Rick Holinger of Geneva's newspaper columns published in new book

Fans of writer Rick Holinger of Geneva can pick up his newest book, "Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences: Views of a Guy Who Wants To Know, “What Do They Make Pinewood Derby Cars Out Of?”

The mini-essays, originally newspaper columns written for Shaw Media (Geneva Sun and Kane County Chronicle), describe a life of survival: surviving diapers, Pinewood Derby races, and middle school band concerts, Holinger stated in a news release.

Holinger notes he's regularly thrown his pseudonymous nuclear family under the bus because his children were too young to object, and his wife enjoyed the extra, though paltry, income. No one, however, sacrificed more than the author, he stated. Who else would expose his fatherly and husbandly incompetence by revealing in print the time he burned out the front lawn with spring fertilizer? Or wrinkling his wife’s favorite wrinkle-free pants by leaving them in the dryer for five days? Or forgetting to screw in their inboard-outboard’s drain plug before spring launch, thus owning a bathtub rather than a boat?

It takes a pillage to raze a family. But Holinger survived. Barely. This book tells how.

This is the first published collection of his newspaper columns.

"Once it became clear the arrangement of columns worked better thematically than chronologically, I found it easy to group like essays with each other," he said in an email.

Holinger went on to explain his approach to creative writing.

"Whenever I write anything, I think about audience," he said. "Whom I’m writing for determines the tone or voice of the piece, whether fiction, poetry, personal essay, scholarly essay, or book review. When writing the columns, I have a reader in mind much like Tia, my wife (who reads – and, thankfully, critiques – every column), and a composite of neighbors, friends and relatives. I ask myself what would draw them in, from the title, to the first sentence, the second, all the way to the end. What would they like to read?

"Usually, I write with a humorous voice, influenced by my comic heroes, Bill Bryson, Lisa Scottoline, David Sedaris, Jim Gaffigan, and the master, Mark Twain. Among the lessons I learned from them: use hyperbolic metaphors and allusions, employ a self-deprecating narrator, and throw everyone and anyone under the bus to make myself look good. Just kidding. Sort of.

"However, not all my columns had hilarious, mirthful, sidesplitting humor and occasionally tear-inducing pathos, he said. "Sometimes I vented my frustration, raking neighbors [and government officials] over the coals. … Those columns I left on the cutting room floor, choosing instead only those pieces I thought not only funny, but poignant, and would stand the test of time because about classic subjects: the agony and ecstasy of parenthood, staying in shape (trying to), attempting to tame technology, vacations gone wrong … and so forth."

Reviews

David Hamilton, editor emeritus of The Iowa Review, writes: “Holinger is obviously a very alert writer, uses language well, has all sorts of inventive phrasing: “coercing a dyslexic to play Scrabble,” for a quick example. The pieces are wonderfully consistent, uniformly good. He has arresting turns of phrase and quotable sentences. The author’s self-effacing good humor is another plus. You wouldn’t listen to a braggart tell such stories; Holinger is closer to the reverse.  His moments of victory tend to be inward, observed by us but not always by his family, to whom he can seem more a lucky bumbler. It would prove a fine Christmas gift for friends and neighbors, for people who, like me, share this scene more or less.”

Wayne Fields, Washington University American literature professor and Lynne Harvey Cooper Emeritus Chair in English, writes, “The author finds insight as well as humor in the ‘ordinariness’ of his and our world. The whimsy both in observations and in point of view makes the pieces ‘original’ even as the matters they address are thoroughly familiar. Mr. Holinger’s voice and style are idiosyncratic even as his immediate subjects are conventional, and it is these qualities that provide the fun of his writing. He can be both self-deprecating and slyly wise in a highly attractive way I greatly enjoyed it. The writing is first-rate and the goal is amusement.”

About the author

Richard Holinger grew up in Chicago. After graduating from Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, and forays into Alaska and Europe, he earned a master's degree in English from Washington University, St. Louis, which prepared him for teaching English at Marmion Academy in Aurora. He retired after 40 years in June 2020.

He earned his doctorate in creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Since 1979, he has lived in the Fox River Valley with his wife, Tia (named "Assurance" in the book), along with one spoiled dog after another, he said. His son, Jay (“Surveyor”), a landscape architect, lives at home building a nest egg, and his daughter, Molly (“Destiny”), recently earned a doctorate in creativity studies from the University of Connecticut, and is visiting professor at Miami of Ohio.

Holinger continues to write his “River Town Chronicles” column for the Kane County Chronicle, and facilitates Geneva Public Library’s Night Writers Workshop.

His book of poetry, "North of Crivitz" (Kelsay Books of Aldrich Press), released this fall, also can be found at richardholinger.net. Kevin Stein, former Illinois Poet Laureate, writes, "Within these lines, one hears Emerson and Frost wrestling in verdant woods north of Crivitz, the former erecting his spire of 'spiritual facts' while the latter's muddy boot kicks at footings bracing the whole facade."

Holinger's writing has appeared in over a hundred literary journals, including his poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, literary criticism, and book reviews. He has been nominated for three Pushcart Prize awards. His short story collection, "Not Everybody's Nice," won the 2012 Split Oak Press Flash Prose Chapbook Contest, and Kattywampus Press published his innovative fiction chapbook, "Hybrid Seeds: Little Fictions." He has won numerous other awards and honors.

The 304-page book, "Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences," was released by Dreaming Big Press ($12.99). It is available at richardholinger.net and as an e-book on Kindle at Amazon at shawurl.com/3eeb.

Renee Tomell

Covering the arts and entertainment scene in northern Illinois, with a focus on the Fox River Valley.