In By the Way John Toren offers an eclectic portrait of modern life in essays ranging in subject from river-running to pre-Columbian astronomy with stops along the way at a World Press conclave a naturalists' convention a concert pianist's master class a booksellers' trade show and a Louisiana crayfish festival. In one essay he reflects on the advisability of accumulating books in another he reports on the whimsical goings-on at an ice-shanty village. Whether it's analyzing the challenges of buying firewood from itinerant merchants or parsing the distinction between the absurd and the impossible there's something for everyone in this wide-ranging thoughtful collection.
Writer editor book designer warehouse manager: John Toren has been involved in many aspects of the publishing world in the course of his career. His essays articles and reviews have appeared in a variety of regional and national publications including the History Channel Magazine Minnesota Monthly the Star-Tribune and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and he received an Utne Independent Press Award for general excellence in 2007. He and his wife Hilary live in Golden Valley Minnesota.
Entertaining and eclectic Toren's essays tackle both the everyday and the profound in a conversational and companionable style.
Minnesotan John Toren has spent his career working with books - editing reviewing designing writing reading and distributing them. (He once worked for the now-defunct Bookmen which he describes in his essay "Warehouse Work.") "By the Way" is an entertaining eccentric reflection of Toren's varied interests from nature to travel to music to (of course) books. What Toren writes about 16th-century French essayist Michel de Montaigne ("Montaigne: The First Blogger?") could easily be written of Toren himself: Montaigne explains Toren "turned his ruminations into internal dialogues challenging his own assertions wandering hither and yon holding the &lsquochain' of thought (such as it is) together by a supple prose style.
Toren has a gift for elevating the ordinary for writing about something mundane such as winnowing his books and then sliding into a larger discourse about the joys and challenges of the reading life. Readers of these essays might not know where Toren will go next but since he's such a smart companionable guide we follow happily.
"When Toren attends an event where author Garrison Keillor interviews novelist Louise Erdrich he finds it humorous that both authors run Twin Cities bookstores and yet neither when they began really understood how to manage them. Erdrich observes Toren "had never heard of &lsquoreturns' or refreshing the stock " nor had Keillor but both have made it work due to their love of books.
Although Toren is wont to break into spontaneous observations on the philosophy of Hegel the poetry of Robert Bly or the dialogues of Plato he's remarkable in his lack of pretense and his enthusiastic desire to share what he knows with others. "By the Way " as its title suggests is a kind of conversation between the reader and a wide-ranging lighthearted companion."
-Chuck Leddy is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.