Just Read It is a regular feature in which the State Journal seeks recommendations from authors, literary enthusiasts and experts, focused on the contributor’s particular genre of expertise.
Jim Landwehr’s first book, “Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir,” was released in June 2014. He enjoys writing all genres and has had nonfiction published in Forbes Journal, Boundary Waters Journal and MidWest Outdoors. He is currently working on a collection of poetry that he hopes to have published in spring of 2015. Jim lives in Waukesha with his wife and two children. He works for Waukesha County as a GIS analyst. He chose three books that influenced his writing.
1. “Population 485” by Michael Perry. I was introduced to Michael Perry in my writing workshop when a colleague mentioned that my work reminded her of him. She insisted I read “Population 485.” Well, I’m glad I did. Reading his stories of life in small-town Wisconsin as a volunteer firefighter/EMT was like talking to an old friend. Perry does such a wonderful job weaving two or three stories together with precision and mastery in all of his work. In “Population 485,” the reader gets gut-wrenching laughter and sobering sadness throughout the book, and sometimes within the same chapter. Throw in a few characters like a cross-eyed butcher and, well, it just keeps you flipping the pages.
2. “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson. One of the bigger items on my wilderness bucket list is to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail. Bryson takes us on a trip with his sorely prepared, out-of-shape companion Katz and succeeds in taking me there. He does it with descriptions such as, “The woods were in full chlorophyll-choked glory now, which made them even more pressing and secretive. Often, I couldn’t see five feet into the dense foliage on either side of the path.” If I never make that Appalachian bucket-list item, well, “A Walk in the Woods” took me pretty close.
3. “To Timbuktu” by Mark Jenkins. I grew up watching black-and-white Tarzan movies on television. It brought a little bit of Africa into my living room on Saturday afternoons. Jenkins does the same with his account of kayaking down the Niger River in Africa with three friends. He pulls readers along to get lost, sick, dirty and sometimes frightened in the wilds of the Dark Continent. His story slips smoothly like a kayak uncovering the mysteries of people and place and the dangers inherent in being foreigners in small, vulnerable watercraft on one of the world’s wildest rivers.