Genoways and Ricketts

January, 2019

Lincoln -- Like Governor Ricketts, I have not read This Blessed Earth, by Ted Genoways, a book chosen by One Book One Nebraska for statewide readership and discussion.

I have not read it yet, that is. Like a lot of people, I'll be eager to read the book that caused our governor to balk when it came to signing a routine proclamation for it.

I'm still reading Genoways' earlier book, The Chain, a book about the meat packing industry, the likes of which has not been written since the days of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. And I've read excerpts of Genoways' new book as published in 2017 in Harpers magazine, titled "Bringing in the Beans."

The governor thought This Blessed Earth would not be unifying, he said. Actually, I think the governor feared it would be unifying, and he would not like the results. Family farmers have it hard; pointing it out should not be considered divisive.

Ricketts said Genoways was out of touch with Nebraskans. But Genoways is a graduate of Lincoln East High School and Nebraska Wesleyan University. He studied under Ted Kooser. He has written award-winning poetry about his grandfather's job at the Omaha stockyards, inviting critics to compare Carl Sandburg.

Genoways is known nationally as a "tenacious scholar." My take on his writing is exactly that; he is thorough to a fault in his documentation and his exacting portrayals of people and their work. It isn't always pleasant to read. Truth can be like that.

This tempest recalls public reactions to other Nebraska authors' works. Mari Sandoz was run out of Lincoln for her book Capital City. She had to move to Denver for her own safety. Willa Cather was not always kind to Nebraskans. She thought poorly of the generations that followed the pioneers, especially in her 1923 essay in The Nation.

In all likelihood, the governor hasn't read those works either. He might be shocked to know Cather wrote for The Nation.

A lot of people are laughing at the governor for inadvertently helping to sell This Blessed Earth. There is a term for enjoying another's misfortune: Schadenfreude. As a Nebraskan, however, I am embarrassed for the governor, not laughing at him, so a more appropriate term is fremdschämen. It's a sentiment applicable to much in Nebraska politics this day and age.