Lake Wobegon Book CoverSo, there’s this “international” library here in Tianjin. It’s on the second floor of the upscale Sheraton Hotel’s apartment side. You go up this tiny spiral staircase in the Spa area, through a glass door, turn left, and you’ve reached book bliss. I’d say there are about 20 shelves of various genres of books in English. A few shelves of French books. And a few shelves of German books. Nothing Chinese in sight! I was the only one up there that night and I gladly browsed every inch.

Almost immediately, my eyes stuck on Garrison Keillor and his 2001 novel, Lake Wobegon Summer 1956. The hometown boy in me instinctively picked it up and started my pile of four books that I’d be checking out. I just so happened to be going to Beijing for the weekend, and this would be perfect reading material.

It was a quick read with Keillor’s enjoyable writing style and I related to almost all of his 14-year-old self’s fictional coming-of-age mishaps. The story takes place in fictional Lake Wobegon, MN, and includes many little anecdotes over the course of this youthful, nerdy summer. I’ve actually always imagined the town to be a bit like Pelican Rapids, MN, where my grandparents used to live, so this was a perfect book to read while I’m away in China.

The storyteller in me was fascinated by this book. I love the way the author stretches out details further and further and completely wraps you up in them. The metaphors were ridiculous, but they worked every time. Oh, and the way he had his grandfather and Jesus looking down from heaven giving Statler and Waldorf commentary every now and then, was classic. It was a wonderful insight into a brain of a young writer/storyteller and I tried to take good mental notes throughout.

Here’s a paragraph or two that I thought I’d share with you:

“Whatever happens, I will write it down.

I will write no more poems to please my teachers. I will write no more of boogers and farts to curry favor among the cruel and callow. I will no longer toy with tornadoes and talking dogs and fatal blood diseases as if making a puppet show.

I will sit at the table with my family and write down their sighs, their little pleasures, their kids’ hearts, their faithfulness. In the face of sin and sorrow and the shadow of death itself, they do not neglect to wash the dishes.”