Tag Archives: Books

Half-time pep talk

I’m not an avid football fan, but even I know Joe Namath was one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Out on the PR trail for his memoir All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters, Namath was interviewed on National Public Radio this morning. Among other subjects, he talked about aging.

“I decided to make a plan at 50,” he said. “Fifty was halftime, man. And you’ve seen — I’ve seen a lot of games won and lost in the third and fourth quarter. I don’t want to go out on a bad note. I want to keep growing, being productive, keep learning and keep loving, man. I want to be a positive dude the rest of the way.”

Keep growing, keep learning and keep loving. What a great mantra for one’s third and fourth quarters.

With a grandmother who lived to 104 and me in the midst of my 52nd year, I could argue I’m just beginning my third quarter. I feel like Namath’s interview was like a coach’s half-time pep talk: Keep growing, keep learning and keep loving, man (woman!). Be a positive lady the rest of the way.

Ooh-rah!

 

Sweet distraction

Who doesn’t like honey? Even if you’re not the type to get a daily fix of it, you probably like the concept of it: Sweet, sticky, translucent gold, 100 percent natural. It is, perhaps, rare to find someone who likes bees. In concept, they’re all right, crucial players in the ecosystem, but up close, they’re bugs. Who sting.

In the end though, you can’t have honey without bees. Sue Monk Kidd’s book The Secret Life of Bees might inspire affection for those honey makers. Bees are major characters in this story set in South Carolina in 1964. Here’s one scene that encourages admiration of the bees, not just the honey:

According to August, if you’ve never seen a cluster of beehives first thing in the morning, you’ve missed the eighth wonder of the world. … Fifty feet away you will hear it, a humming that sounds like it came from another planet. At thirty feet your skin will start to vibrate. The hair will lift on your neck. Your head will say, Don’t go any farther, but your heart will send you straight into the hum, where you will be swallowed by it. You will stand there and think, I am in the center of the universe, where everything is sung to life.

Kidd’s way with words speaks to my heart. She describes feeling as ribbons trailing behind a character and climatic events that might cause the moon to break loose and fall out of the sky.

Secret Life of BeesImmediately, I fell in love with Lily, the poor little white girl longing for her mother who died under mysterious circumstances when Lily was 4. That mystery propels the story along as Lily is led to the home of three eccentric black sisters who sell honey and worship Our Lady of Chains, a black Madonna. Along the way, Lily witnesses racism, engages in a first kiss, experiences sorrow and learns the values of writing a journal.

The story ends satisfactorily, too, which is nice for having invested several hours in the reading. And then I found out Kidd started our writing memoirs, so maybe I need to read more of her work.

The book came out in 2002 and has been on the bestseller list, so I’m late to the party (as usual), but if you haven’t read The Secret Life of Bees, you might enjoy learning the secret.

Two families face housing crisis and changing worlds in Kingsolver novel

When I saw a novel by Barbara Kingsolver sitting on the “New” display at Barnes & Noble before Christmas, I snatched it up conspiratorially. I bought it and hid it because I thought for sure someone would be giving it to me for Christmas, I’m such a fan of Kingsolver fiction.

unshelteredBut I was safe. No one gave it to me for Christmas, so Unsheltered was the first book I cracked open when I made a New Year’s resolution to read 26 books this year.

As much as I anticipated it, it was a weird one starting out. Another reviewer described the beginning as a lecture in world economics, finance and domestic politics. Kingsolver also introduces 10 characters in two families living in two centuries in the first two chapters. It wasn’t easy to keep everything straight but I persevered, and I was rewarded.

It’s a thinker, tackling difficult subjects like parenting, unemployment and entomology. If you’re looking for an escape from your unending bills or your insufferable in-laws or your know-it-all 20something kid or the ants in your yard, you won’t find a respite here—they all play a role in Unsheltered.

As usual in Kingsolver novels, she throws in some history, some real people, some food, and some memorable characters. She mixes all the prickly parts together and gets a pretty good story, heavy on metaphor, I think. If you’ve read Kingsolver’s Lacuna or The Poisonwood Bible, you know what you’re in for.

As for the real people, one of the historical figures in this story is Mary Treat, a lady scientist who lived in Vineland, New Jersey, during the second half of the 19th century, when the historical part of this novel is set. Kingsolver’s noteworthy research brings Treat to life on these pages. Another real person is the Bullhorn, clearly a description of Donald Trump, who was running away with the Republican primaries during the course of the modern part of the book. Just a warning: If you’re a Trump fan, you might not like Unsheltered; Kingsolver is clearly not a fan, and Trump is a two-dimensional villain here.

The novel’s title comes from another character in the book: A house in Vineland where both families live. It’s falling down in both centuries, a crumbling, leaking, poorly built structure that barely keeps it together through the story. The title also addresses how the world looks when it becomes apparent the emperor has no clothes. In the late 19th century, the world is faced with scientific discoveries that turn religious belief, especially the belief that God created man from his own image and woman from one of man’s ribs, on its head (Charles Darwin plays a big role in Unsheltered). In the 21st century, the main character Willa, who believes people who work hard deserve a nice house and their children deserve more than their parents, is confronted with evidence to the contrary.

As mentioned, Unsheltered makes one think. About economic growth. About what babies and aging women deserve. About recycling. Even about press freedom. And if a fictional novel can do all that, it’s saying something. That’s a story worth reading.

Killing Monica doesn’t exactly kill it but it hits the mark

Would I have liked the book better if the title had been Amazing Monica instead of Killing Monica?

killing monicaNope.

The Monica in Candace Bushnell’s story is a fictional character (to be clear, she’s a fictional character in a book of fiction), so whether she lives or dies is of no consequence to my enjoyment of a book with my first name in the title.

Killing Monica was my trashy novel for the summer, and in a word, it was good.

About a third of the way into this book, I hated it. It read like a modern-day fairy tale only instead of a poor girl oppressed by her stepmother and forced to clean the fireplace while her Prince Charming roams the kingdom with her glass slipper, the protagonist was a victim of success, her cheating soon-to-be ex-husband and her very expensive shoes. In fact, I started dog-earring pages of Bushnell’s entirely implausible phrases and scenes. Like who pours themselves a “nice tall glass of white wine.” A “nice full glass of wine,” maybe, or maybe a character pours white wine into a milk glass, but wine glasses are not “tall.”

But I reconsidered when I read the book flap–I thought maybe Bushnell was writing something more semi-autobiographical (she created Carrie in Sex in the City), and I thought maybe she was trying to say something about feminism, pop culture and celebrity. I think she more or less accomplishes this, but I still wasn’t loving it (whatever Bushnell’s “trademark humor” is, I didn’t get it, but them maybe I’m too literal about tall glasses, too).

I hung in there until the bitter end and wow! Mind blown. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I found the ending to come out of left field and be very satisfying at the same time (even though Bushnell leaves loose ends all over the place).

For a trashy novel, it was definitely worth the summer reading time.

Travel Tuesday: Water, water everywhere (and a freebie, too!)

Whatever it is about waterfalls, they demand attention. Maybe it’s the racket, as noisy as they are. Maybe it’s the danger (nothing like a sheer rock face to put a little scare into one’s soul). But it’s probably the beauty. Waterfalls can be so pretty.

I’ve had the opportunity to see quite a number of lovely waterfalls in my travels around the country this year, and I thought I’d share a few today.

Yosemite valley

This is a long shot (because the view is that beautiful), but in the center of the photo you can see Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite National Park.

washington falls

We found this strange place hidden among miles and miles of grassy bluffs. Palouse Falls is the only major year-round waterfall remaining from the Ice Age floods that carved the landscape of southeastern Washington state thousands of years ago. The falls plunge nearly 200 feet over layers of exposed basalt that make up the Palouse River Canyon. Check out that eerie rock formation behind and to the left of the falls.

yellowstone falls

In a place like Yellowstone National Park, the falls are probably among the least interesting sights to see, but I caught a rainbow in the mist at the falls of the Yellowstone River.

Cascade Falls

The St. Croix River cutting between Wisconsin and Minnesota north of Stillwater is really quite beautiful. Cascade Falls in Osceola is breathtaking. I got to see these during a lingering Saturday afternoon drive earlier this summer. The hike to the bottom is worth it (and the steps back to the top are worth it, too, with a little ice cream at the top).

fountain.jpg

This is more of a fountain than a waterfall, but you take what you can get when you’re visiting central Wisconsin. I snapped this picture last weekend while I was was Fawn Creek Winery near the Wisconsin Dells. The fish in the pool at the bottom liked the liquid libations as much as I did.

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The Percussionist's WifeBefore Minnesota Wonderer was Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant for that matter), she was The Percussionist’s Wife. I tell the whole story–every sordid detail–in my memoir, which I published five years ago this week. To celebrate the milestone, the Kindle version of the book is free this week. Fans of memoir and true crime might agree with reviewers who’ve called it “remarkable,” “candid” and “compelling,” and more than one “couldn’t put it down”; “it reads like a thriller!” See for yourself. If you like Minnesota Wonderer, this is her origin story. Download it here for free until midnight Friday.

Interviewer turns interviewee

It’s funny when the world turns the tables on you.

For years, I asked the questions. I was a newspaper reporter for a small daily in Ohio, and I spent hours on the phone, in meetings and talking to people, and then I spent hours more turning the raw material into readable newspaper stories.

Final ecover rgb compressedEarlier this week, a reporter asked me questions. She was writing about my latest book, Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat: On Finding the Meaning of “Like” in 1982.

It’s a story that’s been three and half decades in the making and took, oh, about five years to coalesce into something comprehensible, but you’ll love it if you’re a teenage girl or was one once. Do you remember your first French kiss? Did it change you? This book explores that moment for me.

Ooh, sounds interesting, right? Here’s the book blurb:

In a world before social networks made it a routine act performed with a click, “like” is a state of mystery and meaning among teenagers navigating the halls of Wadena Senior High School. Fifteen-year-old Monica is sure she would be happy if only she had boyfriend, but first she endures a litany of boys who think flirting is accomplished with insults and other shenanigans. After her first kiss, performed on a dare and described in the pages of Dear Diary as “the pits! Gross! Dirty!,” Monica learns the truth about French kissing from a charming outsider. Navigating relationships and learning the meaning of like—or love—is far trickier.

Set in a “hick town” on the windswept plains of Minnesota where a teenager’s social calendar is marked by basketball games, cafeteria dances and playing Pac-Man at the bowling alley arcade, Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat: On Finding the Meaning of “Like” in 1982 examines the fateful year Monica devotes to reeling in a keeper of a boyfriend like so much walleye. With self-deprecating humor, authenticity and awkward details captured on the pages of the diaries Monica faithfully kept at the time, it’s a story that reminds us what it feels like to be a teenager again, grappling with timeless questions of desire, loyalty and remaining true to oneself.

This book is for every teenager trying to navigate the maze of finding true love, or at least true “like,” and for every woman who grew up in the ’80s who might have forgotten all she learned during those seemingly simpler times.

You’ll feel like you’re sneaking a peek at my diaries (no guilt!). Like my first memoir, subtitled with “sex, crime and betrayal,” there’s little about kissing, a little about a petty crime and a little bit of double-dealing, too.

Set in Wadena, Minnesota, as it is, the local paper took an interest. Reporter Meagan Pitellko chatted with me earlier this week, and the today made the front page of the Wadena Pioneer Journal today. Click here to have a peek. I was impressed that she turned what I thought was small-talk about the weather into the lead of the story.

This was the kind of table-turning I could appreciate.

* * *

Interested in reading Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat? The paperback is $11.95 and available here.

The Kindle edition is $3.95. If you’re a member of KindleUnlimited or Amazon Prime, it’s FREE! Click here.

Minnesota Wonderer is up to something

Interested in catching up with Minnesota Transplant’s latest passion project, heavy on the passion? Check out my author blog here. Maybe you’ll find your next favorite read.

These eyes couldn’t stay open for Amber Eyes

Raise your hand if you’re the sort to quit reading a book if it’s not so interesting to you.

There are a fair share of you out there, as evidenced by the way Amazon pays authors of Kindle Direct Publishing (quick summary: authors only get paid by the number of pages read in a book, not by the number of books downloaded; apparently a lot of readers download books they never read).

I am not one of those people. Almost always, I subscribe to the Clean Your Plate Club in books as well as, well, plates. Even when I get a box for my leftovers, I almost always eat the leftovers.

The last book I couldn’t stomach finishing was The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, and that was three years ago. March must be the month for unfinishing because I read three chapters last week of The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal before returning it to the lending library.

HareIt was exactly the sort of book I should have enjoyed. It’s non-fiction, it’s about a family’s history told through a collection of Japanese netsuke ornaments they collected, and it’s filled with beautiful descriptions. It came highly recommended by a librarian I once met when I asked her, “Read any good books lately?”

But after yet another description of a building, or world history at the time of one of the long ago character’s lives, I couldn’t take it anymore. The poor man couldn’t find enough actually stories about his ancestors, so he wrote about their homes, their belongings, their context. Too many times in the first 50 pages, I had to return to the beginning of a paragraph to figure out what I was reading about because I had gotten lost in the individual words.

Also, I could tell where the story was going: The Jewish family lost their riches in the war. Except the beautiful netsuke collection. Which included a rabbit with yellow eyes( I guess. I didn’t get that far). Tragic, yes, and poignant, but I wasn’t up to reading about poignant tragedy.

It’s a well-reviewed book (just as The Art of Fielding was), but it’s not for me. As I maintain a to-read list on Goodreads that is more than 200 books long, I am realizing all the more that I won’t be able to read all the books I want to read in my lifetime. There are just too many good books. So why slog through the not-so-good books just to finish them?

It’s obviously a fact a lot of other readers have already figured out.

Confessions of a ‘dirty lib’: Trump’s latest book is, well, worth reading

Before diving into my review of Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again by Donald J. Trump, I feel compelled to remind you that Minnesota Transplant’s About page describes natives as “politically schizophrenic.” Minnesota once elected the most conservative senator in the U.S. Senate and the most liberal one. At the same time. And yes, we’re the state that called Jesse Ventura “governor.”

Full disclosure: I voted for Jesse.

And I would again.

Because I believe in the citizen legislator. Or, at least, the citizen executive.

No one really likes career politicians. Sure, we praise long tenures of people like John Boehner, but we admire their tenacity, not their career choice. (The ugly truth is, we hate everyone else’s career politician, but when they’re representing our district, we love our incumbent.)

That’s why I find Trump interesting. He’s shaking things up. He’s anything but an incumbent. He says what he thinks with no regard to political correctness or his donors. Because he is his own donor.

Crippled AmericaBy confessing some interest in Trump, surely I will offend the sensibilities of my liberal friends, but please know my Adored Stepson, who gifted me Crippled America for Christmas, has often called me a “dirty lib.” (This is an unfair characterization; I have said I don’t mind paying taxes for good community projects like roads, libraries and public safety and I’m generally against government legislating morality, but “dirty lib” goes too far in labeling me as an immoral socialist.) Perhaps Adored Stepson was attempting to convert me. But, fan of citizen executives as I am, I am open to Trump’s “brainwashing.” He’s refreshing.

I’m also a big believer in books, so I consider reading Trump’s tome to be a duty to the written word. And as a former member of the Fourth Estate, I know how “news” can be twisted into “entertainment.” Not all reporters are unbiased. So I wanted to hear Trump’s presidential intentions from the horse’s mouth. Or, if you prefer, from the horse’s ass.

Here’s the bottom line: It’s a good book with a poor title (“Crippled” reminds one too much of “cripple,” a sometimes offensive term, but then, Trump doesn’t care if he offends).

Anyone else who brags as he does about his accomplishments and riches would be considered arrogant. But a braggart he’s not: His schtick is not “loud, empty boasting”– it’s true. He is rich. He has built and restored a lot of beautiful buildings. He was host of a No. 1 rated reality TV show (yes, I am a fan of “The Apprentice”).

Would it be so bad to have a man who’s handled multi-million dollar budgets and large complex construction projects in charge of America?

You think his idea of a wall between the United States and Mexico is discriminatory? Not so fast. He wants to stop illegal immigration, not all immigration. Isn’t this a good idea? He’s anti women? Because he insults female television commentators and his female competition? He insults everyone, not just women. Don’t like his take-no-prisoners approach to public statements? OK, let’s support someone more polite.

Chirp, chirp.

Right, I can’t think of a long list of polite politicians I would trust with the White House either. Honestly, Trump evokes history with his tart opinions. Despite their erudition, integrity, and philosophical genius, the [Founding fathers of America’s revolutionary era] were fiery men who expressed their beliefs with unusual vehemence (Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2010).

Oppose his policies if you like (tax preparers, for example, would lose their livelihood if he gets his way with simplifying the tax code and fans of Obamacare and gun control will be disappointed in his policy direction), but don’t dislike him just because he’s brash.

I like a politician with an opinion, and Trump stands behind his in Crippled America. And whether you like him or hate him, you owe it to yourself to hear his story without television news’ addiction to outrageous quotes and outraged talking heads.

Capote thriller wrapped up my year in books

The last book I read in 2015 was In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, and I read it in one day.

In Cold BloodA classic, it is, and for good reason. I chose it because I qualified it as “a book that came out the year I was born,” as prescribed by the 2015 PopSugar Reading Challenge, which I took seriously until the very last day of 2015. In Cold Blood came out in 1965, which, if you want to get technical about it, is a year before I was born, but it was one of the year’s talkers the year I was born, so be it.

Capote (appropriately named as Truman — true man) told the story of the Clutter family quadruple murder in 1959 by two, well, cold killers who eventually meet their end with a hangman’s noose. The story, getting into the both the victims’ and the killers’ heads as Capote does with exacting descriptions, is chilling. I’m not a fan of capital punishment, but this book drives home why it exists. I can’t imagine the amount of research Capote undertook to write the story, but it amazed this true-story writer.

popsugar

As I closed the last page, I claimed to have read 51 books in 2015, 12 short of my goal. And to be fair, I included my running journal, my own book (How to Look Hot & Feel Amazing in Your 40s) and three books I designed in 2015 in the tally (hey! I read them, too!). I read 12 books I couldn’t classify in the challenge, and failed to read 13 books PopSugar prescribed (a popular author’s first book, a book at the bottom of your to-read list, a book that scares you, a book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit, a trilogy, a book with a color in the title, a book that takes place in your hometown, a book that was originally written in a different language, a book written by an author with your same initials, a play and a banned book).

Still, by following the challenge, I read quite a few books I never would have read otherwise, including In Cold Blood. There were also Anne of Green Gables, Seconds, Vintage Munro and Of Human Bondage. So, I expanded my horizons, and that’s what good books are meant to do.

I’m not attempting to read 63 books in 2016 or accomplish any challenge, PopSugar’s or otherwise. It was too much guilt, I’ll be honest, when I was savoring a book or choosing one that didn’t qualify in the challenge. Reading is a pleasure not a chore, and I don’t need any more guilt in my life.

So, speaking of pleasure, my favorite books in 2015 included The Light of the World, All the Light We Cannot See and  Pioneer GirlWhat were your favorites? Maybe you’ll recommend my next great read.