Staying “Sidetracked” with Ben Logan

I am in the uncomfortable position of wanting to tell you about the first book that I’ve written, but not wanting it to seem like a blatant advertisement.

“Sidetracked in Wisconsin: A Guide for Thoughtful Travelers” (Itchy Cat Press, $23) is about some of the less obvious people and places that I think make Wisconsin special.

Much of the material comes from years of “Roads Traveled” columns, which I produce as a freelance writer and sell to daily newspapers in this state: Wausau to Kenosha, Eau Claire to Green Bay. In addition, The Capital Times has allowed the reproduction of staff photography and stories that I wrote while on their clock in Madison.

“Sidetracked” actually won’t be in bookstores for another month, but that won’t stop the book tour from beginning now. Go figure. I am driving around northwest Wisconsin, perhaps as you read this, to introduce the book and tag along with a good man whose acclaimed 1975 autobiography has been reissued (with new material) by the same publisher as mine.

“The Land Remembers” (Itchy Cat Press, $17) by Ben Logan is about his boyhood on a Crawford County farm in the 1920s and 1930s. “It’s not nostalgia for my own past that (this book) made me feel; it’s nostalgia for a world he makes me wish I’d known,” The New York Times said in its review.

This is not the kind of poetic prose that you’d expect from a farm boy.

“Let me hear seasons changing in the night,” writes Ben, now in his mid 80s. “It is any season and I am every age I have ever been. Streams are wakening in the spring, rain wets the dust of summer, fallen apples ferment in an orchard …”

I know that I have a lot to learn from Ben Logan, and it will be about more than what kind of pen to use during a book signing. This trip also is about getting to know northwest Wisconsin better, so you’ll be hearing more about this unusual roadtrip next week.

Here are other recent book releases that contain a strong sense of place.

“Frank Lloyd Wright Field Guide” by Thomas A. Heinz (Northwestern University Press, $39.95) describes almost 500 buildings and other sites (like the Romeo and Juliet Windmill, near Spring Green) designed by the architect.

Not all of these properties are open for tours. Directions and history/significance are summarized. A four-star rating system helps travelers decide which projects are most worth visiting. Wright buildings that are outside of the U.S. are included, too.

“Madison: The Guide” by Gwen Evans (Jones Books, $13.95) is about worthy destinations for day trips as well as what to do and eat when inside of Wisconsin’s capital city.

Parks that are dog-friendly, popular restaurants for Friday fish fries and advice about when to show up at the Executive Residence (governor’s mansion) for a free tour are a part of what personalize this fine guidebook’s approach to State Street as well as the outskirts of town.

“Aztalan: Mysteries of an Ancient Indian Town” by Robert A. Birmingham and Lynne G. Goldstein (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $14.95) attempts to better understand the prehistoric people who thrived, then mysteriously vanished from a long-abandoned community in southern Wisconsin.

This is a scholarly approach, undertaken by an archaeologist and anthropologist who have worked hard and long to explain the ruins and details about this Indian city. It is a spot that anyone can visit, near Lake Mills. The book is an in-depth accompaniment to the exhibits of Aztalan State Park.

“Michigan’s West Coast: Explore the Shore Guide” by Brian Hutchins (Abri Press, $24.95) helps travelers decide which of 500 parks and other public Lake Michigan access points are best suited for their activities. The author is a longtime state Department of Natural Resources employee who retired recently.

Photos, charts and maps make it easy to see where to hike, have a picnic or put a kayak in water. It’s also about whether a shore is sandy or rocky, the history of nearby lighthouses and where playground equipment exists. This is a lower peninsula project; geographic boundaries are the Mackinac Straits and the Indiana border.

“Midwest Marvels” by Eric Dregni (University of Minnesota Press, $17.95) is about the most unusual roadside attractions that exist in five states, including Wisconsin. What we have is a tribute to our obsessions and passions, many of which are obnoxiously large monuments of commonplace creatures. The guide also includes shrines and art made by average people.

South Dakota’s Corn Palace makes the cover. So do Salem Sue (North Dakota), the Grotto of Redemption (Iowa), the World’s Largest Paul Bunyan (Minnesota) and Wisconsin’s trophy muskie (at Hayward’s Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame).