Category Archives: Words

The Three Minute Summary

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Rivertown

When working at my first bookstore job at the (now defunct) Bookstore of Edina in 1987, one of our novelty items was a set of audio tapes: (something like) “Eight-minute Classics”.  I have not yet found the exact title online, but they were very much like this.

I am reminded of them by an email received today from a reading friend in California, who sends this gem:

“39 popular books summarized in 3 sentences or less”
by James Clear

In short, James Clear states “This page shares a full list of book summaries I have compiled during my reading and research… ¶ I have tried to summarize each book on this page in just three sentences, which I think is a fun way to distill the main ideas of the book. If a particular book sounds interesting to you, click on the full book summary and you can browse all of my notes on it. Enjoy!”

I’ve looked through his book list and found one or two that I have actually read. One is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which James Clear summarizes thusly:

“To become a better writer, you have to write more. Writing reveals the story because you have to write to figure out what you’re writing about. Don’t judge your initial work too harshly because every writer has terrible first drafts.”

He also provides quite an extensive book list, which I have not yet had time to peruse, but what I’ve seen so far is impressive.

I have been inspired to summarize one of my favorite books, Jane Eyre (but the sentences will not be quite so thorough as his):

“A mistreated orphan becomes a governess. She falls in love with a married man, who is also her employer. She flees a difficult situation, but eventually returns and marries him.”

Give us a summary of a favorite book, or one you’ve recently read, in about three sentences.

Hot Rails and Rising Bollards

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota

Our recent trip to Great Britain and Ireland helped me develop a renewed love of the English language. I learned some new words on our trip to Europe, words for technological advances I had no idea existed prior to the trip.  I also developed an appreciation of how funny ostensibly stuffy writing can be.

20160523_164429I noticed in our hotels in Dublin and Great Britain these pipe contraptions affixed to the walls in the bathrooms with a placard letting us know they were Hot Rails. They looked like towel racks with knobs and dials on them, and they were, in fact. loaded with towels. When you turned the dials, the pipes filled with hot water, which warmed the towels and made them toasty warm. What a lovely idea, and why don’t we have them readily available in the US?

I also noticed official traffic signs warning of Rising Bollards. What wonderful words! What would you imagine Rising Bollards to be? These signs were frequently placed in narrow streets near hotels where it would have been possible to drive or park a vehicle, and where there was often nothing that could have been construed as a Bollard or anything else. A quick rising_bollardssearch of the internet revealed that a Rising Bollard was a steel post that was lowered into the ground and that would electronically rise so as to prevent someone from parking or driving a vehicle in the area. It could also be lowered at whim. I don’t know who was responsible for raising the bollards, or under what circumstances the bollards would be raised.  We read in the London Times about someone who was suing their municipality for raising the bollards underneath their Volkswagen, smashing into the engine and causing untold damage to the undercarriage of the vehicle.

The Times of London was extremely funny.  I don’t know if the writers and editors intended it to be that way, but there were the most odd  stories that made me wonder if it was all made up. The story that sticks in my mind was a half page article about a woman who confessed on her death bed that she killed her husband 18 years earlier by bashing him on the head with an ornamental stone frog.  She wrapped his body in a tarp and hid it in their shed. No one questioned his disappearance, and she spent the next 18 years telling people that she had got away with murder and that people were really going to be surprised at what they would learn once she died. No one   bothered to say anything about her odd pronouncements until after she died, and people were strangely surprised when the police found his corpse in the shed. She kept the weapon,  too. I found it delightful that a photo of the stone frog was prominently displayed in the article. I don’t know if the journalist did this with tongue in cheek. I can’t help but think so. I love the power of language.

Describe a charming cultural oddity. 


Who Are YOU?

Header Image by John Tenniel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

When Alice tumbles down the rabbit hole, one of the many peculiar creatures she meets is the caterpillar. After initially ignoring her, the caterpillar asks Alice a rude question: “Who are YOU?” Who indeed! Alice struggles to answer. She has already experienced so many bewildering changes she no longer knows what to say.

Who are you? To some degree, it is a trick question. The question implies that there is a definite answer, and that simply isn’t true. We all have multiple identities. They change and evolve as time passes. Many of us claim identities that don’t quite fit the facts. Some of that is innocent, in a way, since we often deceive ourselves about this issue.

For much of my life I had an identity that seemed credible to others and was comforting to me. Then one day, like Alice, I experienced so many changes that I totally lost my ability to answer the caterpillar’s question. I have spent almost two decades developing a new answer to the question. By now I have constructed a new identity, using pieces left over from the wreckage of former identity but mostly based on fresh insights.

There are conventions to help us answer people who ask us who we are. A century ago it was common to identify by referring to church affiliation or participation in service clubs. One of my grandmothers identified as a Methodist. The other was a proud member of the Loyal Order of Moose.

In earlier times people were identified by where they lived. Biblical scholars claim we know much about Jesus if we remember he was a Nazarene. I have recently learned that I am (and always will be) a Minnesotan.

Most people, when asked who they are, start by referring to their occupation. I am intrigued by the ways this varies. For some people, it is impossible to separate their identity from their work. For others, how they make money has nothing to do with their true character. Increasingly, people define their identity by their recreational interests.

Many people—but I think especially women—define themselves in the context of their immediate family. Ask who they are and they answer with information about their husband and/or children. And yet for some people, the roles of wife and mother are irrelevant to any useful understanding of their unique identity.

I smile to remember how my father characterized himself the night he met the woman who became his wife (and, a bit later, my mother). He said he was an artist who rode in cavalry charges on weekends. Both facts were true. What he did not say was that he became a cavalryman as a way of proving he was not gay. To be fair, he was probably not
sufficiently self-aware to know that about himself at the time.

Modern understanding of personality has been impacted by therapy so profoundly that many people use concepts from counseling when expressing their identity. Who are you? One answer that might be useful is provided by Meyers-Briggs. In that context, I am an ENFP on a good day but an INFP on a more typical day.

It is relatively easy to describe identities if we are allowed to use an unlimited number of words. What is far more challenging is compressing the description until we are left with a handful of essential truths that reflect the essence of a person.

As an example, let me introduce my friend, the 92-year-old woman I write each morning. Who is she? She is a reader, a donor and a traveler. There is far more to know about her, of course: mother, widow, former university administrator, avid student of history, and so forth. But I suggest “reader, donor and traveler” define her unique and essential character. Anything I might add to a definition of her personality would have to come after those first three characteristics.

Reader. She reads voraciously, especially history and social commentary. The word “reader” also reflects a commitment to lifelong learning. Her greatest fear is that she might lose her sight. Books have been her main source of solace in the years since her husband passed away.

Donor. My friend addressed a midlife crisis by simplifying her life radically. She and her husband sold their South Minneapolis home and built a primitive house in a valley in southeast Minnesota. Their new home had no bathroom, running water or furnace. It was such a cheap place to live that my friend and her husband could donate to causes close to their hearts, two people of modest means expressing generosity on a scale normally associated with wealthy people.

Spiritual voyageur. My friend was raised as a judgmental sort of fundamentalist Christian. With the passing of years she became more tolerant and progressive. An abhorrence for sin morphed into a compassion and a deep concern for social justice. My friend often refers to her “voyage” as a person of faith. To her, it is the single most consequential fact of her life.

The caterpillar became a butterfly, although she is too modest to claim that.

Who are YOU?

On Being an Expert


Header image from the public domain; source: Andrea Rauch

Today’s post is from Chris in Owatonna

Most of us go through life developing talents, skills, and interests that add to our enjoyment of life or pay our expenses. Some are happy doing relatively simple jobs, happy with their high school diploma or G.E.D., happy to be in the middle of the bell curve of expertise.

But some of us strive to become an expert at one thing: a field of study in college or beyond, a sport, a career, a hobby, a craft, an artistic discipline. Some earn a degree, or a license, or a certificate, or validation from adoring fans if they become rock stars or award-winning actors or world-class athletes.

The other group of strivers usually become experts by default. Often it’s simply for the love of the subject.  Who doesn’t know someone who’s a walking encyclopedia on a certain subject, like a woodworker who can build furniture as good as the masters of centuries past? Or the good cook who tried new recipes, developed new ideas, found a passion for feeding people and then opened their own restaurant without even knowing there is such an institution as the Culinary Institute of America?

Intentional or not, I seem to have earned my expert stripe in an area I hadn’t thought possible until about six years ago–writing fiction.

Yep. Fiction. A novel in fact.

“Big deal,” you say.

And you’re right. There are millions of people in the world who have written a complete book but aren’t entitled to call themselves experts.

“Why?” I hear you ask.

Because they haven’t published the book.

For better or worse, I took that step and published my novel! For people to actually purchase and read. I still shake my head in wonderment as to how and why I came to this point in my life.

I didn’t earn an MFA or Literature degree. I didn’t take master class after master class and earn validation from other experts (most far with far more expertise than I’ll ever have).  I didn’t even answer an ad in the back of a tabloid and get an online degree from “How ta Write Good University.” Nevertheless, I’ve earned the right to  pretend to be an expert in the field of fiction writing because I crossed the line from talking about it and dreaming about it to doing it.

My novel Castle Danger is now available in print for order through your favorite local bookstore ( my preferred  way to purchase books),, the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, or the trunk of my car. And I am available for book clubs, bar mitzvahs, coffee klatches, neighborhood block parties, or hardware store grand openings.🙂

Now that I’ve written a novel I suppose I’m qualified to teach classes or give interviews  on “how to write a novel.” Strangers may regard me with a modicum of admiration or envy or jealousy or dubiousness (THAT guy wrote a novel?? Sheesh!) But I don’t feel any more an expert on writing than I did before I decided to put the darn thing out into the world for public consumption. I wonder if other experts with real degrees, validation, or money in the bank earned from their expert endeavors feel like a true expert. And can anyone ever know everything there is to know about a subject or field of study? I doubt it.

So my question for Babooners is: In what subject, job skill, artistic or athletic endeavor, or hidden talent have you become a de facto expert? Meaning no official recognition by governing bodies, licensing boards, piles of money in a Swiss bank account, or public acclaim and accolades?


Indie Bookstore Day

Header photo by By Rcawsey – Own work, Public Domain,

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale.

For all you baboon readers who still read books with pages to turn, this weekend is your chance to celebrate your favorite independent bookstore. The Second Annual Indie Bookstore Day is happening on April 30 around the country.

Many folks are lamenting the trend that seems to be continuing – more people buying online from Amazon while even large chains like Borders go under, and Barnes and Noble closes, among others, its Mankato store (if I remember correctly a comment from Clyde).

This article from last spring’s first Indie Bookstore Day displays photos of indie bookstores all over Minnesota:

I’ve posted below some of the metro area’s independent bookstores, and a link to their IBD celebration info:

  • My personal favorite is Birchbark Books – 2002 23rd Av. S., Mpls. – because I used to work there.
  • But here’s an independent that I haven’t discovered yet:   Moon Palace Books – 2820 E. 33rd St., Mpls.
  • And there’s Boneshaker Books – 2002 23rd Av. S., Mpls. – “The shop specializes in progressive and radical literature & mdah; and children’s books. It also houses the Women’s Prison Book Project, which provides books to inmates across the country.”  I was not able to find anything on their website about IBD, but they celebrated last year.
  • And my favorite kids bookstore, Wild Rumpus, 2720 W. 43rd St., Mpls .
  • Magers & Quinn (new and used) Books – 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
  • In St. Paul, there’s Garrison’s store, Common Good Books, 38 S. Snelling.
  • Subtext Books – 6 West Fifth Street6 West 5th Street, St. Paul.
  • The Red Balloon, 891 Grand Av., St. Paul.
  • Duluth has Fitger’s, which is as close as I can get to Mahtawa, Cynthia. It specializes in regional Northeastern Minnesota books.
  • A little farther afield, here’s an article about shops in Portland, OR, for Steve.

(Wes, I couldn’t remember which Ohio city you reside in.)

Of course, I’ve just scratched the surface, and I apologize ahead of time if I’ve left out your favorite independent bookstore. (Please add your favorites in your comments.) There are great used book stores all over, like Midway and 6th Chamber in St. Paul. Rochester and Mankato each have one.

What was the last book you purchased, whatever kind of book it was?

R. I. P. Pat Conroy

Today’s post is by Barbara in Robbinsdale

Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, et al., died last week on March 4, 2016. He wrote prolifically about a harrowing childhood in which his father played a huge role – his military style of parenting; the verbal and emotional abuse he visited on Conroy and his siblings; and the “military brat” lifestyle of moving around the South – 24 places by the time Conroy was 15. Conroy’s writing both “saved” him, and was the cause of more conflict – in the form of rifts with family members throughout his adult life.

Four of Pat Conroy’s books became movies:

  • The Water is Wide, 1972 (movie 1974, Conrack)   (also a Hallmark TV presentation, 2006)
  • The Great Santini, 1976 (movie 1979)
  • The Lords of Discipline, 1980 (movie 1983)
  • The Prince of Tides, 1986 (movie 1991)

In his final memoir, The Death of Santini (2013), he may have finally achieved a degree of closure and peace about his father. But as I listened last week to a “Talking Volumes” interview with MPR’s Kerry Miller, it was the stories he told about his mother that enchanted me, and shaped the rest of his life – how “she made reading the most important thing a person could do.” She took all the kids (ultimately seven) to the library every week, and they each checked out as many books as they were allowed (5 books in most libraries). They would then “read ‘em and trade ‘em,” so the kids might read as many as 25 books a week!

Literature became as real as anything else in the world, “and my mother made it that way.” She would read to him at bedtime each night, one of the first in his memory (at about age 5) being her favorite: Gone with the Wind.” He remembered it this way in the interview:

“Now Pa-at… when you hear me read about Scarlett O’hara, it is quite naturally for you to mistake Miss Scarlett for your own pretty mama. And when you read about that dastardly Rhett Butler, you can think about your fighter pilot father in Korea.” And she said, “When you think about Melanie Wilkes you can think about your tacky Aunt Helen… that girl don’t have a lick of sense and no personality whatsoever.”

When she read that way, with “every character in that book she could associate somebody we knew – it was the first time I knew there was a relationship between life and art.”

The more I read about Pat Conroy, i.e. from his website,

the more of his books I want to read, especially The Death of Santini, and The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of my Life.


Is there a book in your “repertoire” in which you can insert people you know for some memorable character(s)?


Header photo of Old Monroeville courthouse by Andrea Wright via Flickr

Today’s post comes from tim

harper lee is dead

she went along very nicely for 50+ years after producing one of the greatest works of all time in to kill a mockingbird.she recently got brought back into the news as the author of the book the publisher rejected before the one they accepted where gregory peck has become permanently attached as atticus finch to be remembered forever.

i love that story

i can watch it again and again i have also read it twice which may not be a big deal for sherrilee but it is for me. i havnt read many books twice.

something about a book is different than a movie and very different than a tv show. it keeps me in focus and had the pictures that accompany the words come in through a different filter. they are implanted while the movie or tv shows are slid in alongside whatever is going on in my mind at the time.

harper lee grew up in a 30’s 40’s town where main street was over there and the neighborhood was over here and she wrote about the people she knew and the circumstances as they unfolded and it was all she ever really needed to do. i felt sad when i heard she had the other book released even though it had been around for 50 some years already done but not published.

i thought of her in a special way. the grand daughter of robert e lee, the writer or a truly rock solid story that will live on forever and able to stay a semi recluse without being a negative thing.  

i have thought about my idyllic childhood in the burbs of blooming with the cornfield next to me and the river a mile away and all the friends i needed to get through the different stages of lifes ever changing topography scotty bowman and ray dewberry when i was a pup, bill mccarthy and sean sinnott when i was an up and comer and my hippy friends as the adolescent years ushered in the end of sliding through life. all of a sudden life steered me instead of the other way around. i had payments and meeting then kids and responsibility. death of a salesman is not nearly as fun to read as to kill a mockingbird.

ive decided that a chunk of a lifes story is all that can be handled in one sitting. you cant write the history of the world without missing too much but you can choose a chunk and make it a good story like harper lee did

if you were gonna take a chunk and write about it how would choose it and why?