There's a book about Russ Feingold? You betcha. Or there will be by late July, the publication date for Feingold: A New Democratic Party (Simon & Schuster) by Sanford Horwitt.
Horwitt, a Milwaukee native, is a book reviewer, policy analyst and the author of a previous book, Let Them Call Me Rebel, a biography of Chicago community organizer Saul Alinsky. He became interested in Feingold after his close 1998 reelection campaign: "That election got a lot of national attention." At that time, Horwitt came back to Wisconsin from his home in Virginia to sit in on several of Feingold's state listening sessions and thought the man (the myth! the legend!) would make a good topic for a book that would interest a wider audience than just Wisconsinites.
Since 2000, when Horwitt started the research in earnest, Feingold has obviously gained in prominence, in part because of his lone vote in 2001 opposing the U.S. Patriot Act. That was the point, Horwitt feels, when Feingold became "a hero to tens of thousands of people." His opposition to the Iraq war and his work on campaign finance reform have made Feingold "perhaps the most authentic progressive figure" in politics today. Sure, but tell us something we don't know.
Horwitt admits he didn't uncover that many surprises in his research, and no skeletons in the closet. "I didn't have any big preconceptions one way or the other when I started the book," Horwitt says in a telephone interview. But something outsiders may not realize is that the senator has "a terrific sense of humor, something he maybe got from his dad." He's a bit of a practical joker and a great mimic, "almost professional level," and does a good Jesse Helms and George W. He's also a fan of Larry David's HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm.
However, Horwitt stresses this is a political biography, and while he does relate stories of Feingold's youth in Janesville and his UW-Madison student days, he does not get into Feingold's personal life. Both of his ex-wives are private people, and Horwitt respected that. However, Horwitt did interview Feingold's siblings and had a number of interviews with Feingold himself (although this is not an "authorized biography"). He also had the opportunity to chat more informally with the senator during lunch breaks when following him on the listening-session trail.
"The argument of the book is that the Dems would be more successful if they were more like Feingold," says Horwitt. And after studying the man, does Horwitt have any insight as to whether Feingold might accept a VP slot, if it were offered to him? "I have no real idea," he says, but guesses that he might, since it's now "a significant job, with considerable influence and power." Horwitt will discuss the book Aug. 7 at Borders-West and will also appear at the Wisconsin Book Festival in October.
One of the nice things about writing a local book news column is that, more often than you might think, a book comes across my desk with a familiar name on it (e.g. Toby Cecchini's Cosmopolitan, Judy Merrill Larsen's All the Numbers) - someone I knew in college who went on to write and publish a book. In the case of Laurie Lindeen, it's someone I went to grade school with. Lindeen has a big-time book out - Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story (Atria Books), a memoir concerning her years as a woman rocker and adventures in the indie rock world. From my point of view, it's the story of how a young woman overcomes a youth spent as a La Follette High School cheerleader and goes on to start a rock band, but that's another story. Actually, that is part of the story. Lindeen sketches her childhood and teen years on Madison's east side with some spot-on observations of the 1970s, that miserable decade, then moves on to her UW-Madison years in the early '80s, all in the context of breaking free from the strictures of same as the leader of the all-female indie band Zuzu's Petals, based in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Much of Petal Pusher concerns the band and the adventures of touring with a low- to no-budget operation, but the heart of the memoir is about trying to find herself creatively amid family and health issues (Lindeen learned she had MS when in her early 20s). Of course, some readers may only be interested in the book because of Lindeen's husband, singer/songwriter and Replacement Paul Westerberg.
And indeed, Westerberg is part of the story. While Lindeen says she's more comfortable opening up personally in a public forum than her husband, "neither of us interferes with each other's creative process." And all of what's written here concerns events from a long time ago. Early on, Lindeen's editor said that Westerberg either had to be developed more as a character or dropped altogether, "and that wasn't going to happen," she says, with him too much a part of the story to omit.
An English major at the UW-Madison, Lindeen eventually went back to school to get an MFA in creative writing, which she recommends even for older students or someone who's already a writer, for the community, the lessons in sustaining a longer manuscript and a "couple years of editorial help."
Certainly the book establishes Lindeen as a restless seeker. She's currently working on two new books, a collection of narrative essays and something that may be a sequel to Petal Pusher - or what may turn into a work of fiction.
Lindeen will read from and discuss Petal Pusher June 22 at Borders-West.
Madison-based Bleak House Books ("publisher of dark literary and crime fiction") has three new mysteries out this spring: Soul Patch, the fourth in the Moe Prager mystery series by Reed Farrel Coleman of Long Island, N.Y.; Dead Madonna, the eighth in the Loon Lake series by Victoria Houston, who "lives, writes and fishes" in northern Wisconsin; and Twin Killing, the third in the Monona Quinn series by Marshall Cook of Madison. Bleak House books has the best tagline in publishing, by the way: "The future is Bleak." Take that, Simon & Schuster. In the meantime, Bleak House has embraced 21st-century technology, with both a blog and podcasts reaching out to readers. The blog announces book-release parties and author appearances. The podcasts (thefutureisbleak.libsyn.com) cheerfully address such topics as "pizza, the battle between what's good and what'll sell, and other publishing things" (May 25) or feature interviews with BH authors or blog-lebrities like "Nathan Cain, book reviewer, blogger and the man behind indiecrime.blogspot.com" (May 23).
"I'm someone who's always impressed by the power of the Web, especially new technologies," says Bleak House's Ben Leroy, generator of the podcasts. "Now there's the vlog, the video blog, which I'm getting into." Podcasts, blogs, vlogs and the like are important to the sense of community for a particular subset of readers, like mystery fans, and anything that brings the community together further is good, says Leroy. Library Journal recently published an article including Bleak House as being on the cutting edge of using technology for marketing and community. While the podcasts may not deal with a Bleak House book directly, anything that gets the audience to "look at the author as a friend" is to the good, says Leroy. "And it's more fun than budgets and spreadsheets."
The 2007 Wisconsin Book Festival will be the first to center on a theme, which is "domestic tranquility," says director Alison Jones Chaim. This dovetails with the subject of this year's "A More Perfect Union/Wisconsin Reads" program. The topic "can be interpreted a number of different ways," says Jones Chaim - covering areas as disparate as gun rights, violence, the human relationship with the land and immigration, as well as the homier connotations the phrase evokes.
Jones Chaim is thrilled that Michael Cunningham will be appearing this year, as well as Rick Bass, Brian Bouldrey, T.C. Boyle, Patricia Hampl and Terry Tempest Williams. Other Madison-area authors slated to appear include e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Jacqueline Mitchard, James Baughman, Susan Elbe, Ron Ellis, CX Dillhunt, Jean Feraca, Max Garland, Rep. David Obey, Ben Percy, Andrea Potos, Matthew Rothschild, Shoshauna Shy and Judith Strasser.
Madison's Jones Books adds another guidebook to its list, the conveniently pocket-size Golf Wisconsin: The Official Guide to the State's Top 25 Public Courses (and 50 more fun places to play) by Jeff "Wispolitics.com" Mayers and Jerry Poling. Madison golfers will be crushed to learn that only University Ridge makes the top 25. (The Bergamont in Oregon, Meadows of Sixmile Creek in Waunakee, and Glenway in Madison make the "50 more" list.) Mayers will discuss the book at Barnes & Noble-West on June 14.
Joanne Raetz Stuttgen and Isthmus contributor Terese Allen have collaborated on the tempting Cafe Wisconsin Cookbook (University of Wisconsin Press), a collection of recipes from one of the state's endangered species, the small-town diner. Allen tested all 150 recipes - nice work if you can get it. For the cafe lover, this is a guidebook, a way to make favorite dishes from diners now closed, and a way to avoid a drive all the way to Crandon just to try the corned beef hash from the Log Cabin Cafe. (On the other hand, when in Crandon, do as the Crandonians.)
"Some of the quirky recipes, like the Piggly Wiggly salad and the Bob Burger, five inches of different flavors, are getting a lot of attention," says Allen. And although Country Gals, the cafe in Wonewoc that featured this favorite, is closed, "The Snickers Salad lives on!" (It's really more of a dessert.) Allen had fun translating "what a chef cooks into words." A personal favorite? The roasts and pies from OJ's Midtown Restaurant in Gillett.
Another worthy addition to your local travel bookshelf is Margaret Beattie Bogue's updated edition of Around the Shores of Lake Superior: A Guide to Historic Sites (University of Wisconsin Press). Although the book looks more like a textbook than a travel guide, there's no test at the end - just an orderly compendium of sometimes overlooked sites on the Lake Superior Circle Tour. Bogue travels around the lake clockwise, so if you want to go counterclockwise, you'll have to read the book backwards.
Mary Bergin has taken first-place honors from the Society of American Travel Writers-Central States for her useful guidebook Sidetracked in Wisconsin (Itchy Cat Press). She won honors from the group for the book's photographs, as well. You can read this one backwards or forwards - it's all good.
Forthcoming: American Players Theatre star Jim DeVita is publishing his second book for young adults, The Silenced (HarperCollins), later this month. He will be reading from it at the Ashman Branch of the Madison Public Library at 4 p.m. and the Central Library at 7 p.m., both on July 16. Jacquelyn Mitchard's newest novel, Still Summer (Warner), is due out at the end of August. It's a thriller about four friends stranded on a yacht in the Caribbean. She's also contributed an essay to the collection Altared: Bridezillas, Bewilderment, Big Love, Breakups, and What Women Really Think About Contemporary Weddings (Vintage).
Listen up: Allen Ruff will read from his debut novel Save Me, Julie Kogon at Avol's on June 10 and at University Book Store-Hilldale on June 21.
Borders-West has the heaviest summer slate of events: UW-Madison journalism prof James Baughman will discuss his Same Time, Same Station on June 12. UW medical history professor Gregg Mitman will discuss his Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape Our Lives and Our Landscapes on June 14. Ellen Baker, of northern Wisconsin, will read from her debut novel Keeping the House (Random House) on Aug. 9. Keep your eyes open for Nancy Horan's novel Loving Frank (Random House), to be published in August, an imagining of the infamous affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. She will read Sept. 9.
Bill Campbell will read from My Booty Novel at Star Books on June 18.