ALCW in the News

Books & Brunch is a fun event that really serves the community

Books & Brunch will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 8 this year, and there are a lot of things to like about this annual event starting with the “books” part. Anything, anytime, anywhere that has to do with books is of immediate interest to me, but then if you say that the authors are coming, will be selling and signing their books as well as discussing them during the lunch, that in and of itself makes for something out of the ordinary. Then, too, the meal is usually pretty good and certainly it’s nice to be among 300-plus other people enjoying the various vendors as well as checking out and bidding on silent auction items and raffle baskets. But really, the best part of Books & Brunch is what happens with the monies raised. 

Books & Brunch is the main fund-raiser for Assistance League Chicagoland West, a local chapter of the national assistance league. The Chicagoland West group directly serves the Greater Hinsdale/Clarendon Hills/Burr Ridge area, including Darien, Willowbrook, Western Springs, Lombard, West Chicago and Villa Park. In the past year alone it has provided brand new coats, hats and mittens to nearly 2,000 (two thousand!) students in those towns — and that figure does indeed include students from Hinsdale and Clarendon Hills; it has provided close to 700 backpacks to early readers in Head Start programs from those towns and will outfit kitchens for 75 families who are moving from the state of homelessness into their own homes and will be able to cook for themselves and their families. 

“We’re a small group but we do a lot,” said Maureen Hegarty, a Books & Brunch co-chairman, noting that the assistance league is the only Illinois chapter. It is a committed and results-oriented chapter. A quick glance at the membership reveals more than 60 women who are involved and active in a number of community organizations — a group of women who really know how to get things done and do them well. Books & Brunch, now in its 15th year, has continued to grow, now in its 16th year. 

The local league is the only branch which has a Books & Brunch-type luncheon as its major fund-raiser. Many of the other leagues have thrift shops which generate money for their philanthropic projects. Just last year, the league started an eBay site in order to sell used jewelry, table top and hostess items and some designer goods, and Madelon Pearlman has been heading up that effort. She has been an member for 9 years now.

“I like that all the money we raise is used in our community,” she said.

“I like to know where my money is going,” she added. “There are no administrative costs here.”

Since all members are volunteers, they are the ones doing all of the work, including buying and distributing the coats for the children, for example. 

That hands-on approach, that roll-up-your-sleeves involvement is what appeals to the women who join, according to Meg Cooper, the other co-chairman of Books & Brunch. She has been a member for 11 years.

At Books & Bruch this year, all three authors — Luis Urrea, Melanie Benjamin and Marcus Sakey — have ties to Chicago and are once again notable in their own right. For example, Urrea was a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his non-fiction work The Devil’s Highway, the account of illegal Mexican immigrants who got lost in Arizona’s desert. Urrea is of Mexican and American descent and has written both nonfiction and fiction. He lives in Naperville with his family and teaches at the University of Illinois-Chicago. 

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel is Benjamin’s most recent novel published in July this year. This is the fictionalized account of the real-life Lavinia Warren, the 32-inch tall wife of circus oddity Tom Thumb, and is set in the mid-nineteenth century. Benjamin lives in Chicago with her husband and two sons. 

Sakey, a Chicago resident, once worked in the graphic design field before starting to write criminal fiction, fiction which he meticulously researches by shadowing homicide detectives and the like. The Blade Itself was his debut novel, and The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes is his latest work. 

Tickets for Books & Bruch are $80, and it will be held at the Abbington on Route 53 and Butterfield Road in Glen Ellyn. The morning begins at 10 with book signings and a the opportunity to visit the vendors as well as sign up for silent auction items and buy raffle tickets for the various baskets. The brunch starts at 11:45 a.m. and the author talks will start about 12:45 p.m. For more information about Books & Brunch, visit the website at or phone its office at 119 E. Ogden Ave., in Hinsdale at (630) 323-2529.