Book Review: AL FRANKEN, Giant of the Senate

Book Review: AL FRANKEN, Giant of the SenateFranken.jpg
By Al Franken
Published by Hachette Book Group
396 pages, including a forward and an acknowledgment
ISBN 978-1-4555-4041-9

What do you get when you read a book by a guy who has written for one of the premiere comedy TV shows of all time and is in his second term as junior senator from the great state of Minnesota? Do you get a light hearted, white bread pun-filled tale of silliness? Do you get a serious discussion of political philosophy and an issue-oriented debate? You get both.

Franken’s wit is renowned from his years on Saturday Night Live, and it shows up throughout the book – mostly in the first half when he discusses his years on SNL and in how he learned the ropes of running a campaign for the office of senator. The wit tones down some in the second part of the book as he turns more to his intelligence as he discusses issues, as he describes his feelings as he faces disagreement with senators from both sides of the aisle – and reveals who he admires and who he finds seriously in need of some help. In such cases, he pulls no punches as to who fits the last category.

To conclude the book, Franke includes a pep talk about thinking positive, of maintaining a constructive attitude as we struggle through the tough issues of the day, no matter where they come from.

But let’s not leave it there. I do think there are times when Franken spends too much time trying to sell the line of the Democratic Party – yes, its good that he does so to some degree, but at times, he surpasses that level for me. Franken includes a good amount of personal words – his family, his co-workers, his constituents back in Minnesota – and that’s good, too. Let me point out, too, that there are some fine tributes to citizens of Minnesota who have affected Senator Franken’s way of working.

AL FRANKEN, Giant of the Senate is a readable book – no heavy vocabulary to burden the reader; it is plain spoken and honestly stated.

Advertisements

Presidential CRINGE

president heads

He is the president. He’s my president, and yours, too. He was elected by our laws and duly inaugurated, so on paper, he’s the president. Now, that’s just the raw fact – all talk of Russian influence and “He’s not my president” aside, I continue.

The office of president is revered. The creation of the institution of the President of the United States was a break from the idea of kings, of autocratic rulers. It is a position of great power, of great influence that has existed since the late 1700s. The entire world has looked at past presidents with awe and wonder at the leadership exhibited by our presidents.

We have video of George Bush reading to elementary students. We have Barack Obama singing AMAZING GRACE. We have Ronald Reagan challenging Mr. Gorbachev to tear down a wall. We have Jimmy Carter, forty years out of office, working to build homes for Habitat for Humanity. We have LBJ signing a civil rights bill. We have Nixon opening relations with China. We have many citizens who have served in the Peace Corps because JFK saw the need and pushed it into being. We have Eisenhower building an interstate highway system. We have the calming effects of fireside chats on that new-fangled radio with FDR. These are some of our past presidents providing reasons why the office of the President of the United States has become so respected and revered.

But I Cringe to watch our president. Cringe. With a capital C.

This man presently holding the office in the last eight months has soiled that office with his words, his lack of fruitful actions, and his disregard for the history that those past presidents have provided.

Shall I enumerate them? Where do you want to start? There’s a long list. Say what you want to about the latest storm (his Charlottesville comments; versions 1,2 and 3), but since January 20, 2017, there’s been one bizarre circumstance after the other of which Charlottesville is just the end of the list.

While the president tweets about fake news, young children are awaiting the school year to start where they experience old textbooks and crumbling buildings. While the president blusters about a wall, our soldiers wonder if they’ll be sent into a military (possibly nuclear) conflict. While the president gets in several rounds of golf while on vacation, there has been no bill passed that addresses the bridges, roads, utilities and other infrastructure needs across our fifty states. While the president listens to some people who have zero experience in government (at any level at all), any kind of tax reform sits and decays. While he disparages women, health care dies on the floor of congress several times.

And energy. And labor. And international diplomacy. And budgets. These matters – these routine matters, are not given their necessary attention. Never mind the promises (walls, jobs, being the greatest everything possible) made by the president during his campaign that have yet to even receive a start, much less been realized.

It is time for the talking heads (whether in the media or in congress or in gathering places across the country from the small restaurants on main street to board rooms in corporate offices) to call for the present man in the office of President of the United States (Donald Trump) to live up to the standards that we have seen from past presidents.

And if he can’t do that, get out.

BOOK REVIEW: DEAR HOMEFOLKS

Dear-Homefolks-250x348.jpg
BOOK REVIEW:
DEAR HOMEFOLKS
By Candace Simar
Published by River Place Press
Of Aitkin, Minnesota
ISBN 978-0-9989116-2-5
195 pages

If this collection of short stories and poems were a restaurant, it would get five stars for its offerings.

Candace Simar provides a large menu of literary tastes in DEAR HOMEFOLKS. There are longer stories several pages long for the larger appetite. There are shorter stories of just a few pages to cleanse the reader’s palette. Is gourmet more to your liking? There’s some of that, but then there’s some very tasty ‘meat and potatoes’ stories, too. Do you want some dessert? There are humorous accounts as well.

Candace Simar draws from several sources for DEAR HOMEFOLKS. She gives us a taste of her understanding of the pioneer prairie days of Minnesota that you may have read in her Fort Abercrombie books. There are testaments to her Scandinavian heritage. There are some touching memoir-type moments, as the reader gets to meet the real Candace Simar as she reveals herself in a story or two about her own life experiences. There is a bit of a follow-up (maybe you could call it a semi-sequel) to one of her later books, SHELTERBELTS, in which we meet one of the characters of that book as he struggles to maintain his farm.

As for the poems, they are often paired with one of the stories – and the pairing reinforces both the story and the poem. You’ll find this especially true in the memoir section of the book.

Yes, there are sections; four of them. Each section is set off by a page with a short paragraph or two from the author, where she offers an introduction of sorts to each section. This lends yet another angle of getting to know the author in a personal way.

The tone throughout the book, like the first paragraph mentions, is a grand taste of Candace Simar’s writing. The vocabulary is accessible to all, the style is warm. The storytelling offers a spectrum of emotions from sadness to some truly happy and joyous pronouncements.

Candace Simar’s DEAR HOMEFOLKS would be a solid addition to the bookcase at home.

 

BOOK REVIEW: THIS STRANGE WILDERNESS The Life and Art of John James Audubon

audubon cover
BOOK REVIEW:
THIS STRANGE WILDERNESS
The Life and Art of John James Audubon
Juvenile Nonfiction by Nancy Plain
Published by University of Nebraska Press
91 Pages, followed by an appendix of notes, glossary and index
ISBN 978-9-8032-4884-7

John James Audubon – the boring bird man, right?

In Nancy Plain’s well -researched book, the reader finds out that Audubon was much more than that boring birdman. John James Audubon’s life crossed international borders, reached levels of academic achievement on his own, enjoyed his family, and truly experienced the American pioneer years as they grew from its very rugged beginnings in the early 1800s until his death in 1851. He influenced the entire world of sciences with his observations, thoughts, and artwork.

The reader meets the young James in his birthplace of Haiti. Then off he goes to France, then to America, where he travels the outback of the new country – and his artwork brings him back to the larger cities in search of a publisher for his work – and even to England for more publishing opportunities before he returns home to an America that finally recognized his work for the excellence it held.

Ms. Plain takes us on the journeys that Audubon underwent, as he observed new species, as he added to the knowledge of already known birds. These trips included the frontiers of Kentucky, the bayous of Louisiana, and the far reaches of the remote north end of the Missouri River. Audubon meets a variety of folks on his travels – the roughnecks in the local taverns, other naturalists who question his skills and abilities, and some Native Americans, who leave quite an impression on the artist/scientist.

Ms. Plain includes a large selection of the artwork of Audubon – from the smallest sparrow to the egrets and eagles. These pictures became the basis of the definitive book on the birds of America – and that book and those colorful drawings are still the standard of anyone who calls himself a ‘naturalist’, as Audubon often chose to call himself.

The book is billed for juveniles – starting with ten-year-old readers. Even with the great amount of illustrations, the text is extensive and the vocabulary is not for the beginning reader. The color illustrations are interesting to explore for the features of the bird and the habitat that is favored by that bird. Some of the illustrations are quite graphic when it came to the meat eating birds – causing controversy even when they first appeared in print. To add to the bird art, there are also some pictures of John James Audubon himself, and of some of the homes he lived in. Maps of the Audubon excursions would have been a good plus to include – perhaps such will show up in future editions of the book.

There is a strong historical value in this book for the young reader seeking to learn more about the man and his times – not only does Ms. Plain deliver deeper details about Audubon, but she also includes a solid basis of the first half of the 19th century of American History.

You can’t ask for much more.

Book Review: HUNDRED MILES TO NOWHERE: An Unlikely Love Story

HUNDRED MILESBook Review: HUNDRED MILES TO NOWHERE: An Unlikely Love Story
By Elisa Korenne
Published by North Star Press of St. Cloud, Minnesota
ISBN: 978-1-68201-064-8 (Paperback); 978-1-86201-080-8 (Ebook)
328 pages (Reader’s Guide and an Afterword follow the text)

In her memoir of her transition from Big City Girl to Small Town Citizen, Elisa Korenne describes her presence in central Minnesota as she transplants herself, a musician from New York City looking to improve her songwriting skills, to a small artsy town known as New York Mills, where she finds a new breed of people, one of whom becomes very important to her. It is a struggle in some ways, and a natural flow of her life in other ways. She takes the reader from day one (arriving in New York Mills, Minnesota from New York City, totally throwing anything resembling caution to any kind of wind) to the end of the book, where she finds she has become entirely comfortable in her new self that develops out of her New York Mills experiences.

We follow the love between Elisa Korenne and the man in her life, Chris. The two grow together and grow apart, and back together in ways that every couple faces. This is the ‘city mouse – country mouse’ element that the reader might expect – and the story is totally believable with every stressful moment and every tender scene that the couple shares.

There are other people here as well: her long-time friends in New York, her new friends in New York Mills; all of whom vary between nice, ordinary examples of Americana to eccentric folks formed by their surroundings – and of course, the families of Elisa and Chris. We find the landscapes of both places clearly described, often poetically – the big city has its manicured parks, its fine architecture, its robust and crowded traffic patterns. The small town has its serenity (and the boredom that often comes with it), its simple, slow life pace, and smaller vehicles (canoes and four wheelers) that would be out of place in New York. Ms. Korenne’s descriptions help the reader sense the qualities of both environments in every way possible.

Ms. Korenne’s adventures include outdoorsy tales of canoe trips and watching early morning birds in a field. Switch to the big city, and the reader is taking in the sounds and smells of city traffic – and indoorsy things like coffee at the local diner in the small town, singing for crowds in towns with populations smaller than her apartment building in her New York City days. Her writing for such goings-on include humor and an emotional range of pure joy to loathsome moments of conflict with even those closest to her. Guaranteed laughing moments: a wedding that features a blend of Jewish culture and Lutheran traditions, and an experiment in lost ways to experience adult language. Pieces of drama appear throughout as well – self-revelations, those outdoor adventures, and nasty weather top that list.

There’s a big difference in setting throughout: we find the hard-concrete world of the city, and just a few pages later, we find the hardscrabble existence of families who keep their houses barely tar-papered and sealed against the elements. The common element is Ms. Korenne’s literary vocabulary that keep the reader totally aware of every tree, every animal, every sound, taste and smell, and every twinge in her introspective mind and heart as she evolves into her new self – sometimes willingly, sometimes, not so sure about the whole idea. There’s a delightful, clear style here – literary, yet reader-friendly.

Suffice it to say, Elisa Korenne can verify that one can’t hail a taxi in front of the New York Mills Cenex gas station with a loud two-finger whistle any more than one can drop in on the Hello Deli just off Broadway in New York and order a pastrami on rye with a “Yah, sure, you betcha.” But, in the end, she sure makes her choice clear to the reader as she leads us through the years covering this memoir.

On the Fourth Anniversary of a Great Show . . .

church basement II

Here I am, four years ago with four talented ladies. This is one of my favorite shows I’ve ever done.

The show was CHURCH BASMENT LADIES; A SECOND HELPING. It is the second in a set of several shows that tells the story about the ladies who run the affairs of the kitchen in the basement of your basic Lutheran church in Minnesota. I played the pastor, who tried to keep these ladies somewhat on task. Let’s start with these four ladies, left to right:

SUE JOHNSON (yes, my wife) played Vivan Snustad, – the head, the leader, the ruler of the kitchen squad. Sue and I have done other shows together, but when we did the first Church Basement Ladies show, we just couldn’t resist when the Pequot Lakes Community Theatre scheduled the second one.

Sue was great! She enjoyed the part, she was funny, she sang up a storm. She brought out all of her tools and gave us one superb church basement lady.

Then there’s DANA GJOVIK RINGLER (she wasn’t RINGLER back then; Happy Wedding, Dana…) who played Beverly. We were stuck early in the casting of the show. We didn’t have someone to play the part of Beverly – and then, Dana was suggested. She was called, she came to a rehearsal, and fit right in – and it was her first community show ever. I sure hope there are more.

Side note: Dana is a former student of mine. One theatrical moment we shared: I directed the one act play for Pillager school one year, and Dana was one of the cast of that show. It was so special to connect again with her heartfelt Beverly, after having directed her in high school.

Like I said, Dana, I sure hope there are more.

Next is KATE DAVIS. She, along with Sue and me, was one of the cast in the first CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES for Pequot Lakes. She again took up the part of Karin, a young lady who is so very dedicated to working in the kitchen, and wants eventually to rise to the station now occupied by Vivian. Kate’s gentle humor and good singing gave a tender touch to the cast.

Kate has become one of the real leaders of the Pequot Lakes group – having been on stage for other shows, and even took on a directing chore, as well as some choreography – Kate, the multi-talented.

And then, there with her Jazz Hands out, is JANIS BEAR. She gave us the character of MAVIS, a lady prone to blurting out comical comments. Janis brings years of experience to the stage, having performed several times in the Brainerd Lakes area and down in Oklahoma, where she’s an English teacher and theater person who also had a good many directing credits to her name.

Janis (and her husband Dave) have been friends of ours for a long time – We go back to the 1980s, for heaven’s sake. Here’s to a friendship and theatrical experiences with the Bears – long may they continue.

I can’t close without mentioning the director of the show – AMY BORASH. Also a vet of stage acting, and of choreography and directing several shows. She led us into the script, taught us the dance steps, all with enthusiasm and positive words of encouragement. Not only that, she brought her girls to be backstage help – so thanks to Sylvia and Libby for all that. Amy also had a hip replaced during the rehearsal of the show, and didn’t miss a single session. Think about that for awhile.

So many others involved in putting on a show … Beth as our stage manager, the cooperation of the Pequot Lakes Community theatre and the Central Lakes College for having to stage the show in Brainerd –

Let me say that this kind of experience is why I’ve done community theatre, and will continue to do so.

MURDER BOOK by Frank F. Weber – A Review

Murder Book cover

MURDER BOOK
By Frank F. Weber
Published by North Star Press
Of St. Cloud, MN
Copyright 2017
ISBN 978-1-68201-068-6
263 pages

I live in central Minnesota, where the murder rate is quite low. However, according to author Frank Weber, when there is a murder in that locality, it comes from a dark world steeped in horror, suspense and a good dose of nastiness. Fortunately, the author also blends in some great forensic police work and characters who are believable, no matter what side of the law they favor.

Using actual towns and places (Little Falls, Pierz, Genola and the Black and White Café), we are introduced to a decade of interest in a cold case murder, farm families with ties to success and failure, and secrets that are better left as secrets.

We meet John Frederick, a native of the area, who has become an investigator for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He finds himself back home at the investigation of a missing ten-year-old child, but as he digs into the case, he finds threads to a different (yet very personal) case from ten years back. John is professional in his thinking, but his heart’s memory nearly compromises that work.

We meet Serena Bell, a lady that John knew back in those older times. She has retained her beauty, as well as her friendly ties with John. As they are reunited, other matters surface that she handles sometimes with innocence, sometimes with insecurity.

We meet the mind of a killer who manages to disguise such tendencies with the taciturn manner we have come to know as “Minnesota Nice” when it is to that killer’s advantage.

We meet a squad of criminologists who work together (mostly), finding themselves amid a crime that seems to lead everywhere and nowhere at the same time – or at least in circles.

We meet a team of townspeople as well, who work into the story in clever ways, thanks to the thoughtful writing of Mr. Weber.

The book reads nicely for someone like me who is not a big crime novel fan. Having lived in the area for forty years now, I know the locations and can imagine the surroundings as the events unfold – but I can also assure a new reader that the author writes in such a way that having been in Minnesota is a requirement before enjoying this novel.

The plot moves along quickly – I felt no slacking in the pace of the story, as is so common in some other crime novels I’ve read. At the right times, the suspense and tension ratchets up at a satisfying rate that will increase the reader’s blood pressure and raise the hairs on the back of one’s neck.

This is no pasteurized Saturday afternoon movie or the plotline of a MATLOCK episode. When you page through this one, you will be drawn into an adult world of crime, police work, personal failure and success, and even some passion.

I look forward to more crime novels from Frank Weber.