Feed your curiosity and explore fresh perspectives with CapRadio Reads—our online, on-air and on demand resource for discovering your next great read.
The Lager Queen of Minnesota – J. Ryan Stradal
It starts with the unequal distribution of inheritance through the sale of a family farm. It ends with two sisters and a granddaughter finding peace in their passion for brewing beer. The women in this story are devoted to their craft, although not always to each other. Their journey will resonate with families of any background in any part of the world.
Beer lovers will appreciate the attention to detail author J. Ryan Stradal brings to this novel, in which he pays tribute to his native Minnesota from his adopted home of Los Angeles. His ingrained love for family and tradition is gently blended with humor and a deep understanding of the grieving process.
In “The Lager Queen of Minnesota,” Stradal has developed a story that draws us in and reminds us of what is truly important. What comes through in this interview, as in his writing, is Stradal’s appreciation of his roots. Blood is thicker than water, and apparently, so is beer.
On his family inheritance
“The people that raised me really raised me in a way that made me feel not just eternally grateful to them, but grateful to them in a way that I feel like that’s who my audience is. I’m writing for them. I’m writing for my mom. I’m writing for my grandmother. I’m writing for my mom’s friends. I’m writing for the teachers and librarians who put books in my hands and who helped me be not just a writer, but the person I am today.”
On finding the balance between joy and grief
“I find I’m at my best as a writer when I write as open-hearted as possible, when I feel like my heart is opening here in this chair, looking at this screen, and I’m taking in the whole of the people who have loved me and have enabled me to be in this extremely fortunate, privileged situation to be writing a novel. And when I think about writing for them, and writing for people like my mom, I think about the complexity of their lives, and I try to honor that by creating characters that have this breadth of emotional experience, that are reflecting on a loss in one paragraph and doing something to make a reader laugh a few paragraphs later. I really want to create for my reader a sense of people frolicking within the extremes of human emotion.”
On enjoying a unique flavor of beer
“The Minnesota State Fair every year becomes a kind of a proving ground for unusual beer flavor. I remember one year – I think most years, actually – there’s a mini-donut beer. It’s Minnesota. It’s a mini-donut state. That was a big one. When I first had that, I thought, okay, here’s something they’re not even going to try in other places. They’re not going to do this in Washington State or Florida or Texas. I don’t know how good it’s going to be, but it’s going to be something that Minnesotans are going to attempt … and probably only Minnesotans.”
Celebrating The Gift Of Reading
In Iceland, December is a celebration of books. Jolabokaflod, which translates to “yule book flood,” is a tradition that dates back to war time and rationing, where people gave books as gifts during the holiday season because there was no shortage of paper. For this final episode of 2020, CapRadio Reads is taking a 75-year-old holiday tradition and extending it to all the holidays of this winter solstice month.
In this podcast, you’ll hear from past CapRadio Reads authors, such as Alka Joshi and Georgeanne Brennan, on the books they like to give as gifts. And you’ll hear from CapRadio staff members about their favorite reads to share.
Appearing in this episode, along with their recommendations:
Alka Joshi, Author - “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee
Georgeanne Brennan, Author and Journalist - “The Lord of the Rings,” J.R.R. Tolkien
Cara Black, Author - “This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing - A Memoir,” by Jacqueline Winspear
Meg Waite Clayton, Author - “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler
Jun Reina, General Manager, CapRadio - “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh
Devan Kortan, Announcer/Producer, CapRadio - “Endurance” by Alfred Lansing
Devin Yamanaka, Afternoon News Host, CapRadio - “The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep” by H.G. Parry
Nicole Nixon, Politics Reporter, CapRadio - “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover
Ezra David Romero, Environment Reporter, CapRadio – “The Institute” by Stephen King
Kevin Doherty, Classical Music Director & Morning Classical Host, CapRadio - The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Antonio Muniz, Announcer/Production Assistant, CapRadio - “Inward” by Yung Pueblo
Gary Vercelli, Jazz Music Director, CapRadio - “How Sweet It is: A Songwriter’s Reflections on Music, Motown and the Mystery of the Muse” by Lamont Dozier
Music heard in this episode: "This Is Christmas" by ScottHolmesMusic.com CC BY
The Shame Game – Mary O’Hara
Poverty is more than a lack of money. Journalist Mary O'Hara says it also includes the psychological strain of being shamed by society and government.
“The Shame Game” explores the long history of poverty in the United States and the United Kingdom and unsuccessful solutions pursued. O'Hara's childhood and adolescence give context to the data.
The history of shame need not be perpetuated, O'Hara says. By changing the narrative, people who live in poverty can improve how they see their place in society. The goal is to change the wording and attitudes of government agencies who provide services.
O'Hara's Project Twist-It advances the conversation by encouraging gatherings and events that look beyond income levels and focus instead on the shared experiences of communities.
On her own story and how it fits
I don’t usually write about personal stuff. I’m not a first-person kind of reporter. But this mattered to me.
The book was born out of a wider project that I had built called Project Twist It, where I spent 2 ½-3 years building a community of people, like a hub, for people with lived experience of poverty to talk about their experiences, to tell their stories and to challenge these negative assumptions that are made about people experiencing poverty.
As someone who grew up in poverty, I felt that it was important for me in that context to make sure that my story was one of those stories, and I use that in the book as a kind of structural arc through my childhood and adolescence, explaining what it feels like to be poor, what it feels like to be shamed and blamed for that poverty.
On the overlooked symptoms of poverty
Poverty is often associated, in the long-standing definition, with the lack of money, a lack of resources, but actually it’s a much more multi-dimensional experience. And when you talk to people with experience of poverty, they talk about hunger, they talk about needing a roof over their head. They talk about all these practical and very important things that frankly should be human rights, in my view. Access to healthcare. But the other thing that comes up, time and again, is the sheer emotional and psychological strain of being poor. The word they use over and over again is exhausted.
It’s exhausting to be poor. All the forces are pushing against you. Is it any wonder that people feel demotivated? Is it any wonder that people feel like things are stacked against them? Because it turns out things are stacked against them.
On putting the story in the hands of the people who live in poverty
What if it were flipped the other way? What if it was a narrative coming from a different direction, from a different group of people making the case for the opposite? What happens if we construct a different narrative? We have to think differently about how we position an issue. These things do change and can change, and the public’s mind can be changed, because it is about our perceptions and they’re all not based on reality.
Gretchen Sorin - Driving While Black
The dangers of travel are not new to African-Americans. In slavery and in freedom, movement has posed threats. Automobile ownership provided some safety and reduced the exposure to racism, but with caveats. “Driving While Black” offers the history of mobility and the network of resources available to African-American travelers. It explains the famous Green Book, but it goes far beyond that guide.
As a historian, professor and museum exhibition curator, Dr. Gretchen Sorin understands the value of oral history. The gravity of racism is interspersed with remembrances of vacations and family gatherings, her own and those of others.
The book documents mobility through the Civil Rights movement, but the story continues. “I want people to say, ‘I must get involved. I must do something. I must respond,’” Sorin said in this interview. In the final pages of “Driving While Black,” activists and police weigh in on law enforcement-community relations.
On incremental improvements
The one thing that gives me hope is that when you think about how the majority has controlled this country, but how the minority has said, “Oh, no. Excuse me, but we need rights. African-Americans need rights. Women need rights. LGBT people need rights. Native American people need rights. Asian-American people should not be interrogated in internment camps.” All of the things we have done wrong pushed us to be a little bit better. Just a little bit.
On the role of early police departments
I really felt it was important to explain the formation of police departments. Police, in many cities, were started as slave catchers. They were the citizens who got together every night -- and they were given badges that look exactly like the badges that sheriffs have now -- and they would roam around the community looking for escaped, fugitive slaves and really intimidating them. The idea was you intimidate people to keep them from running away. This is a labor force for the country, and if the labor force leaves, who’s going to do the work? So the communities needed to enforce slavery, and that provided the foundation of a lot of early police departments, which tells us a lot about the way that police departments think about African-Americans – that they need to be controlled, that mobility needs to be restricted.
On the potential for collaboration
When I see White people joining with Black people, those have been the times when things have gotten done. If you think about the abolition movement, the Civil Rights movement, that’s when Black people and White people joined together to work together to solve the problems. That’s when something good happens.
Ruchika Tomar – A Prayer for Travelers
A road trip is a rite of passage at any age. For Cale and Penny, recent high school graduates who grew in the Nevada desert, the road has defined them and mapped their future. Their desire to explore has also led to a lot of trouble.
Ruchika Tomar’s “A Prayer for Travelers” reminds us of the people we grew up with and the mistakes that can be made as we come of age. Her portraits of the desert make you want to start your own adventure right away, while the events she describes will make you wish to turn back.
Authors say their manuscripts have a way of emerging from the page in a way that surprises them. As this story played out, and Tomar became better acquainted with her characters, she knew she felt strongly about seeing their story through to the end. The process of writing “A Prayer for Travelers” was almost as intriguing as the plot, as Tomar initially had no idea it would take 10 years to complete the book.
On How Characters Emerge and Co-exist
As a writer, even when you’re not writing, you’re thinking through some problems. At the outset, knowing it’s going to be narrated by a young woman, Cale, I spent a lot of my subconscious time thinking about her voice. When Penny came on the page, she was, at first, to be almost like a placeholder. When she disappeared, I wondered where she went, and so I just sort of followed her. She was just so interesting and so familiar to other young women I had known – beautiful, and yet kept you at a distance. Kind of mysterious which, for someone like Cale, who is kind of introverted herself, is really attractive. She wanted to know people who were unlike herself and wanted to learn from that.
On Road Trips
I still love the road. I think it’s one of the places in the world where I feel the most like myself. I don’t think you can write about the West without these kinds of open landscapes. It’s a part of writing about the West that is essential to me — these kinds of landscapes where you can spend all day driving in California and Nevada. I love that about the West, so I just wanted to take the opportunity. When you’re thinking about settings, why not take every opportunity to bring to light the backdrop of the story? In the West, we’re so reliant on our cars that it’s just a part of life out here, and you don’t know, when you’re taking a road trip, even if you think you’ve planned it out, exactly what will happen. It’s part of the appeal and also part of the danger. It’s about taking chances, which at that age, you’re very interested in doing.
On the Bad Choices of Youth
Coming of age is about choices that you learn from, choices that you wouldn’t necessarily make if you were older because you don’t know the repercussions of those choices. That’s what coming of age is about. It’s figuring out why you’re not supposed to do these things. Or if you do these things what may or may not happen. And can you live with those choices? There’s no judgment about whether you do or you don’t, but just to be aware. Just being honest and upfront about that in the book was important.
Alka Joshi - The Henna Artist
Lakshmi is The Henna Artist, a 30-year-old woman who escapes an abusive, arranged marriage and builds a career working with the city’s elite circle. She doesn’t know she has a younger sister until the 13-year-old shows up on her doorstep … accompanied by Lakshmi’s estranged husband.
"The Henna Artists" is a tale rich in culture and tradition. Readers will appreciate the accounts of family, of compassion, of herbal healing, of negotiation. We witness Lakshmi’s evolution as a business woman. Every character in the book goes through some degree of transition, often an arc of redemption.
Alka Joshi is an overnight success 10 years in the making. “The Henna Artist” is her debut novel, which was part of her work toward an MFA in creative writing. It quickly became a book club favorite with a contract for an episodic TV series. Within a year of publication, Joshi wrote the sequel – and this story is ripe for a couple of sequels.
On why Lakshmi is secretretive in nature
I chose 1955 because that was the year divorce became legal in India. I wanted Lakshmi to have the option of having a divorce with that arranged marriage that she didn’t want. So when we meet up with Lakshmi, she’s 30 years old. She has been a henna artist now for 13 years. And in addition to being a henna artist, she’s sort of an herbal healer. And she’s been living this very secret life because no one knows anything about her history, and she is loathe to reveal anything about her history, because the moment people really find out that she deserted her husband, she would be ostracized. You know how Lakshmi is. She’s very subtle in the ways she negotiates her life.
On the strong attraction between Lakshmi and her business partner
Samir is an architect. He is well-known in the city. He has good social standing, and he is of a high caste. And so he is able to connect Lakshmi, not only to his wife and all of her elite circle, but at the other end, he is able to hook her up with the men in his circle who have mistresses and who don’t want them to get pregnant. They are very good business partners. They have an understanding of each other, a respect for one another, and also an amazing attraction. It’s that little voice that keeps telling her, “Don’t go there because this is bad news. You go there once, and his wife will find out.” I think he’s intrigued by Lakshmi, and he is attracted to her. So he wants to keep this fond relationship where he gets to flirt with her all the time, and she never takes him up on anything other than that. So for both of them, it’s feeding a need for [their] attractiveness. But there’s a hard line that we usually don’t cross.
On her mother’s non-traditional way of raising Alka
It was my mother’s rebellion to say, “My daughter’s going to do everything I didn’t get to do.” This is why every character in the book, every female, has a little rebellion in her. I wanted to say that when women are not given direct power, they will find a way to get that power in some form. Every woman in the book finds a way to get her agency, whatever small part of that she can get. Even the men go through an arc – a redemptive arc.