The Midwest Survival Guide by Charlie Berens

I have been giggling my way through “The Midwest Survival Guide” by Charlie Berens since it came in. You might have seen his videos shared on Facebook- he’s the host of the Manitowoc Minute. The guy who talks through his nose and does all the funny videos about living in the Midwest. He’s the opposite of camera-shy. If you haven’t seen him, you should Google him. He’s funny. 

The dedication reads, [sic] “For Grandpa Bob If all perch go to heaven, it’s a little awkward for Grandpa Bob right now…” Berens begins the book by explaining how Ohio and Nebraska are both in the Midwest, something I have long been skeptical about. To be honest, I am still not convinced. Chapters cover topics like Midwest Language, People, Driving, Goings-On, College Life, and Food and Drink. The final chapter is called Junk Drawer- it contains a jumble of things that didn’t fit elsewhere in the book. He also includes a handy lexicon at the end. 

Berens’ writing is as distinctive as his speaking. If you have heard Berens talk, it will take you longer to read this book, because he speaks slowly. He celebrates fly-over country and is happy to discuss anything that crosses his mind. I learned that ranch dressing was invented by a guy who was born in Thayer, Nebraska. I also learned the difference between a hot dish and a casserole. 

Charlie Berens presents useful information, including a list of helpful pastimes to try when waiting for trains. He explains how to tell the difference between plaid and flannel, and where it appropriate to wear each one. “The Midwest Survival Guide” includes a recommended playlist for Midwest traveling (or to jam to while waiting for a train). He also curated a list of iconic Midwest movies and books.

He misses some things from this end of the Midwest. He includes several pages about euchre, but doesn’t mention pitch, although his euchre suggestions will work in a pitch game. He totally forgot to mention Carhenge as a vacation destination, although he mentions Scottsbluff often enough to make me wonder if he’s been here. 

Throughout the book, Berens relates several personal stories. “I want to tell you the story of how I got my first car in the distinguished Midwest fashion: I Dick Cheney’d my dad’s minivan. That’s right, I shot it. With a shotgun. But only once. Because it was an accident…. This wasn’t just any minivan. It was a certified preowned Silver Dodge Grand Caravan SXT. SXT stands for SEXY XT. This was the Cadillac of minivans. It had everything! A CD player. Bucket seats. Polyester. The only thing it was missing was wood paneling. I’m from a big family; we weren’t used to a life of such luxuries.” I won’t spoil the story for you, but it’s funny.

Anyone who is ready for a giggle would enjoy this book. Charlie has put together a comprehensive guide to all things Midwest. If you grew up here, you will enjoy reading it. If you moved here, it might explain some things.  You can find Charlie Berens’ first book, “The Midwest Survival Guide: How We Talk, Love, Work, Drink, and Eat . . . Everything with Ranch” on the new book shelf at the Gering Public Library.

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