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Book Report: Entertaining local topic will stir many memories

In 2003, Minneapolis native Samuel Hynes, retired Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature at Princeton University, wrote a wonderful book, "The Growing Seasons," about what life was like growing up in south Minneapolis in the 1930s.

It received national acclaim in such newspapers as the New York Times. It most certainly should have won the Minnesota Book Award for autobiography (I read all those shortlisted that year), but, of course, it didn't. I can never figure out those awards.

Now there's another fine, fine biography out by another award-winning college professor who grew up in south Minneapolis during the 1950s.

I certainly hope whoever judges the Minnesota Book Awards takes their responsibility seriously and considers "And One Fine Morning" (Nodin Press, $24.95) by Nick Hayes, professor of history and critical thinking chair holder at St. John's University in Collegeville.

Like Hynes, who subsequently appeared several times on Ken Burns' series, "The War," you've probably seen Hayes on Minnesota Public TV, commenting on modern Russian history, which won him an Emmy in 1991.

Like Hynes, Hayes writes not only about himself, but about his family and friends, and most especially his late father, Mark Hynes, an up-and-coming Twin Cities architect, who designed Christ Church Lutheran and Church of the Visitation before his untimely death in the 1950s.

Hayes, like his father, is a storyteller and there's so much that reminds me of the great anecdotes in Hyne's book. He writes about dining with his father at the fabled Harry's restaurant, about disciplinary methods at DeLaSalle High School in the old days.

One of my favorite characters is old Father John Dunphy, pastor at Ascension Church in North Minneapolis, where Nick's father grew up. Dunphy's curtains weren't too lacy. He grew up in Ireland, as did Hayes's ancestors and he was definitely Old School.

Nick Hayes states it rather succinctly: "Fate was kind to Father John Dunphy putting him to rest in Calvary Cemetery before anyone in Ascension Church choir had suggested singing 'Kum-bye-ya.'"

Dunphy was a tough customer, but unfailingly visited his young parishioner as he lay dying.

Dunphy also did battle with Pastor Reverend W. B. Riley, the fascist, racist leader of First Baptist Church in Minneapolis, as well as one of his own faith, the notorious Father Coughlan, the radio demagogue from Detroit.

Nick Hayes' book is stuffed with status life objects of our recent past: Two-tone Ford Fairlane station wagons, Camel straights, straight-up martinis and a town on the brink of maturity.

Hayes explains in the preface why he wrote the book: "I had a girlfriend in college who said I had more of a father in my dead one than she had in her living one. She said I should write a book. This is it."

Good advice, Nick Hayes.

Anglophile alert! "The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag," by Allan Bradley (Delacorte Press, $21), is the second outing for Bradley's precocious 11-year-old detective Flavia de Luce, the precocious amateur sleuth who lives in a crumbling British inn outside a little town called Bishop's Lacey.

The town's beloved puppeteer has just been electrocuted, using his own puppet wires. Who would do such a thing? Flavia intends to find out.

"Never Look Away," by Linwood Barclay (Delacorte Press, $25), finds us in Upstate New York, where newspaper reporter David Harwood can't figure out why his editors keep shooting down his ideas for an expose of a housing development when his paper, like all newspapers in the country, is struggling to sell subscriptions.

So he takes a break and hauls his wife and little boy off to an amusement park, where he is sure someone has kidnapped his little son.

He's wrong, but his quest to find the person who has been kidnapped leads him through a maze of discoveries and also introduces readers to the difficulties encountered by newspapers in the 21st century.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 426-9554.