Ronald H. Balson is a celebrated author and a local resident. His novel The Girl from Berlin won the National Jewish Book Award and was a selection for Illinois Reads. He is also the author of Eli’s Promise, Karolina's Twins, The Trust, Saving Sophie, and the international bestseller Once We Were Brothers. His newest, Defending Britta Stein, was published in September.
Q: Attorney, author, professor...what was your first job?
A: My first job after college was teaching elementary school in Chicago. I taught special education to teenage boys in a Chicago public school for seven years and I loved it. During that time, I went to law school at DePaul University at night. After graduating, I began practicing law, but I didn’t stop teaching. I taught business law at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business in their evening program for twenty-five years.
Q: What's your favorite Chicagoland destination?
A: Perhaps Chicago’s greatest asset is to be located alongside the world’s nicest freshwater lake. We have had an open-bow boat since the kids were little, and we have always enjoyed the water and the beaches.
Q: Which authors do you most enjoy reading?
A: My interests lean toward history and historical fiction. For that reason, I enjoy reading Leon Uris, Herman Wouk, James Michener, Jon Meacham, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. For her style and use of the language, I am a big fan of Joan Didion. Because I am writing a story about Roosevelt and World War II, I am currently reading No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Q: What inspired you to start writing?
A: It seems as though I have always been a writer. I was an editor of my high school and college newspapers. I have been writing briefs, memoranda, and appeals as an attorney for forty-nine years. In the back of my mind, I think I have always had an urge to write creatively. The “inspiration” or “motivation” to write my first novel came when I was involved in a telecommunications lawsuit that took me to Poland. It’s pretty hard to spend time in Poland and not be moved by its history. After my time there, I wrote Once We Were Brothers about a Polish family during the war.
Q: What do you hope your readers take away from Defending Britta Stein?
A: The story of the Danish people and their courage during the Nazi occupation is unique in World War II history. As a country, they rose up together to resist the German takeover of their society. When the order was issued by the German command to deport all the Danish Jews to a concentration camp, the Danish people, acting as a whole, hid all their Jewish brethren from the Gestapo, and shuttled them by fishing boats to safety in Sweden. In Defending Britta Stein, I have attempted to convey the essence of that Danish spirit; that although Denmark was subjugated militarily, the Danish spirit was never conquered.
Q: Is there someone who particularly inspires you?
A: I am continually inspired by my wife and children, who do great things every day.
This interview appeared in the fall 2021 edition of Library Quarterly
Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario will speak about her experiences covering the conflict in Afghanistan in an online event on Sunday, November 21, at 2 p.m. The event is sponsored by multiple Chicago-area libraries and nonprofit organizations.
In the online presentation, Addario will discuss what life was like especially for women during the Taliban's rule, how life has changed for Afghan women over the past 20 years, and how Afghans are reacting now. Her talk will be accompanied by some of the powerful images captured during her work in Afghanistan. Award-winning interviewer Steve Edwards, formerly of WBEZ and the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, will moderate the conversation.
Addario was a member of the New York Times team awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for the photographic essay “Talibanistan.” In making the award, the Pulitzer committee noted the perilous conditions under which the work was performed.
In addition, Addario is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” and in 2015 was named one of five most influential photographers of the past 25 years by American Photo Magazine. She is also the author of the bestselling memoir It’s What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War.
“Both Lynsey’s experience and her photos should provide an awareness of events in Afghanistan,” notes Beth Keller, marketing specialist for Highland Park Public Library. “We’re thrilled to be able to bring an event with her to our communities, especially in light of current events.”
Throughout the pandemic, local public libraries including Highland Park and Vernon Area have hosted many online events. The videoconferencing format allows attendees to engage, learn, and connect in a safe and accessible way. Such is the idea with the event featuring Addario.
Says Heidi Smith, executive director at Highland Park Public Library, “Our upcoming event with Lynsey Addario represents a wonderful opportunity to gain insight into a current world situation. By bringing such outstanding speakers such as Addario to the community and partnering with other libraries in the area and across the state, we’re able to offer our communities access to important speakers, their ideas, and their work.”
“An Afternoon With Pulitzer Prize–Winning Photojournalist Lynsey Addario: Picturing Afghanistan” takes place on Sunday, November 21, at 2 p.m. The event is hosted by a group of 20 libraries and nonprofit organizations across Illinois. There is no charge to attend, but registration is required. To register, visit VAPLD.info/calendar.
The library offers an English Conversation Partner program to give language learners a chance to speak and listen in a casual setting. Students are matched with volunteers for an hour of online conversation, up to twice a month.
Since last fall, learner Kyounghee Lee and volunteer Nancy Chen have been meeting regularly on Zoom. Lee, whose first language is Korean, wanted to keep practicing English. “Since the pandemic started, it was hard for me to find chances to interact with people outside [my home],” said Lee.
Chen has been volunteering at English as a second language (ESL) classes for 11 years, seven of them at Vernon Area Public Library. She describes the conversations as an extension of the classes. Learners “can ask any questions, ask us to repeat or slow down, or explain American traditions,” explained Chen. “They can have conversations tailored to what they want to talk about, while listening to the native English speaker’s pronunciation and cadence.”
When Lee and Chen connect online, they discuss whatever comes to mind — “family, cultural traditions, health, good restaurants, movies, life during the pandemic!” said Chen. Lee, too, enjoys chatting about “anything and everything” including life in the United States, her previous job, current hobbies, and topics related to Korea.
“We take speaking English for granted, with all its irregular verbs (is, are, was, were) and its idioms (cold turkey, cat got your tongue),” said Chen. “What you give by just speaking English is a gift to others who are in a new country, away from their family and friends, trying to navigate American culture and English.”
“We are all stronger if we are willing and able to help others in our community. When my great grandparents arrived in the U.S. from China in the 1880s, I wish they were able to be supported by a community like the library’s ESL program,” said Chen. “I volunteer in their honor, to ease the path for other recent immigrants.”
From Lee’s perspective, the program is “a good opportunity to improve English communication skills, meet people in the community, and learn more about life and culture of America and other countries.” She has found that the conversations give more benefits than expected. “It served as a great source of emotional support during the pandemic. Whenever meeting the partners online, I feel that I am not alone...that we are in the same shoes, cheering up each other.”
To request a conversation partner or find out more about this program, visit VAPLD.info/LearnEnglish.
This article appeared in the fall edition of the Library Quarterly.
Every academic year, youth services staff from the library visit all local schools. They speak to thousands of students in first through eighth grade, one grade at a time. The “Book Talks” shine a light on current books, picked just for students. The idea is to encourage children to explore what interests them, to read for fun. The Book Talks also remind kids that the public library has lots of great books and friendly people who are ready to help.
Spring 2020 brought the in-person visits to a halt as schools moved to remote learning. But the Book Talks carried on, just in a different format. When the school year began, Vernon Area librarians were ready with short videos for grades 1 through 8, all available on YouTube. Each Book Talk video is presented by a youth librarian who tells students about two or three books, with a new video each month.
The book recommendations for K–8 are available anytime at VAPLD.info/BookTalks. A page for each grade lists books of the month, fiction picks, graphic novels, and nonfiction ideas for higher grade levels, along with a new video installment each month.
Kindergartners get their own video series, Book Bites, featuring Miss Julia reading stories perfect for budding readers. Each short storytime ends with a few suggestions for picture books to check out.
Cathy Park Hong gives life to many voices. She’s a poet, author, professor, mother and nationally in-demand speaker since the 2020 publication of the critically acclaimed Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning. Part memoir, part cultural criticism, Minor Feelings is composed of seven essays that have been described as a “new sound, a new affect, a new consciousness.”
Our colleagues at Arlington Heights Memorial Library interviewed her in preparation for the upcoming Cathy Park Hong author event we are hosting with AHML and 20 other neighboring libraries. She shared these insights about her work, upcoming library appearance and her recent rise in the national consciousness.
Congratulations on being selected as one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of 2021” — what has that been like receiving this honor?
I’m humbled. It’s been…I’m just really over the moon and also a bit overwhelmed but it has also been a bit abstract at the same time as it has happened during the pandemic, so you know for instance, when I did talks or corresponded with readers of the book, all of it was through social media or email or Zoom, and so even with the Time magazine cover, it’s almost like it’s happening to an avatar and not me.
What inspired you to write Minor Feelings?
The seeds of the book have been on my mind for a long time, and I actually wrote about the inspiration back in 2011. I was watching a comedy special starring Richard Pryor and it was revelatory and I was thinking, why isn’t there anything…I was craving that kind of raw honesty in thinking about Asian American identity, so that was the first seed. Then I became pregnant in 2014, and I realized when I found out I was having a daughter that I didn’t want her to have the kind of childhood that I had. I wanted her to be comfortable with the skin that she had, and you know, actually having her made me really think about, in a much more visceral way, the future of race relations. So that added an urgency for me to start this book, to write this book, which was initially conceived as a book of poems.
So what was that process like, “flipping the channel” so to speak, to be writing a memoir versus poetry?
Something about the lyric form was too constrictive. I wanted to have some satirical notes in the poem, which didn’t come across quite as well in the lyrical form, and I realized for it to work, I needed to unfold my thoughts into prose which was a much more capacious genre for me to go from being funny to being serious to jumping from a historical anecdote to a personal anecdote. Basically, I needed more room to stretch out, that’s why I turned to nonfiction, which of course produced a lot of anxiety because …I have had some experience writing politics articles and reviews and so forth, but it was like I basically learned how to write nonfiction by writing this book.
Did you know the timeline or order of the essays when you began writing?
I didn’t know what the order was, I just followed whatever it was I felt compelled to write about.
In fact, I was really scared to put them in any kind of order because I didn’t map it all out beforehand and my fear was that the essays would be just utterly disparate and have nothing to do with each other. But I realized, and I always tell my poetry students when they are putting their books of poems together, that your intuition is smarter than you think, that you are creating these thematic threads between poems or between short stories or between essays, even unconsciously, and I discovered that was the case with this book of essays.
What do you hope attendees will take away from your event?
I hope that after the event…that what I have to say about my book, and being Asian American, and race relations and capitalism…that it’s not a finished conversation, and that afterwards they seek out other writers and figures of color. I really hope that it piques their curiosity if they are new to the subject.
This interview was edited for length.
After-school tutors help are great for students striving to achieve mastery — and a great resource for tricky assignments or when parents and peers aren't able to help.
That's why this library offers Tutor.com for all students: online, on-demand access to qualified tutors at no cost.
Log on using your library card at VAPLD.info/tutor for one-on-one tutoring help with algebra, calculus, statistics, chemistry, physics, English, foreign languages, and other subjects. Or work with a tutor to prepare for exams, including AP and college board tests. There's even a "drop my paper off for feedback" feature.
Tutor.com is a service of Princeton Review. This handy resource is available to Vernon Area Public Library cardholders every day from 2 to 11 PM CT.
At the board meeting on Monday, October 18, Vernon Area Public Library trustees voiced support for a plan to make two electric vehicle charging stations available to the public in the library parking lot.
The library plans to purchase two Enel X “JuiceBox 32” Level 2 charging stations to be installed by Chicago-based Verde Energy Efficiency Experts, L3C. The stations are compatible with all electric vehicles (EVs) currently on the market, including Teslas. Each EV station provides up to 7.7 kilowatts of charge per hour, powering approximately 25 miles of driving range depending on the vehicle.
The library plans to assess a per-hour user fee to those using the EV charging stations. The stations are expected to pay for themselves within five years.
Library trustees reacted enthusiastically to the proposal.
“Any small step I can be a part of that helps to systematically fight climate change and have a better world for the future of our children, I say let's go,” said Library Trustee Max Boton.
Library officials will submit the plans this month to the Village of Lincolnshire for review and approval. Officials hope to have the EV stations installed sometime this winter.
Choosing books to give to friends and loved ones is easier with help from the reading experts at your local library. The 2021 holiday Gift Guide published by Vernon Area Public Library takes the stress out of the hunt for the perfect presents for readers. The free guide includes ideas for all ages and interests. Printed copies are available for pickup at the library or look online anytime at VAPLD.info/GiftGuide.
To create the guide, Vernon Area librarians first came up with long lists of all their favorites from 2021, then narrowed them down to the top five in each of 12 categories arranged by age and interest.
The 65 selections are thoughtful and diverse. Adult picks range from acclaimed fiction like The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles and Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir to must-read nonfiction like The Light of Days by Judy Batalion and Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown.
There are also recommendations for teens, grade school kids and tots, including delightful reads like Pawcasso by Remi Lai and Something’s Wrong! by Jory John.
This year's Gift Guide has been published early to help shoppers get ahead of the supply chain issues that we are all seeing headlines about. The message in the news is clear: this holiday season, shop early.
Shopping near home helps support your local economy. In our area, you might try Book Bin of Northbrook or Barbara’s Bookstore in Vernon Hills. Independent booksellers and libraries are both important parts of a healthy literary ecosystem.
Whenever you need a book recommendation, you can turn to your library. Whether you plan to borrow or buy, feel free to ask a librarian for suggestions. These reading experts are at your service, and they are great at matching readers with just the right book
A well-written memoir or autobiography is a transformative experience, letting you gain hard-earned wisdom from someone else's experiences, without getting up from your chair. Memoir and autobiography are broad headings, collecting books as varied as their authors. These new releases run the gamut from science to sports, reveal the personal histories of familiar figures, or paint a picture of a life so unexpected that reality feels like fiction.
In Beautiful Country, civil rights attorney Qian Julie Wang reflects on a childhood marked by poverty and secrecy as an undocumented immigrant. Fleeing harsh Communist rule in China for the freedom of New York, Wang’s parents found their experience as professors held no weight here. They were pushed into exhausting, low-paying work, while the odds were against Wang in the public schools. Inspiring, emotional, and at times heartbreaking, this memoir shines a light on the dignity and courage of immigrants in the face of unimaginable challenges and xenophobia. [e-book | print]
Closer to home, Three Girls from Bronzeville by Dawn Turner is a candid and thoughtful look at how three Black girls navigated growing up in the 1970s in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood. Intertwining her experiences with those of her younger sister and her best friend, the author juxtaposes their struggles and successes, placing them within the societal pressures on the community at large. Turner’s roots in journalism are clear in her beautiful writing; she creates compelling portraits of each girl and explores the meaning of friendship, sisterhood, loss, and resilience. [e-book | print]
Forest ecologist Suzanne Simard seamlessly combines memoir and nature writing in Finding the Mother Tree, a peek into the world of tree communication and intelligence. Simard clearly explains the groundbreaking discoveries about unexpected forest societies. She also delves into her own captivating journey from young tree-lover to minor science celebrity (she even inspired a character in Richard Powers’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Overstory). Finding the Mother Tree is an eye-opening work about the wonders of nature, our unique bond with the environment, and the risks of scientific discovery. [e-book | print]
Despite his years as a wildly successful actor and director, Stanley Tucci has shown that he isn’t defined only by his cinematic career. Over the past few years, he has quietly branched out into the culinary world, writing cookbooks and creating a travel special. In his memoir Taste, he tells his life story through the lens of his passion for food, and he does so with his signature charm and wit. From childhood dinners with his Italian American family to his roles in foodie films, Tucci explains how food has brought him closer to the most important people in his life. [e-book | print | large type]
After the successful March series, which chronicles the early days of the civil rights movement, John Lewis and Andrew Aydin collaborate again on Run, a continuation of Lewis’s remarkable life story. Focusing on the period after the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, this thought-provoking memoir in graphic novel form draws readers into the conflicts between the previously unified activists. As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis had a front-row seat to the ideological changes among the organizers as they grappled with questions of integration, nonviolence, and war. [e-book | print]
Whether you admire her passion for tennis or are interested in her activism, All In by Billie Jean King is an intimate, honest autobiography of a formidable opponent on and off the court. From a young age, King noticed the gender inequality in the world of sports. With fame came the opportunity to do something about it, from the famous Battle of the Sexes matches onward. But stardom also brought challenges, most notably a lawsuit that led to her traumatic outing and threatened her career and stability. Through it all, King found ways to triumph and channel her energy into fighting for equal rights in numerous arenas. [e-book | print]
When you think of black-and-white films, does your mind go back to the Golden Age of Hollywood? Monochromatic cinematography is still relevant today, with many modern filmmakers using the technique to achieve a unique atmosphere and a wide range of emotional responses in audiences. From classic to contemporary, these black-and-white movies create an unforgettable viewing experience, without the distraction of technicolor.
Visit the library to check out DVDs or Blu-rays, or place your selections on hold and pick up at the drive-up window.
Considered one of the greatest films of all time, All About Eve (DVD and Blu-ray) is a must-have on any list of black-and-white movies. The indomitable Bette Davis stars as Margo, an aging Broadway superstar trying to stay in the limelight. She finds herself up against an unexpected foe when the young and not-so-naïve Eve worms her way into every aspect of Margo's life. Witty, charming, and absorbing, this Best Picture–winner undoubtedly stands the test of time. Keep an eye out for a brief appearance by Marilyn Monroe in one of her earliest film roles; rumors are that she faced the wrath of Davis for her inexperience on set.
Having studied journalism in college and with his father having been a newsreader during the Cold War era, George Clooney was naturally drawn to the story told in Good Night and Good Luck (DVD, Hoopla). As director, he chose to shoot in grayscale to seamlessly integrate archival footage of notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy. A star-studded cast portray journalist Edward R. Murrow and his CBS news team as they recreate the unbearable stress and tension of the times, exposing the truth behind Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusades. Thoughtfully constructed to avoid slipping into the melodramatic, this film is a tribute to the power of fearless journalism.
The first Polish movie to win Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, Ida (DVD, Hoopla, Kanopy) is a subtle and haunting film that lingers long after the credits roll. On the cusp of taking her vows as a nun in Soviet-era Poland, orphaned Anna is told to visit her last remaining relative, only to learn a shocking truth about her family history and even her name. Prompted by the discoveries, she embarks on a journey to find answers, accompanied by her larger-than-life but clearly troubled aunt. The pair form an unlikely bond as they are faced with dark revelations.
Roma (DVD and Blu-ray) caused a stir when it was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, raising questions about the place of streaming movies in the world of traditional filmmaking. Drawing heavily on director Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood in Mexico City, Roma is a domestic drama about Cleo, the indigenous live-in maid for a well-to-do family, the marital instability of that family, and how their lives orbit and intersect each other. While the cinematography is stunning and there are subtle hints of important class commentary, the star of the show is Yalitza Aparicio, the first-time actress who masterfully portrays Cleo.
With movie heavyweights Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro leading the credits, it’s no surprise that Raging Bull (DVD and Blu-ray, Hoopla, Kanopy) is ranked as the fourth greatest movie of all time by the American Film Institute. At times a brutal watch, this biopic follows the rise and fall of real-life boxer Jake LaMotta, and how his violent streak extended far beyond the ring. As the unsympathetic LaMotta spirals out of control in his quest for greatness, his personal demons start to destroy his relationships and ambitions. De Niro encapsulates the toxic masculinity and ferocity of LaMotta, even training as a boxer under LaMotta himself. Look for Joe Pesci in his first major role after being discovered by De Niro in a low-budget film.
Simple but powerful, 12 Angry Men (DVD) is a classic that transcends time and place. Henry Fonda stars in this courtroom drama that examines the crucial role of the individual in the justice system. Viewers feel the claustrophobia and tension of the stuffy jury room and the raw emotions of the unnamed jurors as they get at the heart of truth and justice, good and evil. The story is told not through showy sets or effects but through good, old-fashioned acting. (Don't be put off by the colorized DVD cover; the film is in black and white.)