Tag Archives: Books

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.

Finishing this book releases me from the Bondage of an unfinished assignment

Thirty years ago, my Thematic Writing teacher — Mr. Mickelson, I think, but it might have been Miss Sharp — assigned me to read Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham.

I’m happy to report I’ve completed my assignment. On my Kindle, no less!

Of Human BondageAs part of my PopSugar 2015 Reading Challenge, one of the books I was to read was “a book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t.” I know I didn’t read Of Human Bondage because I dutifully reported it in my diary as “a book I was supposed to read for Thematic Writing.”

It’s the coming of age story of Philip Carey from the time of his birth the late 19th century in England until about age 30. An orphan with a club foot, he is brought up by his strict and religious aunt and uncle who hope he enters into a pastoral profession, but he yearns to travel the world freely.

Philip ends up studying in Germany, painting in Paris, hating accounting in London and, finally, taking up medicine. In the meantime, he meets all sorts of people who Maugham generally describes as homely and disgusting in some way. Most horrifying is Mildred, a bitchy waitress (and later, hooker) who repeatedly takes advantage of Philip’s adoration and kindness.

This book is written in formal English (no Valley Girl speak here) and it’s interminable. I can see why I didn’t finish it (or even bother to start it) 30 years ago. But it kind of grew on me. I didn’t care for the way Maugham chose to make his protagonist so indecisive: “He was afraid that Sally by speaking would break the spell, but she said never a word, and he wanted to hear the sound of her voice.” Did Philip want her to speak or not? And I absolutely hated Mildred and longed for Philip to hate her, too, but alas, it was not to be. But Maugham covers a lot of philosophical ground about faith, art, beauty, money and the meaning of life, so this book is a thinker (and believe me, only thinkers are the type to tackle a 30-year-old English assignment). And, I’m happy to report (because I actually got to the end), it has a happy ending (surprise!).

Remarkably, one of the characters commits suicide and twice, Philip seriously considers taking his own life. Also, there’s Mildred as a painted lady and brief references to venereal disease and teenage pregnancy. This is a book assigned to high schoolers to read? I mean, I would let my teenager read it (how impressive would that be!), but I can imagine some parents freaking out.

With Of Human Bondage, I’ve read 38 books this year, which puts me squarely nine books behind schedule to accomplish my goal of 63 books. With three months left in the year, it’s not looking good. But hey, I finished one of my high school reading assignments today, so I’m feeling totally, like, rad, um, ya know?

The setting is war, but the story is pulse-poundingly beautiful

It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year, so I don’t need to waste my breath telling you it’s a good book, but I will share a tiny shred of some of the writing that makes All the Light We Cannot See so lovely to read:

Doerr“Don’t you miss the world?”

He is quiet; so is she. Both ride spirals of memory.

“I have the whole world here,” he says, and taps the cover of [a book by] Darwin. “And in my radios. Right at my fingertips.”

Her uncle seems almost a child, monastic in the modesty of his needs and wholly independent of any sort of temporal obligations. And yet she can tell he is visited by fears so immense, so multiple, that she can almost feel the terror pulsing inside him. As though some beast breathes all the time at the window panes of his mind.

Anthony Doerr’s novel is summarized thusly by the Pulitzer Prize committee: “an imaginative and intricate novel inspired by the horrors of World War II and written in short, elegant chapters that explore human nature and the contradictory power of technology.”

I don’t always agree with folks who award Pulitzers (see my review of The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, a book I hated quite passionately despite its status as a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2012), but in this case, I concur with the powers that be. All the Light We Cannot See is haunting and beautiful, and I enjoyed reading it very much. You might, too.