Remember back when the Reader was divided into four, thick, black-and-white sections that stained your fingers by the time you paged through the Adult Services ads? Some people thought that was a real drag. A writer for a local online aggregator used to regularly refer to us as the “Old Gray Doorstop.” That site, whose frequent m.o. was to pick the pockets of journalists who performed actual legwork, is now languishing in a popular entertainer’s sock drawer.

We’re still here.

The appropriate response to anyone who ever said Reader stories were too long has always been: “Don’t you like to read?”

Well, don’t you?

Sure, we’ve gone through changes; reacted, contracted, adapted, rolled with the punches, and cleaned up our ink. But still, if you can’t get sucked into a dozen or more engrossing stories that pull you out of your stupor every week, you’re probably dead inside.

It’s been my great privilege and honor to contribute to that river of ink for 25 years. And now it’s my great privilege and honor to contribute to its enduring flow, in the form of 50 looooong reads plucked from the archives and packed into a new, multicolored doorstop. The cover art by Jackie Weinberg sells itself.

An Invasion of Gastronomic Proportions: My Adventures With Chicago Animals, Human and Otherwise is my first book. I knew the day would come, but I never imagined I’d be signing copies in an empty conference room, in the mostly empty office. But I signed them all, wearing a mask, in my 3rd-grade chicken scratch. Just for you, friendo.

Did I ever tell you the one about the colony of cemetery-dwelling, hot dog-gorging raccoons and their human enablers? What about the dastardly catnapping orchestrated by a Ravenswood Manor mom? Whatever happened to Chef Albert D’Angelo, the insufferable, arrogant prick who opened a secret restaurant out in the lake, two miles off Oak Street Beach?

They’re all in there, along with Shirley the Muffin Lady, the impostor first responders of the Lost Creek Fire Department, the nasty strain of group A streptococcus that violated visiting hours in the Evanston Hospital maternity ward, and the wriggly Tully Monsters that inhabit the slag piles surrounding Exelon’s Braidwood nuclear power plant—may its core never melt and unleash the wrath of a million giant prehistoric invertebrates.

Eh. We probably deserve it.

The title of the book refers to an actual invasion of Louisiana crawfish in the surging Chicago River after a summer storm, and the neighbors that waded in after them for dinner. There are a lot of food stories like that within its pages, but it’s not all about food. It’s about the hundreds of fascinating animals, human, edible, or otherwise, that gave me their time and stories over the years.

There’s a pretty sweet discount if you buy it with our Reader Recipes community cookbook. And all proceeds benefit my home, my heart, the Chicago Reader: Free and Freaky Since 1971.

I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it over the years (with apologies and gratitude to my colleagues Taryn Allen and Jamie Ludwig, who had to edit the thing).

Maybe best of all, when you get to the end of page 424 and close the back cover, you can use it to prop your door open. Just like the good old days.  v