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Recently New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that years ago the motto was as "General Motors Goes, So Goes the Nation." He followed by saying, "I'm very glad that isn't true today." That's an understatement. I've just finished reading "Sixty to Zero," by Alex Taylor III (Yale University Press, $26). Taylor, a senior editor at Fortune magazine, cut his journalistic teeth covering the auto industry for the Detroit Free Press.
"The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows," by Jacqueline Cobian West, black and white illustrations by Polly Bernatene (Dial Press, $16.99), just blew me away. I must confess I didn't approach the book with much enthusiasm because adolescent novels aren't usually my cup of tea, unless you count Jon Hassler's early forays into the genre. But the author went to school in the town where I live and now dwells in nearby Red Wing, Minn., and I loved the book of poetry, "Cherma," which the University of Wisconsin Press published recently.
Years back I remember hearing WCCO's Ray Christensen and the late Dave Moore reminisce about when they were neighbors growing up in south Minneapolis. Times were tough, there was little money for entertainment, but one of them had a "baseball" game up in his parents' unfinished attic. I don't know if many people remember them, but disks represented players and teams from the major leagues. You put one of your disks -- say Joe DiMaggio -- and you spun a dial, which would end on a number that indicated whether he had struck out, hit a double, a single or whatever.
Back in 1920, Edgar Lee Masters, who grew up in a small Midwestern college town wrote a wonderful book of poems about the kind of people who settled his town of Galesburg, Ill. He called it "Spoon River Anthology," after the classical custom of writing messages on tombstones of the dead. Ninety years later, a River Falls native, Jacqueline Cobian West, has written "Cherma" (University of Wisconsin/Parallel Press). Unlike Masters, Cobian West's characters don't have Yankee names like Lucinda or Boone Matlock.
Here's a book that the fans of the late Jon Hassler have been waiting for. It's "Conversations With Jon Hassler," by Joseph Plut (Nodin Press, $19.95 paper). And you don't even have to be a fan to appreciate what Plut has done. We all know about author interviews, like the ones that appear periodically in The Paris Review.
As a wee tad, I saw a movie called "The Harvey Girls," starring Judy Garland and a bevy of '40s beauties. I thought it told the story of how a restaurateur named Fred Harvey recruited a bevy of '40s beauties to work in his restaurants along a railroad line called "The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe," which won the Oscar for best song that year. Later, when I first traveled the new interstate in Illinois, I ate in one of its overhead restaurants run by the Fred Harvey Company. I thought I knew it all about Fred Harvey's operation. Turns out I didn't know the half of it.
The Minnesota Twins have a new ballpark and player who now makes $157,00 per game and also a new book by a reporter well-qualified to tell the story of how the Washington Senators came to Minneapolis and became the Twins. "We're Gonna Win Twins!" (University of Minnesota Press, $25.95) is by Doug Grow, longtime sports reporter and later general columnist for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. As that newspaper grows smaller and smaller, it is bittersweet to read the work of one of the journalists who wrote in that fine newspaper's heyday.
The novel I'm about to discuss reminds me of the work of my boss at the Star Tribune, Charles W. Bailey II, co-authored; a novel that sticks in my head. It was called "Seven Days in May," a thriller about an attempted military takeover of the presidency, starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. I once asked Bailey if he and co-author Fletcher Knebel made a lot of money on the movie. "We sold the movie rights before the book became so popular.
In 2003, Minneapolis native Samuel Hynes, retired Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature at Princeton University, wrote a wonderful book, "The Growing Seasons," about what life was like growing up in south Minneapolis in the 1930s. It received national acclaim in such newspapers as the New York Times. It most certainly should have won the Minnesota Book Award for autobiography (I read all those shortlisted that year), but, of course, it didn't. I can never figure out those awards.
I try not to read other reviewers' takes on books I plan to review myself. Sometimes it's unavoidable. But whenever it is, it's usually surprising. Recently I read a review of a regionally produced book that I hadn't yet received. The reviewer, from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, didn't like it much. The book was about the relatively new conductor of the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra. In essence the reviewer said it was much too detailed and added that the author should have waited until the conductor was dead or dying before he lionized him in print.