I just finished reading two books. One titled “The Lager Queen of Minnesota,” by J. Ryan Stradal, follows the story of three women, two sisters and a granddaughter. The characters deal with tragedy and loss but find themselves and each other through brewing beer. Where “The Lager Queen of Minnesota” is fictional, Vera Koo’s “Wisdom and Things: Essays from an Unlikely Champion” is not. The parallels are striking.
Like the oldest sister in Stradal’s novel, Vera filled the role of homemaker and mother, but also found her way to success in a traditionally male field. Instead of putting in the work at a brewery, Vera chose the shooting sports. I enjoyed both books, but I have to say having the privilege of knowing Vera makes “Wisdom and Things” and its real life story even more special.
To me, Vera’s second book is like a diary and scrapbook in one. Having competed with this unlikely champion over the span of many years, it’s fun to see photos from her childhood. It’s an intimate look beyond my memories on the range and one of my favorites is her standing behind a stove cooking up a meal. In some images, she looks like a movie star and travel blogger. Others are more familiar and feature her hard at work on the range, chasing her goals.
Throughout the compilation of essays organized into four parts, Vera spills the beans not only on how she became so successful as an eight-time Bianchi champion, but also, the things she has learned along the way. These experiences and the knowledge that helped Vera discover are relative and relatable today.
There are many quotes from the book that resonate with me. “First, I had to ace my life at home” is a truth I had to learn, too, as I juggle motherhood with competitive shooting. When life gets challenging, there’s, “For every dark cloud, there is a silver lining. It may be the darker the cloud, the brighter the lining.” For all those times someone tries to knock you down, Vera shares how, “For every person eager to cast a stone at you, someone else is willing to help you.”
My favorite essay lies in Part 3: A Little Religion. A Little Philosophy. A Little Introspection. “See the Doughnut, Not the Hole” addresses loss and forgiveness alongside the value of kindness and perseverance. The tough life lessons and personal tragedies Vera had to endure are a testament to her strength. Reading it, I’m reminded about the things that truly matter and within the pages is a gift of maternal wisdom.
Though it could never replace an afternoon with a loving grandmother as she shares her stories and insight on a happy and fulfilled life, it’s the next best thing. You can certainly get a lot from diving in and reading this book the whole way through, but I think it’s best to find a quiet place in a cozy spot to sit down for a half-hour. Bring a warm drink and an introspective mindset. It won’t be hard to imagine Vera sitting there with you sharing wisdom and things.
Read Julie’s book review of Vera’s first book, “The Most Unlikely Champion.”
This review by Julie Golob was originally published at Women’s Outdoor News.