The Great American Read: Jerry Apps shares his picks

August 16, 2018 Susannah Brooks Leave a Comment

We’re getting closer to the Fall Kick Off episode of The Great American Read: airing 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept.  11. Have you voted on the list yet? If you’re stuck – as we are! – why not check out some more picks by Wisconsin writers?

Today we bring you the prolific, the folksy, the one and only Jerry Apps. He’s a WPT favorite for good reason: adept at memoir writing, storytelling, history, teaching and more, he keeps readers busy turning out new and sometimes unexpected stories at a blistering pace.

A person stares into a frozen wave of water.His latest, Cold as Thunder, is a dystopian novel set in a frozen wasteland where only “a resourceful band of Wisconsin sixty-somethings calling themselves the Oldsters” have the knowledge to fight the ruling regime.

Read more to find out which books have helped this beloved author think about writing!

Born and raised in rural Waushara County, Apps is well known for his memoirs of rural boyhood – including his multiple programs with Wisconsin Public Television.

In his most recent special, One-Room School, Apps describes the unique learning environment of sharing few resources but many ideas in a country school. “It was here that I learned how to read,” he tells us. 

A young Jerry Apps in 1946.It was here that I discovered what wonderful things one could find in a book.  It was here that, by fifth grade, I had read every book in the school’s scant library.  And then I began reading them over again.  It was here that I became hooked on reading – and I never got over it.  And it was here that I learned the basics of writing, how to spell, how to write a sentence that made sense, and what power there was in a story.

My love for reading has never waned.  Neither has my love for writing.

What is your favorite of the books on this list?

John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.  Through his story, Steinbeck brings out the agonies of the Great Depression of the 1930s, but he also taps into our emotions. We see his characters struggle with having little as they hope for a better life by moving on.

A man stares at the dusty, barren land with bare vines poking out of the earth.Of my seven published novels, all from University of Wisconsin Press, six deal with a contemporary issue that people face these days: food safety, land use, industrial-size agriculture, sand mining, the need to care for the land and the demise of the small family farm.  I learned from Steinbeck’s work about how to introduce an issue in a story, give life to the issue, and allow for its examination from a variety of perspectives – as represented by the characters in the story.

My seventh novel, Cold as Thunder, is a peek into the future, but also focuses on possible challenges and issues our society will face.  Again: examined through story and characters.

What’s a novel that ISN’T on this list that you think everyone should read?

Cover of The Poisonwood Bible, with five stick figures below the author's name.I’ve given this considerable thought, and I vote for Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.

The book is about a missionary family who moves to the Belgian Congo from segregated Georgia in 1959.  The story has many layers and is told from different characters’ perspectives. Missionary wife Orleanna Price shares the task with her four shrewd, observant daughters: teenage Rachel, twins Leah and Adah, and five-year-old Ruth May.

It clearly shows the challenges of cross-cultural interactions, particularly when one set of values and beliefs collides with quite a different set.

Which novel (on or off this list) has had the biggest impact on your life?

I have trouble noting a single one.  Here are several from The Great American Read‘s list that have given me pause, made me think and – as a professional writer – offered me invaluable examples of good writing. 

A cowboy on a horse looks into the distance among the shadows.The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

The Call of the Wild, Jack London

Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry

Hatchet, Gary Paulson

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain

Jerry Apps works on his writing during a visit to Minnesota. Photo: Steve Apps.



New episodes of The Great American Read return beginning 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11. Are you ready? Here are a few great ways to discover new and old favorites:

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