Oak Park’s best-known, best-selling novelist, Elizabeth Berg, has taken the plunge into self-publishing with her latest book, Make Someone Happy – Favorite Postings. By postings, she means Facebook. Friends convinced her to take that plunge some years back and she found it surprisingly satisfying. 

As she writes in her introduction, “The way readers embraced these offerings reinforced something I learned well as a nurse. It’s always the little things that matter most, that offer the richest meaning, that, above all, make us comfortable, even proud to be, in our own skins: the cup we prefer for coffee in the morning, the dim outline of our dog asleep beside us at night, the plunking sound of the first blueberry into the bucket, the grasping of a finger of our hand by a baby. It made me understand, too, that to record ordinary life validates ordinary life, and also validates us as a struggling species that makes an awful lot of mistakes but is nonetheless full of kindness and caring and hope. And charm, too, especially when we think no one’s looking.”

Readers of her posts urged her to publish them, but Random House, her regular publisher, declined. So she and her best friend, Phyllis Florin, decided to self-publish them. Florin designed the book, which is officially published under the name Writing Matters, also the name of Berg’s quarterly series introducing lesser-known authors to the reading public. 

This book, she says, “has its poignant moments, but they are always life affirming.” If you’re interested, she will read excerpts from Make Someone Happy at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 7 in the Oak Park Public Library’s Veterans Room.

And don’t worry about Random House. They just bought her latest novel, so they aren’t losing interest. Berg, meanwhile, is surprised by how much demand there is so far for Make Someone Happy

“I think it’s because so many of us are anxious and really longing for something simple, and cheerful,” she said, “to help us out.”

And, yes, the title refers to one of her favorite songs.

“Who can resist Jimmy Durante?” she asks.

Sculpture sitting

 Carolyn Ottmers’ “A Remembrance” was custom-built for this year’s Oak Park Sculpture Walk in Mills Park, and custom, it turns out, makes for good conversation.

With a nod to the village’s 2015 arboretum accreditation, this local artist’s creation, a 15-foot-wide tree trunk, invites the public to engage within and around the structure, which has allowed Ottmers to experience her artwork as a participant, not just as its creator.

“The tree stump serves as a bench,” she noted, “providing an opportunity to sit and reflect. As an artist, you often send your work out in the world and never see it again. Since I live nearby, I’ve been able to visit the bench on a regular basis. My husband and I have really enjoyed coming to sit on the bench to read or talk or eat a picnic this summer. We inevitably meet others with a similar idea.

“There is something magical about a ring, as so many park-goers have commented to me. It draws you in, draws you together, opens you up. It is peaceful. It is a locus for energy. It is a place to listen, play, imagine, eat, climb, sing, explore. The circular nature of the bench seems to invite conversation. We are all faced inward toward each other and it is a relaxing experience. I have met so many people from all walks of life just from sitting down on this bench.

“I imagined people enjoying the bench as a group, so I made it big enough to seat 12 adults comfortably and still talk to each other without amplification. But in my imagination, they were groups of people who knew each other already. … It did not occur to me that a group might be formed from strangers surreptitiously sitting in the ring together and starting a conversation. This is the magic I did not anticipate; I am never sure who I am going to meet.”

The 12 sculptures of the 2016 Oak Park Sculpture Walk are at Mills Park for your pleasure through Labor Day (Sept. 5). Information at oak-park.us/sculpturewalk.

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