Local Wonders: Seasons In The Bohemian Alps, by Ted Kooser
This book gave me an odd feeling, and I’m not sure it’s a feeling I like. When the author was talking about the small towns of the area of the Bohemian Alps, or about his fondness for having an outdoor toilet despite (or maybe because of) the disapproval of his neighbors, I found the book odd and somewhat likable. When the author talked about his political views or whined about lots of other people wanting to move to the area, though, I thought the author should shut up, and found him not very likable at all. Most of the time, people are likable when they are talking about themselves, but I did not necessarily find that to be the case here because the author, like many of his ilk . The advice that people should be personal in order to improve how they are viewed likely assumes that people want to know what others are like and appreciate those who think differently than they do, and that is not necessarily the case, which makes this book more than a bit of a mixed bag, filled with some humor but a lot of tedium.
This book is organized as four somewhat longish rants tied to the seasons of the year. The book begins in Spring and then goes through Summer and Autumn before ending in Winter. The book consists of a wide variety of talking points, including the spacing of towns, the practicality of many locals, the relationship between religious skepticism and suicide in the face of the loneliness of farming on isolated farmsteads, the lack of desirability and troubles of having outdoor plumbing, the popularity of boating in rural Nebraska, and so on and so forth. Again, the author is frequently entertaining and even poignant when discussing the traditions of the location and the nature of small town life, but quite honestly, he does not seem like all that decent or nice of a person himself, especially when he wades into political territory. Perhaps it is worthwhile to ponder for writers just how unlikable political stances make someone in an age of partisanship like this one is. It’s a shame that Nebraska couldn’t have a halfway decent Republican poet to write about this region instead of Ted Kooser, as that would have been way more enjoyable to read.
Ultimately, this book provides its readers with what most of them are looking for, a comfortbly leftist and quirky perspective on a quirky area that is becoming fashionable for Nebraska suburbanites. The author may not like the sort of subruban growth that is happening in his area, and it may not be good for the area itself (especially since suburban development is seldom a break-even, much less a profitable, phenomenon), but the author himself is a comfortable old dinosaur in dealing with such matters. He can be read with fond nostalgia by those who long for the good old days when people could be rural leftists without offending their neighbors. Perhaps such days are not to be seen for quite some time here. This book would have been better had it been a book of opaque poetry rather than the author’s attempt at rambling and disorganized prose, but if you like what this book has to offer, you might be able to find it in a library near you, so long as that library stocks books like this one, which my local library does, being on the outskirts of Portland. It is not a complete waste, at least, even if it is often a tedious and frustrating (if thankfully short read of slightly more than 150 pages).
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