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20 July 2009


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Thomas Friedman may not deserve birthday wishes, but you, CR, who have brought so many readers together, do! Have a very happy birthday!

oh that's right! Happy Birthday!

Having not read the books (and have yet to skip over to the covers), my first thought (besides wondering why I'm even commenting since I'm not truly participating - what's up with that?) is that we are going to be in for a ton of dramaDRAMAdrama in the Perry book from the very beginning. And Bissell is going to slowly build and set the scenes first.

Am I right!?

Venta, Care,
Thanks! I shouldn't have brought it up--I'm to the age now where I like the ol' birthdays to slink in and out quietly--but I couldn't pass up the chance to wish old porn-stache Tommy anti-birthday wishes.

Care, you can always comment, even if you haven't read. I know how it goes with not getting time to read everything. I do think your statements are correct--the Perry book is rich in drama, which is fascinating to me, considering it's set in a very small Wisconsin town, and everybody always makes the mistake of thinking the Midwest is so boring. (Or at least it seems like they do--I don't know who coined the term "Minnesota nice" but lots of people in lots of small Midwestern towns don't always abide by it.) Interestingly enough, the Bissell does start slowly, but when it gets going....wow.

The looking at question is a tough one. I think my reaction to the Bissell book would the one he addresses with the first line of the Author's Note. Why indeed another book on Vietnam? The Population 485 has the more eye catching cover, but I am not sure I would have reached for a book about life in rural Wisconsin either. Because I tend to read more military history I am more likely to have grabbed the Bissell.

I did read the introductory note and I am glad I did, it justified the book and really set the stage. My first thought on the Perry was that this was going to be pretty literary, which I think it was.

Happy Birthday!

You know my birthday was on Friday? I spent it reading Nick Hornby.

1. Just looking at these books, I might have read the Perry because it's about EMTs and it's somewhat short. I'm sure I would not have read the Bissell.

2. I always read books in order, with the rare exception of "About the Author" blurbs if they aren't on the jacket. I go crazy if there's no author photo.

From the first line of Perry, I was a bit surprised because I thought the book would aim at more of a Janette Oke crowd. I figured there might be more blood and guts than I had expected, and I was right.

From the first line of Bissell, I felt a sense of relief, because I thought of this as a "man book" and I was feeling reluctant to read about guns 'n' ammo for 400 pages.

I am fascinated, FASCINATED, at how and why people choose books, so this is always my first question about any book. WHY did you pick it up? Did you get the Bissell cover with the picture of his dad on the front, or the more plain paperback? I personally thought the plain paperback cover did the book a disservice--as I re-read my copy I find myself returning to stare at the picture of his dad--so young and in Vietnam--just to sort out my thoughts.

I find it interesting that you thought the Perry would be quite literary, from the first line. Is that an impression you would have gotten just looking at the cover? Did that first line suck you in?

Happy Birthday to YOU! I can't imagine a better way to spend one's birthday than reading.
Are you interested in EMTs? Do you prefer short books to long? Why wouldn't you have read the Bissell? No interest in war, the Vietnam War, or both?

Did you feel unpleasantly or pleasantly surprised by the Perry line? (I myself am not really an Oke fan, so I liked the immediate and visceral feel of his first line.) And, as you read further, what do you find "man book" about the Bissell, and what do you find "non-man book"? I thought that was a fascinating observation. Second on my list of most frequently asked book questions is how men's and women's reading choices often differ, and why. Please discuss, if you're up for it!


Happy Birthday, sorry I missed that connotation.

I have the hardcover with the individual photo. It is an arresting photo and very appropriate to the book as ultimately that person, now gone, is what Tom is looking for in Vietnam.

I quite liked the Population 485 cover, with the arresting colors and the photo. Its funny I just picked it up again and noticed the road at the center. The barn in back is what stuck in my head, but roads play such a big role in the stories that it makes sense that those should be on the cover.

On the question of the type of writing and the cover, I am not sure I would have made a call, unless the cover was particularly arty, which it isn't. The line did suck me in as it got the drama going immediately.

Thanks, Tripp!
I'm glad you got the hardcover. The photo makes the cover, IMHO.

All right, I'm just desperate to jump in to the conversation myself. Of course, the first question is really not fair, as I picked the books AND the question. But yes, they were both books I would have picked up to consider, and I think after considering I would have gone on to read them. The Perry sold itself pretty solidly on subject matter--I am a lifelong Wisconsinite and am interested in the state, and I have never felt a part of small towns although a tiny part of me always wanted to. So I would have read (and did) the Perry the same way I read business books: to try and understand what I don't understand (i.e., business and finance, and small-town life).

I read the Bissell because I had read his earlier work of nonfiction, "Chasing the Sea," and because an old roommate of mine actually knew him from Escanaba. So there was that. But also: I read and watch everything I can about the Vietnam War. I don't know why. It's the only war I have any interest in, if you can say you have an "interest" in war. I think my overpowering love for the underdog draws me to both its US veterans, who were not treated fairly (and most particularly, had to put up with a lot of shit from their parents, the "greatest generation," who were still patting themselves on the back for WWII), and the Vietnamese.

Here is what I found MOST interesting about those two first lines: at first glance, the Perry looks more like the "war memoir," while the Bissell looks like a look at UP life. I thought that was a fascinating coincidence and didn't notice it until I asked the question. Made me feel like these two books really are linked; life, death, country roads, war, and everything in between.

Tripp, I am very glad the Perry line sucked you in immediately. I think that is the mark of a good writer, fiction or nonfiction. I also, of course, like a good ending line.

Population 485 received a lot of attention, and it was a book I always meant to read and never did until now. I love the idea of small towns, but to be honest, I was also jealous that the author was able to make a living writing in a small town. Maybe that’s why I needed a nudge to pick it up.

If I was browsing the new book shelves at the library, I doubt I would have picked up the Bissell book. I’m with Jessica, it seemed violent and too masculine. So I was surprised by his author’s note when he wrote about the influence of war, its legacy and as he writes, “This will be horrible, and whatever happens will scar us for decades to come.” Having just finished Agate Nesaule’s novel, In Love with Jerzy Kosinski, which had an identical theme, I was looking forward to reading Bissell’s book.

I read from beginning to end although I prefer the author notes and acknowledgments at the front of the book. They aren’t the dessert of the book, so they take away the enjoyment of the end of the book.

MN Nice is often euphemism for MN Passive-Aggressive.

That is now officially the funniest thing I'll hear all week. Really. The cat's no comedian and my whole life is about not leaving the house, so I know that's the best thing I'll hear. You're Minnesota Funny!

Venta, I'm glad to hear Pop. 485 got attention outside of WI too--sometimes I wondered how well it was selling in the rest of the US.

The line you quoted from the Bissell is one of my favorite lines from the whole book. It struck me (and this may be sexist) as a decidedly non-masculine attitude to war. It made me love the author more than a little bit. I will have to look into the "In Love..." novel too, if it can hold its own against Bissell.

I never used to read all the front and back matter. I do now as a matter of course, although I like it better in the front too. When it's at the end of the book I sometimes miss it!

Ooh, good questions!

I am interested in EMTs, especially after reading Black Flies, but more broadly I'm hooked on work memoirs. I love reading about other people's jobs. You would, too, if you were a secretary.

I prefer long books, but this year I'm trying to read short things so I can hit my goal of 500 books. I'm less likely to take a chance on a book if it's over 400 pages. Wait, actually that's not true. I guess I figure that if a very long book got published, there must have been a good reason!

I wouldn't have read the Bissell due to a lack of interest in what I perceive to be a certain type of war book. Rocket Scientist loves that stuff; he doesn't read much, but when he does it's nearly always about one war or another. I would have been more likely to read a book about someone whose dad was a war protestor, or a student activist, or some other variety of radical.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Perry line. I confess I'm compelled by gore.

Reading the Bissell, I think what makes it a "man book" is the focus on straight history and action scenes, not to mention the subject matter (father/son, war). It's "not a man book" in the alternate sections that deal more with Bissell's attempt to connect with his dad's emotional life, and his reports of their bonding experience on their trip. I think Augusten Burroughs or David Sedaris would have written this one about his mom and left his dad mostly out of the story.

PS - I think I'm enjoying this menage even more having not read the books. I think this process is fun and I do hope to read them - this is so much better than a boring review. (not that any of the participants write boring reviews...)

I loved "Black Flies" too. And I love, love, LOVE, work memoirs. Much more than I love actually working. Someday would you be interested in a joint posting with me about work memoirs? Maybe I could list my favorites at your site and you could list yours here, or we could just list our own on the same day and link to each other's or something. What say?

You are very optimistic about long books being good! I see them and get scared, as I rather assume that they are long because they have been poorly edited. It's our own version of the glass half full/empty conundrum!

But don't you get the feel Bissell is kind of a radical himself? (Tom, not his father.) I thought he and his father's conversations about his father's belief that he was a Communist some of the best interchanges in the whole book.

Your answers to the gender question, fascinating. I have to think about that a bit. You are right in that the recounting of the bonding experiences make this perhaps not a "man book," but I think that son trying to figure out his father is very masculine. I think women try to figure out their parents too but perhaps not in the same way?

I'm glad you're enjoying the discussion. I always welcome posts from people who haven't finished or yet read the books--you'll notice a lot of chat becomes more about books, authors, and styles in general more so than the specific text. I love the process too.

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