150 Best Minnesota Books
Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
The Minnesota Antiquarian Book Fair will be held on June 27 – 28, 2014 in the Progress Center at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds (see map at bottom of this post). Over fifty exhibitors from across the country will be offering antiquarian, fine, and rare books in nearly every field, including first editions, fine bindings, vintage books & advertising, ephemera, maps, and more.
Following is a list of items that we know dealers will be bringing that we want, if you are interested in helping us build our Collection.
Thanks, hope to see you there!
From Jeffrey Marks Rare Books:
From Rulon-Miller Books:
From Cambridge Books:
From Corner Books:
From Spring Hollow Books:
From Main Street Fine Books & Manuscripts:
From James & Mary Laurie Booksellers:
HUNGRY MIDNIGHT 1: Gary Snyder, Kathleen Norris, Joyce Sutphen, Mary Karr, E. Annie Proulx, and Jane Mead
A SECOND HUNGRY MIDNIGHT: Sherman Alexie, Paul Metcalf, John Dufresne, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Lethem, and Charles Baxter.
HUNGRY MIDNIGHT 3: Linda McCarriston, Jonis Agee, Clare Rossini, Barry Lopez, Anne Michaels, and Paula Woods.
HUNGRY MIDNIGHT 4: Edwidge Danticat, James Galvin, Tawni O’Dell, Carl H. Klaus, Ha Jin, and Patricia Hampl.
MIDNIGHT RUMINATOR FIRST & (LAST): Li-Young Lee, Richard Ford, Sandra Benitez, Robert Bly, Louise Erdich, and Bill Holm.
Most of the broadsides were sold individually at one of America’s premier independent bookstores (formerly known as the Hungry Mind Bookstore) after readings by each author. A limited number of sets were also produced. Schanilec signed the title page of each of the five sets. There were only 20 copies of the first set and the number of sets were gradually increased to 50 with the fifth and final set. The store was closed halfway through the fifth series and the final three authors never had the opportunity to appear at a reading in the store. Some of the sets are designated as printer’s proofs, the rest are numbered. Fine. (#9003937) $7,500.00
“Three distinguished Ball Players, portraits from life, in ball-play dress. No. 1, Tul-lock-chish-ko (He who drinks the juice of the stone). A Choctaw. No. 2. Wee-chush-ta-doo-ta (The Red Man). A Sioux, from the Upper Mississippi. No. 3. Ah-no-je-nahge (He who Stands on both Sides). a Sioux brave, from the Missouri. Amongst the forty-eight tribes which I have visited, I find the game of Ball everywhere played; and to my great surprise, by tribes separated by a space of three thousand miles, played very nearly in the same manner; the chief difference consisting in the different construction of the ball-sticks used – the modes of laying out the ground – and painting and ornamenting yheir bodies. In most of the tribes there are certain similar regulations as to dress, ornaments,&c., which no one is allowed to depart from; and in the three portraits given, in the illustration here, these particular and general modes are all set forth. Amongst all tyhe tribes I have visited in their primary condition, which their native modes are unchanged by civilized innovations. I find that every player mudt enter the play entirely denuded, with the exception of their breach-cloths and ornamented belts around their waists…leaving all their limbs free to act, without the least encumbrance of dress. And that they may feel and appreciate more to their advantage the ground that they run upon, they uniformly enter the lists to run in this desperate chase with the naked foot. (#9018781) $10,000.00
From Ron Lerner:
The essaylab.org is an on-line writing center that has been writing for students for a long time . The center has a team of professional writers, with masters and PhD degrees from English speaking countries.
As Minnesota is known for its woods and waters, so is it known for its chroniclers of the outdoors. Names like Sigurd Olson readily spring to mind and so too should the name, Helen Hoover.
An Ohioan by birth, Helen and her husband, Adrian, moved to the remote north woods on Minnesota’s Gunflint trail in the mid-1950s. A writer by inclination, and now by necessity, she began to document her surroundings in order to make a living in the harsh environment. She sold articles to magazines as varied as The Saturday Review, Humpty Dumpty, and Audubon.
In 1963, exactly 50 years ago, Helen’s first book was published in New York. The Long-Shadowed Forest, celebrated here, described the plants and animals that surrounded her cabin. Adrian lovingly illustrated the margins of the pages with detailed depictions of the text, creating one of the “must have” books for any Minnesotan.
As the Environmental Movement of the 1970s grew, Hoover’s books inspired many a young activist. After The Long-Shadowed Forest she went on to write six more books; some very personal accounts of the couple’s struggle to survive near the Canadian border. When the Gunflint Trail became more popular and populated, and their privacy more compromised, the Hoovers left Minnesota. Helen died in Colorado in 1984.
The thought provoking 150 Best Minnesota Books Blog often makes me, a cookbook collector, think about what I’d chose as the best Minnesota cookbooks of the last 150 years. Thousands of cookbooks have been published here during that time, most of which are fun to read — and many have at least a recipe or two worth trying. I’d like to suggest some possibilities from the MHS Library’s excellent cookbook collection for the Best Minnesota Cookbook Ever title. It would be great to read your nominations as well. Please comment, naming your favorite and telling us why you love it.
Maybe the most influential Minnesota cookbook nationally has been the classic Betty Crocker book known today as “Big Red.” In 2011 its 11th edition was published, a fitting way to celebrate Betty Crocker’s own 90th birthday. The first edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook appeared in 1950, published by General Mills. MHS has both a regular first edition and a special limited first edition. Both are in remarkably good condition, considering that many of the copies in home kitchens have been used so much they’re falling apart.
My very favorite cookbooks are the fundraisers, community cookbooks put together by churches, synagogues, and nonprofit organizations of all kinds to raise money. The reason they’re fun to read is that they’re usually done by home cooks rather than professional home economists, recipe developers, or restaurant chefs. Members of the organization contribute a favorite recipe – either a recently tried dish popular with the family, or a tried & true favorite handed down from (grand)mother to (grand)daughter—and it appears in the book with their name. These books give a collective portrait of the group, often mostly women, who produced the cookbook, with their ethnic backgrounds and reflecting the time, popular recipes, and ingredients of the era when it was published. The MHS Library has fundraiser cookbooks from the 1850s to the 2010s, and its popularity as a way to raise funds has continued to increase.
A classic in this category is the cookbook produced by the Waverly Lutheran Church Mothers Club of rural Truman, Minnesota. The 2nd edition of their Adventures in the Kitchen: a treasury of family tested recipes was published in 1954 by one of the many cookbook publishers located in small towns all over the Midwest. This publisher is the Graphic Publishing Company of Lake Mills, Iowa.
Many other types of cookbooks clamor to be acknowledged as best, like those by talented Minnesota professionals including Eleanor Ostman, Bea Ojakangas, and Raghavan Iyer. My current favorite among the library’s books by one author, though, is 212 Ways to Prepare Potatoes, by Mrs. J. B. Graham, a home economist, published in Duluth by the Fuhr Publishing and Printing Co. in 1935.
The book illuminates the challenges of feeding a family and of making a living on a northern Minnesota farm during the Great Depresssion. Mrs. Graham dedicates the book, which sold for 75 cents, to “Our Rural Friends of the Arrowhead. May it Wend its Way Into Every Home and Add Interest to the Homemakers Cookery. May it Help to Bring Prosperity to The Arrowhead Farmer.” [The Arrowhead is the region of northeastern Minnesota shaped like the tip of an arrow. Beautiful country but poor soil.] The recipes came in large part from the Duluth Chamber of Commerce’s annual recipe contests held during the city’s Potato Weeks in the 1930s. There are recipes for potato breads, muffins, pancakes, and a chocolate mashed potato spice cake, potato doughnuts, fritters, patties, and pies; Cornish pasties and English pasties, dumplings and puddings, soufflés and sausage; potatoes smothered, creamed, and scalloped, hashed and fried. The “foreign recipes” section includes Swedish Kropp Kakor, Norwegian Lefsa, and a savory/sweet Austrian Potato Potica that calls for sugar and cinnamon as well as ham or bacon.
Books about how people eat and ate in Minnesota are a treat to read and cook from. In this category I nominate The Minnesota Ethnic Food Book, by Anne Kaplan, Marjorie Hoover, and Willard Moore, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in 1986. Along with great stories about favorite food traditions of many of the state’s ethnic groups from African Americans to Mexicans to Scandinavians, Greeks, Italians, and Ojibway, British and Germans, Finns, Italians, and Jews, South Slavs and Hmong, it provides excellent recipes from each group. I can testify to the deliciousness of the Ojibway Maple Syrup Apple Pie, the Mexican Pork with Green Chile sauce, and the Greek Stifado.
Reference Specialist, MHS Library
Co-author, Potluck Paradise: Favorite Fare from Church and Community Cookbooks
“All the wicked people
In the Vale of Siddem
Thought of things they shouldn’t do
And then they went and did ‘em”
Since the response to the last best book was so underwhelming I thought I would try something completely different. Instead of a look at Minnesota’s aboriginal culture let’s look at Minnesota’s abhorrent culture.
For this best book we will travel down Highway 61 to Wabasha and peek inside one of the dark and deep coulees (as known as ravines) to find out what nefarious things were taking place in the first decades of the twentieth century. I’ll warn you it ain’t pretty.
Arthur C. Rogers and Maud A. Merrill Dwellers in the Vale of Siddem: A True Story of the Social Aspect of Feeble-Mindedness. Boston: R. G. Badger, c.1919. 80p.
Further warning! This is a slice of Minnesota history you don’t see very often and the language by today’s standards is highly politically incorrect. It is a sociological study, begun in 1911, of the family histories of inmates at the Minnesota School for the Feeble-Minded and Colony for Epileptics who were all from a small geographic area in Wabasha County, a coulee near Lake City. They were selected because there was such an “appalling amount of mental deficiency” which they define as not being able to compete on equal terms with normal people and not being able to “managing himself and his affairs with ordinary prudence.” The study also documents those classified as “moral defectives.” The authors despair of being able to help due to “the apparently inexhaustible supply of mental defectives…” saying “It is like trying to stamp out malaria or yellow fever in the neighborhood of a mosquito breeding swamp.” By their census the ravine contained [I am using their terminology] 156 normal, 199 feeble-minded, 15 epileptic, 34 insane, 125 sexually immoral, 15 criminalistic, 134 alcoholic, and 47 tuberculous inhabitants.
Rogers died during the long study which was taken over by Merrill. Whoever wrote the text it is fabulous reading. They describe each family pseudonymously and they don’t mince words. Of the head of the Yak family; “His laziness was proverbial.” Of the Chad family: “The prevalence of sexual laxity among them is a forgone conclusion.” The family genealogical charts are the best part of the book. Squares are males, circles female and solid lines equal marriage. A line underneath the symbol means they have been institutionalized. They also show illicit sexual relations with broken lines, an “N” for normal, “F” for feeble- minded, “I” for insane, “Sx” for sexually immoral, “A” for alcoholic, “C” for criminal, etc. etc. Take a close look at the descendants of Jo Yak and Lou Chad…
One last tantalizing note: this blogger has seen a copy of this book that had been owned by a doctor or social worker in southern Minnesota that had a chart in the front showing the family names used in the book and the names of the real families.
I am just back from a hike in the Bandelier National Monument where one can climb a series of ladders and enter cliff dwellings, go down a ladder into a kiva, or walk along ledges littered with prehistoric pot shards. The vacation reminded me of my neglected work duties and how long it has been since I posted another of Minnesota’s best books and the magical place reminded me of one of the indisputably best Minnesota books for this list.
Winchell, Newton Horace. The Aborigines of Minnesota: A Report on the Collections of Jacob V. Brower, and on the Field Surveys and Notes of Alfred J. Hill and Theodore H. Lewis / Collated, Augmented and Described by N. H. Winchell. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1911.
Minnesota is blessed with [if not confused by] three geologists named Winchell. Our author [and collator, augmenter, and describer] N. H. Winchell was the Minnesota State Geologist for the last 28 years of the nineteenth century before he became the head of Archaeology at the Minnesota Historical Society. And sorry but I have to sneak this in a biographical tidbit – N. H. also rode with Custer on the General’s first expedition to the Black Hills!
Aborigines is a monumental book of 761 pages, fifty years in the making, and a publishing nightmare. It is lavishly illustrated with thirty-six halftone plates, twenty-six foldout inserts and six hundred and forty-two figures that accompany the text. Clark Dobbs in his A Brief History of Archaeology in Minnesota calls Aborigines “the most comprehensive published collection of information on the mounds, earthworks, and other early archaeological information from Minnesota, as well as the ethnography of the Ojibwe and Dakota.” The work documented the quickly disappearing pre-White contact archaeological landscape of Minnesota. N. H. Winchell played down his hard work in producing this volume, saying “Mr. Hill plowed the field where Mr. Lewis sowed the seed, the fruit of which Mr. Brower garnered.”
There was a time that this book was so common and so cheap that the MHS was giving them away as premiums to anyone who became a member for $5. An old time book dealer told me that they were used as doorstops at the MHS and eventually the many unsold copies were sent off to Horner-Waldorf to be recycled into Wheaties boxes. Now the book is findable but rarely in very good condition and often at prices exceeding one thousand dollars.
This loss of the book was just fine in most people’s eyes because it is so comprehensive that unscrupulous, unethical, and unlawful pot hunters were using it to locate, unearth, and remove the archaeological record. For the armchair archaeologist this “Best Minnesota Book” will provide hundreds of hours of pleasurable browsing.
Our list of the best 150 Minnesota books dipped into genre fiction a while back with the anointing of a couple of mystery novels. It is now time to take another courageous step and delve into the weird and wonderful world of speculative fiction, better known as science fiction and fantasy.
Bosworth, Francis, et al. Broken Mirrors. Minneapolis: Avon Press, 1928.
Clifford D. Simak. The City. New York: Gnome Press, 1952.
Clifford D. Simak was born in Millville, Wisconsin in 1904 and grew up reading H. G. Wells. He is perhaps best known to Minnesotans as a journalist. In 1939 he began a 37 year career writing for the Minneapolis newspapers. He was promoted to news editor of the Star in 1949 and coordinator of the Tribune’s Science Reading Series in 1961. Simak’s legacy, however, is entirely as one of the greatest American science fiction writers. “To read Simak is to read science fiction. To know Simak is to know the best in science fiction,” wrote Muriel Becker in the introduction to his bibliography. He won three Hugo Awards and a Nebula Award. His highest honor was becoming only the third writer named a “Grand Master” by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Among his other numerous awards was the Minnesota Academy of Science Award for his nonfiction but my personal favorite might be his 1988 Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award. Simak had a profound influence generally in the genre but more specifically on local writers by, for example, organizing the first meeting of the Minneapolis Fantasy Society in his home in 1940.
In 1953 Simak won the International Fantasy Award for his best know work, The City. His bibliographer points out that this book is “a work with which every devotee of science fiction is familiar.” The book is a series of related short stories depicting an Earth where mankind does not exist and highly evolved intelligent dogs and robots are left to debate whether humans ever existed or if stories about them were merely mythological. The sensitive new age dogs reflect on humanity and decry man’s worst instinct, war!
The MHS has several editions of City, because it is such a ground breaking work, including the very rare first edition in a dust jacket illustrated by famous Sci-Fi artist Frank Kelly Frease [ if you are collecting our list of 150 best Minnesota books you need this edition] and the 1981 edition with an added “Epilog.”
There is so much of – and too much in – Simak’s work to do justice to him here but let me mention just one thing that I found compelling: his sympathetic writings about robots in the 50’s and 60’s were seen as metaphors for the civil rights movement.
As for the book Broken Mirrors, I hardly know where to begin. This is a scarce book (limited to 82 copies) written by five students at the University of Minnesota who were interested in creative writing. They started what they called the Avon Society using that name as their imprint. The five were: Francis Bosworth, Karl Litzenberg, Gordon Louis Roth, Harrison Salisbury (about whom this list will have more to say later), and the reason we are rolling this book out here and now, Donald Wandrei. Wandrei was born in St. Paul in 1908 and was raised and died there in 1987. Before the U of M he attended St. Paul’s Central High School. The striking woodcut illustrations in Broken Mirrors are by Leo Henkora. The Avon Society’s belief was in “no particular school and no definite limitations… or pedantic theory.” Other than work done as editor of the Minnesota Daily, this book contains Wandrei’s first published writing. Along with eight of his poems, the book contains two short stories by Wandrei, “The Victor Loses” and “The Terrible Suicide.”
After school Wandrei hitchhiked to Maine to visit H. P. Lovecraft. He became both a friend and protégé of HPL. Wandrei partnered with August Derleth in starting the imprint Arkham House, the Sauk City, Wisconsin publisher of “weird fiction” mainly to keep the work of Lovecraft in print. In the 1930’s Wandrei was actively writing for “Astounding Stories” and “Weird Tales” magazines. In 1944 Arkham House published one of Wandrei’s better known works, The Eye and the Finger, imagery that Clem Haupers used in the portrait he painted of his friend, Wandrei. He received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1984.
Do you know who came here to sit at the feet of Donald Wandrei and learn from the master? A young Stephen King! The tourist that gawk from buses that stop at all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Summit Avenue haunts should jog one block north to 1152 Portland Avenue to pay homage to one of our most creative writers.
Since the end of the Civil War more than a book a day has been published about the war!
This is a staggering statistic but perhaps not a surprising one. Nothing has captured our imagination like the conflict that tore this country apart. It still incites strong passion and maybe it should. Civil War causalities exceeded all of America’s losses in all of our other wars combined, from the Revolutionary War through the Vietnam War. Even more significantly, many of the issues that provoked the Civil War continue to confound us today. Race is still a major issue in terms of inequality if not freedom. Are our current political differences irreconcilable? We have even had 2012 presidential candidates bring up the issue of secession! The War also excites history buffs to heights of craziness, reenacting battles on a weekend diet of hardtack. During the American Civil War Minnesota experienced a second Civil War between the original inhabitants, the Dakota Indians, and the area’s newest settlers. Arguably this makes the 1860’s this State’s most interesting and exciting decade. Our Best 150 best books blog acknowledges this with another entry on our growing list.
Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861-1865: Prepared and Published Under the Supervision of the Board of Commissioners Appointed by the Act of the Legislature of Minnesota of April16, 1889. St. Paul, Minnesota: Printed for the State by the Pioneer Press Company, 1890 -1893. 844 pgs; 654 pages.
Prominently displayed on the shelves of any serious collector of Minnesota history you will find this two volume description of the martial imbroglios that defined the early days of our state. This is a significant publishing effort on the part of the State. The idea was to have the participants themselves, men who led soldiers into battle, recount the tragic entanglements of both the Dakota Conflict and the long war between the States. Narratives of the various regiments are written by such prominent figures as Charles Flandrau, C. C. Andrews, J. W. Bishop, and William Lochren. Lochren’s description of the First Minnesota’s various campaigns including their bravery, and 83% causality rate, at Gettysburg, [about which General Handcock rightly said “There is no more Gallant dead recorded in history”] is in itself worth the price of the volumes.
The Board of Commissioners packed these books with details. MITCAIW is the first stop for information regarding the campaigns and those who fought. Whether you are interested in, finding out if Great Grandfather was a soldier, in reading a biography of one of the officers, finding the date of a particular battle, or seeing a roster of the “Scandinavian Guards” this is the “go to” book. The second volume consists of Minnesota’s “official reports and correspondence” of both wars chronically arraigned. Probably because of the important primary source material in volume two, it was reprinted in a second edition and thus is a more common and readily available book. In fact, unopened boxes of the second edition of the second volume were discovered in the basement of the Capital in the late 1970’s and distributed to anyone interested.
The book is still in print with the MHS Press [I just counted and there are actually 7 copies left!] and it is greatly enhanced by a 144 pages index that was not part of the original publication but a1936 WPA project under the direction of MHS reference assistant, Irene B. Warming. I prefer Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars in their beautiful, original, and [given the poignant subject matter] more appropriate, three quarter leather bindings.
C.C. Andrews, 1865, on the left and Charles Flandrau, 1862, on the right.
Please forgive my lack of diligence and attention to the blog listing Minnesota’s 150 best books. It has been over four months since I have posted any new titles and my poor excuse is that small emergencies, such as lack of a functional government, occasionally intruded. I promise to get back on track with regular updates. If you stopped looking for new postings please give me another chance. Keep in mind that I love (and occasionally reward) feed back. I also appreciate the forwarding and circulation of my posts to any potentially interested parties. By my count, we have listed 60 books so far and have 90 fabulous books to go so lets get re-started…
William Hoffman. Those Were The Days. Minneapolis: T. S. Denison and Company,1957.
By the time the list of 150 best Minnesota Books is finished I am sure we will have mentioned many of the ethnic, immigrant, and religious communities that have made us the rich state that we are. One very important part of our heritage is the Jewish community which was occasionally concentrated into tightly knit communities such as the Mississippi River flats on the West Side of St. Paul across from downtown.
Documenting this neighborhood of Jewish immigrants with the attention to detail of the social worker that he was, and the humanism of the columnist which he also was, was William Hoffman. Whether Hoffman is giving you the history and successes of “Neighborhood House” (which opened initially through the work of Rabbi Isaac L. Rypins and quickly became non-sectarian), describing Texas Street which was the wrong side of the tracks of the wrong side of the tracks, or listing the family names like an incantation, he brings the early twentieth century community back into existence.
From Those Were the Days:
Contrary to some popular impressions, Adam and Eve were not from the West Side, but many of Abraham’s descendants did find their way there after a stormy trip across the ocean below deck in steerage. Your parents will assure you, if they have not already done so, that this was not their conception of a first class trip. But arrive here they finally did, even if the legendary pot at the end of the rainbow turned out to be a different kind of pot altogether.
Surely you must know by this time that they left their little dorfs (villages), their close friends, and even some of their family, not to see the “guldeneh” (golden) land of America for themselves, but for you, their children and grandchildren. They came that you might sleep soundly through the night and walk upright during the day with the dignity of free people.
My grandfather, Abraham Levenson, lived in this neighborhood and I am now terribly sorry I did not pay attention to his stories. Those were the Days is a good reminder that, unless you are Native American, we are all immigrants and had at core similar reasons for coming to America and settling in Minnesota. For more of his writings see Tales of Hoffman and More Tales of Hoffman.
Allow me a quick note and thank you to St. Paul’s Mayor. He purchased this book with its all important dust jacket [lacking on the MHS copy; click on the image above for a better view] for the Society at the Antiquarian Book fair in June. Forty other books were purchased at the Fair for the collections by MHS members who had a preview of the books.
Minnesota has always had more than its fair share of great African American books and authors. From a very crucial time period in the history of the Civil Rights Movement came two such works that should be on our list of the 150 Best Minnesota Books. Although both are written by journalists, one is a work of fiction and another non-fiction.
Lloyd L. Brown Iron City. New York: Masses and Mainstream, 1951.
Carl T. Rowan South of Freedom. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952.
Lloyd Brown has one of the more interesting biographies on our list. He was born in St. Paul in 1913, raised in local orphanages, became a leftist labor leader for the CIO, went to Europe to cover the anti-fascist movement, served in World War II, and afterward became managing editor of the literary journal “New Masses.” His novel Iron City was based on a true story and his own experience as a labor organizer (Iron City being the prison where the novel is set). Brown is perhaps best known for his biography of Paul Robeson, who said of Iron City: “Here are people, richly characterized, warm, honest, tender, angry human beings, struggling, fighting, suffering, and triumphantly living the problems and answers.” We can’t say that better so we will simply encourage you to read and discuss this book which is still in print by Northeastern University Press.
We claim Tennessee born and raised Carl T. Rowan as a Minnesotan. Remember our criteria for a Minnesota author: one has to have lived in Minnesota long enough to have been affected by the culture or to have affected the culture. Rowan received a M. A. in journalism from the U of M, wrote for the Minneapolis Spokesman and St. Paul Recorder and then worked at the Minneapolis Morning Tribune covering Civil Rights issues until 1961. Rowan’s provocatively titled first book South of Freedom began as a series of articles for the Trib which were his observations based on his visits to the south and for which he received a “Service to Humanity” award. Rowan also served as president of the Minneapolis Urban League before moving on to become a syndicated columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Rowan saw himself “simply as a newspaperman.” I like the wording on the dust jacket of this book – “an ace Negro Journalist”!
Minnesota was doubly blessed having two smart, simple, honest writers like Robert and Carol Bly who could poetically describe Mother Nature and prosaically [although not in the sense of “ordinary”] describe human nature better than all but a handful of writers. Let’s add two of their books to our growing list of 150 Best Minnesota Books.
Carol Bly. Letters From the Country. NY: Harper and Row, 1981.
Robert Bly. Silence in the Snowy Fields. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1962.
Robert Bly is not a difficult choice for this list. He is a giant in American letters; destined for great things, if not by his birth in Lac qui Parle County, then by his famous graduating class of writers at Harvard in 1950. For a long while in the middle of the last century Carol and Robert turned their Madison, Minnesota farmstead into an epicenter for American writers. Many famous poets spent nights freezing in the converted chicken coop guesthouse. I chose his first book of poems not for the uncountable mentions of snow or poems titled “Poem Against the Rich” and “Poem Against the British” but because of the beautiful simplicity of their descriptions of Minnesota. Bill Holm [another of our “Best” Minnesota authors] called this book “one of the great formative books of American literature” and goes on to say: “It brings into consciousness parts of our lives and places we had never seen clearly before. My own western Minnesota that I simultaneously hated and loved proved more full of metaphor and mystery than I (or anyone else) imagined.” Bly himself must have recognized the significance of these poems to the state as he presented the former head of the Minnesota Historical Society, Russell Fridley, with a copy for the MHS library.
Driving To Town Late To Mail A Letter
It is a cold and snowy night. The main street is deserted.
The only things moving are swirls of snow.
As I lift the mailbox door, it feels cold iron.
There is a privacy I love in this snowy night.
Driving around, I will waste more time.
No less a force in Minnesota culture was Robert’s first wife, Carol.
Born in Duluth, Carol McLean married Robert Bly in 1955. She was an equal partner in the anti-war movement that brought Robert to national attention and she never wavered in her fight for social justice. To quote Bill Holm again: “She never backed down from tackling large issues and large ideas in culture.” Perhaps I should have chosen her collection of fiction, Backbone, for two reasons: backbone is a word that defined her, and her characters covered the entire spectrum of Minnesotans – the good, the bad, and the ugly. However, it was Letters that first brought Carol to my attention and I have used her ever since to describe the peoples and places of Minnesota to my coast locked friends. Another reason Carol belongs on this list is that she had an unusual influence on Minnesota writers, especially on women writers, by teaching, mentoring, and befriending so many.
From “Great Snows” in Letters From The Country
It is sometimes mistakenly thought by city people that grownups don’t love snow…The fact is that most country or small-town Minnesotans love snow…
Before a storm, Madison is full of people excitedly laying in food stocks for the three-day blow. People lay in rather celebratory food, too. Organic-food parents get chocolate for the children; weight watchers lay in macaroni and Sara Lee cakes; recently converted vegetarians backslide to T-bones.
So on our list so far we have had a father and son combination [the Lindbergh’s] and now the Bly’s who, I believe, will be our only authors that were husband and wife. Don’t go looking, however, for other relatives to round out our list of the 150 Best Minnesota books. As always I’m looking forward to your comments.