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Nagel revisits childhood in new book. Launch party planned Saturday

Craig Nagel holds his latest book, "Looking Back: A 1950s Boyhood," on Thursday, Jan. 31. Erin Bormett / Echo Journal

Craig Nagel has always been a writer, from news to novels. However, his latest project, "Looking Back: A 1950s Boyhood," is a delve into something different.

The book stands as a collection of memories from Nagel's early adolescence as he grew up outside of Chicago.

"I have come to believe that the 'good old days,' for most of us, refer to our childhoods, when life was simply simpler," said Nagel, of Pequot Lakes. "I don't necessarily believe that life was better back then. I think that life was simpler because I was simpler."

He said the aim of the book isn't to glorify the 1950s, but rather to provoke readers to reflect on how the world has changed in a number of ways.

"I tried to be as honest and accurate as I could be about how I saw things as an 11-year-old," he said. "It's up to the readers to decide how they see it."

Nagel started compiling these anecdotes more than 18 years ago when his first grandchild, Levi, was born. He wanted to record memories of his own growing years to share as his grandson went through those same stages of life. It was slow-going, but eventually the haphazard assortment started to organize itself into a memoir of sorts with real direction.

"There were times when writing seemed effortless," said Nagel. "I was free to graze among the memories."

This felt different, he said, than writing editorial columns or his first novel, "Fred's Way." He didn't have to worry about word limits or plot. He was free to riff on some ideas until he found ways to connect and make sense of them.

Many of Nagel's memories center around his group of friends, playing and learning outdoor survival skills from "Straight Arrow Injun-uity" cards found in boxes of Shredded Wheat. He also recalls soap-box racing, futuristic predictions of flying cars and edible dishes in the Weekly Reader at school and duck-and-cover drills beneath his desk.

Nagel said an unintended effect of analyzing these moments of his childhood was the recognition that he lived as a child of those who had lived through the Great Depression.

He remembers playing hockey out on the frozen lake and the lengths his friends would go to so they could reclaim a puck that found its way onto dangerously thin ice. He watched his friend Bobby skate out to retrieve the puck while his skates would start sinking below the ice and into the frigid water below.

"We were taught not to be wasteful," said Nagel. "You didn't waste a hockey puck. On one hand, some of the things we did were insanity looking back; but on the other, we were a product of that generation. I feel it put me in good standing for the rest of my life."

Nagel said writing just comes naturally to him, and he can't pinpoint why. It's just something he's always done. He also enjoys building things, and finds parallels between working with his hands and working with words.

"When I do stone work, I like to let the stones find their way to the right place rather than being the one in charge," he said. "Now, instead of one stone after another, I let words find their way into the right place. I'm fascinated by patterns and harmony - trying to create elegance and beauty."

A launch party for "Looking Back" will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, in the meeting room of the Pequot Lakes Library. Nagel will read short samples from the book, discuss the writing process, respond to questions from the audience and sign books for anyone who wants to buy one.

Nagel said $2 from the sale of each book will be donated to the library.

The book will be available for sale online as well as in select local businesses.