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Book Club

Reviews Wed Oct 25 2006

Happy Halloween, Chicago-Style

When I was a kid I loved ghost stories, even though they did give me nightmares. Although I read lots of scary stories, my favorite supernatural tales were about local Chicago hauntings. The legend of Resurrection Mary was a favorite, but it wasn't the scariest. Oh, no. I still vividly remember the first time I heard the terrifying story of what happened at St. Rita's Church at 63rd and Fairfield that one fateful All Soul's Day in 1961. I was in fifth grade, and one of my teachers told us the tale around this time of year. I didn't sleep for a week. And if you don't know the story of St. Rita's, then you need to check out these books.

Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City Rev. ed.
by Ursula Bielski
(Lake Claremont Press, 1998)
More Chicago Haunts: Scenes from Myth and Memory
by Ursula Bielski
(Lake Claremont Press, 2000)

These two collections by local historian and self-described ghosthunter Ursula Bielski are good places to start. The storytelling style is engaging without being sensationalist. Both books are well-researched and include source citations and bibliographies. Even if you are immune to the allure of scary stories, Chicago Haunts and More Chicago Haunts provide a unique perspective of the city's history. Chicago Haunts includes retellings of many of the most well-known Chicago ghost stories, such as the devil at Hull House, the St. Valentine's Day massacre, the tragic fire at Our Lady of the Angels and, yes, the incident at St. Rita's Church. More Chicago Haunts includes many lesser-known but no less compelling stories, from Maxwell Street apparitions to hauntings in Lincoln Square.

Chicago's Street Guide to the Supernatural: A Guide to Haunted and Legendary Places In and Near the Windy City
by Richard T. Crowe, with Carol Mercado
(Carolando Press, 2000)

As the founder of Chicago Supernatural Tours, Richard Crowe has been conducting ghost tours around the city for more than 30 years. This book is like holding a month's worth of tours in your hands. More than 70 sites are covered in this Street Guide to the Supernatural, which should keep even the most dedicated amateur ghosthunter busy for some time. The accounts of the apparitions and spooky occurrences that make each place notable are clearly written and sometimes include personal anecdotes from his tour experiences. Each site in the book is also accompanied by an address, photo and status of the haunting, such as "dormant," "ongoing," or "sporadic but active."

Graveyards of Chicago: The People, History, Art, and Lore of Cook County Cemeteries
by Matt Hucke and Ursula Bielski
(Lake Claremont Press, 1999)

Although not a ghost book exactly, any lover of ghost stories knows cemeteries are favorites sites for hauntings. Graveyards of Chicago introduces readers to more than 60 cemeteries and burial sites in and around Chicago. Each entry includes the address and phone number of the location, photos and brief descriptions with historical information about the cemetery. Celebrities, historical figures and other persons of interest buried at the cemetery are also noted.

Windy City Ghosts Rev. ed.
by Dale Kaczmarek
(Ghost Research Society, 2006)
Windy City Ghosts II Rev. ed.
by Dale Kaczmarek
(Ghost Research Society, 2006)

Author Dale Kazmarek, founder of the locally-based Ghost Research Society, is also well-known in Chicago's ghostlore community. These two collections are the result of Kazmarek's own research and experience exploring the area's haunted sites. The stories include supernatural occurrences at Lake Forest College, the George Stickney mansion and the LaGrange Public Library. There are also accounts of the I-57 murders, the crash of Flight 191 and the "ghostly boy of St. Charles Road," among many others.

Weird Illinois: Your Travel Guide to Illinois' Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets
by Troy Taylor, Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman
(Barnes & Noble, 2005)

Weird Illinois is not exclusively a ghost book, but it does include several chapters dedicated to "unexplained phenomena," ghost stories and cemeteries. It is also one of the best-looking books of the bunch, with appealing graphics and generously illustrated with full-color photos. Entries are brief and the tone is light-hearted, but Weird Illinois is undeniably fun to read. Plus, because the book covers the entire state, there are many anecdotes and sites in Weird Illinois that are not found in the other books listed here.

Alice Maggio

Book Club Mon Oct 23 2006

Cast of Shadows Discussion Questions

Below you’ll find the questions we’ll use to guide our discussion of Cast of Shadows. Use the comments screen to answer one, answer them all, or answer them in any order you’d like. Spoilers are allowed, so please keep that in mind when looking through the comments if you have yet to finish the book. Feel free to post your own questions or bring up any aspect of the book you’d like to discuss; this is just a guide and, like our monthly meetings, the discussion is free to go in any direction we choose.

  1. The driving force of the book is Davis’s intense desire to look into the eyes of his daughter’s killer. Is this desire is normal or realistic? Are his actions?
  2. Do you think that by taking these extreme actions Davis will bring an end to his grief? Does Davis believe they will?
  3. In regards to their use in the story, how do you feel about the acceptance of genetic cloning and impregnating women with cloned cells? Does this plot device work in the book?
  4. In his meeting with Martha and Terry Finn, Davis goes over some of the legal and physical restrictions and ramifications of cloning. Do these explanations adequately cover the consequences of birthing a cloned child? Did your thoughts on this change over the course of the story?
  5. Does your opinion of Davis change throughout the story? Do you find him a sympathetic character or a person fueled by negative emotions?
  6. The Hands of God denounce the idea of reproductive freedom and a woman’s right to carry cloned children. How do their ideals affect your views of cloning in the novel? What parallels can you draw between their tactics and current anti-abortion activists?
  7. Is it possible for Davis to be objective about nature vs. nurture? Which side does he fall on?
  8. Early on, the Finns start to wonder about Justin’s genes, for example when he starts swearing and later when he becomes interested in philosophy at a young age. After knowing Davis’s secret, Joan also starts questioning Justin’s past, but Davis assures her that there’s no hereditary link for violence. Does Davis remain firm on this issue throughout the story? How does he feel about it by the end?
  9. What role does Shadow World play in the book? How does it help us learn about Justin?
  10. How well does Shadow World mirror current video and computer games and can you imagine a similar game in our future? How would it affect our society?
  11. What roles does the Wicker Man play? Are the Wicker Man and Shadow World successful plot devices?
  12. When Justin finally confronts Davis, does Davis owe it to him to tell him the truth? Knowing how the story ends, would Justin have been better off not knowing the secrets of his past?
  13. Is there any ethical or scientific merit to what Davis has done? Is it all for selfish reasons?
  14. Both Davis and Mickey the Gerund go to extremes to do what they believe is right. In what ways are their quests similar? Dissimilar?
  15. Do you sympathize with one of the men, Mickey or Davis, more than the other? Why or why not?
  16. Was the ending satisfying? Did you already have it all figured out or were you shocked?
  17. Veronica Bond

Reviews Wed Oct 18 2006

Feature: The Sherlock Holmes-Arthur Conan Doyle Colloquium

Throughout the country and the world there are people gathered together in secret. What they do is unknown to many and what they celebrate is never so cherished as by these few. These are the members Sherlockian societies, bound by their inimitable love of the great detective Sherlock Holmes. For their annual colloquium, the Newberry Library recently delved into the world of Sherlock Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for "Re-Collections," a look at some of Doyle's original writings and published works.

Arthur Conan Doyle "For some of you, this may be a once in a lifetime chance to see these books," Daniel Posnansky intoned excitedly, referring to the Conan Doyle pieces from his personal collection, lent to the library for special display. "You may have heard of the well-known bookish writer, one Nicholas Basbanes's recent tome Among the Gently Mad. Should you take a moment to peruse it, you will find that Dan Posnansky, that's me, is just such one of these gently mad book collectors," he began, standing amidst the propped up posters of the honored Victorian author. A member of the Baker Street Irregulars, a group founded in 1934 by Christopher Morley with members including such famous names as Presidents Roosevelt and Truman and Sir Isaac Asimov as well as all the Newberry's colloquium speakers, Posnansky's talk focused on Doyle's views of the United States. Indeed, many of Holmes's adventures featured visitors from the United States – from the vengeful Jefferson Hope fleeing Utah in A Study in Scarlet to the New Jersey born Irene Adler in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes to the North Carolina murders in The Hound of the Baskervilles – and one can conclude that Doyle himself had a certain affection for the land. Posnansky confirmed this by reading from an original letter, penned by Doyle himself, expressing his belief in a powerful partnership between America and his English home.

Dr. C. Paul Martin explored another side of Arthur Conan Doyle – that of his life as a doctor. One of Martin's first slides was the contents page of the University of Minnesota Medical Bulletin where the first listed article was "Arthur Conan Doyle: Detective and Doctor." Martin went on to show an issue of the New England Journal of Medicine with an article on medical detectives that featured Doyle's work and the Medical Casebook of Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle, a special find from Martin's own collection. He described Doyle as something of a Renaissance man who could claim titles as diverse as military correspondent, law reformer and spiritualist in addition to doctor and writer. In fact, Sherlock Holmes's namesake remains as famous as his creator: a physician at Harvard, Oliver Wendell Holmes is best known for his poetry, but is also believed to have conducted the first forensic investigation in the United States.

Study in Scarlet Picking up where Posnansky left off, the colloquium's final speaker, Glen Miranker, may also be considered among the "gently mad." "What is it that makes a book a Book?" he asks, positing that, "Many books have a tale to tell beyond what is printed." Miranker followed three of the Holmes books as they made their way into the public. Doyle is quoted as saying that he "only meant to write one little book, A Study in Scarlet." That little book was first published in Beeton's Christmas Annual in 1897, and it was Doyle's response to detective fiction, in which its protagonists arrive magically at their conclusions with little logical or analytical thought. However, it was Doyle's second Holmes adventure, The Sign of Four, that fully immersed the character in the public consciousness. Although the pirated reprints of the book meant Doyle earned little profit, they did help turn Doyle into a public figure in the United States. These cheap reprints brought literature to the lower classes, and Miranker showed thirty-nine different pirated versions of the book he has incorporated into his own collection. It's easy to wonder if the world would be a different place without these pirated books and whether such items as an as yet unobtainable jacketed 1892 British first edition of Adventures of Sherlock Holmes would hold such wonder for Miranker or whether these tales would have created such inspiration in each of the day's speakers.

The Newberry Library currently has several items of Doyleana on public display, including that first edition of Beeton's Christmas Annual and pages inscribed with Doyle's own handwriting, items that indeed may be seen only once in a lifetime for even the most ardent Holmes fanatics. From medical articles citing Holmes's logical approach to clothing ads employing the image of the impeccable detective to long sought after rare editions of Doyle's work selling for thousands of dollars, no one would be able to deny the impact this character has had on general society, but perhaps the impact is greatest for those who devote their time to these secret Holmes societies. Moderator Donald J. Terras of Chicago's own Hounds of the Baskerville ended the colloquium with "Sonnet 221B," a poem that is accepted as a ritual goodbye for many Sherlockian societies. "Here, though the world explode, these two survive, and it is always eighteen ninety-five," the sonnet ends, a nearly perfect statement of Doyle's continuing influence. Even more perfect, though, is the answer to Dr. Martin's opening question: "Does everyone believe that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson existed?" The resounding "Yes!" that filled the room says everything.

~*~

Check out the Newberry Library’s website for more information about their collections, upcoming events and programs.

Veronica Bond

Book Club Wed Oct 11 2006

Introduction: Cast of Shadows by Kevin Guilfoile

Cast of Shadows is a lot of things. It's a mystery story, a sci-fi thriller, a troubling tale of murder and revenge, and a heartbreaker about loss of purpose and love. When Dr. Davis Moore's daughter, Anna Kat (AK), is found raped and murdered in the dressing room of the Gap where she worked, Davis embarks on a maddening trail to avenge her death. He will stop at nothing and will let no one keep him from bringing her killer to justice. This is Davis Moore's story.

Cast of Shadows takes place somewhere slightly in the future when cloning has become an acceptable practice for couples who can't conceive naturally or don't wish to pass on their genes. Although the practice is still a bit questionable to most of the public, it's become something of a savior to those couples in need. As one of the nation's leading doctors and proponents of the practice, Davis Moore finds himself in a sticky situation when the authorities bungle the evidence from AK's crime scene and accidentally leave him with a vial of semen and a lock of hair from the man who took AK from his life. Davis wants nothing more than to look into the eyes of his daughter's killer and with these genetic tools literally at hand the temptation is too great to resist. Davis follows his callous desires and the result is Justin Finn, a physical testament to AK's meaningless death who, under the guise of scientific study, Davis can follow throughout his life.

The story follows its characters all over the city, from north side neighborhoods to the suburbs to the University of Chicago to even the intensely fictional "Shadow World," a Sims-like computer game where players are encouraged to create double lives for themselves. With the very real "Wicker Man" taking lives in Wicker Park, Justin and a Tribune reporter embark on their own murder hunt, following the killer's online avatar throughout "Shadow Chicago" to discover clues to his identity. The game gives Justin a chance to create some purpose for his life, to do something more than serve as the flesh and blood that will give Davis peace. As Justin grows up and grows into the man he's destined to become, it's unclear how his life will proceed. Although genetic cloning is less a product of science fiction and more of a reality in Davis Moore's world, the nature/nurture debate is alive and well and no one knows when or if Justin will become the cold-hearted killer determined by his genetic predecessor.

Cast of Shadows raises many questions about scientific integrity and the meaning of personal justice, but more than anything it's a well-crafted story with full-bodied characters whose intentions, however despicable they may be to the reader, are completely understandable. If the idea of genre fiction –- whether it be science fiction, mysteries, or crime noir –- isn't instantly appealing, take note that Cast of Shadows is more about these characters' lives and the consequences they must pay for their decisions than it is about fitting into any one literary subset. If anything, it's an incredibly gripping read that leaves the reader questioning the degrees of right and wrong and wondering how far they would go for something in which they believed.

~*~

For more information on Kevin Guilfoile and Cast of Shadows, visit the official website at www.castofshawdows.net. You can also read my original Detour review here.

Veronica Bond

Reviews Wed Oct 04 2006

Falling for Autumn in Illinois

Living in the city, one misses out on autumn. Trees can be scarce, so it is difficult to watch the leaves turn. Or, if they are like the trees on my street, they always look a bit pale and have a number of dead, bare branches year-round. So, how does one tell when it's autumn? To experience the full glory of the fall season, one must venture beyond the brick and concrete grid of Chicago.

Trees in Illinois will be reaching their peak colors through the next few weeks, so this is a great time to head outdoors. And, whether you want to plan an afternoon adventure or a weekend getaway, the following books may help you get started.

60 Hikes with 60 Miles 60 Hikes within 60 Miles, Chicago: Including Aurora, Elgin and Joliet
by Ted Villaire
(Menasha Ridge Press, 2005)
If your boots were made for walking, this may be the book for you. 60 Hikes within 60 Miles, Chicago profiles 60 trails around Chicago area, examining each trail from the point-of-view of the hiker. Busse Woods, the Fox River Trail, the Little Red Schoolhouse, a hike near Fermilab and an Oak Park history walk are just some of the places featured in the book. The guide provides detailed trail descriptions, including degree of difficulty, length of the trail, estimated hiking time, elevation profiles and GPS-based trail maps. Routes are also noted for other qualities, so you can find the best hikes for bird watching, for walking with kids or hiking with your dog.

Biking Illinois: 60 Great Road Trips and Trail Rides
by David Johnsen
(Trails Books, 2006)
If you would rather hit the trails on a bicycle, check out Biking Illinois. Sixty is the magic number again, but Biking Illinois covers trails and routes throughout the state, providing useful information just for cyclists. Plan a ride through the Shawnee National Forest in far southern Illinois, or take a trip closer to home along the Illinois & Michigan Canal. Each site includes a trail description, detailed map, and tips about local history, attractions, finding food or where to get bicycle repairs should you have a mishap along the way. Visit the companion website for Biking Illinois to read about Johnsen's personal experiences on some of the trails, and to find corrections and updates to information in the book.

Quick Escapes Chicago Quick Escapes Chicago: 26 Weekend Getaways In and Around the Windy City, 5th ed.
by Bonnie Miller Rubin, Marcy Mason
(Globe Pequot Press, 2003)
Want to get away for a few days? Pick up this book to start planning a Columbus Day weekend holiday. Quick Escapes Chicago features 26 easy weekend trips around the Midwest, all within a few hours' drive of the city. Go hiking in Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Ill., or see the fall colors in beautiful Brown County, Indiana. Drive up to Traverse City, Mich., or do the bed and breakfast thing in historic Galena, Ill. Quick Escapes Chicago includes tips on lodging, restaurants, attractions and more for each of the sites featured.

Off the Beaten Path, Illinois, 8th ed.
by Bob Puhala
(Globe Pequot Press, 2005)
The most recent edition of Illinois Off the Beaten Path may offer the best of both worlds. It contains suggestions for trips that can be accomplished in a day, plus places to visit for longer stays. Visit the Garden of the Gods near Harrisburg, or travel to Illinois Amish country near Arcola. Or, if you want a trip closer to home, plan a day at Chain O'Lakes State Park in north suburban Lake County. Destinations are divided by areas of the state, so finding a place nearby — or farther away — is easy. Illinois Off the Beaten Path claims to help travelers "go beyond the usual tourist attractions," but Illinois natives will have at least a passing familiarity with most of the places in the book. That doesn't mean natives have been there or done that, however, so Illinois Off the Beaten Path may remind you of some of those places you've always meant to visit but haven't gotten around to yet. Maybe this autumn is the time to get there at last.

Alice Maggio

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