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Dave Wood's Book Report, June 10, 2009

Holy cow! I didn't know there was such a thing as a Halsey Hall

Chapter of the Society for Baseball Research until I received a review copy of "Minnesotans in Baseball," by Stew Thornley, prominent Minnesota author of sports stories and biographies based in the Gopher State, like "On to Nicollet" his fascinating history of the Minneapolis Millers and its stars, like Ted Williams.

In this new outing, Thornley acted as editor and major contributor of biographies of Minnesotans who made their mark on baseball in Minnesota and other venues. Among those profiled are familiar names, like Paul Molitor, Kent Hrbek and Dave Winfield.

But Thornley and his minions dig deeper than that and contribute interesting lives of men like Charles "Chief" Bender the Minnesota Native American who made his name in the majors. And Paul Giel. And Charley Walters, who ended up writing about sports for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

When I was a kid, I was a big Cubs because it was the closest major league franchise to my hometown. One of my heroes was Andy Pafko, who earlier played for the Eau Claire Bears and supposedly hailed from Boyceville, Wis.

Not so. I met his brothers from that cute little town and they told me that "Andrew grew up with us on Bohemian Flats," the famous immigrant gateway in south Minneapolis on the Mississippi River.

I'm sorry the Halsey Hall chapter missed that one. If he were around to hear that I'm certain I know what he'd say.

Holy cow!

When I went off to college at Eau Claire, I knew from the first that I would never be cool. I guess my royal blue and gold FFA jacket was a tip-off. Of course, I didn't even know what "cool" was back then.

"The Answer is Always Yes," by Monica Farrell (Dial Press, $13. Paper) is the story of Matthew Acciaccatura, a New Jersey kid is as oafish as I was.

But he doesn't go to Eau Claire State after an undistinguished high school career. He goes to New York University with the stated intention of becoming cool.

By dint of hard work and determination, he lands a job as a promoter of a hot night club, where music and drugs like Ecstasy are all the rage in 1995. Is this a good deal for Matthew who has become known as Magic Matt?

You'll have to read the book and find out. Needless to say, this is a bildungsroman, a novel of a youth's education, and Matt is going to learn that cool isn't what he thought it was.

Do we really need another biography of Mae West? Apparently Simon and Schuster thought so, because they're just out with "She Always Knew How: Mae West, a Personal Biography," by Charlotte Chandler ($26).

I'd call it "A Personal Hagiography" because Chandler finds Mae West to be absolutely flawless, loyal, loving, generous to a fault. Even more irritating, Chandler is one of those biographers with a memory that's flawless.

She quotes the actress endlessly, long, long quotes that are perfectly constructed and obviously never came out of Chandler's tape recorder.

Can't these pop biographers figure out some other way to enliven their dull subjects in some way other than highlighting interviews with quotations that probably weren't ever uttered?

I've ranted long enough. But if you want to know more of what I think about biographies of long dead film stars, come up and see me some time.

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at (715) 426-9554.