With humor, reflection and a keen eye for appreciating the small moments in life, Gus van der Hoeven’s book, “Stop, Look, and Listen: This is Life in Kansas,” compiles over 100 vignettes from his popular radio program of the same name.
Telling stories originally told over the radio to farmers harvesting in their combines and truckers hauling cattle, you can almost hear van der Hoeven’s voice reading the stories alongside you. In fact, as was recommended to me when I was first introduced to his work, it might be a good idea to listen to one of his radio episodes to hear van der Hoeven’s unique voice. It certainly makes for a memorable and enjoyable reading experience.
As most native and temporary Kansans know, people outside the state tend to have little to say about it. Sure, they know it is flat, has tornadoes and they might even know a few lines from “The Wizard of Oz.” All things considered, it is easy for people to rush through on I-70 going east or west to get somewhere else. Yet, van der Hoeven’s book calls us to do the exact opposite of that — to do just what the title suggests: stop, look and listen to what our state has to offer.
From admiring the red and white Herefords grazing in a green pasture in “All is Well on the Range,” to wondering what to do with his dependable, yet worn-out boots that have seen a few too many farm chores in “Old Boots I,” van der Hoeven tells stories of life that are often overlooked. In engaging, bite-sized vignettes, he illustrates the wonder that can be found in slowing down and taking time to observe the world.
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He uses down-to-earth humor in many of his stories in a way only someone who has experienced the world as much as he has can. For example, in “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” we learn of a feisty Angus bull who loves taking bites out of van der Hoeven’s soybean field. In “His Hands are Like Grandpa’s,” he describes how he has passed on “some keen Dutch words” to his children and grandchildren through painful exclamations such as hitting his thumb with a hammer. I would call these examples the humor of everyday life, which is, for me, funnier than most jokes a stand-up comedian could come up with.
I think this book is a must-read, not only because of van der Hoeven’s engaging storytelling but also because the stories are true. They are snapshots of the state we live in and, although we may sometimes forget it, of the place and people who form who we are. The stories are organized in several categories and are short enough to read a couple here and there. The best way to read them for me was to read one or two and then put the book down to think over what I had just read. It’s a contemplative book and should not be rushed through.
In all, Gus van der Hoeven’s “Stop, Look, and Listen: This is Life in Kansas” is an excellent book for those of us who know Kansas is so much more than just a flyover country.