Monthly Archives: July 2013

Supper Time!

CBR_Logo2The Supper Club Book:
A Celebration of a Midwest Tradition

by Dave Hoekstra
with a foreword by Garrison Keillor


9781613743683 - hi res cover imagePeppered along rural highways and in small towns, one sees them here and there, driving to and from weekend destinations in Wisconsin and Iowa. A car or two in the parking lot in the middle of the day as one speeds by, rushing back to the city before the start of the workweek. The Supper Club.

Many of us whiz by without stopping, wondering what goes on in those seemingly exclusive rural enclaves. (They are “clubs,” after all.) Dave Hoesktra doesn’t wonder, though. He’s been hanging out in them. A lot of them. In Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, and even here in Illinois.

Hoekstra’s ode to the home of Friday Night Fish Fry and Saturday Night Prime Rib is captured in full color in The Supper Club Book, a love letter to the rural fine-dining establishments of yesteryear that somehow have managed to survive into the twenty-first century.

Hoekstra, a staff writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, visits two dozen supper clubs in this small-trim coffee table book. Approaching each supper club as a reporter, Hoekstra chronicles the history and people that have made each establishment what it is today. More than 100 photographs accompany write-ups of the supper clubs featured in the book.

The Supper Club Book is crammed with information, and it’s clear that Hoekstra has done his research, interviewing owners, former owners, patrons, and staff to provide readers with a snapshot of the clubs. He focuses on the nuances that makes each supper club unique, but also shines a light on the commonalities of them: table linens (instead of paper napkins), relish trays, prime rib dinners, and brandy old-fashioneds. Indeed, Hoekstra seems nearly fixated on these aspects: nearly each and every one of the twenty-four essays mentions these very details.

Many of the essays seem to follow the same format: a bit of history, an interview with current owners, a description of previous management, some commentary about the current interior and how it’s changed over the years. It’s as though Hoekstra followed a template, asking each interviewee the same questions. Indeed, each chapter stands on its own; there is no running narrative that ties the essays together. As a result, much of the material feels a bit redundant when reading from cover to cover.

But that’s not to say that each essay isn’t a story of its own. Hoekstra clearly loves his subject matter, and he reveals interesting details about the people—usually families, and often generations of them—who own and manage the supper clubs dotted about the upper Midwest. Hoekstra shines when he focuses on painting a picture of the people behind the supper clubs, and he usually focuses on the more recent history, using first-hand interviews to paint a picture of today’s supper clubs.

The text, in fact, makes much use of quotes from the author’s subjects. In that way, the interviewees tell their own stories, often in long, rambling quotes that reflect off-the-cuff responses to various questions. At times the subjects are reflective and nostalgic, at times funny and humble, as when, in one essay, a supper club owner, transplanted to Minnesota from points around the globe, says he felt like he “… was in the middle of nowhere. First I thought I was in a witness protection program.”

This is in contrast to Hoekstra’s own writing style, which some might call clipped or choppy, while others might think it somewhat Hemingwayesque, as when he writes “The Ced-Rel has been around since 1917. It was a product of this new connective America. The Ced-Rel began its life as a gas station.”

The Supper Club Book examines the origins of these dwindling, rural, fine-dining establishments as well as their future. In fact, the last chapter of the book is focused on a handful of modern supper clubs, restaurants that are finding a way to blend the best aspects of the supper clubs of yore with the demands of a younger clientele.

As such, the book looks both backward and forward, providing readers with a social history of what is a distinctly Midwestern phenomenon. Readers will enjoy flipping through its pages, landing on snippets from some of the interesting conversations Hoekstra has had with the people who keep these institutions going and examining the snapshots that reveal the faded interiors of these rural mainstays.

Two-Star Review

June 2013, Chicago Review Press/IPG
$29.95, hardcover, 287 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-61374-368-3

—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen

You can watch a video of the author discussing his book on “Chicago Tonight” with Phil Ponce.


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Local Author Spotlight: Patricia Crisafulli Is Living Her Dreams

CBR_Logo2By the age of twelve, Patricia Crisafulli knew she wanted to a writer. Despite the winks, chortles, and outright laughter from the adults around her, she pursued her dream of being a writer, and she has built a career doing just that.

With scores of books and articles to her name, Crisafulli’s girlhood dreams have come true. Today, she is a best-selling author, based right here in Chicago’s suburbs.

IMG_8847Crisafulli grew up in northern New York State near the Canadian border and worked as a journalist in New York City before settling in Chicago, where she was a reporter and correspondent for Reuters. Her work has appeared in a variety of media, including The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor, and she is currently a featured blogger for Huffington Post.

Crisafulli published her first book, Remembering Mother, Finding Myself: A Journey of Love and Self-Acceptance (under the name Patricia Commins), when she was thirty-nine. Since then, she has worked on project after project, reaching the best-seller list with The House of Dimon, a behind-the-scenes account of the CEO of JP Morgan. She is also the coauthor, with her friend Andrea Redmond, of Comebacks and their latest, Rwanda, Inc.

Crisafulli also is the creative force behind what she calls her labor of love, Faith, Hope, and Fiction, a free, bimonthly literary ezine that features fiction, poetry, and essays.

Crisafulli also does a lot of speaking and media appearances. And—oh, yeah—we should mention that she is at work on a volume of short stories and essays, Inspired Every Day, to be published by Hallmark next spring.

Her winning track record proves that successful authors need not live and work in New York, London, Frankfurt, Barcelona, or other global publishing hubs. Chicago does just fine. “I live in Chicago, my publisher is in New York, and my topic is Africa,” Crisafulli notes, referencing her latest book.

That said, she also says that she considers herself a writer and not necessarily a Chicago writer. “I would not consider myself part of Chicago’s publishing scene,” Crisafulli says. “I’m just part of the publishing scene—as is every author. This is a field, increasingly, without borders.”

With changing technology and growing online communities, Crisafulli believes that publishing is more about building relationships than it is about location. Finding an agent, an editor, and a publisher who love your work—as well as readers who love it and will talk about it—is key, regardless of where you write your manuscripts.

“I would publish with absolutely anyone anywhere,” Crisafulli says. “The editor who loves your work is what matters. It’s lovely if that happens locally, but that doesn’t happen all that often.”

That may be, but Crisafulli notes that Chicago is a solid part of the larger publishing world. “The Chicago publishing scene is a river flowing into a much bigger body of water, which is national and international,” she says. “There are publishers here and writers here and editors here, and that’s happening.”

Wherever it’s happening, Crisafulli is giving it her all, making those girlhood dreams of being a writer come true. And no one’s laughing now.

Watch a video of Patricia Crisafulli’s appearance on “Chicago Tonight” during which she discusses Rwanda, Inc. with Phil Ponce.

—by Kelli Christiansen

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The Diary of A(nother) Young Girl


Home Front Girl:
A Diary of Love, Literature,
and Growing Up in Wartime America

 by Joan Wehlen Morrison


9781613744574 hi res cover imageWartime diaries written by young girls are something of a rarity, so it is more than likely that Joan Wehlen Morrison’s engaging Home Front Girl will be compared to such titles as Anne Frank’s World War II classic Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata Filipovic’s more recent entry Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Wartime Sarajevo. Such comparisons are apt, so long as they don’t detract from the unique voice captured in Wehlen’s work.

Pulled from journal entries and school notebooks, Home Front Girl reveals the daily goings-on, thoughts, and feelings of young Joan Wehlen. Written between 1937 and 1943, the book captures Wehlen between the ages of fourteen and twenty while a student, first at Greeley, then at Lakeview, and finally at the University of Chicago Junior College (what today is the Lab School) in Hyde Park. Readers who follow her journey watch her grow and mature as she does all the things young girls do at that age—go to school and do her homework, gossip with friends, go on dates, argue with her parents—as well as things that today’s teens couldn’t possibly imagine: knit sweaters and scarves for soldiers, collect Red Cross donations, and say goodbye to friends heading off to war.

Wehlen and her family lived in Chicago, moving several times from the North Side to the South Side, and Home Front Girl is full of local color. Wehlen visits the Art Institute and the Field Museum, she travels by L and bus, she takes trips with friends to Palos Park and Calumet City. She spends her summers at camp in Michigan. She goes to the movies with her father, plays bridge with her friends, and spends a lot of her time reading classic literature. In fact, one is struck by how well read such a young girl is. Not many teenage girls today reading—much less quoting—Homer, Keats, Yeats, Stevenson, or Ibsen.

A bright, curious, thoughtful girl, Wehlen’s writings reveal a young woman full of hope and optimism, even though she can see that the world is turning toward darkness. In fact, Wehlen is at times more prescient than one might expect of someone so young, as, for example, when she writes in October 1940—more than a year before the United States would enter World War II—“Born at the end of one disastrous war and bred between two wars with always the foreknowledge of this war that is come upon us as we reach adulthood.” Wehlen here has managed to capture the feeling of many who lived during the interwar years, remarking with deep thoughtfulness on what the coming war would mean for her generation.

She is again astute when, in March 1939—six months before Germany would invade Poland—she writes “What else could Germany have had after [World War I] except that a dictator would spring up—if not Hitler, another.” Wehlen was only sixteen years old when she wrote those words.

Home Front Girl is full of such insightful commentary, surprising for one so young and without the benefit of hindsight. Such incision is accompanied by entries that are touching, sensitive, evocative, and, at times, even lyrical.

Of course, not every diary entry is heavy with meaning or historical importance. Many are what one would expect from a teenage girl—chatter about classmates, makeup, and movies and ruminations over boys, dates, and kisses.

But even these more mundane entries tell a story, revealing a day at a time the life of a girl growing up in the midst of the interwar period, thick in the Great Depression. Wehlen tackles such issues as lend–lease, the Fifth Column, pacifism, and isolationism. She discusses Hitler, Mussolini, FDR, and Churchill (to whom she refers as “Pigface”). And she reveals her thoughts about contemporary celebrities such as Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, and Norma Shearer.

Though written for a young adult audience, the book is by no means a children’s book. Readers of all ages will find young Joan Wehlen engaging and amusing. In fact, older readers may get more out of the book, especially when it comes to some of the contemporary references. For instance, a number of footnotes mention movies and actors of the time, most of which will be wholly unfamiliar to today’s young readers. (Not all cultural references get this treatment, however. Why some books and movies are explained in footnotes and others are not is a mystery.)

Home Front Girl is rich in detail. It is witty and bright and thoughtful and insightful. With as many as 1,200 World War II veterans dying every day, the publication of Wehlen’s diary is important. It is a remarkable document, one that should be treasured for the contemporary, first-hand glimpse it offers of a world that soon will be lost to those living among us.

Four-Star Review

November 2012, Chicago Review Press/IPG
YA Nonfiction/Autobiography
$19.95, hardcover, 252 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-61374-457-4

—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen

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