Topics/tags: Reviews, rambly
I remember the first time I heard (or heard of) Michael Perry. I was driving through the streets of Boone, Iowa , I turned on the radio to NPR, and I heard someone reading a story in which one of the main characters was falling in love with a woman because of how she treated her leather boots . I loved how it captured a particular view of the world and the things people notice. The story later turned to a description of a woman in one of those late 1960’s Catholic churches . It resonated with my experience with my in-laws. So I kept listening. Eventually, the show moved from the reading to an interview, and I discovered that the author was Michael Perry. Soon thereafter, he said something like,
My friend, Dean Bakopoulos, is a faculty member and helped me realize that I was a bit cruel to the academic in this story. He made it better. Since Dean is a colleague at Grinnell , I sent him a note.
Then I bought The Jesus Cow, the book that Perry had been reading from. It’s a funny story about what happens when a quiet, private, farmer has a calf that is born with the face of Jesus on the side and, to his chagrin, people discover it and, well, chaos ensues. As in the readings from the radio, I found myself appreciating the tender, thoughtful, way that Perry approached his characters, even the ones we might like less. And, although the story is set in rural Wisconsin , it felt like it could, as easily, apply to rural Iowa. That is, it felt honest. And it also made me laugh.
Hence, I was thrilled to see an announcement that Dean was bringing Perry  to Grinnell as part of the wonderful Writers@Grinnell series . I added the event to my calendar, dug out my copy of The Jesus Cow for an autograph, and waited.
I did have a moment of crisis that week. Kate Hennessy, Dorothy Day’s granddaughter, was speaking at the University of Iowa the same night. I very much appreciate many aspects of Day’s version of Catholicism and wanted to see that talk, too. But I chose the Perry talk . While I don’t know what I missed in the Hennessey talk, I’m certainly glad I took the time to hear Perry. He read a variety of excerpts from his books and, as I’d found previously, they were funny and thoughtful. He left me wanting to read more .
I had also hit the point that I was losing my ability to listen to news radio on the trip to Iowa City. The Kavanaugh hearings and the general state of the US made the trips frustrating. So I decided to pick up a few of Perry’s
books on CD to listen along the way. Knowing that he reads his works helped convince me that I’d want to listen.
In the two weeks since, I have now listened to all of Population: 485 , as well as the additional essays and
recorded live segment included in that audiobook . Population: 485 tells the story of his return to his hometown and his experiences reconnecting to his neighbors, particularly through his service as a volunteer firefighter. While there were times I found myself laughing out loud, and I did continue to appreciate his thoughtful profiles of others (and himself), it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Many parts of the book draw on his experiences as a volunteer firefighter or EMT. And, well, in lots of those situations, people die. The last chapter had me in deep tears. That’s not quite what I was looking for my drives to and from Iowa City. But it was still better than swearing at the radio.
I’ve now moved on to Truck: A Love Story. So far, there’s much less death . It’s also entertainingly rambly, which is also one of Perry’s other talents. At some point, I’ll probably burn out. For now, I value the time I spend listening to the books. And it makes the miles fly by.
I hope Dean brings Perry back to Grinnell some time soon.
Postscript: Learn more about Michael Perry and order his books and audiobooks at SneezingCow.com.
Postscript: I’ve been listening to a lot of Michael Perry recently. I wonder if it’s affected the way I write.
 No, I don’t think
the Boonies comes from Boone; it’s certainly nearer a real city than, say, Grinnell."
 Very well, that is.
 I could be mistaken. My brain envisions a cinderblock basement, but I’m pretty sure that’s wrong.
 And a damn good writer.
 I think.
 Why do I refer to Dean by first name and Perry by last name? Um, because I know Dean, and I refer to friends by first name. However, my general practice is to refer to people by last name.
 Although I regularly offer my students extra credit to attend Writers@Grinnell, I don’t make it nearly enough. Evenings are hard.
 Thinking about a late-night drive home from Iowa City also helped me choose to be in Grinnell.
 It would be equally accurate to say that they left me wanting to hear more.
 Perry didn’t have a copy of the audiobook that day; I ended up borrowing it from our library.
 I think I’ve made four round trips in the two weeks, a bit less than my goal. That’s seven
CDs of Population: 485 and one of Truck: A Love Story.
 The truck is dead, at least at the start of the book. But I don’t think I’ve heard about any human deaths.
Version 1.0 of 2018-10-16.