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If you're sick of all the goings-on of the Hollywood brats of the present -- the Britneys and the Brads, the Whitneys and the Winonas you should read "Ingrid," by Charlotte Chandler (Simon & Schuster, $26). Chandler tells the story of the Swedish film star Ingrid Bergman, how she came to America and charmed it, becoming Hollywood's leading actress. And how she threw it all away, became detested by the masses, because she fell in love on a movie making junket to Italy. I vaguely remember it from my childhood.
"Roast beef and England; England and roast beef," That's the title of a song popular in the 18th century, suggesting that the English character was beefy, the English complexion ruddy. The first time I ate beef in England I found it tasteless and flabby. But not the English character, which has always been a wonder to me. Years back we stayed in a bed and breakfast outside Salisbury run by a high-handed, but by no means wealthy aristocrat. We'll call her Lady Bullying- Manner.
Oh, my, but this is a delicious book. If you're of a certain age, run out and get "Town Ball," by Armand Peterson and Tom Tomashek (University of Minnesota Press, $39.95). I'm of a certain age (that means old) and I well remember how town ball was played in my hometown, Whitehall, Wis. Whitehall had a tradition of good semipro baseball from the 1920s on. My uncle pitched for the Whitehall Millers back in the Roaring '20s, and was paid $50 per game, way more than he earned at the lumberyard.
"Mandela: A Critical Life," by Tom Lodge (Oxford University Press, $26) sheds new life on the South African leader who made so much news at the end of the 20th century. Lodge, a professor at a South African university explains Mandela's success and evenhandedness not so much by exploring Mandela's politics, but by explaining his family background, his biography. Here's an interesting sample: "Mandela's childhood was unusual because of his early departure from his mother's household and his subsequent upbringing as the ward of a royal regent.
Some people still think that the British Empire should never have been broken up. These are the people, mostly Anglophiles, who have read about and admired Winston Churchill, who went to his grave regretting the loss of India, etc. I count myself an Anglophile, but realize the breakup was a long time coming and inevitable.
As someone who spent years earning a doctorate in Restoration and 18th Century Literature and after having spent half my adult life teaching it I feel sort of left out these days. When I signed on at Augsburg College in 1970, I signed on for the express purpose of teaching it. Augsburg back then required every English major to take at least one course in the period between 1660 and 1800. These days Augsburg doesn't require the course. In fact, they don't even offer it! So guys like Alexander Pope, John Dryden and Samuel Johnson don't get taught. Why?
Here's a gaggle of mysteries set in spots around the world to make a Midwestern February bearable. Sarah Graves is back with another Home Repair Homicide Mystery. That's the trend these days. Guys like Nick Charles are gone, replaced by detectives who double as chefs, home repair mavens and the like. In the new book "Trap Door" (Bantam, $22) the author of 11 novels, including "Killer Driller," reintroduces Jacobia Tiptree, the Wall Street dropout, who has retired to Maine to restore an 19the century home.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" by Wallace Kennedy (Ytterli Press, 6600 Lyndale Ave. S 402, Richfield, MN 55423, $15.95 plus $2 handling) tells the story of his first 15 or so years on Earth. I came to it rather tentatively having been bombarded of late with reminiscences. But this one I couldn't put down. There was something infectious about it that kept me going. It's a difficult book to describe as it takes Kennedy and his family through the Great Depression and into World War II.
I really enjoy a recent trend in pop fiction. Larry Millett, the eminent architecture critic late of the Pioneer Press has written a series of beautifully written parodies of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, all of them set in Minnesota. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go to investigate the great forest fire, at Hinckley; Sherlock and Watson help railroad magnate James J. Hill get out of a mess, etc. etc. Stephanie Barron does a different twist with one of my favorite authors, Jane Austen ("Pride and Prejudice," etc. etc.).
In his latest collection, Wisconsin poet Thomas R. Smith has emerged as a "public" poet. His heralded early collections ("Horse of Earth," "The Dark Indigo Current") featured stunning nature poems and heartfelt recollections of family life.