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Local Book Notes: Brain Ghosts, Buzz Rides, Card Cheats, Literary Frauds & Identity Crises

1. Who Are We?

Palabra Pura, the Guild Literary Complex's monthly Spanish/English reading series, presents a final summer show on Wednesday, July 15, from 7:30 p.m. - 9 p.m. at La Bruquena Restaurant (2726 West Division Street).

Latinidad, curated by Ruben Quesada, will focus on cultural identity as shaped by violence, asking "Who are we?" The reading event is free and open to the public ($5 donations suggested).

For featured authors Diego Baez and Amy Sayre Baptista, violence inhabits their lives and what they write about.

This is a violence that divides our culture and us; this is a colonization of our identity as a man, as a woman, and as a Latina/o. What does it mean to be Latina/o?

These poets sing compelling stories about the lives of men and women navigating a changing landscape of language, culture, and the physical body. Their passion is for the experiences of the unheard, the misunderstood, and the undervalued. They manifest political, historical, and secret stories with vehement compassion and grace.

In 2015, Palabra Pura celebrates 10 years of monthly Spanish/English readings by Latino and Chicano authors from Chicago and all the Americas - making it the longest-running program of its kind in the city.

2. The Ghost In My Brain.

In 1999, a car accident left DePaul University professor Clark Elliott concussed. As a leading scientist in the field of artificial intelligence he was intrigued by the impact on his brain and kept meticulous notes documenting the effects of his traumatic brain injury. Those notes became the basis for his new book. He join[ed] us on Chicago Tonight.

There's also an excerpt at that link.

3. Buzz Ride.

"I hope you'll be interested in speaking with Chicago resident Pat White about his book Buzz Ride and what he learned during his experiment as a rideshare driver across the city."

Sort of interested, but not enough to make time for it. I'll just post the rest of the pitch:

Anyone with a driver's license, clean background check, and a decent four-door car can become a rideshare driver. Pat White, a highly successful Chicago business consultant, became so intrigued by the success of rideshare apps he launched a three-month experiment. What he learned was far beyond even his wildest expectations.

In BUZZ RIDE: Memoirs of a Rideshare Driver, Pat White shares the incredible stories about the people he drove and the places they went in and around Chicago. He drove more than 600 people in his Mercedes, logging thousands of miles from spectacular homes and hot night spots to dive bars and apartments in some of the city's tougher neighborhoods. During the rides his car transformed from a simple sedan to an audition stage, boudoir or confessional, depending on the needs - and condition - of his passengers.

Pat's drive to succeed in the boardroom served him well as he competes to be the most efficient, profitable, and highly rated rideshare driver in the city. But driving strangers can have a dark side, and his personality undergoes a shift as he becomes more guarded, taking on the attitude of an urban survivalist. Readers get a true glimpse into the enterprising business with White's unvarnished version of his time on Chicago's city streets.

Pat is a lifelong Chicagoan. He began his professional career in 1979 as a runner on the Chicago Board Options Exchange. Then he became a retail stockbroker for several of Wall Street's largest and most prestigious firms. After 16 years as a stockbroker, he made the decision to pursue his MBA in management. He currently consults and advises some of the most influential Chicago businesses and families. The exploration of disruptive businesses and the new sharing-business paradigm led Pat on this unique journey.

4. Forbidden Lie$.

"Norma Khouri was perfect talent for a publishing house: an outspoken and articulate English-as-a-second-language author shining a light on a bone-chilling culture of brutal misogyny in an exotic foreign location," Luke Buckmaster writes for the Guardian.

Khouri's 2003 memoir, Forbidden Love, which detailed the "honour" killing of her childhood best friend, Dalia - purportedly murdered by her father in Jordan because she fell in love with a Christian soldier - became a blockbuster. The book was published in 16 countries, sold more than 250,000 copies worldwide, and positioned the author as a vigorous advocate for the rights of oppressed Arab women.

There is a scene near the beginning of director Anna Broinowski's terrific 2007 documentary Forbidden Lie$ that re-enacts the moment Khouri says she discovered her friend's dead body. The author herself (who was living in Queensland when the book was published) participates; we watch as she runs down a street to the scene of a crime and discovers an ambulance taking a body away. She moves inside a house screaming "where's Dalia and what have you done with her?" A man emerges wiping his hands with a bloodied cloth.

It's a deeply unsettling moment, but viewers familiar with the story-behind-the-story know there is a twist in the pipeline. Following an investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald journalist Malcolm Knox, it was discovered the book was fabricated and Khouri a fraud.

She lived in Chicago from the age of three and left the city in 1999 when the FBI wanted her for questioning over a series of property-related transactions. Forbidden Love was relocated to the pantheon of great literary hoaxes.

5. The Search For The World's Greatest Card Cheat.

"I first encountered the name S.W. Erdnase at random," Sam Munson writes for Boing Boing.

A former colleague turned out, under questioning, to be a fairly serious amateur prestidigitator; he told me about a book called the Expert at the Card Table, from which he had learned almost everything he knew about legerdemain. He told me, as well, that no-one really knew who the author was.

This itself was reason enough for interest - documentary absence carries with it in our infosaturated age the air of an earlier epoch. My interest developed into a novel, my second, called The War Against the Assholes, and still lives.

Though it stands no nearer to satisfaction. Erdnase's identity still remains a matter of educated speculation. We know this much: S.W. Erdnase is the name under which a, if not the, seminal 20th century English-language treatise on card manipulation appeared, amply illustrated, in 1902 from a publishing house in Chicago, a city described almost contemporaneously by Max Weber as resembling a human being with the skin removed.

6. Stranger Than Family.

"When the Avignone brood goes out, people rubberneck at the sight of the older white couple with five Korean and Indian children," David Gonzalez writes for the New York Times.

For a while, it bothered Matthew Avignone that he did not have a "normal" family - but who among us does? In his case, his parents adopted five children - four with special needs - creating a family by choice, not chance.

"People wonder why are we together," Mr. Avignone said. "People would come up to us at Walmart and ask my mom, 'Are these your children?' What I want to show is that we are not too far away from you, even though we look different. And though we have special needs, that does not define our family. What defines us is the fact that we are a family, that we love each other and that we'll be there for each other."

Those questions are at the heart of Stranger Than Family, an edition of 10 handmade books that is Mr. Avignone's take on his Illinois family. The volume includes formal portraits of his parents and siblings, as well as details and moments from their everyday lives. If the scenes are mundane at times, that was part of his intent, to show the bonds of rituals that have brought them together.

Matthew, 27, was the first child adopted from South Korea by his parents after they learned they could not have biological children. When the Korean government cracked down on foreign adoptions of healthy children, his parents adopted three special needs children: Alicia, who had cerebral palsy; Jami, who has spina bifida; and Eric, who is visually impaired. The Korean adoptees were joined by Nicholas, an autistic child who was born in India.

The project began in 2010 while Mathew was studying photography at Columbia College in Chicago, when he presented formal portraits of his family that he had taken with a Hasselblad. His classmates had the same reaction that strangers on the street had when they saw his family: Who are these people?

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on July 14, 2015


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