazzlyingly reborn as a hotel with eateries and varied spaces to drink, lounge, gaze, play.


Movies! I’d read Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn and wanted to see the film, though I wasn’t expecting to be so deeply moved. Seasickness, homesickness, despair, the head-to-toe joy of being loved, guidance, kindness, mean girls, the past, the future: I hung on every scene. Its happy ending seemed to speak for all imagesimmigrants.

I was indifferent about Spotlight but my friend Julie and I had a movie date and Carol was not yet playing in Chicago. Wow. I am so glad to have seen Spotlight on the big screen. Riveting. The sad but true story of The Boston Globe journalists whose investigative work uncovers a systemic pattern of Catholic Church hierarchy protecting pederast priests. Bravo to its ensemble of stars: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, Terrence Slattery.

More and more I’m hopping on the el at the end of a work day and imagescatching an evening film at Gene Siskel Film Center. A Wim Wenders festival brought the usual and one I’d never seen, Kings of the Road, a black and white film from 1976 that’s both dreary and dreamy, as two men travel together through Eastern Germany repairing movie equipment.

Bunny Lake is Missing, by Otto Preminger, was another black and white treat, from 1965. A thriller set in London, a mother reports her child missing, but increasingly it seems the child doesn’t exist. Laurence Olivier plays the detective. Dark and delicious.

More recently I saw The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the images-1Revolution, a 2015 documentary about the rise and fall of the Black Panther party fifty years ago. I learned a ton, loved the leather and big-hair fashions and understood clearly that complaints then are the same now: the Black Panthers sought the end of police brutality and murder of black people, decent housing, employment, education. Equality.

Books! I am pleased to make the acquaintance of Barbara Comyns (1907 -1992), an English writer whose Our Spoons Came from Woolworths reads like a 20th century Jane Eyre. I’d been reading the surgeon Atul Gawande’s work in the New Yorker for years; his Being Mortal is an important read for anyone (all of us?) concerned with dying well. I’m enjoying the work of newspaper columnists Meghan Daum and Neil Steinberg, both of whom think and write uncomfortable truths.

I am savoring Lauren Redniss’s Thunder & Lightning, a visual 61YqLvsFRgL._AC_SY75_CR,0,0,75,75_history of weather, and Titian Peale’s (1799 – 1885) Butterflies of North America, published for the first time.

More about books: during the Chicago Humanities Festival ‎it was interesting to hear from Booker Prize winner Marlon James that he had to throw out novel writing rules to images-2create A Brief History of Seven Killings. Work led me to the writing of Joe Meno, whose Marvel and a Wonder is one of my favorite reads of the year. Jeff Hobbs’ The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is a masterpiece of nonfiction. Too, I liked Peter Nichols’ On the Rocks, a smart beach read set on Mallorca. I consumed Moby Dick the book (ahhhh, so satisfying) and Moby Dick the play. I was happy to see T. C. Boyle’s The Harder they Come make The New York Times Best Books list, a good one.


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Books: Big reads, small reads, must reads

by anneMoore on December 3, 2015

Easy travel to and from Santa Fe over Thanksgiving gave me unbroken time to read. Indeed, I was so consumed by Barbara Comyn’s Our Spoons Came from Woolworths that the return trip IMG_2823passed in a flash because I gobbled its 196 pages whole. First published in 1950 and recently reissued by New York Review of Books (thank you) Comyn’s tale starts with an author’s note: “The only things that are true in this story are the wedding and Chapters 10, 11 and 12 and the poverty.”

Sophia and Charles are 20 year old artists in love. They marry against his family’s wishes, which marks the start of their economic decline. Charles has a disdain for work — he only wants to paint — and Sophia loses her job at a commercial art studio just before she has their first child.

Sophia is the book’s narrator: she is a winning character, delighting in color, a pet newt and later a pet fox, the light and view in one of the many flats they occupy. In clear prose she describes the daily our_spoons_cover_image_1024x1024struggle to survive — to eat and stay warm — while living the bohemian life of parties and art shows. Wife, mother, lover, employee: Sophia fails at all because she’s married to a selfish man who doesn’t want children and is encouraged by his family not to work.

Sophia reminded me of Jane Eyre, or Cinderella, or a Mitford sister: witty, and highly observant of place, class, fate. Of looking from the outside to the place she had been or ought to be.

The fairy tale ending? It works.

No fairy tale endings in Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, a must read on dying well. I’d read parts of it in The New Yorker but friends pressed me to read the whole. I’m glad I did. Gawande, a surgeon, learns the right questions to ask patients with terminal diseases, atul-beingmortal-cover3d1-319x479including his own father. “Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same: What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make…What is the course of action that best serves this understanding?”

A beautiful, important read.

Finally, a big fat book that kept me entertained for days: Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire. Yes, it’s too long and yes it’s overly written “foil-embossed frontals uncoupling from diadems…” begins one chapter, but heck, who can resist 900 plus pages of New York in the images-270s? I was a teenager there and then; Hallberg nails the ease and swagger and missteps and youthful know-it-all-ness of kids who made the city theirs. That’s just one thread of many in this behemoth, which sometimes reads like a tawdry Days of Our Lives: there’s an evil stepbrother, a philandering husband, a junkie brother, a rape-victim sister, a crippled detective, and so on…Somehow, it all works.


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Books: Big Reads, Best Reads

by anneMoore on November 23, 2015

My friend Jennifer Miller and I share a love of deep reading. Big long books that we read closely, over a week, so intimate they become part of us. Think Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, Jonathan Franzen’s Purity, most Tom Wolfe, any Dickens’.

images-1We both loved Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, which was nominated for the Man Booker Prize and for the National Book Award, but won neither, which left us flummoxed. Here’s a book that made Jen weep for the first time since she read Anna Karenina. (I cry over Master Card “Priceless” commercials, so my tears mean little in this category.)

imagesYanagihara’s story is heartbreaking, but that’s not why we’re naming it to the first ever Milller-Moore Prize, for the best read of the year. It is worthy for breadth of story, well-drawn characters, seamless situations, unfussy writing. More than any other read this year we were besotted.

The story begins tamely, following four college friends, each ambitious in a different field, living in New York City. One is an architect, another an actor, a third is a painter and the fourth — the story’s main character — is an attorney with a crippled body and mind.

His is the story of the novel: how Jude St. Francis went from an abandoned infant to a successful lawyer. The reader learns of Jude’s harrowing youth — sex slave, hustler — but his friends, family, doctor, lovers do not, and puzzle over his self-destructive ways. (He’s a cutter, anorexic, failed suicide.)

Difficult reading, yes, but we’re invested in Jude. Can he love? Can he bear loss? Will he survive?

Once hooked by her characters there’s no giving them up. Bravo to our prize winner, Hanya Yanagihara.

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Chicago: Humanities Festival 2015

by anneMoore on November 2, 2015

The fall Chicago Humanities Festival, since 1989, brings thinkers, dreamers, doers, writers, artists, performers to our city for dozens of events that stretch for more than two weeks.

imagesWe are in the thick of it. The theme this time is “citizens” and so far I’ve heard about effective altruism from moral ethicist Peter Singer, extreme weather and social infrastructure from Erik Klinenberg, the 1978 Mideast peace agreement with author Lawrence Wright, the story of Lafayette and our nation’s founding fathers with funny girl Sarah Vowell, and Marlon James on Caribbean literature. He’s the Jamaican writer who recently won the Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings.

images-1Some events are a chat: Lawrence Wright with radio host Mark Bazer, Marlon James with poet Roger Bonair-Agard. Others, like Singer and Klinenberg, are a university-style lecture. Vowell read from her work but cracked jokes while pointing out some things we forget: sure our country is fractured, but it’s not the Civil War. Obnoxious protestors? It’s a treasured right.

This weekend: Salman Rushdie, essayist Meghan Daum, writer Daniel Alarcon.

Tickets are typically $12; events are priceless. I’m put back in the place of a university student, lapping up wisdom, making connections, talking later with friends and family about issues raised. James talked about erasure “Mother England is not my lawrence_wright_headshotmother,” while Wright, chillingly, described the current situation in the Middle East as intractable and, in the near future, increasingly violent.

Events are held at museums, universities, concert halls all over the city and in Evanston, introducing me to old and new spaces, like the luminous Gratz Center at Fourth Presbyterian Church.

The CHF fall season continues through Nov. 8. Events are offered year round, but fall is the main event.

With bookstores in short supply, it’s a treat to pick up books at these events. (I always leave wanting more.) I’m reading Lawrence Wright’s “Thirteen Days in September,” fluid and smart, as with all IMG_2546his work. His nonfiction is an antidote to Lauren Groff’s “Fates and Furies,” a big piece of fiction I read last week that left me befuddled. Did I hate it? Love it? James Wood in the New Yorker was similarly dazzled and dismayed.

Happy fall: today it’s 72 and sunny in Chicago. Bliss.

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