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Books: States of Mind

August 26, 2011 | Books,Brad Herzog,Family,Missouri

I finished reading States of Mind: A Search for Faith, Hope, Inspiration, Harmony, Unity, Friendship, Love, Pride, Wisdom, Honor, Comfort, Joy, Bliss, Freedom, Justice, Glory, Triumph, and Truth or Consequences in America by Brad Herzog when I was on vacation in Missouri.

While I felt on the same page with him in Turn Left at the Trojan Horse, States of Mind — oddly enough — took me even further into my own “state of mind.”

It made me look at my own life and wonder what I’ve done, where I’ve been and where I’m going. It made me think of regrets, and it brought out a little envy.

I mean, the man wrote this book in his 20s. Did I do that? No. (I started research for one in my early 30s, but I obviously didn’t write that book.) He seemed to have such a clear path for his life. Did I? Never. He admitted that he suffered angst from basically a perfect life. Have I? Oh, I wish.

So, here I am. I’m 46. My mother died in January this year. I am the age my father was when he died 27 years ago today, on Aug. 26, 1984. I was 19, and he was 46. It’s a little weird to be 46 now. I wrote about my dad two years ago on the 25th anniversary of his death.

Think about death much? (It probably doesn’t help that I’m reading Sing them Home and Tinkers, both of which have death as a central issue.) No, actually, I’m thinking about life. My life.

Thanks, Brad.

Coincidence abounds again with States of Mind. And not just within the book.

I’d just started the book as I sat alone in a Mexican restaurant, sipping a margarita. I got there before the lunch rush, and the place was empty. Then the host brought in a couple and seated them right beside me. I looked up and smiled, then turned back to my book. The woman wondered aloud what she should order. She looked over at me, asked if the margarita was good and should she order one? She went on to say they were celebrating their anniversary.

“Oh, which one?” I asked.

“Our 54th.” They were in town from Clarion to get her eyes checked. She’d recently had surgery on them and was happy to be able to read again, she said, pointing at my book.

We had a nice chat.

I remembered that chat when I got to page 104 and learned that Chicken Owen of Pride, Alabama, had been married for 54 years. Not 52. Not 58. Fifty-four.


One of the topics in his chapter on Hope, Mississippi, was desegregation. That’s what I was researching in my 30s when I decided to find the children my father taught in the first desegregated fifth-grade class in Thomasville, Georgia. I might have even been talking to them when Herzog was interviewing Jerome and Ollie May. We learned something similar.

“We often think of desegregation as an end to a moral struggle, when it was, to many closest to it, the beginning of a practical one. Jerome at the Hope Country Store told me he had quit school for a while when the races were mixed, not out of moral indignation but because of the volatile atmosphere it created. … From an entirely different station in life, Ollie May had developed much the same perspective. ‘I remember that this mother let her daughter to go school, and she got beat up and stuff. That’s when they was tryin’ to mix ’em together then,’ she explained. ‘I said if I ever have any kids, if my kids had trouble, I would just take ’em out. I wouldn’t let them go through that, ’cause I didn’t have to.'” (p. 140)


In the chapter on Friendship, Maine, he wrote this.

“It was then that I realized what I admired so much about Bill and Caroline Zuber. They were in control of their lives. They had taken it upon themselves to define the moment. It was a concept that became the credo of our cross-country tour and, indeed, a blueprint for our future, so much so that Amy and I turned the journey into a search for a home, setting lofty criteria for the life we wanted to live and looking for an environment that would meet them. … Too many people I know — and these are young people, people with options — seem to settle for entrenched mediocrity, merely tolerating their day-to-day existence. A few even seem to revel in their misery, the late hours or cold winters or tyrannical bosses or shunted dreams. They trudge through fifty weeks of tedium to enjoy two weeks of reprieve — maybe three weeks, if they’re lucky enough to get a promotion. The Zubers decided to make life a vacation.” (p. 277)

That right there? That’s when I wished I could have 25 back and create an organized blueprint for the future, which is where I am now. My “future” is full of late hours and cold winters. I want life to be a vacation. How do I get that? Do I still have options?

Well. Let’s ask Hemingway.

“. . . I thought of Hemingway, of a passage in Death in the Afternoon: ‘There are some things which cannot be learned quickly, and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things, and because it takes a man’s life to know them, the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.'” (p. 296)

Or, you know, a woman.

But I don’t know.

Maybe I was meant to struggle to learn the important things in life. Maybe I would have learned nothing if I’d had a perfect, non-chaotic life. I mean, I’ve lived through some difficult times, but I also have some amazing memories. You can see some of them on my post from last January, A decade: Are you reelin’ in the years? I wouldn’t trade the memories behind any one of those pictures for a less chaotic life. Not even for a second.

So, yeah, there’s still the issue of long hours and cold winters. But I’ll figure that out. I always do.

Anyway. This book isn’t about me. But I want authors to know how their words can affect readers. Oh, heck. They probably know that because they’re readers, too. In any case, someone else will read this and come away with a whole different experience.

And y’all should read this book.

I highly recommend reading Brad Herzog. He’s a wonderful listener and a gifted storyteller.

Oh and P.S.: While I was reading States of Mind in Missouri, I passed a building with HERZOG in big letters. I’d never seen it before, even though I’ve been to St. Joseph to visit my aunt and uncle many times over the years. I’d also never heard of the name until I picked up Turn Left at the Trojan Horse. I wondered if maybe there were a whole mess of Herzogs living there. But, nope. Listed in the telephone book was just Herzog Contracting Corp. and a Wm. R.

Posted by Becky @ 1:36 pm | Comments  

Books: Turn Left at the Trojan Horse

July 9, 2011 | Books,Brad Herzog,Iowa

I just finished reading Turn Left at the Trojan Horse: A Would-be Hero’s American Odyssey by Brad Herzog.

I noticed this on the shelf at Bookadee. I picked it up and read the back cover one day while I was straightening shelves. I felt he had a connection to Iowa, though I’m not sure why. He wasn’t on the shelf with Iowa authors. The inside flap said he lived in California. (Ah, but lots of Iowa authors don’t live in Iowa anymore, I thought.) I figured I’d look him up later and maybe I’d read this book someday. My to-read list is about a mile long, so I figured, sure. I’ll get to it in a few years.

Well, I got to it sooner than I thought. I bought it with a few other books from Bookadee. (It’s kind of a joke that I just endorse my paycheck over to the bookstore to feed my habit.) I picked it up a couple of weeks after taking my in-laws on the tour of Winnebago Industries. That’s when I looked him up and found that he writes a travel blog, as well as books.

So I started reading Turn Left. At the very end — almost on the last page, in the acknowledgments — I finally saw his connection to Iowa in black and white. He offered his gratitude to “the fine folks at Winnebago Industries” in Forest City, Iowa.

So, no. He wasn’t born here. He hasn’t lived here. I don’t even know if he’s been to Forest City.*** But there’s the connection. Go figure.

Turn Left is a story of a person in the middle of his life, looking back, looking forward and looking inward — all the while looking outward for connection and meaning. While trying to make sense of it all, he heads out on the open road and crosses the country on the way to his college reunion.

I picked the exact right time to read this book, although I’d trade my mid-life crisis for his any day. Still, I get it. I’m about his age and (I hope) somewhere in the middle of my life.

His theme was Greek mythology, heroes and fate. He went through enough characters and stories that I thought, it’s a good thing he studied so much about this … now I don’t have to. Although I admit I feel a nagging need to read Homer now. I even put The Iliad and The Odyssey on my Goodreads to-read list. Again … I’m sure I’ll get to them in a few years.

Herzog was searching for something heroic in himself, and he found heroes all along his path — a missionary-turned-county commissioner in Athena and an adventurer-turned-one-room-schoolteacher in Troy and everyone in between.

Coincidence (fate?) abounds. (My favorite is when he met in Siren, Wisconsin, a bartender named Dawn, who’d just finished reading The Iliad.) Enough to raise my skeptic’s hackles. But he says at the end of the book, “This isn’t a work of fiction. Every single event, every quotation, every location is real and true to life.”

So I’m taking his word for it. Because I want to believe. In fact, one of the strongest beliefs I have is in the power of words and books.

This book is a great one. He tells the stories of dozens of people he met on his journey and also those from his life. I loved learning about his grandparents. He describes people and places with a sharp eye, and he weaves his current stories with history.

Herzog had me laughing out loud in places, getting chills in others and reaching for a tissue in others. I’m not sure what most people think about at a tractor pull, but Herzog might be the only one to turn philosophical, thinking of ancient Greek gods and the meaning of life.

The photographs in the book are black-and-white. I found this video after reading the book, and it brings people and places to even more life with brilliant color.

***So, if he hasn’t been to Forest City yet, I hope he finds us on his trusty atlas. I see he will be in Minnesota this week. (He will be at Magers & Quinn Booksellers, 3038 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55408, on Tuesday, July 12, at 7:30 p.m.)

And we’re just two hours directly south of Minneapolis. There’s Winnebago, of course, and the 2011 WIT Grand National Rally starts Monday. And, hey, Bookadee is right in the heart of downtown Forest City on Clark Street.

Stop on by, Brad. Bring the family.

Posted by Becky @ 3:23 pm | 2 Comments  

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