My bucket list always includes a long lineup of books by Minnesota authors and books about Minnesota itself. Every time I head to the woods, or pack for a road trip, I head to a local bookstore and scour the shelves for the next home-away-from-home favorite. The staff at Zenith Bookstore in Duluth have always taken great care in what they recommend. Just before #StayHomeMN went into effect, they told me to pick up the Lager Queen of Minnesota by J, Ryan Stradal. The story tied so tightly to my own that I couldn’t put it down. The perfect recommendation for me, if there ever was one!
Because of this, and because we find ourselves in isolation together, I asked my friends at Zenith to share a few of their Minnesota favorites for you.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
This is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling. The story depicts the men of Alpha Company, including the character Tim O’Brien, who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. Taught everywhere, it has become required reading for any American and continues to challenge readers in their perceptions of fact and fiction, war and peace, courage and fear and longing.
A to Zåäö: Playing with History at the American Swedish Institute by Inga Theissen and Nate Christopherson
This fun introduction to the Swedish alphabet, a romp from A to Z (and then Å to Ä to Ö), is also a delightful tour of the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, a cultural center alive with stories past and present. Artifacts from the museum’s collection are charmingly rendered in watercolor and animated by whimsical pen-and-ink characters that draw readers from page to page. Tara Sweeney and Nate Christopherson, a mother and son collaborative team, create magical realism in A to Zåäö, their first picture book.
Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens
In a small Southern town where loyalty to family and to “your people” carries the weight of a sacred oath, defying those unspoken rules can be a deadly proposition. After fifteen years of growing up in the Ozark hills with his widowed mother, high-school freshman Boady Sanden is beyond ready to move on. He dreams of glass towers and cityscapes, driven by his desire to be anywhere other than Jessup, Missouri. The new kid at St. Ignatius High School, if he isn’t being pushed around, he is being completely ignored. Even his beloved woods, his playground as a child and his sanctuary as he grew older, seem to be closing in on him, suffocating him. Then Thomas Elgin moves in across the road, and Boady’s life begins to twist and turn.
Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes): A Novel by Lorna Landvik
A bittersweet, seriously funny novel of a life, a small town, and a key to our troubled times traced through a newspaper columnist’s half-century of taking in, and taking on, the world. The curmudgeon who wrote the column “Ramblin’s by Walt” in the Granite Creek Gazette dismissed his successor as “puking on paper.” But when Haze Evans first appeared in the small-town newspaper, she earned fans by writing a story about her bachelor uncle who brought a Queen of the Rodeo to Thanksgiving dinner. Now, fifty years later, when the beloved columnist suffers a massive stroke and falls into a coma, publisher Susan McGrath fills the void (temporarily, she hopes) with Haze’s past columns, along with the occasional reprinted responses from readers.
What God Is Honored Here? Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss by and for Native Women and Women of Color by Shannon Gibney
Native women and women of color poignantly share their pain, revelations, and hope after experiencing the traumas of miscarriage and infant loss. This is a literary collection of voices of Indigenous women and women of color who have undergone miscarriage and infant loss, experiences that disproportionately affect women who have often been cast toward the margins in the United States of America. It brings women together to speak to one another about the traumas and tragedies of womanhood.
Minnesota, 1918: When Flu, Fire, and War Ravaged the State by Curt Brown
In 1918, Minnesota and its residents were confronted with a series of devastating events that put communities to the test, forcing them to persevere through untold hardship. First, as the nation immersed itself in the global conflict later known as World War I, some 118,000 Minnesotans served in the war effort, both at home and “over there”-and citizens on the home front were subjected to loyalty tests and new depths of government surveillance. While more than 1,400 Minnesotans were killed on the battlefields, an additional 2,300 soldiers were struck down by another destructive force working its way across the globe in 1918: the influenza pandemic, which left more than 10,000 dead in Minnesota alone. Then, in mid-October, fires raged across 1,500 square miles in seven counties of northeastern Minnesota, leaving thousands homeless and hundreds dead.
A Popular History of Minnesota by Norman K. Risjord
What do Paul Bunyan, Charles Lindbergh, and Jesse Ventura have in common–Minnesota, of course! In A Popular History of Minnesota, historian Norman K. Risjord offers a grand tour of the state’s remarkable history, taking readers through the centuries and into the lives of those colorful characters who populate Minnesota’s past. This highly readable volume details everything from the glacial formation of the land to the arrival of the Dakota and the Ojibwe people, from Minnesota’s contributions to the Northern cause during the Civil War to the key players in reform politics who helped sculpt the identity of the state today.
The Lynchings in Duluth by Michael W. Fedo
On the evening of June 15, 1920, in Duluth, Minnesota, three young black men, accused of the rape of a white woman, were pulled from their jail cells and lynched by a mob numbering in the thousands. Yet for years the incident was nearly forgotten. This updated, second edition of The Lynchings in Duluth includes a new preface by the author, additional research and notes, and suggestions for further reading. “This account of racial violence in the early twentieth century is a genuinely startling and illuminating contribution to our understanding of racial justice in the United States in the twenty-first.
LaRose by Louise Erdrich
In this literary masterwork, Louise Erdrich, the bestselling author of the National Book Award-winning The Round House and the Pulitzer Prize nominee The Plague of Doves wields her breathtaking narrative magic in an emotionally haunting contemporary tale of a tragic accident, a demand for justice, and a profound act of atonement with ancient roots in Native American culture. Inspiring and affecting, LaRose is a powerful exploration of loss, justice, and the reparation of the human heart, and an unforgettable, dazzling tour de force from one of America’s most distinguished literary masters.
Hush Hush, Forest by Author: Mary Casanova Illustrator: Nick Wroblewski
Lyrical words and elegant woodcuts capture the quiet beauty of the forest as day fades to night and autumn gives way to the North Woods winter. Hush Hush, Forest peers through twilight’s window at the raccoon preening, the doe and fawn bedding down, the last bat of the season flitting away. The owl surveys, the rabbit scurries, the bear hunkers, readying her den. Marking the rhythm between the falling leaf and the falling snowflake, picturing the rituals of creatures big and small as they prepare for the long winter’s sleep, this charming book captures a time of surpassing wonder for readers of all ages—and bids everyone in the hushed forest a peaceful good night.
Ten Plants that Changed Minnesota By Susan Davis Price and Mary Hockenberry Meyer
In 2012 a committee of experts chose the ten plants that most changed Minnesota from nearly five hundred citizen nominations, hosted by the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The idea that plants, as few as ten, could shape a state and how it developed economically, culturally, and historically, is at the core of the Ten Plants that Changed Minnesota project, which also includes a companion website and a popular freshman seminar at the University of Minnesota. The plants are the apple, alfalfa, the American elm, corn, lawn or turfgrass, purple loosestrife, soybeans, wheat, wild rice, and white pine.
New Poets of Native Nations a collection by Editor Heid E. Erdrich
A landmark anthology celebrating twenty-one Native poets first published in the twenty-first century New Poets of Native Nations gathers poets of diverse ages, styles, languages, and tribal affiliations to present the extraordinary range and power of new Native poetry. Collected here are poems of great breadth—long narratives, political outcries, experimental works, and traditional lyrics—and the result is an essential anthology of some of the best poets writing now.
North Shore: A Natural History of Minnesota’s Superior Coast by Chel Anderson
Propelled by wings, fins, legs, and the wind, life has found a way to Minnesota’s North Shore for more than twelve thousand years. These organisms come to life in North Shore, a comprehensive environmental history of one of Minnesota’s most beloved places. North Shore reminds us that the natural history of this extraordinary region is still being created and that each of us—individually and collectively—are the authors of this ongoing narrative.
Birds in Minnesota By Robert B. Janssen
A comprehensive update of the classic from the state’s foremost expert. In the nearly half-century since the first publication of the landmark Birds in Minnesota, the state and its bird populations have undergone dramatic changes. Featuring full-color photographs and more than one thousand distribution maps, the updated Birds in Minnesota describes where and during which season the 443 species of birds in the state can be found.
Murder on the Red River by Marcie Rendon
Cash and Sheriff Wheaton make for a strange partnership. He pulled her from her mother’s wrecked car when she was three. He’s kept an eye out for her ever since. It’s a tough place to live—northern Minnesota along the Red River. Cash navigated through foster homes, and at thirteen was working farms. She’s tough as nails—Five feet two inches, blue jeans, blue jean jacket, smokes Marlboros, drinks Bud Longnecks. Makes her living driving truck. Playing pool on the side. Wheaton is biglawman type. He wants her to take hold of her life. So there they are, staring at the dead Indian lying in the field. Soon Cash was dreaming the dead man’s cheap house on the Red Lake Reservation, mother and kids waiting. She has that kind of power. That’s the place to start looking. There’s a long and dangerous way to go to find the men who killed him.
Wintering by Peter Geye
A true epic: a love story that spans sixty years, generations’ worth of feuds, and secrets withheld and revealed. One day, elderly, demented Harry Eide steps out of his sickbed and disappears into the brutal, unforgiving Minnesota wilderness that surrounds his hometown of Gunflint. It’s not the first time Harry has vanished. Thirty-odd years earlier, in 1963, he’d fled his marriage with his eighteen-year-old-son Gustav in tow. He’d promised Gustav a rambunctious adventure, two men taking on the woods in winter. With Harry gone for the second (and last) time, unable to survive the woods he’d once braved, his son Gus, now grown, sets out to relate the story of their first disappearance–bears and ice floes and all–to Berit Lovig, an old woman who shares a special, if turbulent, bond with Harry.
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America From 1890 to the Present by David Treuer
A sweeping history—and counter-narrative—of Native American life from the Wounded Knee massacre to the present. The received idea of Native American history has been that American Indian history essentially ended with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Not only did one hundred fifty Sioux die at the hands of the U. S. Cavalry, the sense was, but Native civilization did as well. Growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, training as an anthropologist, and researching Native life past and present for his nonfiction and novels, David Treuer has uncovered a different narrative.
Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia
This riveting and suspenseful thriller follows the mysterious disappearance of a boy and his stunning return ten years later. There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago, a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned. Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later…the son reappears. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he is violent and uncommunicative and is sent to a psychiatric facility.
Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo
Beverly Tapinski has run away from home plenty of times, but that was when she was just a kid. By now, she figures, it’s not running away. It’s leaving. Determined to make it on her own, Beverly finds a job and a place to live and tries to forget about her dog, Buddy, now buried underneath the orange trees back home; her friend Raymie, whom she left without a word; and her mom, Rhonda, who has never cared about anyone but herself. Beverly doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she definitely doesn’t want anyone to depend on her. But despite her best efforts, she can’t help forming connections with the people around her — and gradually, she learns to see herself through their eyes.
The Language Warrior’s Manifesto: How to Keep Our Languages Alive No Matter the Odds by Anton Treuer
Anton Treuer has been at the forefront of the battle to revitalize Ojibwe for many years. In this impassioned argument, he discusses the interrelationship between language and culture, the problems of language loss, strategies and tactics for resisting, and the inspiring stories of successful language warriors. He recounts his own sometimes hilarious struggle to learn Ojibwe as an adult, and he depicts the astonishing success of the language program at Lac Courte Oreilles, where a hundred children now speak Ojibwe as their first language. This is a manifesto, a rumination, and a rallying cry for the preservation of priceless languages and cultures.
Monkey with a Tool Belt by Chris Monroe
Whether you need a beebersaw or a chisel, Chico Bon Bon’s your monkey. He can build or fix just about anything—from a dock for the ducks to a clock for the Clucks, even a small roller coaster for local chipmunks. But will his tools and his sharp wit save him when an organ grinder sets his sights on making Chico a circus star? Chris Monroe’s quirky hero and detailed illustrations will absorb readers in an entertaining adventure that shows there is an inventive way out of every problem—if you have the right tools.
Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
The first novel in ten years from award-winning, bestselling author Leif Enger,Virgil Wander is a sweeping story of new beginnings against all odds that follows the inhabitants of a hard luck town in their quest to revive its flagging heart. Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures of kite-flying, movies, fishing, baseball, necking in parked cars and falling in love, Virgil Wander is a swift, full journey into the heart and heartache of an often overlooked upper Midwest by an award-winning master storyteller.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
Based on the extraordinary life of National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich’s grandfather who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C., this powerful novel explores themes of love and death with lightness and gravity and unfolds with the elegant prose, sly humor, and depth of feeling of a master craftsman. The Night Watchman is a majestic work of fiction from this revered cultural treasure.
The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J, Ryan Stradal
A novel of family, Midwestern values, hard work, fate and the secrets of making a world-class beer, from the bestselling author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Two sisters, one farm. A family is split when their father leaves their shared inheritance entirely to Helen, his younger daughter. Where Edith has a heart as big as Minnesota, Helen’s is as rigid as a steel keg. Yet one day, Helen will find she needs some help herself, and she could find a potential savior close to home. . . if it’s not too late.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
1932, Minnesota—the Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O’Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own. Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphans will journey into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds.
A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang
A heartfelt story of a young girl seeking beauty and connection in a busy world. As the seasons change, so too does a young Hmong girl’s world. She moves into a new home with her family and encounters both birth and death. As this curious girl explores life inside her house and beyond, she collects bits of the natural world. But who are her treasures for? A moving picture book debut from acclaimed Hmong American author Kao Kalia Yang.
A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota by Sun Yung Shin
Sixteen of Minnesota’s best writers provide a range of perspectives on what it is like to live as a person of color in Minnesota. Minnesota communities struggle with some of the nation’s worst racial disparities. As its authors confront and consider the realities that lie beneath the numbers, this book provides an important tool to those who want to be part of closing those gaps.
The Littlest Voyageur by Margi Preus
A red squirrel, Jean Pierre Petit Le Rouge, stows away on a canoe to fulfill his dream of joining a group of voyageurs–men who paddle canoes filled with goods to a trading post thousands of miles away. It is 1792 and unbeknownst to a group of voyageurs traveling from Montreal to Grand Portage, an intrepid squirrel, Jean Pierre Petit Le Rouge, sneaks onto their canoe. When they finally arrive at the trading post Le Rouge is in for a terrible shock–the voyageurs have traveled all those miles to collect beaver pelts. With the help of Monique, a smart and sweet flying squirrel, Le Rouge organizes his fur-bearing friends of the forest to ambush the men and try and convince them to quit being voyageurs.
The Children of Lincoln: White Paternalism and the Limits of Black Opportunity in Minnesota, 1860–1876 By William D. Green
How white advocates of emancipation abandoned African American causes in the dark days of Reconstruction, told through the stories of four Minnesotans. White people, Frederick Douglass said in a speech in 1876, were “the children of Lincoln,” while black people were “at best his stepchildren.” Emancipation became the law of the land, and white champions of African Americans in the state were suddenly turning to other causes, regardless of the worsening circumstances of black Minnesotans. Through four of these “children of Lincoln” in Minnesota, William D. Green’s book brings to light a little known but critical chapter in the state’s history as it intersects with the broader account of race in America.
Gichi Bitobig, Grand Marais: Early Accounts of the Anishinaabeg and the North Shore Fur Trade by Timothy Cochrane
The journals of two clerks of the American Fur Company recall a lost moment in the history of the fur trade and the Anishinaabeg along Lake Superior’s North Shore. Timothy Cochrane recreates the drama that played out in the cold weather months in Grand Marais between 1823 and 1825. Through the words of long-ago witnesses, the book recovers both the too-often overlooked Anishinaabeg roots and corporate origins of Grand Marais, a history deeper and more complex than is often told.
Iron and Water: My Life Protecting Minnesota’s Environment by Grant J. Merritt
In 1855 the Merritt family arrived in Minnesota, where a descendant, Alfred, would one day become one of the “Seven Iron Men”—builders of the first mines to tap the state’s great mineral wealth in the Mesabi Range. Another Merritt, more than half a century later, would lead the efforts to protect Lake Superior from damage caused by mining. Iron and Water is Grant J. Merritt’s memoir of his life’s work on behalf of Minnesota’s people and environment and also the story of a significant family in state history. In chronicling both the discovery of vast iron deposits on the Mesabi Range and the fight to save Lake Superior and Minnesota’s natural riches, Iron and Water reveals how, whether alone or together, individuals wield the power to change the world.
My Mighty Journey: A Waterfall’s Story by Author: John Coy Illustrator: Gaylord Schanilec
My Mighty Journey is the story of the only major waterfall on the Mississippi River–and the changes it has witnessed over twelve thousand years. Written from the perspective of the waterfall, the narrative considers the people who lived nearby, the ways they lived, and how the area around the waterfall changed drastically in the past two centuries. Perhaps more thought-provoking is that Europeans and their descendants have resided near the falls for less than three percent of the time people have lived here.
Village of Scoundrels by Margi Preus
Newbery Honor recipient Margi Preus tells the incredible true story of a group of French teenagers who helped save refugees in WWII. Based on the true story of the French villagers in WWII who saved thousands of Jews, this novel tells how a group of young teenagers stood up for what is right. A policeman is sent to keep an eye on them, German soldiers reside in a local hotel, and eventually the Gestapo arrives, armed with guns and a list of names. As the knot tightens, the young people must race against time to bring their friends to safety.
Searching for Minnesota’s Wildflowers: A Guide for Beginners, Botanists, and Everyone in Between by Phyllis Root
This book chronicles the ten years that Phyllis Root and Kelly Povo spent exploring Minnesota’s woods, prairies, hillsides, lakes, and bogs for wildflowers, taking pictures and notes, gathering clues, mapping the way for fellow flower hunters. Featuring helpful tips, exquisite photographs, and the story of their own search as your guide, Phyllis and Kelly place the waiting wonder of Minnesota’s wildflowers within easy reach.
Fishing! By Sarah Stonich
Having fled the testosterone-soaked world of professional sport fishing, thirty-something RayAnne Dahl is navigating a new job as a consultant for the first all-women talk show about fishing on public television. After the host bails, RayAnne lands in front of the camera and out of her depth at the helm of the show. Is she up for the challenge? And just when things seem to be coming together—the show is an unlikely hit; she receives the admiration of a handsome sponsor (out of bounds as he is, but definitely in the wings); ungainly house and dog are finally in hand—RayAnne’s world suddenly threatens to capsize, and she’s faced with a gut-wrenching situation and a heartbreaking decision.
Laurentian Divide by Sarah Stonich
Bitter winters are nothing new in Hatchet Inlet, hard up against the ridge of the Laurentian Divide, but the advent of spring can’t thaw the community’s collective grief, lingering since a senseless tragedy the previous fall. What is different this year is what’s missing: Rauri Paar, the last private landowner in the Reserve, whose annual emergence from his remote iced-in islands marks the beginning of spring and the promise of a kinder season.
Homemade: Finnish Rye, Feed Sack Fashion, and Other Simple Ingredients From My Life in Food by Beatice Ojakangas
In the wake of the Moose Lake fires and famine of 1918, Ojakangas tells us in this delightful memoir-cum-cookbook, her grandfather sent for a Finnish mail-order bride—and got one who’d trained as a chef. Ojakangas’s stories, are, unsurprisingly, steeped in food lore: tales of cardamom and rye, baking salt cake at the age of five on a wood-burning stove, growing up on venison, making egg rolls for Chun King, and sending off a Pillsbury Bake Off–winning recipe without ever making it.
Dream Country by Shannon Gibney
Dream Country begins in suburban Minneapolis at the moment when seventeen-year-old Kollie Flomo begins to crack under the strain of his life as a Liberian refugee. He’s exhausted by being at once too black and not black enough for his African American peers and worn down by the expectations of his own Liberian family and community. When his frustration finally spills into violence and his parents send him back to Monrovia to reform school, the story shifts.
Walking the Old Road by Stacy Lola Drouillard
In the turn of the nineteenth century, one mile east of Grand Marais, Minnesota, you would have found Chippewa City, a village that as many as 200 Anishinaabe families called home. Today you will find only Highway 61, private lakeshore property, and the one remaining village building: St. Francis Xavier Church. Drouillard, whose own family once lived in Chippewa City, draws on memories, family history, historical analysis, and testimony passed from one generation to the next to conduct us through the ages of early European contact, government land allotment, family relocation, and assimilation.
Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year by Linda LeGarde Grover
Long before it came to be known as Duluth, the land at the western tip of Lake Superior was known to the Ojibwe as Onigamiising, “the place of the small portage.” There the Ojibwe lived in keeping with the seasons, moving among different camps for hunting and fishing, for cultivating and gathering, for harvesting wild rice and maple sugar. In fifty short essays, Grover reflects on the spiritual beliefs and everyday practices that carry the Ojibwe through the year and connect them to this northern land of rugged splendor.
John Beargrease: Legend of Minnesota’s North Shore by Daniel Lancaster
John Beargrease (1862–1910), the son of an Anishinabe chief, hauled the mail by dogsled between pioneer communities along Minnesota’s tempestuous Lake Superior shore line. The annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is named in his honor. . . . it was sometimes best to just keep going . . . pushing through three feet of snow, plowing over drifts six and seven feet deep, making their way among the boughs of the trees. Daniel Lancaster follows the legendary Beargrease through the settlement and development of the North Shore on his difficult traverse from traditional Anishinabe life to the modern world.
Ruby & Roland: A Novel by Faith Sullivan
Growing up in early twentieth-century Illinois, Ruby Drake is a happy child. But one winter’s night, her beloved parents perish in an accident—and suddenly Ruby finds herself penniless and nearly alone in the world. Her new path eventually takes her to Harvester, where she is lucky enough to find work on the welcoming Schoonover farm. Kind Emma, forward-thinking Henry, and their hired men—ambitious Dennis and reserved Jake—soon become a second family to the orphaned teenager.
You can find all of those above and more on their website, at the bottom under “Minnesota Authors and Books About Minnesota”
What are some of your Minnesota favorites?