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April 14, 2008

Welcome to the Best Books Blog!

Filed under: 150 Best Minnesota Books — Lori Williamson @ 1:59 pm


Anniversaries are always a good excuse for looking back and making lofty pronouncements. The Historical Society, for example, used the occasion of Minnesota’s sesquicentennial to proclaim the 150 people, places, and things that are quintessentially ours in the “MN 150″ exhibit. Not wishing to be left out, Patrick Coleman, the Society’s Acquisition Librarian, will over the course of this sesquicentennial year designate the greatest 150 Minnesota books. He will anoint these books twice a month beginning this month. Coleman is uniquely qualified to pontificate. By our calculations, he has spent 62,400 billable hours thinking about Minnesota books. We will not even mention the countless hours he was unable to leave his work behind and continued to think about Minnesota literature while paddling or skiing through l’étoile du nord. Still, we realize that any such list is subjective and open to other opinions which we strongly encourage. Readers, please feel free to both add to and take issue with Coleman’s growing list! 

All works chosen as the 150 Best Minnesota Books will have been published in some recognizable form, and will either be about some aspect of the state or will have been written by a Minnesota author. We define Minnesota authors the same way we do for inclusion into the MHS library collections: the author will either have been born in Minnesota or will have spent enough time here to have been influenced by the culture or to have influenced the culture. For example, Sinclair Lewis did not stop being a Minnesota author when he took a job in New York and become a Minnesota author again when he moved back here. Not coincidently, all of these books are available for your perusal in the library at the MHS. Our hope is that you will be reminded of some old favorites and that you may discover some new books to enrich your understanding of this wonderful state, Minnesota.

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14 Responses to “Welcome to the Best Books Blog!”

  1. Jim Kurle Says:

    Wilhelm Moberg’s Immigrant Series would be my nomination for this list. I’d suggest it is comparable to Giants in the Earth in portraying the Scandinavian immigration experience. More generally it describes any great immigration originating in poverty, hunger, religious persecution, or social ostracism. The contrasting feelings expressed by Karl Oskar and Kristina on departure, the struggle to establish their home and family, the complex interactions between immigrant parents and Americanized children, and the reflective almost bittersweet ending encompass the complexity of the immigrant’s personal experience. The books might seem to be only fiction but then a person only has to drive through Chisago, Taylor’s Falls, and Center City or look into the story of Moberg writing the novel to realize that the story’s were very real. Little more than 20 years ago, individuals interviewed by Moberg for the books were still alive and remembered his stay in Chisago County conducting research that became the basis for the novels.

  2. Patrick Coleman Says:

    Thanks Jim. Great nomination and important comment. Be patient. The Swedes will inevitably have a prominent presence on the list of 150 Best Minnesota Books. Remind me, is there a statue of Moberg in Chisago City or is it a statue of Karl Oskar? I’m waiting –hoping- for a “Photoplay” edition of Moberg with Liv Ullmann on the cover.

    Jim Kurle reply on April 25th, 2008:


    The statue of Moberg is in Lindstrom and of Kristina & Karl Oskar is in Chisago City. Some say that Moberg used the lake, Lutheran church, and cemetery at Center City as the model for the settlement portrayed in the “Emigrants”. The church was the location of the wedding in “Grumpy Old Men”. Isn’t that ironic.

  3. Jay Miskowiec Says:

    Please add Andy Keith’s ‘Afloat Again, Adrift’ to your list of 150 best MN books. It’s by a Minnesota writer about the great Minnesota wilderness: 3 canoe and kayak trips down the 3 watersheds that eminate from the northern part of the state.

    Patrick Coleman reply on April 29th, 2008:

    Thanks Jay. AAA is a wonderful book. I purchased a copy for the library here and for my personal collection of over 600 paddling books. Since I can’t add all my favorite canoeing books to the 150 list, how do you think Keith’s book holds up against Sevareid, Sig Olson, and other Minnesota water adventures? Pat

  4. Mike Hazard Says:

    Six hundred books on paddling? Different strokes for different folks, Pat.

    In haphazard order, here are 15 Minnesota books I would pack in a canoe.

    North Star Country, Meridel Le Sueur
    Scarlet Plume, Frederick Manfred
    Silence in the Snowy Fields, Robert Bly
    Letter to an Imaginary Friend, Thomas McGrath (OK, then, how about Letters to Tomasito? Or The Bread of This World, the one published by Gaylord Schanilec? Or _________?)
    Green Journey, Jon Hassler
    The Face of Minnesota, John Szarkowski
    The Minnesota Photographs, Jerome Liebling
    The Curve of the Arch, Larry Millett
    We Are at Home, Bruce White
    Gene McCarthy’s Minnesota: Memories of a Native Son, Eugene McCarthy
    Night Flying Woman, Ignatia Broker
    The Singing Wilderness, Sigurd Olson
    Summer in the Spring, Gerald Vizenor
    Chippewa Music, Frances Densmore
    Chased by the Light, Jim Brandenburg

    I could keep going—cataloging Phebe Hansen, Louis Jenkins, Bill Holm, JF Powers, Jim Northrup, Carol Bly, Patricia Hampl, Margaret Hasse, David Bengtson, Thomas Smith, Freya Manfred, et alia—but enough of my Minnesotans.

    I was not even born here. Banish this banshee.

  5. Patrick Coleman Says:

    Media Mike, You are brilliant! Many of the books you love are on my list also but we might have to arm wrestle about a few of your selections. As much as I love Ireland and love Jon Hassler “Green Journey” would not be my choice for the 150 list. We will talk about this more later but it is hard to write a better book than “Staggerford”. Vizenor is an author that I have on my list without having selected a title. So thanks for weighing in and stay tuned. Pat

  6. Betsy Sundquist Says:

    I can only hope that Maud Hart Lovelace’s books will be featured prominently on this list. It’s hard to imagine leaving her out. And if you have to choose one, most Lovelace aficionados choose “Emily of Deep Valley” as their favorite Lovelace title.

  7. Patrick Coleman Says:

    Thanks Betsy. Are you named after one of Lovelace’s characters? Maud will definitely be on the list of 150 best Minnesota books but I may need to ask a guest blogger to do the honors. I have already been chided for suggesting her “Early Candlelight”! I am partial to “Betsy-Tacy” and I will be exhibiting that book in an upcoming show titled “Maps on Endpapers”. In this case Lois Lenski has drawn a beautiful panoramic map of “Deep Valley” or Mankato, MN to those in the know.

  8. Betsy Sundquist Says:

    I sort of named myself after one of her characters; my name is Bonnie Elizabeth, and in seventh grade I decided to become Betsy, based solely on the Betsy-Tacy books. I’ve been on the Maud Hart Lovelace listserv for 12 years and have many friends around the country because of Maud. (And if you really are looking for a guest blogger, keep me in mind.) :-)

  9. Patrick Coleman Says:

    Knock yourself out Betsy. Reply with a paragraph on why “Emily…” should be one of Minnesota’s best books and I’ll ask Lori to figure out how to capture it and post it [with images]as an official part of the blog. Be sure to tell me why not “Betsy-Tacy”.

  10. Betsy Sundquist Says:

    Maud Hart Lovelace wrote a series of books set in Mankato, the fictional Deep Valley,about Betsy Ray, Tacy Kelly and their friends, but I — and many other Lovelace fans — believe her best work is “Emily of Deep Valley.” Although some of the Betsy-Tacy characters make appearances in the book, it’s a stand-alone story about a girl very unlike Betsy: Emily is a loner, shy and not really part of her high school crowd. Througout the course of the book she realizes she’s unhappy, determines to quit feeling sorry for herself and learns to “muster her wits,” which helps lead to one of the most satisfying conclusions in Lovelace’s books. I’ve discovered that a number of girls who have read the books in the past — and who continue to read them today — have identified more closely with Emily than with the popular Betsy Ray and her crowd. Although the 10 specific Betsy-Tacy books weave a wonderful story about Minnesota girls growing into women at the turn of the 19th century, I believe that “Emily” has an important message, delivered in a convincing (and not preachy) manner.

  11. Missy Hermes Says:

    Can I add a few suggestions? The Story of Mary MacLane by Mary MacLane. She was called the first of the flappers by Menkin and even starred in her own silent movie The Men Who Have Made Love to Me. She grew up in Fergus Falls and is buried here.

    Bertha Muzzy Bower (B.M. Bower) wrote lots of western novels and Chip of the Flying was made into a movie in 1936. She grew up in Battle Lake.

  12. Barbara Wallace Says:

    Dear Pat,
    I eZennjoyed your talk last Wednesday for the First Unitarian Society Women’s Alliance. I’m sorry you couldn’t connect to the internet because I think the women would have been very interested in your comments on the blog.

    I’m a retired librarian from Michigan now living in Minneapolis and I’m fascinated by your list of books I knew and those I didn’t know — Zen and the Art… is one of my favorites.

    But where are the children’s books ? Lovelace and Schulz, sure, but you can’t omit Wanda Gag from New Ulm. Millions of Cats is a classic.

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