Native son: BOOKWORM

by Charles D. Novak


I’d like to introduce you to author Allen Eskens who spent 25 years as a criminal-defense attorney and lives in Mankato, Minnesota. All his novels have cities and towns in Minnesota as their background.. I’ve seldom been this excited about discovering a writer. You’ll want to start with his novel THE LIFE WE BURY. He introduces characters in this story which he uses in subsequent books.
THE HEAVENS MAY FALL is the follow up to BURY. The plot of BURY introduces Joe Talbert who is a student at the University of Minnesota. For one of his school projects he is going to interview a murderer and rapist by the name of Carl Iverson. Carl is being transferred from his Stillwater prison cell to a nursing home because he has cancer and three months left to live. Is Carl really guilty?
Joe has a girlfriend named Lila studying to be a lawyer, an autistic 18 year old brother named Jeremy and a raging alcoholic mother with an abusive lover. You won’t be bored for a minute with this cast of characters so give this Minnesota writer a try!
And now for something completely different – RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS by Amy Newmark. This is a series of short stories about people doing good deeds. The subtitle of the book is CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL.
If ever there was a “feel good” book, this is it. Each story is about a page and a half in length, full of compassion and good deeds. Next time you stand in line at a fast food place think about paying for the meal of the person standing behind you. I’m tempted to try it just to see what happens.
There are two books titled DEATH ROW CHAPLAIN. I recommend the one dated 1962 which is out of print but you can buy used copies through Amazon or check for availability at the library.
The 2013 book with the same title is written by Rev Earl Smith. I can see the prisoners on death row cringing when he shows up promising eternal damnation if they didn’t accept Jesus before they die. His motto is “it’s better to believe in God because if you’re wrong and nothing happens you just die into the nothingness of the universe.” This is compassion?
In the saner 1962 book by Byron Eshelman you will meet on death row: Al Capone, Robert (Birdman) Stroud, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Caryl Chessman and Barbara Graham who was framed for the murder of an old woman during a botched robbery.
It took Barbara 12 agonizing minutes to die. Her body was left strapped in the chair for two hours before they could get all the poison gas out of the chamber. Right after she was removed Santo and Perkins, the two guys who framed her, were executed together. They laughed and talked to each other as the pellets dropped into the cyanide.
The truly amazing thing about the stories in this book is how different each condemned man prepares for death. One of them died with his sense of humor intact. When he got to the gas chamber door he asked the warden if he could have a roll of Tums. The warden asked why and he replied “for the gas I’m going to have in my stomach!” This is a terrific “must read” book.
My recent column in the Echo about the circus seemed to have awakened memories for many people in this area who remember going to the Shrine Circus in Hibbing. There are two excellent circus books which I can highly recommend.
THE CIRCUS FIRE By Stewart O’Nan is a first rate account of the fire in Hartford, Connecticut in the summer of 1944. The Ringling Circus was in town with its Big Top.
Half way through the matinee performance a fire broke out at the top of the tent trapping 8,000 people. 167 died. 67 were children. The heart wrenching chapter of the parents going to a gym to try and identify their children’s bodies, many of which were burned beyond recognition, will have you in tears. When the fire broke out the Flying Wallendas were doing their aerial act high above the crowd. They shimmied down ropes to safety. Amazingly no animals were killed.
The second circus book is RINGLING THE LAST LAUGH by Michel Lancaster. There were five Ringling Brothers all involved with the circus. The story of them putting on THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH is amazing. At times everything seemed to be going against them.
John Ringling was the last man standing. When he died he had $312 in his bank account but his estate was valued at $20 million or $325 million in today’s dollars. There were over a hundred lawsuits filed against his will which took 30 years to settle. The love of his life Mabel stuck with him through thick and thin and all his infidelities.
Besides books our local library has all kinds of events which you can find out about in the Ely Echo. It was great to read over half the residents of Ely have a library card. A nice reputation to have in our small community!