Bill Holm RIP

February 28, 2009

m3421419Bill Holm died on Wednesday, February 25.  It feels like Minnesota has lost one of it’s letters.  He was a writer that really was larger than life.  I can’t add much to the tributes and obituaries I’ve read so I’ll share a story.  If you need the details of his life the Star Tribune has published them here.  

Bill gave a reading at Carleton a few years ago.  I picked him up at the airport in Faribault and drove him to Northfield.  We talked about the reading habits of college students and books the entire ride.  He walked into Great Hall  and declared “I’ve always wanted to give a reading in a room like this.”  Bill was in perfect form that evening.  He played the piano, sang, read some poems, and a couple of essays from Eccentric Islands.  It’s what a reading should be.  The audience loved it and so did Bill.  

Jim Harrison described Bill this way:  “Bill is not larger than life, he’s as big as life, which is as large as anyone gets.”   So tonight I raise my glass and toast the great Minnesotan Bill Holm. I welcome your comments.

Turtle Catcher-Midwest Connections

February 24, 2009

“I loved Nicole Helget’s The Turtle Catcher. So many stories cover happy times growing up on a farm in poverty. Thisturtlecatcher_md1 beautifully written story, however, captures the gritty, oppressive life on a farm in hard times. The story follows two families in a German immigrant community in Minnesota during and after World War I. The beginning will blow you away! Best of luck to Nicole on another terrific book!” – Susie Fruncillo, Lake Country Booksellers, White Bear Lake, MN

A stand-out fiction debut by a prize-winning young writer. The Summer of Ordinary Ways, Nicole Helget’s fierce and lyrical memoir of growing up on a Minnesota dairy farm, was a favorite of critics and booksellers and received widespread acclaim. People magazine hailed the young author’s ability to “take the messiest of lives and fashion something beautiful.”

Here in her first novel, Helget turns her extraordinary sensibility to a haunting love story with a heinous crime at its core. In a rural Minnesota town of German immigrants in the tumultuous days of World War I, The Turtle Catcher brings together two misfits from warring clans. Liesel, the one girl in the upstanding family of Richter boys, harbors a secret about her body that thwarts all hope for a normal life. Her closest friend is Lester, the “slow” boy in the raffish Sutter family, a gentle, kind soul who spends his days trapping turtles in the lake. Yearning for human touch in the wake of her parents’ deaths, Liesel turns to her only friend-leading her brother, just returned from the war, to an act that will haunt not only both families but the entire town.

Helget’s novel is a story of loyalty and betrayal that, like her earlier book, proves her uncommon understanding of the natural world and human frailties. Both moving and heartfelt, The Turtle Catcher confirms this young writer’s exceptional talent.

NICOLE HELGET was born in 1976 and grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, a childhood and place she drew on in the writing of her memoir, The Summer of Ordinary Ways. She received her BA and an MFA in creative writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She now lives with her family in Mankato, Minnesota. NPR’s Scott Simon awarded The Turtle Catcher the Tamarack Prize from Minnesota Monthly based on the novel’s first chapter.


Irreplaceable-Midwest Connections

February 23, 2009



“Stephen Lovely’s debut novel is wise, heartbreaking, funny, and human in every possible way. In this debut novel, he manages to humanize the sterile world of heart transplants, the faceless victims and lucky receivers of their organs, and the families who are touched forever by happenstance. IRREPLACEABLE is unforgettable. I simply love this book.”
– Ann Hood, author of Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine

“You may think you know the drama at the center of this accomplished debut novel: the agony and the joy that attends a heart transplant operation. Please, think again. Stephen Lovely has imagined his way deep into to the lives of his characters and evoked their varied experiences with remarkable insight and eloquence. In his sure hands it’s all been made new -the desperate grief, the wonder of a reclaimed life. IRREPLACEABLE is a rich, poignant and powerful book.”
– John Dalton, author of Heaven Lake

“Lovely’s debut novel, a touching journey of the heart, tracks what happens to two Midwestern families after a death and a gift of life…..Lovely thoughtfully weaves the tales of these two families together, tracing the realities of love and loss of all kinds as Alex attempts to move on, the man who was driving the truck that killed Isabel begins popping up in unexpected places, and Janet seeks out Alex and Isabel’s mother to thank them and express her guilt and empathy. Lovely does a great job of staying out of sappy melodrama as the gravity of Isabel’s death pulls the cast together in memorable fashion. The delicate handling of loaded material, attention to detail and depth of character make this a standout.”
– Publishers Weekly, starred review

One windy April afternoon, a young woman bicycles alone along a stretch of Iowa highway. She’s pedaling hard, hurrying to get home in time for dinner…

Alex Voormann is a cerebral thirty-year-old archaeologist married to the woman of his dreams-a beautiful, ambitious botanist named Isabel. When Isabel, an organ donor, is killed by a reckless driver, Alex reluctantly consents to donate her heart.

Janet Corcoran is a young, headstrong mother of two, an art teacher at an inner-city school in Chicago. Sick with heart disease, she is on the waiting list for a transplant, but her chances are slim. She watches the Weather Channel, secretly praying for foul weather and car accidents, a miracle. The day Isabel dies, she gets her wish.

Flash forward a year. Janet sends Alex a long letter. She’d like to learn something about the woman who saved her life. Alex isn’t interested in talking to the recipient of his dead wife’s heart. Since Isabel’s accident, he’s become grief-stricken and bewildered. His closest companion is his mother-in-law, Bernice. They spend their nights reminiscing about Isabel and hiding out from the world. Meanwhile, a local blues musician named Jasper, the man responsible for Isabel’s death, attempts to atone for his misdeed. Jasper is devastated by the knowledge that he destroyed a life but attracted to the idea that he was partially responsible for saving another life-Janet’s. He sees her as his ultimate salvation.

IRREPLACEABLE is the story of what happens after the transplant-not only to Alex but within the concentric circles of family that spiral outward from him and from Janet. Stephen Lovely takes us vividly inside the lives of these characters to reveal their true intentions-however misguided-and gives us a stunning debut novel of loss and love.

STEPHEN LOVELY is the director of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, and IRREPLACEABLE is his first novel. He graduated from Kenyon College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. For seven years he worked as a night clerk in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where the idea for his novel was born. He lives in Iowa City, IA.

The Rose Variations

February 21, 2009



“Like its heroine, this novel is thoroughly likable. . . . Chamberlain’s creation of a character real, rich, and sympathetic enough to merit our interest and, even, to earn our advocacy. And that is a success on a scale that any musical, or literary, prodigy might hope for.”
– Minneapolis Star-Tribune, February 2, 2009

“Rose MacGregor is my kind of heroine-funny and serious, dreamy but brutally practical when it’s called for; someone blissfully inconsistent-like the rest of us.”
– Judith Guest, author of Ordinary People

“It’d be hard to find a more contemporary view of the sexual dilemma, but I couldn’t help thinking how much Shakespeare, Mozart, and Jane Austen would have savored this novel.”
– David  Huddle, author of La Tour Dreams of the Wolf Girl

THE ROSE VARIATIONS is one of those rare novels that captures the complexity of a life lived over time, and does so in beautiful, eloquent prose. A brilliant debut.”
– Margot Livesey, author of The House of Fortune Street

THE ROSE VARIATIONS is the story of twenty-five-year-old Rose MacGregor who, in 1975, moves from Philadelphia to St. Paul, Minnesota, where she knows no one and has nothing but a few books, her cello and a temporary professorship at a Midwestern college. She is convinced nevertheless that an exciting future as a composer lies ahead of her. Determined to remain independent and not to let any romantic relationships tie her down, she struggles to figure out what exactly would make her happy, getting mixed up along the way with many short-lived love affairs, a bearded lesbian cellist, and her wayward pregnant younger sister.

This novel will inspire both heated discussions and nods – and groans! – of recognition among women in their 20s and older, who will feel an immediate bond with Rose and her tangle of misguided choices, confused emotions, and ardor.

marishachamberlain-smMARISHA CHAMBERLAIN is a playwright, poet, fiction writer, essayist, and screenwriter. Her work has won the CBS/Dramatists Guild National Award and Best of American Public Television at the British Film Institute and appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. Her book of poems, Powers, won a Minnesota Voices Award. She lives in Hastings, Minnesota. This is her first novel.


Nature’s Second Chance

February 21, 2009



“In his account, both personal and visionary, of the restoration of his eighty-acre farm, Steven

 Apfelbaum makes a passionate plea for the respect and conservation of our ecosystems. Listen to him. In a time when twelve-thousand-year-old landscapes can be bulldozed in a matter of hours, it is

 essential to take to take his words to heart.”- Jane Brox, author of Clearing Land: Legacies of the American Farm

Renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold once wrote, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it does otherwise.” Years after his passing, his land ethic as embodied in these words is a centerpiece for the modern conservation and ecological restoration movement in America and around the world.

Few have taken Leopold’s vision more to heart than Steven Apfelbaum, who has, over the last thirty years, transformed his 80-acre Stone Prairie Farm in Wisconsin into a biologically diverse ecosystem of prairie, wetland, spring-fed brook, and savanna. 

NATURE’S SECOND CHANCE: Restoring the Ecology of Stone Prairie Farm is the story of that transformation as well as of the work of the firm Apfelbaum started, first restoring neighboring farms, then neighboring states, and now land in countries around the world.

NATURE’S SECOND CHANCE breathes with a refreshing air of ecological possibility, drawing from the author’s personal story of how he has, with help, succeeded in turning back the clock on development to give nature-and humanity-a second chance at sustaining healthy ecosystems. Apfelbaum’s story demonstrates how humans might play a starring role in healing the planet by implementing Leopold’s land ethic, one farm, lot, or brown field at a time.

Planet Bike

February 13, 2009

Planet Bike is small company based in Madison WI.  They make lights and other bicycle accessories. Planet Bike also believes in bike advocacy. A belief I share.  nichiablurbThe folks at Planet Bike stand behind their beliefs by donating 25% of company profits to grassroots bicycle advocacy groups. This Monkey believes bicycling should be fun and safe at the same time.  We will start selling some of Planet Bike’s equipment in the near future.  Not a lot of stuff, but just a few accessories for cyclists.  

The Blaze and Superflash combo pack is the light set I use on my Africabike.  The Superflash is probably the best tail light on the planet. We’ve order some locks to keep your bike safe and a couple of peace pumps to keep air in your tires.  We’ve also picked up some messenger bags and lights from an Australian company named knog.

If you want to read more about Planet Bike and what they do, check out the advocacy section of their website.3040 I love this quote by Gandhi on their website: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam

February 11, 2009



CHARLATAN is an amazing story, incredibly told. Writer Pope Brock — actor; feature journalist for GQ, Rolling Stone, Esquire and Life; and author of Indiana Gothic — is uniquely equipped to tell the story of one of the most bizarre and colorful characters to come out of Kansas. Meet John Brinkley, huckster extraordinary, the man who directly or indirectly helped bring both border radio and the AMA into existence.”
– Sarah Bagby, Watermark Books & Café, Wichita, KS

“Told with uproarious brio…heavenly…A book so lively that its wild stories are virtually wall-to-wall.”
– Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“You will devour CHARLATAN, Pope Brock’s tale of fools and fanatics. With a vast and wild cast of characters, and filled with issues and topics that resonate through the years CHARLATAN begs comparison with Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City and deserves to be a bestseller.”
– Chicago Tribune

“A rollicking biography-at turns funny and horrifying, brimming with wit, insight and who-knew facts…Brock’s prose is a joy to read, bold and colorful and a little irreverent…CHARLATAN reads like a novel-but no one could make this stuff up.”
– Wichita Eagle

In 1917, having no medical training aside from years of selling worthless patent cures, “Dr.” John Brinkley opens a medical practice in the tiny town of Milford, Kansas. Fifteen years later, he’s become America’s most famous surgeon, having pioneered an outlandish and highly dangerous method for restoring male virility.

It’s pure flimflam, of course, but this is the Age of Flimflam, when toxic snake-oil tonics sell under hundreds of brand names and traveling minstrel shows hawk bizarre machines that supposedly cure everything from cancer to the common cold.

Chicago firebrand intellectual Morris Fishbein, editor of a little-read publication called the Journal of the American Medical Association, has done more than anyone else in fighting this tidal wave of charlatanism, and he makes it his life’s mission to bring Brinkley down. Assisted by such luminaries as H. L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis, Fishbein launches offensive after offensive. Yet each time Fishbein closes a door, Brinkley opens a window, eventually becoming America’s most popular broadcaster so that he can plug his services on the radio. While murdering dozens of patients, he runs for governor of Kansas and nearly wins. Finally, his decades-long cat-and-mouse game with Fishbein culminates in a spellbinding trial.

CHARLATAN is a marvelous portrait of a boundlessly audacious rogue on the loose in an America that was ripe for the bamboozling.

POPE BROCK is the author of Indiana Gothic, the story of the murder of his great-grandfather. He lives in upstate New York.





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