The new Minnesota Historical Society Press Book Club held a meeting this evening at Micawber's Bookstore [define: Micawber] in St. Paul. Cathy Wurzer is the guest author--she's just come out with Tales of the Road: Highway 61, a companion book to a similar Wurzer-created television documentary set to air on TPT at 8 PM on March 23, 2009--and thereafter entice sustaining memberships in DVD form. Wurzer is the person talking in your car in the morning on the way to work; she's often on public television--she's everywhere--as upbeat and contented as a concert choir member, radiating her chipper, rated-G persona. I meet her before her informal presentation; she's wearing an English riding outfit and appears sociable and relaxed.
Wurzer is adored by the MPR/TPT crowd; she plays an underappreciated, outsize role in forming middle class Minnesota's identity. With her adventurous attitude and prom-queen on-air savoir faire, she models consciousness for her audience. MPR frequently runs a promo for Wurzer's Morning Edition: 'There's a lot going on in the world, and it's Cathy Wurzer's job to make sense of it all for you.'
Wurzer tells the audience of twenty how the book idea got started. And she's very happy with how the book turned out; she mentions it's now 'a regional best-seller'. Embracing a copy, she tells of her rush of emotion on first seeing the printed opus. Several times she mentions her hope that the television program and book will stimulate young people's interest in history. She reads aloud a bloodless, formulaic passage from the book's introduction. She tells of traveling Highway 61 in her 2002 Subaru, with several stories along the way.
I write down a few of her sentences: 'I'm kind of a quirky person anyway.' 'I hate it when people make up words: webisodes.' '[In writing the book] I probably could have gotten really political.' 'History should have been my second major.' 'It's amazing what Mother Nature does; she really heals herself.' '[We drove Highway 61] in a black '46 Cadillac. She's a pretty car.' '...because Highway 61 is such an iconic Minnesota roadway.'
Wurzer appears to enjoy life in the media fishbowl, daily telling her implicitly autobiographical tale. And if she's providing consciousness to her audience, their love appears important and confirming to her. The author mentions she's donating her entire earnings from the book to various Minnesota historical societies. (She's selfless too!)
The appreciative audience blows the predictable interrogative air-kisses: 'How did you find the time to write the book?' etc. Someone asks 'How did the project change you?' And for all Wurzer's on-air aplomb in modeling a plausibly happy/sane consciousness, one is struck by the complacency of her self-analysis. 'I've expanded myself,' 'I found myself documenting the history of a different era,' 'I want people to be more cognizant...', 'We're so quick to rip things down.'
I recently criticized Eric Eskola and Cathy Wurzer for their false suggestion that their interviewing Erik Paulsen constitutes some kind of legitimately critical probing of the new congressman's political identity. Might her book exemplify similar disappointments both in reach and grasp? (I'll find out around Christmastime--I'm number seventy-four in the HCL queue.)
If the project was in fact mind-expanding for her, Wurzer must not have started out with much. And a historical investigation committed from the outset to Wurzer's North Star--apoliticism--is an anti-intellectual project. No matter how nice its creator is.