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Minnesota native writes book about sauna traditions

"The Opposite of Cold: The Northwoods Finnish Sauna Tradition," by Michael Nordskog, University of Minnesota Press, 2010, 187 pages.

You can probably still be friends with author Michael Nordskog if the way you say "sauna" rhymes with "fauna" instead of the first syllable rhyming with "pow." Sow-na.

But the Two Harbors, Minn., native opens his coffee-table book "The Opposite of Cold: The Northwoods Finnish Sauna Tradition" with Pronunciation 101.

"It's not like fingernails on a chalkboard," said Nordskog, who has had his Finnish pronunciation corrected by people from coast to coast. "I've always felt defiant when people corrected me."

The book, with photographs by Aaron W. Hautala and a foreword by architect David Salmela, is getting chatter on plenty of gift guides. It landed on the Minneapolis Star Tribune's list of regional titles for the holiday season. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called Hautala's art "soul-warming photographs of saunas new and old." It was a gift suggestion in the Toronto Globe and Mail, which blurbed: "Far from an ode to beer-guzzling, skinny-dipping cottagers, this compilation honours the alluring and enduring mystique of the Finnish sauna." Here's more in an interview with Nordskog.

Q. Where did you get the idea for this book?

A. We had done a magazine article for Lake County Journal, and published it in early 2005. Aaron and I were talking about, "This would be an interesting subject for a larger-format book." That was about five years ago.

There was a lot of time and research behind it. To me, I really wanted to tell the stories behind the buildings to a large extent. Historical society, a lot of phone interviews, a lot of on-site interviews. Checking out buildings and individual details. I had done an article for the (now-defunct Twin Cities newspaper) The Rake. It was about a 5,000-word feature, part memoir, part graphic look at the sauna.

Q. Who did you imagine as your audience?

A. I envisioned it as a regional book. I thought it would have a broader interest. It was reviewed in the Chicago Tribune, and that was syndicated and picked up all over the country. I just found out today that the Wall Street Journal is doing an article on the sauna business and is interested in interviewing me.

Sauna is well-known. It's not an exotic practice anymore. They're in every health club in America ... or I'm sure a large majority of them. We knew there was a core audience for the book in the region the book describes -- the Lake Superior region, Iron Range, northern Wisconsin and areas from the Twin Cities.

Q. What kind of feedback are you getting from readers?

A. We've done a lot of readings, and I've been to 15 to 20 appearances around New York, the Upper Penninsula, Minnesota. ... One thing, the thing I'm most surprised by, on several occasions, they've thanked us for writing the book. The subject means so much to them, they're grateful to have it captured. I'm very humbled.