Last November, Chicago Tribune reporter Christopher Borrelli wrote about seeing English novelist Martin Amis reflect on his book Zone of Interest as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival. Borrelli quipped about assumptions made by those who would never dream of attending an author talk, stating "it needs saying. This is entertainment."
He continued, "Hear me out. Writers, themselves, are not fun to watch. The loneliest sight in the world is the relatively unloved writer behind a table in a bookstore, surrounded by stacks of the latest thing he spent years writing, waiting for the thinnest bit of small talk that might snowball into interest. The second-worst sight is the TV series or film about the writing life - aside from the stray gem (the new Jason Schwartzman movie Listen Up Philip, for instance), [these are] often focused on the epic self-involvement of the writer, the landscape is littered with under-shirted neurotics pecking away at their keyboards…And yet, watching a live writer gabbing, fretting, even bloviating in front of a live audience, is a durable, underrated way to spend an hour or two."
I couldn't agree more. In recent years, I have heard authors speak about books I've loved (and some I haven't) in sold-out auditoriums, crowded book stores, outdoor festivals, and the back rooms of bars and cafés. I have laughed out loud and cried (sometimes in the same talk, Christopher Buckley talking about Losing Mum and Pup at the wonderful Politics and Prose, for example). I have gained insight, had questions answered, seen characters and plot lines in new light, and, most fun for me, learned what books inspire the authors who inspire me.
Through a random confluence of good fortune, a number of impressive Jewish writers will be speaking around Chicago over the next couple of months. I recommend you take Christopher Borrelli's advice (and mine) and go out and hear them talk about their work.
Monday, March 23
Pritzker Military Library at 6PM
Eric Greitens on Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life
When I first heard about Eric Greitens from a colleague, I was awed not only by the number of truly impressive things this young man has done, but by utter audacity of having all of these things accomplished by a single individual. Here we go: Jewish from Missouri, Master's degree from Duke, Rhodes Scholar with PhD in Politics from Oxford University, documentary photographer, Navy SEAL (I'm not making this up-he was deployed four times and served as the Commander of a Mark V Special Operations Craft Detachment, Commander of a Joint Special Operations Task Unit, and as Commander of an al Qaeda Targeting Cell, earning a Combat Action Ribbon, Purple Heart, and Bronze Star), humanitarian volunteer, nonprofit founder and CEO, and bestselling author. In 2012, he was recognized with The Charles Bronfman Prize for "young innovators whose Jewish values infuse their humanitarian accomplishments." In 2013, Time magazine named him to its list of the 100 most influential people in the world and, in 2014, Fortune recognized him as one of 50 greatest leaders in the world. His newest book was inspired by a former SEAL colleague struggling with PTSD.
Former Massachusetts Congressman Frank relates his journey from New York City to Boston and then to the Congress, where for more than 40 years he played a vital role in struggles for personal freedom and economic fairness. The Boston Globe calls the book, "Combative, unashamedly liberal, and acidly funny."
Wednesday, March 25
Harold Washington Library at 6PM
Robert Putman on Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis
The acclaimed Harvard professor and author of the best-selling Bowling Alone continues his exploration of social connectedness, civic engagement, inequality, and opportunity.
Thursday, April 2
The Book Cellar at 7PM
Dina Elenbogen on Drawn From Water: An American Poet, An Ethiopian Family, An Israeli Story
Award-winning local writer and educator Dina Elenbogen (who teaches at the University of Chicago Graham School and has taught writing at Spertus Institute) explores her 30-year friendship with Ethiopian Jewish immigrants in Israel.
Thursday, April 9
Union League Club at 11:30AM
Scott Simon on Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime
In 2013, NPR host Scott Simon began tweeting from his mother's hospital room. His evocative 140-character updates about his mother's life and death spread virally, reaching 1.2 million Twitter followers and beyond. Unforgettable expands on those now-famous tweets to create a memoir of his mother and their time together.
Thursday, April 16
Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership at 7PM
Martin Goldsmith on Alex's Wake: The Tragic Voyage of the St. Louis to Flee Nazi Germany, and a Grandson's Journey of Love and Remembrance
In 1939, the SS St. Louis sailed from Hamburg bound for Havana. On board were 900 Jews attempting to flee Nazi Germany. After being turned away by Cuba, the US, and Canada, the ship was forced to return to Europe. Among the passengers were Alex Goldschmidt and his 17-year-old son Helmut, who spent the next three years in one French camp after another before being shipped to Auschwitz. Sixty-nine years later, author and radio personality Martin Goldsmith, Alex's grandson and Helmut's nephew, retraced their journey, traveling more than 5,700 miles. To mark Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Goldsmith will be at Spertus to discuss this compelling and personal story, called "powerful and evocative" by the New York Journal of Books.