Porch Sofa Almanac - Book Review

Book Review by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor

A Porch Sofa Almanac: On Being Minnesotan by Peter Smith, University of Minnesota Press, September 2010, 132 pp

Essayist Peter Smith was asked by Minnesota Public Radio to do a weekly piece about everyday life in Minnesota. Listeners have been entertained by Smith's musings every Tuesday morning on MPR's "The Morning Edition" ever since. A Porch Sofa Almanac: On Being Minnesotan is the first collection of Smith's essays, which reflect on simple, everyday things Smith has come across while living in the state.

The title piece, "Porch Sofas" begins the book, and addresses the Minneapolis City Council's proposal to ban porch sofas. Smith comments that "Old sofas and young adulthood were made for each other." If you have a sofa on your porch, it doesn't make you trashy; it just makes you "young. And relatively poor. And happy."

The book follows the calendar year, but begins with essays related to the fall season, because, as Smith says in the book's preface, "We could have started at the beginning of the calendar year, but this feels more Minnesotan somehow." Falls essays include "Off to College: a Parental Spread Sheet", "School Starts This Morning", and "In Praise of Small-Town Football." In his piece titled "Darn Packer Fans" Smith observes that Green Bay Packer fans sure know how to have fun at a football game--win or lose. On the other hand, he states that Minnesota Vikings fans over examine and overanalyze their team, and as a result don't enjoy the game the way Packer fans do.

One of the winter essays, "Thinking Ill of the Literate" pokes a little fun at book clubs, and another talks about getting an ice fishing house off a Minnesota lake. In "Real World Valentine's Day," Smith bemoans the commercialism of Valentine's Day. He states that love in real life plays out against the backdrop of everyday life: "In the real world, you show your love by taking the garbage can to the curb on trash day. Or tending that mousetrap in the pantry." Smith suggests that rather than trying to find the perfect Valentine's gift, it would be better for all of us to "revel in the imperfect and everyday aspects of love...Love that, contrary to Saint Paul, isn't always patient or kind and tends to instruct the beloved in his shortcomings as a driver."

Spring compositions include "Planting Corn" and "Lilac Season," which Smith calls a "small-town, Midwestern phenomenon." A commentary on Father's Day and "Who Turned on the Air Conditioning?" are two of the essays on summer.

The sixty essays in A Porch Sofa Almanac are all quite brief-- two to three pages in length. They all show Smith's uncanny ability to notice ordinary things and then write a charming commentary on those observations. Smith's writing is decidedly Minnesotan: not flashy or thigh-slapping hilarious, but guaranteed to make readers chuckle more than once.

Peter Smith lives in Hopkins, Minnesota. He has worked in advertising, written magazine articles, fiction, poetry, and op-ed pieces, and is a 1968 Saint John's University graduate.

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