Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Little Saigons: Staying Vietnamese in America

Karin Aguilar-San Juan is associate professor of American studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN.

With a comparative and race-cognizant approach, Karin Aguilar-San Juan explores how Vietnamese refugees and immigrants retain their identities in the U.S. in her new book, Little Saigons: Staying Vietnamese in America. She agreed to answer a few questions with regard to her book's content, its cover image (which was taken by her), and thoughts about Vietnamese American communities today and their popular-culture depictions (The O.C., The Real Housewives of Orange County, etc.).

Q: What's the story behind your book's compelling cover photo? Where was it taken and who does it feature?

I took this photo in January 1999. It was during the time of the protests in Orange County’s Little Saigon, sparked by a storeowner and a poster image of Ho Chi Minh. Many days before, the storeowner had been escorted out of his Hi-Tek video shop by a SWAT team in full riot gear. He had made several incendiary statements about “freedom” (timed with Martin Luther King Day) that did not sit well with certain groups of Vietnamese -- particularly those who are ex-political prisoners. Many of those men spent up to 15 years in political detention in Viet Nam; for good reasons, their rage constantly simmers.

In addition to fully armed police from several surrounding cities, the Hi-Tek riots brought dozens or maybe hundreds of ordinary Vietnamese people to the area. They filled the parking lot with speeches, rallies, flags, banners, and exhibits. It seemed to be both angry and also festive, as any large gathering might become over time. There are two people visible in my photograph. I don’t know them. They were standing near a booth where people were making small paper versions of the South Vietnamese flag.

Q: What are the most striking differences between the Vietnamese American communities in Orange County and in Boston? You have lived in each community at some point; what were your reasons for choosing to study and compare these two locations?

I was born in Boston and I lived there for over a decade. Things there seem “normal” to me. My first impressions of Orange County were shock and morbid fascination. It was like stepping into a bad TV show. The sun always shines, the palm trees sway in the breeze, and every visible person is white and very rich. Every lawn looks like a golf course. It reminded me of the kids' book A Wrinkle in Time, in which suburbs are terrifying for reasons no one can explain.

Sociologically, it made perfect sense [for this book] compare these two places. They are so different. But Vietnamese Americans seem to like each place well enough to call each one “home.” There was a puzzle about place and community, and that was a good impulse to follow.

(keep reading)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Books, deconstructed

G. Pascal Zachary, a visiting scholar at the University of California's School of Information, has a piece in The Chronicle Review about a future in which the book industry operates a lot like the music industry (when you can obtain a single, digitized song, you may not want to purchase an entire album), and how the same technological issues that are threatening newspapers and magazines now also threaten books:
In the debate over the future of books, the specter of their being broken into parts —chapters, sentences, phrases—is relatively ignored. Preoccupied with whether books will survive at all, critics have ignored a more urgent question: In what new ways will serious writers and thinkers express themselves, given the upheaval in book publishing?

It's not impossible to envision a future in which stories that are part of a short-story or essay compilation can be purchased individually. And as e-books make their way into the academic world, it's not out of the question to predict that one day soon, students will be able to purchase only the book chapters necessary for coursework, and not an entire book. What do you think?

-In related publishing news, NYT has a report about Beast Books, a new imprint created by The Daily Beast and Perseus Books Group with a strategy to publish books faster--by first releasing them as e-books, and following later with a paperback release. The whole process (from writing to editing to published) would be complete within a matter of months.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Excellent MBA show over the weekend ...

Check out the action at the University of Minnesota Press booth during the Midwest Booksellers Association trade show this past weekend:

We gave away small footballs (in honor of The Vikings Reader and Gophers Illustrated), posters and a prize drawing for a selection of Italian-appetizer starters (in honor of Never Trust a Thin Cook).

Featured in these photos are the book fans, Press staffers (including exhibits coordinator Erik Anderson and marketing assistant Alyssa Lochner, top left; and publicist Heather Skinner, assisting with author signings) and authors (signings with Armand Peterson, The Vikings Reader; Eric Dregni, Never Trust a Thin Cook; and Greg Brick, Subterranean Twin Cities) who helped make these booth events possible.

Read more about this busy event and the booksellers' favorite titles in Publishers Weekly.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Poster giveaway!

Here's a peek at the posters we'll be giving away at the Midwest Booksellers Association trade show this weekend. Look closely, and you'll see a sampling of 100 book covers from our extensive list of titles that focus on the upper Midwest region.
Want us to mail you a poster? Send an e-mail to

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bob Dylan: From MN to the World

The University of Minnesota Press recently collaborated with U of M News Service to create this video that features Highway 61 Revisited: Bob Dylan's Road from Minnesota to the World, a compilation of essays edited by Colleen Sheehy and Thomas Swiss.
Check it out as Thomas Swiss breaks down Dylan's Minnesota roots. He analyzes Dylan's unique accent and discusses how a 19-year-old from Hibbing, MN, who borrowed folk records from roommates and schooled himself in music in New York, would go on to establish a hugely influential career that would make an impact on many cultures (Italy, Japan and the U.K.) and fields of study:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Picturing Minnesota's Wild Places

Daniel J. Philippon is associate professor of English at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. He is editor of Our Neck of the Woods: Exploring Minnesota's Wild Places (Minnesota '09) and author of Conserving Words: How American Nature Writers Shaped the Environmental Movement. Today, he writes about why Our Neck of the Woods is "decidedly old school."

In his recent post to NYT's Happy Days blog, Tim Kreider quotes from James Salter's 1975 novel Light Years: “For whatever we do, even whatever we do not do prevents us from doing its opposite. Acts demolish their alternatives, that is the paradox." (Had he been writing today, Salter might have called this the Sliding Doors paradox.)

So it goes with books, as publishing is not a non-zero-sum game. Choose to do something one way, and you can't do it another way--at least, not until the second edition comes out. Thus have my thoughts been turning since I caught my first glimpse of Our Neck of the Woods: Exploring Minnesota's Wild Places, the recently published collection of nature writing I edited.

What struck me most about the book is the relationship between words and images, and how the choice I made early in the editorial process not to include illustrations has created a certain kind of book, and prevented another kind of book from coming into being. Don't get me wrong: this is not the voice of regret, wondering how I could ever have imagined a nature book without images! Quite the opposite. Now, more than ever, I'm certain I made the right choice.

Here's why.

Our Neck of the Woods collects fifty-seven "sense of place" essays from the last twenty years of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, a donor-supported magazine that has been published by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources since 1940. What's great about the Volunteer is how visually appealing it is. Every issue is jam-packed with drawings and photographs from some of the region's most talented wildlife and landscape illustrators. But after years of reading the Volunteer, I realized that all this visual beauty comes at a certain price; "acts demolish their alternatives," as Salter suggests.

"Demolish" may be too strong a verb here, but a milder truth remains: so alluring are the images in the Volunteer that they run the risk of eclipsing the writing they accompany. Not prevent it from being read or appreciated, mind you, but prevent it from taking center stage. And that seemed a shame, because the writing is something special, particularly the personal essays that occasionally appear under the heading "A Sense of Place." What to do, what to do.

Well, being an academic who spends his days surrounded by paperbacks, the answer seemed obvious. It was time to make a book.

Fortunately, the staff at the Volunteer had been hoping someone would do just such a thing, and when I approached Kathleen Weflen, the magazine's longtime editor, she generously allowed me to develop what became Our Neck of the Woods. The result, I hope, is something that didn't exist before, even though all of the essays have previously appeared in the Volunteer and a few of them are even available online. (As my fellow academics might put it, in synthesis we create new knowledge.) In particular, my goal was to call attention to this powerful series of personal reflections by selecting and organizing a representative sample by subject matter and location.

The cover, a composite of three photographs by Gary Alan Nelson, itself suggests the three Minnesota biomes the book seeks to represent: the North Woods, the Big Woods, and the Prairie Grasslands. But it also illustrates what the rest of the book attempts to do without illustrations: picture Minnesota's wild places.

We are, today, awash in images: we ride to work on buses encased in ads, distract ourselves by YouTube videos while there, and return home just in time to catch the latest episode of The Jay Leno Show. Images appeal for our attention at every moment.

In contrast, Our Neck of the Woods attempts something decidedly old school: placing the written word front and center. My ideal reader for this collection, in other words, is just that: a reader. Someone who wants to be transported, in imagination, to a canoe in the Boundary Waters, a riverboat on the Mississippi, a duck blind on the prairie, and every place in between. (Imagination, from imaginare, "picture to oneself.") And that's what the best writing can do, can't it? Take us places we haven't been, or take us places we have been and show us something different.

So whether these essays are new to you or not, and whether the places they describe are familiar to you or not, I hope their collection in Our Neck of the Woods will take you someplace unexpected. Imagine that.


Daniel J. Philippon is associate professor of English at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. He is the author of Conserving Words: How American Nature Writers Shaped the Environmental Movement. He lives in St. Paul.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Mold Makes Good Salami Great," "Angry Noodles" & more

Ever wonder how prosciutto and salami are made in Italy? Or why no one in Italy ever gets ticketed for speeding? Or how lard (even really, really good lard) tastes? (Maybe not.)

Check out this reading Eric Dregni, author of Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy's Culinary Capital, gave recently in Minneapolis. You can listen to the entire reading at once (19 minutes) or click on separate clips, ranging from 1-3 minutes, of sections that appear in Eric's book, including Eat Your Hat, Cowboy; Arrangiati! and La Ferrari.

Buon divertimento!

Monday, September 21, 2009

'The Rural Brain Drain'

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, posted today, defines the "rural brain drain" as the persistent instance of educated young people moving away from the rural towns in which they grew up. Now, many of these small towns are on the verge of extinction, and it's time to ask: What is going on in small-town America?

Most of the time, the rural crisis takes a back seat to more visible big-city troubles. So while there is a veritable academic industry devoted to chronicling urban decline, small towns' struggles are off the grid. And yet, upon close inspection, the rural and urban downturns have much in common, even though conventional wisdom casts the small town as embodiment of all that is right with America and the inner city as all that is wrong with it.

As the article's authors (a husband-and-wife team of sociologists) say: "The rural crisis has been ignored for far too long, but, we believe, it isn't too late to start paying attention." On that note, here are a few select UMP titles that study rural farm and family life in the Midwest and in California:

Those Who Work, Those Who Don't: Poverty, Morality, and Family in Rural America, by Jennifer Sherman. Following the stories of economic collapse in a Northern California town and what they tell us about rural America.

Westhope: Life as a Former Farm Boy, by Dean Hulse. An evocative and inspiring memoir of a vibrant rural North Dakota.

Everyone Had Cameras: Photography and Farmworkers in California, 1850-2000, by Richard Steven Street. The relationship between California farmworkers and the photographers who have documented their lives.

Days on the Family Farm: From the Golden Age through the Great Depression, by Carrie A. Meyer. A story both intimate and epic that paints a vivid picture of Midwestern farm life.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Obama, Du Bois and Hitler: "Qui tacet consentire videtur" ("Silence gives consent")

This post is by Dr. Amy Bass, associate professor of history at The College of New Rochelle and author of Those About Him Remained Silent: The Battle over W. E. B. Du Bois and Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete.

History is never about the past. It wasn’t then. It isn’t now. In the midst of a lot of people who don’t seem to understand this, Barney Frank does. His confrontation in August with Rachel Brown of the La Rouche Youth Movement demonstrated how the national debate on health care reform, which was increasingly getting crushed by Sarah Palin’s spurious claims of “death panels,” would take the high road. Comparing Obama’s stance on Medicare expenditures to Hitler’s Aktion T4 strategy in 1939, Brown asked Frank how he could “continue to support a Nazi policy.” Frank’s reply to her question – “On what planet do you spend most of your time?” – drew laughter. But it was his continued response that gave me hope for a brief and shining moment that sanity was going to prevail:
Yes, you stand there with a picture of the President defaced to look like Hitler, and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis. My answer to you is, as I said before: It is a tribute to the first amendment, that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated. Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to have a conversation with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it.

If only it had ended there. But clearly it didn’t. In subsequent weeks, the Nazi analogies continued, the images of Obama as Hitler proliferated, new images of Obama as the Joker — meaning Obama in black (white) face – surfaced anonymously and then quickly became its own T-shirt industry, bumper stickers emerged with the sarcastic “Obama Makes Marxism Cool Again,” a little speech urging kids to stay in school got labeled indoctrination, and "socialism" became a dirty, dirty, dirty word.

I have watched this unfold with shock and awe, looking at the pages of my upcoming book, Those About Him Remained Silent: The Battle over W. E. B. Du Bois, and wondering how this could still be happening. The book began as a small project – an article, I thought, an easy follow-up to my first book. A look at why Du Bois wasn’t more famous in the place where both he, in the late 19th century, and myself, in the late 20th century, had grown up. It was a project that would give me a chance to do some work while visiting my parents in the beautiful Berkshire Hills in western Massachusetts. It would be a chance to have some fun with history. Let’s find Du Bois in his hometown of Great Barrington. Let’s give him his due in this lovely place.

And then I came across what I now still think of as The Quote: “It's like building a statue of Adolf Hitler. The man was a Marxist as far back as 1922 and we oppose a monument to a Communist any place in the United States.” The speaker was Harold J. Beckwith, a past commander of the James A. Modolo Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Great Barrington. It was not surprising to see a VFW member opposed to a memorial recognizing Great Barrington as the birthplace and childhood home of Du Bois. Many such folks had come forward to argue against the proposal made in the late 1960s by a small group of summer residents and locals. Was he really a local figure?, some argued. He deserted the U.S. for Ghana, others pointed out. He was a Communist, most agreed.

But Hitler? Really?

The comparison of Du Bois – one of the world’s greatest thinkers on issues of race and equality and human rights and a founder of the NAACP – to Hitler is, I think, what turned this project of mine into a book about the racial venom of the Cold War in a small New England community. The comparison of Obama to Hitler in the current health care debates is what has made this project for me, on the eve of its publication, so critically important.

The song has remained the same. It isn’t about race, these tea-party attending people claim. They say they would disagree with Obama even if he was white. But the point is how they are choosing to disagree. It took Maureen Dowd to bravely step forward on a national platform and translate Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You lie” into its proper South Carolinian context: “You lie, boy.”

Yes, folks: anti-health care rallies and these so-called tea parties aren’t about patriotism. They are about racism. And not easy racism, either, not Jim Crow “white here, colored there” racism, but a more codified and dangerous sort: the sort of racist rage that wraps itself in an American flag and asks the President of the United States for his birth certificate while deciding he is an “Indonesian Muslim” and “welfare thug” and brandishes signs telling him to “Go Back to Kenya” next to images of him dressed as a witch doctor – ones that so closely resemble those of the 19th century minstrel stage one might truly wonder when these rallies are taking place, rather than where.

These attacks are not on the administration’s policies, they are on the man, a classic example of historical displacement that echoes the American indictment of the Japanese during World War II, while attention focused specifically on Hitler and the Nazis in Europe. It cannot be stated more succinctly than the way Dowd has written it: “Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.”

That this is unfolding in a way so similar to the way Great Barrington tried to rationalize its disowning of Du Bois because of his late-in-life joining of the Communist Party makes my jaw drop. Barney Frank has the right idea: fight back. Fight. Back. Because a lunatic fringe, as Great Barrington never quite learned, can define an era just as well – if not better – than anyone. And like Du Bois, Obama seems to have the right kind of enemies, enemies that no one with a progressive worldview would ever want as friends. Obama, according to these people, is an outsider in the constant American Cold War reiteration of “us versus them.” Yet again, the U.S. has a “them” – or, more precisely, a “him” – that is part of an imaginary state of emergency, explaining why critiques of domestic policies on health care have quickly descended into familiar red-baiting debates using language designed to thinly veil the power of racial enmity.

Only this time, it’s the president.


Amy Bass is associate professor of history at The College of New Rochelle. She is author of Those About Him Remained Silent: The Battle over W. E. B. Du Bois (Minnesota, 2009) and Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete (Minnesota, 2002).

"Amy Bass’s excellent history of ‘un-American activities’ in a pleasant New England town is another cautionary illustration of the banality of evil: in this case, the long, willful distortion of the progressive legacy of their greatest native son, W. E. B. Du Bois, by the people of Great Barrington in the service of a perverted patriotism."
—David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919–1963

Thursday, September 17, 2009

An Evening with Chip Kidd

Legendary book-cover designer and author Chip Kidd graced Minneapolis with his presence yesterday. After spending time with students at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, he gave a sold-out lecture there that was hosted by the MN Book Publishers' Roundtable.
After a fantastic and lively presentation, he answered a few questions, including one about e-books and his thoughts about the future of books and design. He expressed skepticism about the popularity of the Kindle and mentions that popular media reports would lead one to believe that the very way we read will soon change, whereas e-book-buying statistics suggest otherwise (he said less than 1% of books purchased are e-books).

Kidd also did an interview yesterday with MPR's Kerri Miller, The Art of Books, in which he talks about his process of working (er, compromising) with authors, how he loves the Twilight series covers and dislikes the Harry Potter ones, gives advice to budding designers and elaborates on thoughts about the future of books:
Here's my problem with the Kindle: It's getting way, way too much attention ... My prediction is that the whole e-book phenomenon is going to be similar to the audio-book phenomenon. It's a section of the market, it's relatively small, audio books became popular because people could listen to them in their cars. Fine. E-books will be popular with people who want to spend the money for the technology, who want to travel a lot and don't want to lug the books around. Fine. But it's not going to be like the iPod. That was different.

The full interview can be found here; the discussion about e-books begins about 45 minutes in. MPR also posted a slideshow of popular Chip Kidd covers.

(An aside: A similar e-book sentiment was expressed today in an article on in which the CEO of Palgrave Macmillan strongly challenges the results of a study that declares e-books do not hurt print book sales.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The first comprehensive history of the Frankfurt School in its American exile: A Q&A with author Thomas Wheatland

Thomas Wheatland, who once worked in editorial acquisitions at Harvard University Press, is an assistant professor of German history at Assumption College. This year, Wheatland published The Frankfurt School in Exile, a book with pioneering research on the influence of German intellectuals on postwar American thought, with University of Minnesota Press. He recently answered a few questions from UMP with regard to the hugely influential Frankfurt School; its leader, Max Horkheimer; and Wheatland's own experiences shaping this book.

Q: What is perhaps most generally misunderstood about The Frankfurt School? What about the school and the Horkheimer Circle did you hope to make people more aware of in conceptualizing this book?

A: In a letter of June 29, 1940, Max Horkheimer eloquently developed one of the metaphors that became central to the history of critical theory in America. Writing to actress and screenwriter Salka Viertel, Horkheimer despaired: “In view of everything that is engulfing Europe and perhaps the whole world, our present work is of course essentially destined to being passed on through the night that is approaching: a kind of message in a bottle [Flaschenpost].” This trope of the Flaschenpost has been taken literally by many of the historians and scholars of critical theory and has helped to reinforce the illusion of the Frankfurt School’s “splendid isolation” in the United States. The traditional account further proclaims that if critical theory was cast (like a message in a bottle) into a dark and angry sea during the 1930s and 1940s, it was spectacularly found and uncorked on the beaches of the U.S. by New Leftists, hippies, and flower children in the 1960s. The image of the message in a bottle underplays the interactions between critical theory and American intellectual life during the Frankfurt School’s years in exile, and it simultaneously helps to overplay the relationship between the Horkheimer Circle’s legacy and the American New Left. That is why this metaphor of the Flaschenpost, as much as I find it poetic and powerful, needs to be broken and discarded. This book has been an attempt to do just that.

Q: You have put an abundance of original research into this book. Can you talk about some of the difficulties you ran into during your research? Did you run into any startling facts that altered your outlook on a particular chapter, section or topic (an "a-ha" moment, if you will)?

A: The research was plagued by difficulties because so much of it felt like searching for needles in haystacks. The first archival research was conducted in Frankfurt, where I had access to the papers of Max Horkheimer, Friedrich Pollock, Leo Lowenthal, and Herbert Marcuse. From examining these papers, I was able to uncover only half of the story that I wanted to tell. I was able to learn what academic and public intellectual networks the Frankfurt School encountered in exile. The more time-consuming portion of the research took place in America when I tried to follow up on as many of these leads as possible. I wanted to see what the papers of the Americans who encountered the Frankfurt School had to tell me about the Horkheimer Circle and the impressions that it made on these new American “colleagues.” The most dramatic moment in my research took place when I began to go through the archival records of Students for a Democratic Society, as well as the numerous underground newspapers that arose from the American counter-culture. Based on everything that I’d ever read about Herbert Marcuse, I assumed that I would find countless discussions and writings about his work—trying to make sense of them and their relevance to the student movement. It took me weeks of finding almost nothing to realize that this discouraging development was actually an incredibly important story in and of itself. If the students hadn’t embraced Marcuse as a “guru,” how did I need to re-think Marcuse’s complex relationship to the New Left? After wrestling with these findings for several months and conducting numerous oral historians with people that had been at the center of the American New Left, I came to see Marcuse quite differently. I hope that others will find this re-assessment of his late work to be as exciting as I did.

Q: How long has this book been in the making? What part(s) of your book have been altered from the original manuscript and/or from your initial intent?

A: This project began as a dissertation. From the moment I began work on the dissertation to the time it was published by Minnesota, I think nearly a decade had passed. I did spend four years of that time working in acquisitions at Harvard University Press. After helping many first-time authors transform their dissertations into books, the experience that I’d gained made it a more focused and pleasurable process to re-write my own dissertation into The Frankfurt School in Exile. After telling people for years about my work and attending several interdisciplinary conferences where I discovered a broader breadth and depth of the interest in the topic than I had expected, it became clear that I wanted the book to appeal to these different audiences. This meant that it needed to be more accessible to a wider readership than was originally intended, and it also meant that I had to deliver the goods to readers that I hadn’t originally envisioned as part of my target audience. Thus, I re-shaped the book to make it useful to not only intellectual historians, but also sociologists, philosophers, media theorists, political scientists, and the devotees of literary and cultural theory who were primarily familiar with only the aesthetic theories of the Frankfurt School.


Thomas Wheatland is assistant professor of German history at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

"The Frankfurt School played a major role in the vast intellectual migration to the United States, yet most accounts focus largely on its prewar and postwar activity in Europe, much less on the important years of its American exile. With exemplary clarity and illuminating research, Thomas Wheatland’s book fills in some missing chapters in this institutional as well as intellectual history, including the Frankfurt School’s crucial sojourn at Columbia University, its relationships with the wider world of the New York intellectuals, and its impact on the New Left. He also stresses the influence of these American years on the Frankfurt critics themselves. This is a momentous, valuable, and highly informative book."
—Morris Dickstein, Graduate Center, City University of New York

"No one has made the case that there is such a profound resonance between the Frankfurt School and the New York Intellectual scene with the detail and depth that Wheatland applies to the topic. There really isn’t another book in the same ballpark."
—David Jenemann, University of Vermont

"An unusually thorough blend of intellectual and institutional history. [Wheatland’s] book ought to bring new attention to this highly suggestive part of the Frankfurt School’s story."
—Adam Kirsch, Tablet

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

An innovative approach to book marketing

A few months ago, Graywolf Press author Stephen Elliott created a lending library for advance copies of his new book, The Adderall Diaries. For his efforts, the program received a lot of media buzz, and caused a lot of people, including publishers, to question how the project worked and whether it would be a success.
The program has since ended, and Stephen Elliott has written about the results for The Rumpus.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I was doing played right into the new publishing environment, an environment that is still uncharted and mysterious. A brave new democratic book world where everyone is a potential reviewer.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Over the weekend ...

Here are a few photos taken at yesterday's launch event for Eric Dregni's Never Trust a Thin Cook. The event was at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis, and as you can see, it involved a book signing, slide show and samples of some great Italian food.

Eric's wife, Katy, gave a brief introduction. Here is a 40-second excerpt in which she reveals how she and Eric became engaged in Italy.

Within the week, full audio of Eric Dregni's reading (of several sections from Never Trust a Thin Cook) at this special event will be available on this blog.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 links

Today, eight years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, marks the first year that this anniversary will be observed as a national day of service, following an order signed by President Barack Obama.

Of the many other stories of interest out there:
-The Associated Press: What Obama was doing on Sept. 11, 2001, and speculation about what he will do to move forward in our nation's struggle against terrorism.
-The Wall Street Journal: Why the president's campaign for the war in Afghanistan is a hard sell.
-Slate asks why "the follow-on attacks that everyone predicted after 9/11" have not occurred.
-The Huffington Post's William Bradley looks at where America has been and where it's going: "Eight years since 9/11. It feels like 18 years, if not 80."
-The New Yorker's Lawrence Wright on underestimating Al-Qaeda.
-On, a firefighter father recalls losing two sons in the attacks: "I don't have any could've, should've or would'ves. I wouldn't have changed anything."
-The Age calls the current delays in rebuilding Ground Zero (once slated to be completely rebuilt by 2011) "a national disgrace."

Two books for understanding the ramifications of 9/11:
-Primitive America: The Ideology of Capitalist Democracy, by Paul Smith. An urgent examination of the deep cultural roots of America’s response to 9/11.
-Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture, by Mark Fenster. This new edition, the first in-depth look at the conspiracy communities that formed to debunk the 9/11 Commission Report, shows that conspiracy theories play an important role in U.S. democracy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Vikings Reader Q&A

In honor of the official NFL season kickoff (today!), we interviewed Armand Peterson, editor of The Vikings Reader, about his earliest Vikings memories, his Game Day routine, and of course, Brett Favre.

Q: On Sept. 17th, 1961, you attended your first (and THE first) Vikings regular-season home game at Met Stadium. Can you tell us about it?

A: The football field was laid out roughly along the baseball right field foul line. Since the (Minnesota) Twins (baseball team) still had some games left in their season, the baselines and infield areas of the baseball diamond were left un-sodded, and the mound was skinned down to football-field level. Attendance was only 32,236, but it was a near-full house. At the time, the left field bleachers were temporary and were moved toward the infield for football games (construction of permanent left-field stands in 1965, as well as other upgrades, eventually pushed the football seating capacity to 47,900).

Compared to today's games in the raucous Metrodome, that first game was almost eerily silent. I do not recall any cheerleaders or a mascot parading around the field. There were no special celebrations by players after a touchdown. (At times), I could easily hear the quarterback's signal calls and the sound of pads when players collided. The overall noise built up when the Vikings scored their first touchdown, and got louder as they surged into the lead in their upset 37-13 win over the Chicago Bears, but I don't think any fans wished they'd brought ear plugs.

Do you have a favorite moment in Vikings history? Least favorite?
A: My favorite moment was the second game of the season in 1969, a 52-14 victory over the NFL-defending champion Baltimore Colts. The Colts had manhandled the Vikings in a 24-14 win in the 1968 Divisional Playoffs, and the Vikings had started the 1969 season with a 24-23 road loss to former teammate Fran Tarkenton and the New York Giants. It looked like old times, but in the home opener quarterback Joe Kapp threw seven touchdown passes in the Vikings’ rout, and fans began to believe in the team. The Vikings won twelve straight games and finished with a 12-2 record. The team dominated conversations in offices, business places, factories and farms all over the state like never before.

My least favorite moment was the 1975 Divisional Playoff loss to the Dallas Cowboys—made infamous for Vikings fans by Roger Staubach’s “Hail Mary” pass to Drew Pearson to defeat the Vikings, 17-14. The Vikings’ led the league in both passing and rushing defense, the offense was third in scoring and Fran Tarkenton was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. The Vikings had been to the Super Bowl—and lost—after the 1973 and 1974 seasons, and we fans really expected to go to our third consecutive one. And this time we were going to win the Big Game! The loss to the Cowboys was devastating.

Q: What is your typical Game Day routine?
A: I guess I’m old school ... I am not interested in pre-game shows. I’m a hopeless hometown fan. I root for the Vikings, and don’t care what ESPN or a host of other 24-7 sports programs think about my team. So, if I have a routine, it is as follows: check the TV schedule and turn on the set at game time. My snacks are probably pretty boring, too—peanuts, popcorn and perhaps some nachos.

Q: We have to ask: How will Brett Favre's presence will help the Vikings?
A: The Vikings made the playoffs last year, thanks to the 8-3 record compiled by journeyman quarterback Gus Frerotte. Favre doesn’t have to perform like he did ten years ago to help the team—he just has to be competent. His presence will make opponents a little more cautious about stacking their defenses to stop Adrian Peterson.

Q: As an editor who has done extensive archival research on the legacy of a national football team, what do you think Brett Favre's future chapter would look like in a theoretical compilation of the history of the Green Bay Packers?
A: He will be ranked with Bart Starr, the quarterback for Vince Lombardi’s legendary teams. Some Packers fans no doubt are bitter about losing Favre to the Vikings, but time will erase these feelings. Jerry Rice, for example, the NFL’s career pass receptions leader, moved to Oakland after 16 years in San Francisco. He played four more seasons in the NFL, but is still revered by 49ers fans. He’ll wear 49er colors when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame. Similarly, no matter how well Favre does in Minnesota, he will wear Packer green and gold when he makes the Hall of Fame.

Q: What are your bets on the Vikings' season ahead?
A: The Vikings will make the playoffs. They did it last year, and are a much more balanced team in 2009. My heart tells me they will make it to the Super Bowl. However, my head tells me to be cautious (it remembers those four awful Super Bowl losses). The legendary Damon Runyan once opined that “the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong—but that's the way to bet.” Based on his sage advice, I would pick New England to win the Super Bowl.


Armand Peterson is a retired engineer. He is author of The Vikings Reader and coauthor of Town Ball: The Glory Days of Minnesota Amateur Baseball.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Must-see events this week

September tends to be a busy time at the Press, and as such, we have scheduled two book-launch events for three books within one week. And that week starts today.

-Tonight at 7 p.m. at Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis: Join Armand Peterson and Al Papas Jr. for a special night for football fans (not to mention all-around book fans).
Peterson is the editor of The Vikings Reader, a gorgeous book that compiles 50 years of journalistic sketches of the highs and lows that make up the Minnesota Vikings' colorful history. Tomorrow, Peterson will answer a few questions on this blog about himself and his own experiences with the Vikings' victories and defeats.
Papas is a sports cartoonist and former newsroom artist. He is the illustrator of Gophers Illustrated: The Incredible Complete History of Minnesota Football, which commemorates more than a century of Gophers football.
Read more about both books in today's Star Tribune.

-On Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis: Author Eric Dregni celebrates the publication of his newest book, Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy's Culinary Capital. Festivities will include a slide show of pictures from Eric's food-obsessed time in Italy; a book signing; and free appetizers from Loring Pasta Bar. A spaghetti dinner and drink bar will be available on a cash basis. This event is sponsored by Concordia Language Villages on behalf of Lago del Bosco and the Italian Cultural Center.

Find out more about upcoming University of Minnesota Press events (in Minnesota and all over the country) on our website and on our Facebook page.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Interactive book experiment: Footnotes for sale

Sunday's New York Times has a piece on an interesting book experiment created by SharedBook, a reverse-publishing company whose motto is "Made any good books lately?"
In this very interesting and potentially groundbreaking experiment, readers will be allowed to chime in on three chapters of the parenting book Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children. SharedBook will offer the footnotes for sale, and all reader comments will remain unmoderated and unedited.
Mr. Bronson (Po Bronson, one of the book's co-authors) said he liked the idea of the SharedBook experiment for the “Nurture Shock” chapters because he wanted to create a community of readers.
“They can have a granular discussion and find other people who are interested in having that discussion,” he said.
But he was not sure readers would want to buy an edition of compiled reader comments. It would depend on whether “the commentary is so high level that people would want to buy the SharedBook version,” he said.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Adopt a word today

The folks behind the Oxford Dictionary are asking you to help spread the word about its effort to Save the Words. According to the website
Each year hundreds of words are dropped from the English language. Old words, wise words, hard-working words. Words that once led meaningful lives but now lie unused, unloved and unwanted. Today, 90% of everything we write is communicated by only 7,000 words. You can change all that. Help save the words!

This attractive and very well-designed website also has handy suggestions for you to help save the words in everyday life, including how to drop near-extinct words at board meetings and what to name your pet ("Cestuan," anybody?).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hanging out with friends in Minneapolis

The following story is from Doug Rutledge, who, along with photographer Abdi Roble, has been documenting the lives of Somali immigrants in the U.S. since 2003. In The Somali Diaspora, Roble and Rutledge trace the journey of a family from the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya to new lives in the United States. An exhibit of Roble's photographs of large Somali communities in Minnesota, Ohio, and Maine is running at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis until Sept. 27th, 2009.

On a very pleasant Minneapolis evening, when Abdi Roble and I were finished working for the day, we found ourselves being driven toward our hotel by a young Somali man, Warsame, whose family we had been documenting. While Warsame was taking us home, our friend Paul, who is also a documentary photographer, called and suggested that we meet and talk about our work. He asked if we could go somewhere he could have a beer. My two Somali friends were quite comfortable with that suggestion. Warsame had recently finished his term in the armed forces, so he clearly was not unfamiliar with American men who wanted to have a beer.

The minute we went to the bar, Abdi and Warsame demonstrated the hospitality typical of Somalis. They took our order and went to the bar. They paid for all the drinks, and retrieved sodas for the three of us, but they asked Paul if he would mind stepping up to the bar to pick up his own beer, an act he performed with grace and aplomb.

One needs to let one’s mind settle on this picture for a moment. Two Somali Moslem men, one an ex-soldier, and both very accustomed to the cultural habits of young Americans, purchasing a beer for an American friend. Neither man felt uncomfortable in a bar or even uncomfortable buying a beer for a friend who wanted it. However, neither man would touch the beer or carry it, for that is hiraam, or "forbidden," according to Islam.

Now, one would never accuse either of these gentlemen of imposing sharia law or even of imposing the moral code of Islam onto their friend Paul. Indeed, they never so much as mentioned the moral code they impose upon themselves when Paul said he wanted to drink a beer in their company. Their only hesitation occurred when hospitality to Paul might ask them to carry or touch the beer. This they could not do. They were quite happy to be in the bar, and watch their friend imbibe the refreshment of his choice. All they refused to do was to carry the beer.

This moment has always seemed to me to offer a cultural context to the cabdriver affair that haunts the Twin Cities. Like my two very dear friends, Somali cabdrivers hesitate to carry alcohol. They are in America, so they need to make a living here. But sometimes, they find themselves in the awkward position of being asked to carry a substance in their vehicle, an act that they take to be against their religion. If you spend a bit of time talking with the Somali cabdrivers, you will find that they have a variety of backgrounds. Educators, engineers, heavy equipment operators, and farmers all often find themselves being cabdrivers in America, because language and license requirements often prevent them from applying for the careers that their skills might have otherwise encouraged them to pursue.

These are all, it seems to me, potential friends. Cultural differences can and should remain. If America means anything, it must remain a place where people are free to be who they are, believe what they want and yet remain friends with people who believe otherwise. As long as we can all sit down and enjoy our culturally preferred refreshment together, we can share our experiences and be friends. It shouldn’t really matter if we have to carry our own drinks to the table.

Doug Rutledge, Ph.D., is a writer for The Somali Documentary Project and a visiting scholar at The Center for African Studies at Ohio State University.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bill Holm: Gone, but not forgotten

This photo appeared yesterday on the Star Tribune Books section's Facebook page (managed by editor Laurie Hertzel) with the following inscription: "Gone, but not forgotten. At the Minnesota State Fair, poet Bill Holm, rendered in seeds."
Bill Holm's work appears in the brand-new compilation Our Neck of the Woods, edited by Daniel J. Philippon, and in The Quiet Hours, a book of photography by Mike Melman, in which Holm has an essay that compares Melman's work to that of Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg.
Also: this spring, the University of Minnesota Press will publish the 25th anniversary commemorative edition of Bill Holm's The Music of Failure.