Minnesota Books

The Minnesota Book Awards took place last weekend, and I'm pleased to say that in 2016 I read two of the winning books. Hey, so what if one of them is a 32-page picture book with rather sparse text? It's also a delightfully transgressive tale of annelid love.

Laurie Hertzel summed up the awards better than I could--her article in the Star Tribune begins:

The finalists for the Minnesota Book Awards this year included a National Book Award winning-novelist, a New York Times bestselling writer, and a Newbery Medal-winning writer of children’s books. But this year’s Minnesota Book Awards bypassed these venerable writers and bestowed honors on a mostly new crop of authors.

The rest of the article--including a full list of winners--is here.

While the event is largely a celebration of Minnesota's literary culture, the speech that will stay with me the longest came from poet Sun Yung Shin, who spoke about the importance of listening to the voices of those who have long been marginalized. If I find her speech posted online (and I really hope it will be posted), I'll share a link here. In addition to being a poet, Shin also edited the anthology A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, which I read last summer and highly recommend.

Along with recognizing writers (and occasionally illustrators), there's also a special award for a Minnesota book artist. This year the award went to Steven McCarthy for his project Wee Go Library. The project involved "harvesting" books from Little Free Libraries and modifying them in various ways. (Not to worry--he left a replacement book for every book he took from a LFL.) You can read more and see some photos of the finished projects here.

So what have you been reading?

33 thoughts on “Minnesota Books”

  1. I read & finished Orlando White's Bone Light, which is a pretty interesting little collection of poems that examine the structure and form of words on the page. Don't read the official Goodreads blurb on the book, which is full of the publisher's smart-sounding lit-crit balderdash. Several of the reader reviews are a much better indication of what you're getting – which is a smart, strange, and singular take on the stories & essence of the letters of our language, written by someone with a foot both inside the English-speaking, Westernized US, and an older linguistic tradition of non-Western America.

  2. I found a copy of the Complete Short Stories of Hemingway (Finca Vigia edition) for $1.50 at Goodwill this week. That brings my Hemingway total up to 4 books* - Short Stories, Old Man and the Sea, To Have and To Have Not (all 3 Goodwill finds), and an anthology containing his 4 most well known works - A Farewell To Arms, For Whom The Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises, and The Old Man And The Sea (again)

    Reading Hemingway as I've matured has really been something. I remember reading "The Sun Also Rises" way back and thinking "Oooh, bullfights and drinking. So awesome." And now it's "God, Barnes is a misogynist dick." Hemingway's treatment of women is quite bad, but his style is still my favorite. Just something that's changed over the years for me. I still enjoy reading his prose, but the content bothers me a lot more than it used to.

    *Depending on how one wants to count.

    1. I remember setting aside For Whom the Bell Tolls long ago and never returning to it because of the misogyny. However, I also remember loving The Nick Adams Stories and would gladly pick that one up again.

      1. Besides that, FWTBT was a slog for the first 2/3. Then when the action hit, wholly cow, this is why people love Hemingway.

    2. I've read some of his short stories, and The Old Man & The Sea is one of my favorite books, but for some reason I've never picked up any of his novels. I should rectify that. Any preferences on those?

      1. For Whom The Bell Tolls is looooonnng. I would not at all recommend that for a first foray.

        The Sun Also Rises is the shortest of his quote/unquote big three. A Farewell To Arms is the middle.

        The Sun Also Rises would probably be my recommendation for a full length novel. I'm still on Chapter 2 of To Have and to Have Not so I can't speak much to it yet.

        1. Heh. I think For Whom The Bell Tolls was my first Hemingway novel.

          It's been a looooooong time since I read it, but my favorite Hemingway novel might be Islands in the Stream. It's flawed, a turns sublime and bad, and captures the essence of Papa H more faithfully than any other novel. I wouldn't start there, though.

    3. I've probably ranted about this before, but for my high school self, reading The Sun Also Rises was like "bullfights and drinking, I don't see the point. Why am I supposed to care about any of this?" I started For Whom The Bell Tolls last year, might pick it up again. Didn't actively hate it, but didn't find it compelling either. I'm having more fun plugging through War and Peace at the moment.

  3. AJR is 7, the perfect age for reading chapter books at bedtime.
    So I've read this year, Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, Marguerite Henry's Stormy, Misty's Foal (having read Misty previously), Elizabeth Coatworth's Away Goes Sally, and I'm now on Hilda van Stockum's The Mitchells. I knew the voices already from Misty and Dahl describes each character in James well enough at introduction that those voices were pretty easy to get. Coatsworth was a bit trickier for character voices and we'll see how van Stockum's book works out. Those last two were reading-list books that AJR's mother/teacher gave me.

    In between those books, I've read short stories from Dahl's Henry Sugar (spoilers at link). These have been the most fun, as they're a little subversive for a kid AJR's age. So far, characters have been,

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    AJR likes to push buttons with taboos like talking about Death and Blood and how when she's old enough she's going to watch horror movies all the time (she's seen zero), so these are kindof cool for her.
    I couldn't have timed better my wife's passing complaint about me reading her stories of gambling, smoking, drinking, and stealing.
    Maybe after The Mitchells, I can try some Jack London. (Though do they get more adult? I know I'd read Call of the Wild and White Fang by 4th Grade. Call was definitely after Where the Red Fern Grows [Christmas Break, 2nd Grade], and I think The Yearling came between Call and Fang.)

    Nearly half of "Henry Sugar" (which is 14 chapters: among the longest "short-stories" I've read) reading a hand-written account of an interview with an Indian Yogi, so I really worked out my subcontinental accent. (Though it sometimes slid towards Irish or Scottish. I'm not used to using for an entire night's reading... just the Tiger in Ten Apples Up on Top!.)

    1. Point being: I like the Dahl. His stories are appropriately bizarre and, like the Wanda Gag's picture books, the "lesson" may be elusive or even poor advice.

      1. I read James and the Giant Peach to the kids last year. A bit younger than yours, but the loved it. Was sorely disappointed with Stuart Little this year, and have gotten bogged down terribly on The Black Stallion. Might just pick a different one soon... we'll see what the kids say when I present that option. I think their favorite so far was E.B. White's The Trumpet Of The Swan.

    2. On the recommendation of the mother of another 6-year-old boy, I got the first Ivy and Bean book from the library a couple months ago, and the jalapeno and I are now midway through the fourth. He can manage some of the reading himself, but I typically read to him at bedtime (please don't let him ever grow out of this). The books have lots of humor he and I are really enjoying them. (They do contain an occasional "stupid" along with a certain amount of misbehavior, but hey, who wants to read about kids who only make good decisions?)

  4. Read a couple more in the Flashman series, and just started re-reading Gravity's Rainbow (much more palatable 2nd time thru).

    Some favorite Minnesotan stories: A Gravestone Made of Wheat (Will Weaver), The Love Hunter and Staggerford (Jon Hassler), and The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald).

    1. I'll co-sign Gatsby. My Minnesota favorites are: Canoeing with the Cree (Eric Sevareid), Baghdad Express: A Gulf War Memoir (Joel Turnipseed), Merit Badges (Kevin Fenton), and depending on the day, The Things They Carried or Going After Cacciato (Tim O'Brien).

      1. The Things They Carried is in my top ten books. Pure brilliance. In any list of American lit, for me, it rises to the top with Gatsby.

        For MN authors I have also been impressed by Louise Erdrich, but it has been a while since I've read anything of hers. I should rectify that.

        1. Same for me with Erdrich. She's been writing some fiction for kids in the last few years (the Birchbark House series), and I wonder if those books have read-aloud potential.

      2. Why does it surprise me that others have read Canoeing with the Cree?
        Why does it not surprise me that it's you?

        I also have a 1st or 2nd edition of Sevareid's Not So Wild a Dream from my Grandfather's collection.

  5. Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear . . . and Why by Sady Doyle. Nonfiction. You know, I'm not even sure I can find the words to sum up this book. Patriarchy sucks, dudes. There's a good article about the book here.

  6. Update: the speech from Sun Yung Shin is now on her publisher's FB page. It's brief and is well worth reading.

    Small excerpt:

    Freedom of speech is not for those who are the most free but those who are the least free.

  7. For Minnesota books, I made a rare foray into fiction last month (my first since reading A Brief History of Seven Killings), and read Emily Friedlund's History of Wolves. I thought it did a really good job of capturing Northern Minnesota, but a few of the characters (the narrator's mother, especially) seemed ridiculously stereotyped. Also, it hints at a big mystery and withholds information, but the mystery wasn't particularly hard to solve or particularly fulfilling.

  8. Finally found a copy of Hornblower During the Crisis by C.S. Forester, in the correct imprint.* Though the fourth chronologically, this was the final published Hornblower story, and it was unfinished at the time of Forester's death in 1966. As such, the story is incomplete. However,

    Notes left by C.S. Forester indicate that Hornblower would carry out the mission accompanied by South American revolutionary Francisco de Miranda, with Hornblower posing as his servant. They deliver the false orders to Villeneuve without arousing suspicion, prompting him to take his fleet to sea; this ultimately leads the destruction of the Franco–Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar.

    The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I seem to recall that this title made the rounds in the public "best-of" circle a couple years back, but I didn't know anything about it before my wife borrowed it from a friend last fall. I picked it up after she'd finished and rather enjoyed it. The author has different manner of talking about the brutality of the Second World War, told not by or about male combatants on the battlefields, but by and about female combatants at home in occupied/Vichy France. Fiction, interesting and compelling.

    I'm about four chapters into A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan. I am not the student of history that some around here are, but it is amazing to me to be able to read something that so completely explores and exposes the history of the American experience in Vietnam. There is some new nugget of truth or detail I hadn't known before on every page. I can understand why Sheehan's work is held in such high regard.

    *wanted to match the other's I own

  9. I finished Hondo last night. It was Louis L'amour's first novel, apparently. I enjoyed it just fine - nice popcorn reading. I picked it up because my recently passed grandfather was always a L'amour fan. There were a few points where the usage of language was weak, and I really couldn't quite get into Hondo's motivation, and there were far too many cliches. But you've gotta be forgiving when you read something like that, and it moved quickly enough that I was able to overlook the bad.

    1. Love me some L'Amour. Gotta remember, the things you found cliche were likely 'original' ideas in 1953. His Sackett books are still some of my favorite novels ever.

      1. L'Amour. Gotta love how the hero can be on a death race with bado's but still makes time to find an arroyo/gulch in which to make a smokeless fire with mesquite or suchat dry wood to brew some coffee.

  10. Americana by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Novel. I had started this in January, had to return it from a library, and then fortunately found out a friend had a copy in paperback I could borrow. This is one of those novels where you get really into a character's storyline . . . and then the next section switches to a different character. I don't mean this as a criticism, but it's just part of the reading experience. The novel revolves around a young woman named Ifemelu, and as she leaves Nigeria for the United States and eventually decides to return to Nigeria, the book explores questions of race, culture, and identity. Lest you think the book sounds very heavy, there's also a love story. I spent the final portion of the novel wondering whether Ifemelu and her great love, Obinze, would get together, and when the end came I was sad, though not for the reasons you might expect.

    I picked up this book after hearing Adichie read a short excerpt of the novel, and hearing that bit aloud emphasized for me just how carefully the novel was written--each word feels exactly right.

    Two quibbles:

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