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It has been almost 40 years since my wife and I spent our honeymoon in Rome. The sights of the Eternal City, from the Colosseum to St. Peter's, from St. Paul's Outside the Walls to the Pantheon are etched in our minds, well, I guess, eternally. And so we have returned to that fabled city many, many times and cannot seem to get enough of it -- or even to scratch the surface. Friends say, "Rome again? Isn't it about time you get it right?
A reprint of a 1990 book just re-done by the University of Minnesota Press makes me feel very good. Very good indeed. See, when I was growing up only rich people went fishing for game fish in the Great Lakes, the not-so-great lakes and trout streams like the Brule. Those of us poor people who were nearly landlocked had to settle for the muddy little stream that flowed through our towns. My river was the Trempealeau, where municipalities, cheese factories, creameries and slaughterhouses had been dumping raw sewage, whey, cow guts into it for decades.
As I've mentioned before, I love to read books that embrace a specific locale. In fact I got started reading when I was in high school and someone told me about Sinclair Lewis, a writer who grew up in a small town, like me.
"Your Heart Belongs to Me," is not a sappy Tin Pan Alley lyric, but the title of a new thriller by Dean Koontz (Bantam, $27).
"Red osier dogwood, the Indians called it kinnickinnic, took inside their lungs smoke from the bark mixed with bear root and tobacco leaves.
John Gregory Schmitt, age 76, of Gordon and Baldwin, Wis., formerly of St. Paul and Farmington, Minn., died Thursday, September 18, 2008 at the Baldwin Care Center in Baldwin. A Celebration of John's Life will be 11 a.m. Tuesday, September 23 at Trinity Lutheran Church, 600 Walnut Street, Farmington, Minn. Burial with full military honors will be at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis with active casketbearers being his former comrades; the Metropolitan Airport Fire Department. Visitation will be Monday from 5-7 p.m.
A few years back I read that not too many decades ago, New York Harbor was one of the richest and busiest seaports in the world. These days its chief activity is shipping out crushed cardboard packing boxes. The cardboard packing boxes had arrived earlier in New York full of television sets manufactured in Japan. How sad. One fellow who would probably find it sad is Joseph Mitchell, who loved to write about old New York. Mitchell grew up in North Carolina and moved to New York in 1929.
There's a passel of interesting biographies out this month. Over the years I'd read passing references to one Marcus Garvey, the black philosopher and activist who began the back-to-Africa movement. There's a new biography of Garvey just out that is fascinating in its depiction of Garvey's rise to power and his almost instant demise. It's "Negro with a Hat," by Colin Grant (Oxford University Press, $27.95). Although Garvey attracted a huge following in the 1920s, he also had his share of detractors, including his fellow black philosopher, W.E.B.
As a big Helen Mirren fan, I dove into her new memoir like a bobbysoxer and her new copy of Photoplay. Mirren's "Helen Mirren: In the Frame" (Atria Books, $35) is a joy in both its narrative and graphics. In fact, it reminds me more of a personal photo album than a standard autobiography, which usually separates text from the ubiquitous glossy pages full of tiny photos. Mirren's book, on the other hand, begins with photos from her family's past in Russia, where her aristocratic grandfather was an emissary for Czar Nicholas II.
Here's a potpourri of books to get you through the shortest month of the year. "The Expeditions," by Karl Iagnemma (Dial, $4) is an intensely crafted historical novel that begins in the Detroit of the 1840s and moves on to the Upper Peninsula as our hero Elisha Stone goes on an expedition of discovery. Before he leaves Detroit, he writes to his mother back in Massachusetts. Unbeknownst to Elisha his mother has died, so his estranged father, a preacher, reads the letter and sets out to find his son.