The Cliff Dwellers book club has a focus on books that have a Chicago interest, both past and present; fiction and non-fiction. Contemporary writers are invited to participate in the discussion of their books, and often attend. This year, Ethan Michaeli, Eric Charles May, Renee Rosen, Mary Burns, Susan Nussbaum and Michael Raleigh have agreed to join us. This month we begin our fourth year. I have had the honor of facilitating the discussions since the beginning of the book club. We meet at the Cliff Dwellers, 200 S. Michigan, every fourth Saturday of the month (except December), at 11:00 am. Participation in the Cliff Dwellers book club is free and open to all, members and non-members alike. Often discussions continue afterwards at lunch. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested and/or have any questions. Here are the 2017 reading selections:
January 28- Sister Carrie-Theodore Dreiser
February 25-The Defender, Ethan Michaeli
March 25-Bedrock Faith-Eric Charles May
April 22-What the Lady Wants-Renee Rosen
May 27-Empire of Deception-Dean Jobb *
June 24-The Reason for Time-Mary Burns *
July 29-Love and Shame-Peter Orner
August 26-Good Kings Bad Kings-Susan Nussbaum
September 23-Prairie Avenue-Arthur Meeker*
October 28-In the Castle of the Flynns-Michael Raleigh
November 25- The Girls-Edna Ferber
*May be relocated offsite if the Cliff Dwellers has a large event that day.
Last week was a real pleasure visiting the old Jewish neighborhood of Montreal known as Mile End with our friends, Joanne Burgess and Martin Freeman, two exceptionally knowledgeable people who seem to know every nook and cranny of the neighborhood. These were the streets where Saul Bellow spent some of his early childhood, and where Leonard Cohen wrote some of his poetry and music and where Mordecai Richler found the inspiration in the writing of many of his novels and short stories. Joanne and Martin made sure we saw the new mural honoring Richler that was made public earlier that week. The text on the mural is in French, which is a bit ironic since Richler wrote in English and was often critical of a number of issues pertaining to the Quebecois community.
I was at the ceremony nearly two years ago at the beautiful National Hellenic Museum when the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame awarded Harry Mark Petrakis the Fuller Award for making an outstanding lifetime contribution to literature. As Donald Evans, the Hall of Fame’s founder and executive director stated “Harry is surely one of the best Greek-American writers of his generation. He is one of Chicago’s all-time best writers. And, simply, he is near the top of our greatest literary writers period.”
Perhaps the most famous book of Petrakis, now 93, is A Dream of Kings, his fifth book that was on the New York Times bestseller list for three months and later on was made into a movie. This riveting novel is the Cliff Dwellers book club selection for our discussion this coming Saturday, September 24. We meet at 11:00 at the club, at 200 S. Michigan, and the discussion is free and open to the public.
My friend Howard Raik started acting in roles at various theater companies throughout the Chicago area around eight or nine years. Despite still working full-time at the business he owns, Howard continues to get interesting and challenging roles for an older actor. I’ve seen him perform about a half a dozen times, and it’s always a pleasure watching him act. Two of my favorite roles that he has played were Morrie in Tuesdays with Morrie and Doctor Manette in A Tale of Two Cities.
Howard will soon be performing in a play called Over the River and Through the Woods at the James Downing Theater, located at 6740 N. Oliphant in Chicago’s Edison Park neighborhood. The play is described as “a story of love, laughter and lasagna,” and Howard plays the Italian American grandfather. It starts October 8 and runs through October 23; Saturday night performances start at 7:30. Sunday matinees are are 1:30. If you would like more information, please call 224-725-3696
There have been many Jewish authors series over the years in the Chicago area at synagogues,community centers and public libraries. Some have been successful; others have not. So when I proposed to my cousins Lester and Ben Schlan five and half years ago, that I start a Jewish authors series at Max and Benny’s, the iconic restaurant/deli that they own in Northbrook, I thought that they might be a bit hesitant, given that people will be eating and the kitchen would be bustling with its attendant noises while the author is speaking. Yet they enthusiastically gave me the green light to get the series going.
I asked my friend, the distinguished author Marlene Targ Brill to kick it off with her recently published book on teen-age labor activist Annie Shapiro.That appearance was a success, the noise level and other obstacles were tolerable, and since then the series has continued to grow. At first, we did maybe four or five presentations a year; now we do one monthly. Before this year ends, our 2016 series attendance will exceed a thousand.
I’m even considering approaching Lester and Ben with the idea of special sandwich items named after some of our finest authors, past and present. How about the Philip Roth, a pastrami on challah bread, a sandwich that even Portnoy wouldn’t complain about?
Our next featured speaker is Barry ZeVan. who will be discussing his memoir My Life Among the Giants, on September 19. The presentation starts at 7:00 p.m. and most people come early to get good seats and eat before the program begins.