Jami Attenberg’s ‘The Middlesteins’ selected for Chicago Jewish Community One Book Initiative

middlesteins cover image

For the third year in a row, Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership will spearhead One Book | One Community, the Chicago Jewish Community's Jewish Book Month  initiative, in which a single book is selected as the focus of a series of activities and resources. This year’s pick, Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins, is a story of marriage, family, and obsessions, set amidst the landscape of suburban Chicago.  Activities begin in October with a special kick-off event and a series of book discussions, and then culminate in November with three Chicago-area appearances by the author.

JUF News is the media sponsor of One Book | One Community.

Attenberg, who grew up in Buffalo Grove and now lives in Brooklyn, has written for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Salon, and more. Her debut collection of stories, Instant Love, was published in 2006. She is also the author of the novels The Kept Man and The Melting Season. The Middlesteins, her third novel, was published in October 2012 by Grand Central Publishing. It appeared on TheNew York Times bestseller list and will be published in England, Taiwan, Russia, Italy, France, Turkey, and the Netherlands.

Beth Schenker, Spertus director of Programming, said about the choice of The Middlesteins, “The book, which centers on a contemporary, multi-generational Jewish family, expertly explores many intriguing themes, giving readers a lot to think about and discuss. We also like that the author and the characters are from the Chicago area.”

A specially prepared Readers’ Guide explores the themes and characters in The Middlesteins. The Readers’ Guide is now available for download from the the Spertus website   at spertus.edu/Middlesteins.

Activities kick off on Thursday, Oct.17, at Spertus Institute in Chicago. Beginning at 6:30 p.m. Spertus Institute Executive Chef Laura Frankel will treat participants to an edible history of the special relationship between Jews and Chinese food, a relationship deliciously explored in The Middlesteins. Along with their history, attendees will learn to make bao dumplings with pulled brisket, lo mein noodles with wok-charred long beans and vegetables, and more. Tickets are $25 (and include ample tastings).

Two weeks later, on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m., Spertus will host the first of two free book discussions. This discussion will be led by expert facilitator Rachel Kamin, director of the Gray Cultural & Learning Center at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El.

On Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m., the second free book discussion will be held at the Skokie Public Library... This discussion will be facilitated by Skokie Public Library reference librarian Lee Leibik and author Attenberg, will join the final part of the discussion via Skype.

Readers will then have three additional opportunities to meet the author at one of three Chicago-area locations. On Sunday, Nov. 10 at 2 p.m., Attenberg will discuss The Middlesteins at  Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard. At 7 p.m. that evening, Attenberg will appear Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove, where her parents are longtime members. Both events are free.

Activities conclude  on Monday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. at Spertus Institute. This ticketed event, entitled “A Literary Conversation with Jami Attenberg,” will include a reception and book signing. Award-winning Chicago Tribune health and family reporterBonnie Miller Rubin will interview author Jami Attenberg about her writing, The Middlesteins, and what she’s working on next. Tickets for this event are $15. However, those who present a ticket stub from the Oct.17 kick-off program will receive a 2-for-1 admission.

Reservations are requested for the free programs and advance tickets are recommended for the Oct. 17 and Nov. 11 events. Information is available at spertus.edu/Middlesteins.

In conjunction with One Book | One Community, Spertus presents a pair of large-scale photographs by Jay Wolke from his landmark study of Chicago Jewry. Just as The Middlesteins explores life in Jewish Chicago, these images offer a vivid look into the ways that age-old Jewish traditions are reimagined in a uniquely American context.

The Middlesteins will be for sale at all programs. Jami Attenberg will be signing books at the Author Events.

For those programs taking place at Spertus, discount parking is available for $10 with Spertus validation at the Essex Inn, two blocks south of Spertus.


Jewish Book Month is an annual event on the American Jewish calendar dedicated to the celebration of Jewish books. It is observed during the month preceding Hanukkah, thus the exact date changes each year. This year Hanukkah begins at sundown on Nov. 27 and events celebrating Jewish literature will take across North America throughout October and November.

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