On October 28, 2016, the historic Willowbrook Ballroom burned down. The legendary ballroom and banquet hall in Willow Springs started as the Oh Henry Ballroom in 1921. It had its heyday in the big band era of the 1930s and 1940s featuring bands such as Jimmy Dorsey and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. When ballroom dancing was on the decline in the late 1960s and 1970s, Willowbrook Ballroom featured Chubby Checker and such bands as The Cryan’ Shames. Supposedly it was the last place Resurrection Mary danced before she left and was hit by a car. There have been sightings of her ghost in the Chicago area.
Check out Willowbrook Ballroom by Bonnie Classen to reminisce.
Popular blogger Luvvie Ajayi (Awesomely Luvvie) tells it like it is and gives voice to a generation that has mastered the perfect side-eye. I’m Judging You is a collection of humorous essays that will have you laughing out loud or nodding your head in agreement. Some of the topics she tackles are pop culture, dating, racism, fame, and social media.
Growing up in Nigeria and living her adult life in Chicago, Ajayi has a unique view of culture in America, but it will feel familiar to readers all the same. In fact, you’ll likely find that you’ve thought some of the same things to yourself!
Anyone who grew up during the race to the moon era can identify with the mystery and mystique of the astronauts. This nonfiction account from the perspective of their wives may disenchant some, but readers will have a whole new respect and admiration for these great American women. In The Astronaut Wives Club, Lily Koppel does a good job of presenting the facts and opinions through extensive research and interviews in a story-like format. The epilogue ties everything up in a neat package explaining what happened after the space race was won and life returned to normal.
Women can do anything, and the newest book by Sam Maggs, Wonder Women, proves it. This little book is packed with 60 women who changed history through innovation, invention, and good ole gumption. Amongst these trailblazers are names you might recognize like Ada Lovelace, Bessie Coleman, and Madame C. J. Walker, but the majority will be new to most readers.
Some of my favorite stories are Anandi Joshi, who was both one of the first female Indian doctors and the first Hindu women to come to America; Mary Bowser, a former slave acting as a spy during the Civil War; and Marie Equi who horsewhipped a universally hated swindler/ reverend halfway across the town.
Nestled between the engaging stories are interviews with today’s top women scientists, doctors, and former spies. Maggs guides readers easily through past and present with her conversational style and humorous wit.
Scrappy Little Nobody is everything I wanted out of Anna Kendrick’s first memoir: childhood stories, breaking into show business (on stage and on screen), behind-the-scenes memories, and funny anecdotes and asides. The stories range from unique and humorous—such as the time she and her brother went to NYC as young teens for an audition and her parents faxed over their credit card number to the hotel, promising that their children definitely weren’t unattended minors—to personal, as was the case with remembering her grandmother’s funeral.
Kendrick toes the line of “stars: they’re just like us!” presenting scenes from the Oscars, as well as a chapter on why she’ll never call herself a real adult. The author herself reads the audiobook and does so splendidly. This is a perfect read for fans of Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? or Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet.
A lot of things are going well for Shonda Rhimes—she is, after all, Shonda Rhimes, the woman who rules Thursday night, the woman behind shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. She gets invited to award ceremonies, presidential dinners, and talk shows—but as her sister points out one Thanksgiving, she never actually does any of these things. She gets invited and she talks about them, but Shonda never, ever says yes. Her sister’s words sit with her for months until suddenly she wakes up on her birthday and realizes she wants to finally do something. Shonda decides, for one year, she will start saying yes to everything that scares her.
Year of Yes is about that journey. It’s partially a memoir of her time in show business, but more than that, Year of Yes is about how saying “yes” changed her life, not just in that she was suddenly making college commencement speeches and losing weight, but also in how she began to think about the world and connect with her family. This short read makes for an excellent self-help book for anyone who has ever felt stuck in their lives and wanted to do more, but was never sure how. It’s encouraging, inspiring, and most of all, fun.
Were there cannibals in New Guinea even during the mid-twentieth century? Savage Harvest suggests there were and that they may have been involved in the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in 1961. Michael was there collecting native art for a New York museum founded by his father, Nelson, but was lost, never to be found when his catamaran overturned in rough weather. Michael’s colleague Rene Wassing was rescued the day after Michael swam away from the overturned craft in hope of reaching shore. Carl Hoffman speculates what may have happened to Michael based mainly on hints and rumors he discovers in 2012 while tracing Michael’s journey among the Asmat people in New Guinea. Savage Harvest gives a beguiling view of Asmat culture, art, history, and superstitions while trying to uncover the mystery of Michael’s disappearance.
What does Eugenia Cheng have in common with Thomas Jefferson and Descartes? Well they all believe in first principals, truths held to be self-evident. Yet Cheng is much more fun to read (or listen to) when she drifts away into cooking or engaging friends over a cocktail. Of course, she is dead serious when she uses the rules of logic to go from those first principals to a conclusion that also must be true. She sees math as an adventure, like cooking and she awakens the reader’s curiosity to new concepts like category theory. New ideas are just fine if they don’t cause a contradiction or an upset stomach.
Throughout How to Bake Pi, she helps the reader gain understanding of concepts like abstractions, generalizations, and axioms, particularly as they relate to math (or cooking). I found Cheng’s book both enlightening and a pleasure to read. And check out The New York Times review.
Even when writing nonfiction, award-winning fantasy author Neil Gaiman never fails. In this first collection, Gaiman includes a variety of essays, speeches, articles, and introductions. His topics include books, fairy tales, music, authors (living and dead), and writing, just to name a few. The pieces towards the beginning, on the importance of books and libraries, is likely to warm the heart of any reader, and his thoughts on any subject are always precise, intelligent, and beautifully worded. Gaiman manages to put into words the things we’ve all been feeling, but never quite knew how to speak about.
While his introductions to other books might feel incomplete without the books themselves, they were still interesting to read because Gaiman talks about how each influenced his own life or books he’s written that I’ve loved. Additionally, some of these introductions are written for books by authors he has known and it was fascinating to read about these authors I’ve always seen on book spines, but now have a more personal understanding of through Gaiman’s eyes.
Gaiman himself reads the audiobook of The View from the Cheap Seats, and his soothing voice will make any drive more relaxing and comfortable. I personally spent 8 hours on a road trip listening to this audiobook and not once wanted to turn it off, even for a moment.
Editor Gavin Van Horn has compiled stories, poems, drawings, and photos from Chicago artists which describe their encounters with the diverse wildlife that live in the city.
Learn more about the story behind City Creatures in this review and interview on Chicago Tonight (from local PBS affiliate WTTW).