People of the Books

Brian Zimmerman

Examining the world through the microscope and Midrash. By Spertus Institute's Brian Zimmerman.

People of the Books

One Book and the Chicago Jewish community

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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 way of celebrating Jewish Book Month, an annual event that takes place the month preceding Hanukkah. 

For One Book | One Community, a single book is selected as the focus of a series of activities and resources. This year's pick, The Middlesteins, is the third novel by author Jami Attenberg. It is a story of family relationships and individual obsessions, set in contemporary suburban Chicago. It is also a tale of midnight snacks, bar mitzvah caterers, sibling rivalry, and a gem of a restaurant found in a nondescript strip mall. Anyone whose family members try to do the right thing but don't always treat each other with cheery acceptance (i.e., just about everyone) will relate. 

Jami Attenberg grew up in Buffalo Grove and now lives in Brooklyn. She has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Salon, and more. The Middlesteins, which  has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list and will be published this year in England, Taiwan, Russia, Italy, France, Turkey, and the Netherlands, is receiving a tremendous amount of attention.

In its review, the New York Times called the book "caustic, entertaining, and bighearted." Closer to home, the Chicago Reader said, "In The Middlesteins, Jami Attenberg makes suburbia actually kind of soulful."

Activities relating to The Middlesteins begin in October with a special kick-off event and a couple of free book discussions, and then culminate in November with three Chicago-area appearances by the author.

The kick-off takes place at Spertus on Thursday, Oct.17 at 6:30 p.m. Spertus Institute Executive Chef Laura Frankel will treat participants to an edible history of Jews and Chinese food, a relationship deliciously explored in The Middlesteins. Along with a fascinating (and sometimes funny) history lesson, attendees will learn to make bao dumplings with pulled brisket, lo mein noodles with wok-charred long beans, 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 free book discussion. 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 pm, the second free book discussion will be held at the Skokie Public Library, 5215 Oakton Street in Skokie. This discussion will be facilitated by Skokie Public Library reference librarian Lee Leibik. Jami Attenberg will join the final part of the discussion via Skype.

Readers will then have three opportunities to meet the author. On Sunday, Nov. 10 at 2 p.m., Jami Attenberg will discuss The Middlesteins at  Congregation Etz Chaim, 1710 S. Highland Avenue in Lombard. At 7 p.m. that that same evening, Attenberg will appear at Congregation Beth Judea, Route 83 in Long Grove. Both events are free.

Activities conclude on Monday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. at Spertus, where award-winning Chicago Tribune health and family reporter Bonnie Miller Rubin will interview Jami Attenberg. Tickets for this event are $15 and include a reception. Those who present a ticket stub from the Oct. 17 kick-off program can bring a friend for free.

A specially prepared Readers' Guide will explore the themes and characters in The Middlesteins. Perfect for book groups or those reading on their own, the Readers' Guide will be available for download from the Spertus website beginning Oct. 1. 

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.

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

Spertus thanks the Robert & Toni Bader Charitable Foundation for its generous support of the author events. Spertus is pleased to be working with synagogue partners Congregation Etz Chaim and Congregation Beth Judea, as well as colleagues at the Skokie Public Library. Spertus Institute is a partner in serving the community, supported by the JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. JUF News is the media sponsor of One Book | One Community.


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