Dave Wood's Book Report, June 25, 2007
My friend Lou Gland, retired Ombudsman at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, called me the other day after a silence of several years.
"What's the occasion, Lou?"
"I just read a story in the New York Times and it made me think of you."
"What was it about?"
"It asked the question 'Are Book Reviewers Obsolete' and the answer was 'Yes they are.'"
We both had a chuckle over that, but the state of book reviewing is at a critical juncture. The New York Times story reported the closing down of several book review sections in the country, including a wonderful section in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one of my favorites.
Even in our neighborhood, one can notice a decline in the number of book reviews that appear. Last month, the Star Tribune averaged four reviews per Sunday. The Pioneer Press which formerly ran two pages of book news on Sunday is now down to one page.
But here at The Book Report, we just keep cranking them out and try to mention regional books as well as national books, a policy that will be impossible for major newspapers to do if they close down their sections and depend on wire service reviews from places like the Associated Press, which can't do local reviews and does a pretty miserable job with national reviews.
A fellow from California named Richard Lloyd Scheck phoned me the other day. He's originally from Hudson, Wis., and thus sees Book Report from time to time. He was impressed with a review I did of Hudson native Don Lineman's self-published book about his St. Croix County family.
Scheck wondered if I could make mention of his books about his family, entitled "Apache Roots and St. Croix Branches: The German Settlement of Hudson, Wisconsin" and "St. Croix Roots: Life and times of Two Ed Meyers." Both tell the story of German immigration into the Hudson area in the 19th century. Both are full of pictures of everything from women's fashions of the time to farm implements to descriptions of the annual ice harvests.
Scheck from time to time dips into the old press clippings from the Hudson Star-Observer, one of which announced that morals were improving in and around Hudson. He's not afraid of poetry, either, and includes homespun verse by Ann M. Schwa Len Stickle.
These are not books for everyone, but they'll appeal to more than Scheck's relatives. Both books tell a good deal about immigration, the spirit of the pioneers and what happened to their descendents. Both books are available for $28, at Richard Scheck, 1130 Rexford Av. Pasadena, CA 91107.
Colin Woodward has urged me into a new attitude toward pirates. He states that writers like Robert Louis Stevenson and characters like Long John Silver have skewed our view of these high seas adventurers. In a beautifully researched book, "The Republic of Pirates," (Harcourt, $27) Woodward chronicles a brief chapter in piracy in the 18th century, when pirates of many nationalities banded together as a political group, to foster everything from racial tolerance to the revival of the Stuarts in England.
For my money, it makes a better story than "Treasure Island." And it's true!
Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. E-Mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.