Book Report: Literary treats for the dog days
Summer will soon be upon us. Here's a pile of books, some light-hearted, some very serious, for readers to while away rainy days 'Up North.'
Ever since I began book reviewing 15 years ago, I've received scads of books about growing up -- growing up poor, growing up middle class, growing up with fine parents, growing up with no parents.
But almost all the growing up was done in the upper Midwest, most notably in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and once in awhile Iowa.
Never have I received a growing up book set in New York City, unless you count fiction (Philip Roth, et al.)
Recently I received a non-fiction book about growing up in New York City, in Yorkville, an immigrant neighborhood in Manhattan.
It's a lulu.
"Yorkville Twins, Hilarious Adventures Growing up in New York City, 1944-1962" by Joseph G. Gindele and John Gindele (Golden Valley Publishing LLC, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, www.YorkvilleTwinsBook.Com, $19.95).
I knew these guys casually many years ago when they both taught with my wife at Robbinsdale Senior High. They were a joyful twosome, and so I figured the book would be heartwarming and funny.
I wasn't disappointed.
The Gindeles tell first of their mom and dad, Czech and German immigrants, respectively, who make their way to Yorkville, after their father works for cruel landowners in Albertville, Minn., as an indentured servant.
They succeed in NYC, which is beautifully described by their sons as they get into what it was like to go to grade and high school in the Big Apple during a time of comparative innocence.
They profile their pals and their neighbors and do a fine job of recapturing in print the different dialects as those neighbors learn to speak English. Humor is always present and details, right down to what they ate for school lunches back in the 1940s and 1950s.
One of the brothers recalls that when they were grade schoolers the board of education would send the kids in their old run-down school to a dental college, where student dentists were allowed to practice on them if their folks couldn't afford to pay for the care.
To this day, at school reunions the topic of the dental "torture chamber" continues to pop up.
For all the tough times, however, the Gindeles grow up to receive advanced degrees and join the roster of immigrants' children who have made our country great.
One reviewer states that without books by guys like the Gindele twins, we'd lose the most important part of our history.
I'll second that notion.
"Crazy Rich Asians," by Kevin Kwan (Doubleday, $25.95) is a book to pack off to the beach next month.
One reviewer said it's so fascinating she couldn't put down the book to watch "Downton Abbey." High praise indeed.
The book is a romantic romp into the modern Asian jet set when a Chinese boyfriend invites his girlfriend Rachel, an American-born Chinese, to spend the summer with him and his family in Singapore.
Rachel has no idea how rich the boy's family is.
They dine on gold plates, live in a palace. His mother looks down her nose at her son's American friend.
Author Plum Sykes best describes "Crazy Rich Asians" as a Chinese "Dallas" meets "Pride and Prejudice."
Wisconsin keeps popping up in the history of American politics, as evidenced by two new books.
First, there's' "Worse than the Devil," by Dean A. Strang (University of Wisconsin Press, $26.95, paper), which tells the story of how defense attorney Clarence Darrow came to Milwaukee and did battle with the forces of racism and intolerance in 1917 when several Italian immigrants anarchists were unfairly accused of bombing a Milwaukee police station in that era when the country was at war in Europe and everyone feared new arrivals from that continent.
Strang, a Madison criminal defense attorney and UW law school professor, grinds exceedly fine and parades governmental figures across his broad canvas, including Wisconsin governor John Blaine, who was caught up in his attempt to commute sentences of two of the Italians, who were summarily deported.
And if you're not sick of hearing about the famous Wisconsin recall controversy, there's another new book out by two Milwaukee Journal- Sentinel reporters.
Jason Stein and Patrick Marley have just published "More Than They Bargained For: Scott Walker, Unions and the Fight for Wisconsin" (University of Wisconsin Press, $26.95 paper).
Dave Wood is a past-vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.