The Minneapolis Star Tribune books editor dishes about life on and off the page in News to Me: Adventures of An Accidental journalist.
Why did you write your memoirs?
Everything good that's ever happened to me was by accident, and this was, too. I did not mean to write this book at all. I had read Marley & Me and thought, hey, my dogs are more interesting than that, so I decided to write a book about my dogs and make a million dollars. That book didn't really go anywhere; turns out my dogs weren't that interesting after all. While I was working on it, I started writing stories about my early years as a reporter and posted them on my blog. Readers loved them. On a whim, I showed them to editor Todd Orjala at the University of Minnesota Press when I was delivering a manuscript for a friend. Months later, he told me the other book wouldn't work out, but he really liked mine, it just had to be twice as long as it was. He said he'd read the 90 pages I'd written and thought, ‘Where's the rest of it?' Story of my life: absolutely no plan.
What's it like being the books editor for a major metropolitan newspaper when both the newspaper industry and the book world are undergoing monumental changes?
It's fascinating. At my paper, we're lucky; we haven't cut any space for books. I've watched it happen elsewhere, though, and it's depressing. Newspapers are how so many people find out about books. It seems tragic to me. I feel like I'm on this protected little island—for now.
What are you doing as a books editor to remain viable?
I started a Twitter account and a Facebook page, which brings people to our Web site from all over the country. But the main thing is, I review a lot more regional books and smaller presses. I don't want to be a mini-New York Times. I try to bring books to the page that people might not otherwise know about, rather than just echo what the other papers are doing.
You wrote an earlier book, They Took My Father: Finnish Americans in Stalin's Russia. How does your being both a books editor and a published author inform your attitude toward other authors?
It's hard to write a book. I try to be respectful of those who write books. I want the pages I edit to be intelligent recommendations. If a book is terrible and the author is unknown, I see no reason to bring it out of obscurity and say those things in print. Instead, I just would not review that book. It doesn't mean I'm looking for positive reviews; I'm still looking for an honest reaction to a book. But if the reviewer thinks a book is deeply flawed, I'll pay the kill fee, and we'll move on.