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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Guest Blogger: Tim Finally Answers Gerry's Question

Old Reed City postcard (Sorry I couldn't crop this better)

Today’s guest blogger is Tim Bazzett, who recently appeared as a guest book reviewer for Books in Northport. Gerry Sell of Torch Lake Views left a comment on that post, asking if there was “something in the water” of Reed City that turned out writers. Tim e-mailed me, saying that he would be happy to answer Gerry’s question but had trouble doing it directly on the blog. (Don’t feel bad, Tim—a lot of experienced bloggers have trouble leaving comments sometimes: It’s the fault of the blogging platforms.) When asked, he readily gave me permission to use his e-mail as a guest post, so here once again I give you Tim Bazzett:

Hello, Gerry –

Finally I respond. Nope, probably nothing in the water here--just the usual minerals and impurities. But in case you didn't know it, famous writer/composer George Bennard ("The Old Rugged Cross") spent his last years here. The hymn is something of a city anthem and we now have an ORC Museum as a popular tourist attraction. I remember seeing the Rev. Bennard as a guest on Tennessee Ernie Ford's afternoon TV show back in the ‘50s. Ernie probably sang it better than anyone else.

Jim Harrison's dad, Win, was the county ag agent here back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, so Jim spent his formative years here, til he was about 12 or 13, when his family relocated to Haslett, down by Lansing. At MSU he was part of a trio of writers, the others Tom McGuane and Dan Gerber, who formed the short-lived Sumac Press where many of his early poems were published. And I still remember the excitement I felt when I read Jim's first novel, Wolf: A False Memoir, when I was in grad school at CMU. The first sentence began: "Driving west out of Reed City ..." and went on descriptively for a couple of pages. Not exactly Hemingway-esque as he is so often described. but it was that Reed City reference that hooked me and kept me along for the ride for many books after that. My favorite of all Jim's books is an early one, Farmer, because it is set in and around Paris, just 15 minutes or so south of here -- although I don't think Paris is ever actually mentioned. Jim also had a few fond memories of Reed City in his memoir, Off to the Side, and the area is also represented in some of his poetry, as his uncles had a cabin out near Wells Lake, north of town. It seems I remember a poem about Kilmer Lake, more of a pond, really, near Wells Lake. Drs. Paul and David Kilmer were medical practitioners here for many years - they had an office upstairs over Bonsall's Drugs, and also made house calls. And Dr Paul had a cabin on Wells Lake that is, I believe still in the family.

And, since Harrison, I was the next Reed City writer, but, in comparison, I don't really count -- strictly amateur, regional story-telling stuff. Although I am rather proud of the fact that my second book, Soldier Boy (2005), has sold over a thousand copies and has been read in all fifty states and several foreign countries since its publication. I've had letters and emails from folks, mostly veterans or active-duty military, from all over hell and back about that book. It seems to have struck a common chord with people who've served. Locally, I think it's mostly referred to as "that dirty book." But I take comfort in knowing that they say the same thing about most of Jim Harrison's stuff.

I should also mention New York Times bestselling author of In Harm's Way and Horse Soldiers, Doug Stanton, who was born here, but he grew up and, as you know, still lives in Traverse City. My brothers and I went to school with his folks, Derald and Bonnie. His grandfather on his dad's side helped run the local Shell station and did a little farming on the side (didn't everyone back then?), and his maternal grandfather, Ivan May, was the last agent for the railroad here, before the rails all went away. I think Doug likes to tell people he was born in a library, which is kinda true. The current Reed City Public Library used to be the Reed City Hospital many many years ago.  

And now we have Ben Busch, and his book, Dust to Dust, which is simply outstanding. Ben brought us an advance copy back in September. I was really looking forward to reading it, as I had been privileged to read early drafts of many of the essays included in it over the past year. Ben would just come by with a sheaf of papers and say, "Read this and let me know what you think,” and I did. I thought they were all really good. I think the only advice I ever offered was that some of them were awfully serious in nature, and could maybe use a bit of comic relief, but I don't think Ben really needed even that advice, as his wry, dry sense of humor is very much in evidence now in DtD, although it is, finally, a very serious and mature work. Anyway, I had to wait my turn for the book. My wife snatched it away from me and read it first. And she marveled, and chuckled, and, finally, wept as she finished it. And so did I. It's that kind of book. And if there is any justice, it will sell a million copies. Benjamin Busch may indeed be Reed City's very first real claim to fame in the literary world. Oh, I know Harrison is famous, but he didn't write his books here, in Reed City. Ben did, and could put this town on the map. And I hope that in the process, he will also spark a renewed interest in the work of his late father, Frederick Busch. Because I have been reading Fred's books for over twenty years now and have never quite understood why he was not a nationally, or even internationally famous writer. He was that good. And now so is his son. I expect even greater things from Ben in years to come.

Enough said. Nope, nothing in the water. But read Ben's book. You won't be sorry. Dust to Dust is not simply a "man's book," or a book about war. It's a book for Everyman (and Everywoman), and one to savor and cherish.

All the best from 'literary' Reed City,
Tim Bazzett


Deborah said...

Tim, your answer is so interesting! Growing up Lutheran, I can't possibly count the number of times I've sung The Old Rugged cross. You have definitely hooked me to read more books from Reed city authors. I loved reading your response!

P. J. Grath said...

Deborah, wasn't it one of our dad's favorite hymns?

Gerry said...

Ask a writer a question . . . but I digress. I've been pondering Tim's reply for two days now and have some more thinking to do--my thinker has slowed down considerably in recent years--but I do appreciate the stories. All of my favorite treasures are stories. Thank you for the new ones, Tim.

I savored Dust to Dust but I am not going to talk about it until Rob the Firefighter has had a chance to read it as well. I suppose that means I must go to the post office and send it to him today. (My doer has slowed down almost as much as my thinker.)

Deborah said...

Gerry - I love the images of your thinker slowing down and your doer slowing down - something our Father would have said I think. Pamela, didn't Dad use the term -thinkerer? Yes, Old Rugged Cross was indeed one of Dad's favorite - I remembered that when I read Tim's response.

Dawn said...

Wonderful response! And Gerry, don't talk about the book yet...I just got it, need to get it read over the weekend! (Thanks PJ!)

Kathy said...

I am anticipating reading Dust to Dust as well. Perhaps more of us would have moved to Reed City if we knew of its literary background. Good thing Gerry asked the question!

P. J. Grath said...

A friend of mine in Australia is ready to start reading DUST TO DUST, and Ben will be having a show of photographs this month (April) at the Dennos Museum in Traverse City. Good old Reed City!