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Dave Wood's Book Report, Nov. 12, 2008

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Powerful military nation decides its time to teach a lesson to small Moslem nation, certain that its people will welcome the enlightened country's victory over outmoded religious country whose time had come and gone centuries before.

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Strangely, the little Moslem nation didn't take kindly to the incursion from Big Brother and threw the big guy for loss after loss.

Does this sound familiar? Of course. Only problem is that the countries about which historian Paul Strathern writes in his new book are 19th century countries, France and Egypt. "Napoleon in Egypt," by Paul Strathern (Bantam, $30) is a fascinating account of France's misadventure in Egypt. Didn't someone say something about learning from the mistakes of history?

I'd be willing to wager that Clearwater County, Minn., hasn't sent out into the world too many Renaissance Men as prolific as Leonard, Minn., native LeRoy Larson. Larson is a school teacher, orchestra leader, disc jockey, publisher, composer, holds a doctorate in ethnomusicology and plays the banjo better than anyone I've every heard. His Scandinavian Music Ensemble has performed at the Library of Congress and at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., as well as at countless saloons, supper clubs and lutefisk church dinners across the upper Midwest.

So I thought I knew LeRoy Larson pretty well, especially after writing a long story about him two decades ago in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

But I didn't know LeRoy Larson was also a poet. I found that out last month when he sent me a copy of his second volume of poetry, "Love and Dog Tales: Poems & Lyrics" (Banjar Publications, Box 32164 Minneapolis, MN 55432).

It's a charming collection, easy on the eyes, accessible. It's not just about dogs, although there's a fair share of that. I like some of his other stuff just as well, especially poems when the poet looks back at his youth, like one entitled "That Waltz":

"When he hears that waltz

he tingles

goose bumps

up and down his spine,

lower eyelids fill

from old reservoirs of memories,

youthful years

at small town dances.

"Beautiful maidens never refused

his invitation to dance

that waltz,

he always knew who to ask,

and they waited.

"Spirited fillies,

miss effervescent

miss passion

miss radiant,

prerequisite one:

know the style,

parameters of that waltz.

"Gliding above the old oak floor

hand in hand, embracing,

whirling impromptu patterns,

long hair flying

oblivious to traffic,

smiling, flirting glances,

cheeks touching.

"Blood pumping hard

through old, dry veins,

feet moving in time,

hands gesturing,

distant eyes

mischievous grins,

a panorama of memories.

A tear falls from that waltz."

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Contact him at 715.426.9554.

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