Corrections or additions?
This column was prepared for the September 24, 2003 issue of U.S.
1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Richard K. Rein: On Win Straube
Don’t judge a book by its cover, or by its author. Last
week I discovered that A. Scott Berg, the author of the overnight
biography of Katharine Hepburn, was in fact not the overnight success
I had imagined him to be: Yes, his 1971 Princeton senior thesis was
converted into a bestselling biography of the legendary editor Max
Perkins, but Berg spent seven years after his graduation getting it
finished. And yes, Berg’s biography of Hepburn came out just days
after her death, but that publication date was by prearrangement with
the actress herself, and the book was based on a friendship of nearly
So this week I encounter another book that turns out to be something
other than I had imagined. The book: "I don’t know where I am
going but I am Enjoying the Ride." The author: Win Straube, who
has self-published this autobiography and is now self-marketing the
book, as well, in an unorthodox manner that included a paid insert
in last week’s edition of U.S. 1 asking buyers to set their own price,
in the form of a donation to an IRS-approved charitable foundation
committed to creating free and minimal cost distance learning
Self published is the key word here. If you have been on my side of
the publishing business long enough (the side that receives
works from enthusiastic authors hoping for recognition and reviews),
you cringe when one drops down on your desk.
Self published works are generally unrestrained works —
details here, personal credos there, moral lessons here and there.
To read through an entire self published book is roughly the same
as sitting through the neighbor’s 90-minute slide presentation on
the family vacation to Yellowstone Park.
I grew anxious at the first seven words of Straube’s title: "I
don’t know where I am going." When I pick up a book, I hope that
the author knows exactly where he or she is going, and that by the
end of the book the ride the author has taken me on will make sense.
I skipped to the end of Straube’s book and found an appendix: Details
of the American branch of the Straube family, as opposed to the
branch; and the author’s complete dietary record for the month of
August, 2001 — it consumes nearly 15 pages of the book.
I will tell you that on August 1 for breakfast Straube ate poi (liquid
pudding of ground taro root) with flaxseed meal, peach and pineapple,
walnuts, rice milk, and green tea, and that at lunch (always his main
meal) he ate butterfish with rice, Ogo, pickled turnips, bean-broth
soup, and fresh cherries for dessert. After two meals you get the
picture: as Straube pushes the three-quarter century mark this guy
is no junk food eater.
Then I skipped to the beginning of the book. The first 20 pages roam
the fringes of civilization, from astrological signs to the
of lineage based on DNA. I didn’t know where I was going and I wasn’t
sure I was going to enjoy the ride.
But I know enough about Straube to recognize that he is an unusual
businessman. A refugee of post World War II Germany, he prospered
as a businessman in the United States. He ultimately set up a network
of international trade centers in Hawaii, Saipan, and Singapore, with
the headquarters of his operation right here in little old Pennington,
New Jersey, where he converted the abandoned Cointreau liqueur factory
into the high tech office compound now known as the Straube Center.
The story of that center, in fact, is well told in a charming little
70-page volume, "At the Right Place," written by Virginia
Persing and Donna Amick (and self published by Straube).
I also know that one of the best questions a reporter can ever ask
his subject is this: What were the circumstances of your childhood?
So I plunged on with Straube’s book and, sure enough, I was rewarded.
For me Straube’s 430-page book begins on page 22 and ends on page
296. Within those pages is a fascinating tale of a boy growing up
in Nazi Germany, conscripted into the Army as a 15-year-old during
the final days of Nazi rule, and then escaping from the
post-war sector. As a boy Straube could not quite understand how his
father could be a member of he Nazi party even while he seemed to
be opposed to fascism. Much later Straube discovered deep family
that made his father one of the quiet heroes of the book.
When you travel — figuratively, at least — with Straube, you
discover why this man’s list of goals includes the following item:
"Continually work on reducing my needs."
When you have survived for months on end in post-war Germany by your
wits and grit, you may not feel the need to invest in the elaborate
security blankets of modern life. As for the 14-plus pages of poi
diet, one page of his reminiscences from his German youth prepare
us for that.
Straube’s story is there. Now he needs the modern-day Max Perkins
to bring it to a wider audience.
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