Oh, howdy. If you’re reading this, then you likely live in the American Midwest (or was forwarded this review by someone who does). Perhaps you recognize “Oh, howdy” as one of the myriad of ways we Midwesterners say hello. According to comedian and author Charlie Berens in his book The Midwest Survival Guide: How we Talk, Love, Work, Drink, and Eat…Everything with Ranch, other informal greetings include “Mornin’,” Yallo,” “Beautiful day,” “How are ya,” and, one of my favorites, “Oh, hey there.” Uniquely Midwestern language is but one topic covered in Berens’ guidebook.
Before getting too far afield on the prairie, however, it’s worth noting which states are considered the American Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. This is not to say that a Minnesotan “Oh, howdy” will sound like a Missouri “Yallo,” or that anyone living outside of a particular region of Ohio will know what the heck a tree lawn is, but those 12 states make up what’s commonly known as the American Midwest (and what the United State Census Bureau refers to as Region Two).
Berens starts us off with a twelve-question “How Well Do You Know the Midwest?” test before getting into the basics. You needn’t worry about your results, though, as each score leads to “this is the right book for you”–you can’t go wrong! After the basics and language, we mosey along to the people, driving, setting, goings-on, college life, being there, food & drink, and junk drawer sections of the book. Also included you’ll find an intermission – that is, a Midwest Gallery – and exercises, bucket lists, recipes, sidenotes, how-tos, and more.
Need to know what to do when you hit a deer? See page 87. Curious about the difference between Deviled eggs and the Devil? See page 211. Pages 202-04 introduce us to over a dozen different types of “weenies” and their distinguishing features. Plan your monthly yardwork calendar with the help of pages 103-06. Learn all about “Midwest nice,” history, values, sports, drinking games, and, yup, you guessed it, more (than perhaps you’d ever thought you’d like to know, but you’d like to) about all-things Midwestern.
Throughout his book, Berens shares family memories with us – fishing trips, Grandpa Bob, Midwestern holidays, his first car, etc. – that are wonderful anecdotes to what seems a truly Midwestern upbringing and lifestyle. But he didn’t set out to be a comedic spokesperson for the United States’ middle child. Prior to pursuing comedy, he worked in journalism, and he’s also a musician and podcaster. It was on a comedy tour in LA that he realized his Midwestern shtick resonated with audiences from across the country. He posits that among the reasons why the Midwest resonates is “because the Midwest has largely been underrepresented, or falsely represented in pop culture” and that we’ve “been flown over culturally,” and, welp, I agree.
When I first plucked this book off of the library’s shelves, I didn’t know what to expect or whether I would, in fact, read it. Within minutes, I was sharing it with others. A colleague immediately put it on hold. I read a few pages to my (very Midwestern mother, who lives in Ohio) over the phone and we laughed so hard we cried, especially at “The 12 Steps to Saying Goodbye.” As it turns out, my 13-year-old stepson follows Berens’ Midwestern shenanigans on Youtube, which I learned only after he absconded with the book as soon as I brought it home. All of this to say that this is a hilarious read and, indeed, it resonates, seemingly regardless of age.
Having lived in the Midwest all of my adult life (and nearly all of my life, full stop), I realize that it’s too easy to take our uniqueness for granted. Greetings, sayings, long goodbyes, and the like that we Midwesterners hear on a daily basis, such as, “Ope, sorry,” “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” and “It’s not the cold, it’s the wind,” are, uniquely, us. Sure, I’m reminded of that any time that I step outside of my Midwestern comfort zone, but it’s nice to be reminded of home while at home.
Aside from making us laugh, Berens also gives us a sort of survey of Midwestern culture – books, fairs (county and state), films, food, museums, politics, and sites to see. Not to mention the entertaining cartoons, charts, illustrations, lexicon, and photographs. Check it out! And, as always, happy reading.