The 2014 Summer Book Series

The WNIJ listening area is a hotbed of literature, according to Dan Klefstad, host of Morning Edition and editor for the Book Series. Since the summer of 2012, Dan interviewed more than twenty writers of fiction, poetry, creative essays and memoirs -- all from northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.

Here are this year's Summer Book Series authors...

A thriller set in an Illinois "unschooling" community. A novel about a Maine woman asked by the FBI to revisit her childhood. A tale of two Chicago runaways heading west across the prairie.

These are just three of the books featured during the WNIJ Read With Me Book Series, which returns in June. We'll also explore the lives of Sylvia Plath and other famous poets, and finish with quirky stories about President Andrew Jackson and his gardener.

In 2003, James McManus became the best-known storyteller about poker when he published Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs & Binion's World Series of Poker. The book recounts McManus's reporting assignment for Harper's Magazine, in which he covered the 2000 World Series of Poker from the perspective of a player.

This Spring, the Illinois Reads program will invite residents to read dozens of new books by Illinois authors. One title on their 2016 list is our Winter Book Series selection Paris, He Said, by Christine Sneed.

The novel introduces us to Jayne Marks, an aspiring artist who leaves her New York City life -- friends, steady job, and boyfriend Colin -- for Paris, home of her new lover, Laurent Moller.

Memory and desire are common themes in Joe Gastiger's prose poems. In his latest collection, If You So Desire, he uses historically famous people to illustrate these themes as well as ordinary people in the news.

Two writers meet in a bar called The Jesuit in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The older one is struggling to finish the final book in his contract. The younger one hopes to repeat his one publishing success.

They only met the day before; but the older man, Nigel Moon, proposes a deal:

"What Moon would like the other writer to do is ghost-write this final book for him," says Craig Hart, author of the novel Becoming Moon, our first Winter Book Series selection for this season.

Florencia Mallon wrote several books and articles about the events preceding Chile's 1973 military coup and the subsequent dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. These were intended for her colleagues in the field of Latin American history.

"He will be unshaven, wear a battered borsalino, and nod a greeting to me, smiling slyly."

This is how poet John Bradley describes his character, Roberto Zingarello, a fictional poet writing about his native Italy under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini.

In 2000, dozens of U.S. Navy veterans arrived on the Greek island of Crete to restore a former American warship and sail it home. All were volunteers. Several served during World War II.

Their average age: 72.

One of the younger vets (at 61) was Robert Jornlin, who recounts the story in Bringing Back a Hero, a Summer Book Series selection for 2015.

The title, Annabelle and the Sandhog, introduces two of the book's main characters, so let's take them in order:

Annabelle is a nursing-home aide who befriends the sandhog, in the novel and in real life. We'll learn more about her in a bit.

"Sandhog" is American slang for a person who works underground at an urban construction site.

The sandhog in this story is John O'Malley, modeled after author Ray Paul's grandfather, who made a career of blasting bedrock to carve the foundations of tall buildings in the early 20th Century.

When you write a novel, how much of your life experience do you give to your characters? And how much of that experience do you fictionalize?

This question came up during two panel discussions with WNIJ Book Series authors last week. One panelist, Katie Andraski, described how she transferred her experience as a publicist to her protagonist in The River Caught Sunlight.

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