Museum Collections Up Close : MNHS.ORG » 150 Best Minnesota Books Every object tells a story, and Collections Up Close presents short, illustrated features that highlight the stories and history behind selected items in the Minnesota Historical Society's museum collections. Fri, 30 Sep 2016 05:01:42 +0000 en hourly 1 ©Minnesota Historical Society (Minnesota Historical Society) Historical Society) History, Society, Culture, American History, Education, Museums, Collections 1440 video, story, museum, history, preservation, civil war, Minnesota, Native American The stories behind selected items at the Minnesota Historical Society. Every object tells a story, and Collections Up Close presents short, illustrated features that highlight the stories and history behind selected items in the Minnesota Historical Society's museum collections. Minnesota Historical Society Minnesota Historical Society No clean Museum Collections Up Close : MNHS.ORG 144 144 Minnesota Antiquarian Bookfair This Weekend! Fri, 20 Jun 2014 15:58:17 +0000 Lori Williamson

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:

  • A wall hanging constructed of state fair prize cattle ribbons, 1902-1911, from Minnesota, New York, and Illinois.   $500
  • Elmer Gantry poster; about 22 x 28 inches; priced $450
  • “Man From Main Street” pageant placard, printed on light board, 18 x 12 inches, priced $150
  • A beautifully printed poster advertising The John Leslie Co. Paper Warehouse of Minneapolis, priced $100.
  • A  great autograph letter signed of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It is not published in Turnbull’s compilation, and it is early, and quite interesting in content.  He writes from Princeton on Feb. 29, 1920, to Luce’s Press Clipping Bureau in New York, describing himself as “a brand new author” who “must have a clipping bureau” since his “first novel This Side of Paradise appears on March 26th (Chas. Scribner’s Sons)” and describing his forthcoming stories as well.  He is particularly interested in clippings from the St. Paul and Minneapolis papers, requesting the clipping service to start right away and for them to send him a bill for the service, signed, “Very truly yours / F. Scott Fitzgerald.”   It was docketed by a recipient in blue pencil:  “Referred to ACB without reply [without reply is underlined] N. office 3-1-20.”  It is on one page, framed, priced $12,500.

From Rulon-Miller Books:

  • [Ally Press.] Macahdo, Antonio. I never wanted fame. 10 poems & proverbs translated by Robert Bly. St. Paul: Ally Press, May, 1979.            First edition limited to 1,626 copies, oblong 12mo, pp. x; title page vignette by Randall W. Scholes; original blue pictorial wrappers, fine. Ally Press Translation series no. 2. $25
  • [BROADSHEET, Minnesota.] Cheap railroad lands of Minnesota and South Dakota. The great wheat, corn, and cattle country… Fond du Lac, Wis.: P. B. Haber Printing House, n.d., ca. 1880s.  Large broadsheet, printed in metal and wooden type in red and black on 2 sides, approx. 24″ x 9″, offering “over a half million acres of grand forests” and “large quantities of cleared land.” One side of the broadsheet offers lands in Wisconsin and Michigan, and the other Minnesota and South Dakota. All the offerings are for land owned by the Chicago & Northwestern Railway Co. Apparently unrecorded. $950
  • BURGER, WARREN E. [Dinner menu and program for:] Community recognition dinner. St. Paul: Saint Paul Hilton, August 19, 1969.         $500
  • BURGER, WARREN E. Installation of Warren E. Burger, Chief Justice of the United States [cover title]. Washington, D.C.: 1969.  8vo, 10-p. program, string bound inside larger illustrated wrappers, inscribed on the front “To Harvey T. Reid, for a most valued friend, counselor. and companion of riding trails and good dining – and for Agnes – with greetings & best wishes, Warren E. Burger, Washington August 21, 1969.”  $750
  • BURGER, WARREN E. One page autograph letter signed on Chief Justice of the Supreme Court stationery. Washington, D.C.: n.d. [but likely late 1969]. In full: “Dear Harvey and Agnes, The St. Paul visit was hectic and exhausting but the warmth of the welcome left us with a glow that will never entirely go away. Now comes the work but the loyalty of friends & their good wishes will help sustain us. Sincerely, Warren.” 8vo, integral leaf attacked; fine.  $500
  • [Dakota Indians.] Heap of Birds, Edgar. Building Minnesota [heading title]. [Minneapolis: Walker Arts Center, 1990].  Promotional pamphlet for an exhibition commissioned by the Walker Art Center; includes a short essay by Joan Rothfuss. $30
  • DYLAN, BOB (i.e. Robert Zimmerman). One page autograph manuscript signed. n.p.: 1973.   Small 8vo (approx. 8½ x 6 inches), in black Flair pen, and apparently torn from a larger sheet; 3 small holes not significantly affecting any legibility, otherwise very good. A typically enigmatic inscription: “Proud of you” (in a hand-drawn box at the top, to the right of which is a small drawing of a face) / “You never sniffed drainpipes but you [two words crossed out] have a good [one word crossed out] grasp of the alphabet – Highway 51 [one word crossed out] is not your road!” Signed boldly at the bottom, “Bob Dylan / 1973″ to the left of which signature is another drawing by Dylan of the rear end of an automobile depicting smoke coming from the tailpipe. Partly drawn from the lyrics of one of his masterpieces, Desolation Row: “Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood / With his memories in a trunk / Passed this way an hour ago / With his friend, a jealous monk / He looked so immaculately frightful / As he bummed a cheap cigarette / Then he went off sniffing drainpipes / And reciting the alphabet      $12,500
  • [Education, Ojibwa Indians.] Christensen, Rosemary Ackley. Tribal literacy handbook with an emphasis on woodland tribal people [cover title]. [Minneapolis: Indian Education Department, Minneapolis Public Schools, 1995?].            $30
  • John Berryman: his life, his work, his thought. An exhibit of manuscripts, letters, printed works, and photographs held in conjunction with the first National Conference on John Berryman at the University of Minnesota, October 25-27, 1990. Minneapolis: Special Collections, Wilson Library, University of Minnesota, 1990.      $20
  • [Kant, Immanuel.] Watson, John. The philosophy of Kant in extracts. New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1884.   This copy with the ownership signature of Edward Chenery Gale, dated April 1, 1884, and the first half of this pamphlet rather extensively annotated by him in pencil while a student at Yale. Gale (born in 1862) graduated from Yale later the same year, and afterwards attended Harvard Law School.   $150
  • [Lutheran Church.] Lutheraneren og missionsbladet…Trettende bind. Minneapolis, MN: Trykt i Konferentsens Forlagsforenings Trykkeri, 1879.    8vo, pp. 420; blackletter text printed in double columns; contemporary three quarter black calf over marbled boards, spine stamped in gilt; extremities quite bumped and rubbed, cover top edges toned; interior fine. Vol. 13 of this Norwegian-American Lutheran bi-weekly journal.     $35
  • [Minneapolis.] Olson, Jana, Linda Schonning, and Jerry Mayberg. Earthworm. [Minneapolis: Environmental Library of Minnesota], 1971.  The first and only Earthworm Catalogue, “A resource guide to the Twin Cities area…an anti-consumers’ guide to purchasing…best and cheapest places to get most anything” – upper cover. Not in OCLC.  $50
  • [Minneapolis.] S.E. Olson & Co. Olson’s souvenir. Minneapolis: S.E. Olson & Co., ca. 1890s.  Broadsheet (336 x189 mm.) printed on stiff cardboard; color illustration on recto; miniscule loss to top right-hand corner not affecting text, else fine. Advertisement for Olson’s Bargains, “The People’s Favorite Bargain Resort,” whose department register boasts five floors of goods at 213 and 215 Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. The illustration on recto shows a poised model whose garbs display the diversity of fabric and goods offered.       $75
  • [Minnesota.] Naiden, James, ed. The north stone review. Spring 1971. Volume one, number one. Minneapolis: North Stone Review, 1971.   8vo, pp. 70; original pink printed wrappers, fine. Warmly inscribed by Naiden to the private press printer, Emerson G. Wulling.   $35
  • [Minnesota.] Rand McNally & Company. Rand McNally standard indexed and air trails map of Minnesota for tourists, aviators, commercial travelers, transportation men, shippers, general commercial, and business reference. Chicago: Rand McNally & Company, 1929.   $35
  • [MINNESOTA.] Tested recipes contributed by the ladies of St. Mark’s parish, Minneapolis. Minneapolis: W. A. Edwards Printing Co., 1891.  First edition, 8vo, pp. [12] ads, 110, [14] ads; original brown cloth spotted and a little stained, rear hinge cracking; a good copy. A charity recipe book organized in 16 chapters offering descriptions of methods for baking bread, breakfast, salads, cakes, soups, fish, poultry, meats, vegetables, pies, etc. Each recipe is attributed to a parish member. Not in OCLC.         $500
  • [Nursing.] The operating room. Instructions for nurses and assistants. St. Mary’s Hospital, Rochester, Minnesota. With 144 illustrations. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1924.   Reprint; small 8vo, pp. 165; illustrations throughout; original grey cloth (lightly soiled), mostly fine. “This manual is a development of ‘Notes for Operating Room Nurses, St. Mary’s Hospital, Rochester, Minnesota,’ first printed in 1920″ – preface.   $25
  • [Nursing.] Proceedings of the fifteenth annual convention of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools for Nurses held at St. Paul, Minnesota June 7 and 8, 1909. Baltimore: J.H. Furst Company, 1910.            $35
  • [Paper Samples.] Buckeye cover standardized paper. St. Paul: McClellan Paper Company, [ca. 1950s].   Oblong 8vo, unpaginated; original linen-backed pictorial paper wrappers, light foxing and sunning to back wrapper, else fine; interior fine. Provides sample papers demonstrating color, texture, weights, and finishes, with a duplex color swatch at the back. “Butler Brands Paper” printed on the cover. Not in OCLC.    $50
  • [Photographs.] Pillsbury, John S. & Mahala Fisk Pillsbury. A pair of cabinet photographs, as below. Minneapolis: A. B. Rugg & W. H. Jacoby & Son, n.d., [ca. 1886].   A pair of cabinet photographs, each approx. 6½ x 4¼ inches, the first of Governor John S. Pillsbury, the eighth governor of Minnesota and the founder of the Pillsbury Company, by A. B. Rugg, Minneapolis; and the second by W. H. Jacoby & Son, also of Minneapolis, depicting his spouse, Mahala Fisk Pillsbury. Fine, bright condition.  $500
  • Prepared for the Downtown Council of Minneapolis by Gruen Associates. Downtown Minneapolis in the 1980s. [Los Angeles, California]: Gruen Associates, 1981.  An expansive study on the economic health and grownth forecast of downtown Minneapolis.   $35
  • Stassen, Harold E. and Alfred D. Lindley. Three typed letters, signed, by and about Minnesota politician Harold E. Stassen. Minnesota: 1947. 3 typed letters printed on rectos only; previous folds, else fine. Includes 2 letters from Stassen on his letterhead, dated September 2 and October 20, 1947, in which he thanks a supporter for her donations to the Stassen Presidential campaign, his second of what would eventually be 12 runs. The second letter, written at the start of his national campaign, is especially hopeful: “[T]here is every indication in recent polls and comments of Republican leaders that we are in an excellent position as we round the turn of the year and start down the stretch. My recent journey through New England sparkled with good news.” The third letter, also dated September 2, 1947, on personal letterhead, by Alfred D. Lindley, Treasurer of Stassen’s Minnesota Fund and former Olympic gold medalist (rowing, 1924), thanking the addressee for “a very handsome contribution”. Lindley concludes his missive with “Dewey has declined considerably from his peak. The Eisenhower boom is not yet serious, and we firmly believe that when Harold starts his formal campaign sometime this fall that you will see a marked increase in confidence in his ultimate success”.  $95

From Cambridge Books:

  • H. Mowry, Guide and directory of Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota. Excelsior, Minn. : Lake Minnetonka Print House, 1884. An unsually nice copy of an extraordinarily rare book (OCLC shows only four other known copies). $750.00
  • Up to Date Tourists’ and Homeseekers’ Guide to Hubbard County, Minnesota. Todd and Kruger, Park Rapids, Minnesota, 1922. $125.00
  • Chester Wilfred Leigh, Wheat and Chaff. Press of Jeffrey & McPherson Company, Minneapolis, 1926. $16.00
  • Henry B. Whipple, Sermon Delivered before the Missionary Council…, 1888. (as is). $24.00
  • History of Plummer (Minnesota). No place, no date, but probably 1960’s. 21 cm. 3 pages of text followed by 6 pages of photographs $24.00
  • Herman Peterson, Vista, 1856-1956. 138 pages, 23 cm. Vista is located in Waseca County. The only other known copy of this rare history is found at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. $ 40.00
  • Gavin E. Caukin. From Cold Harbor to Petersburg with the SecondArmy Corps. A paper read before the Oregon Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. January 8, 1896. Portland, Oregon, 1896. $180.00
  • Anniversary, 1905-1980, Garfield, Minnesota August 16-17, Program. 22 cm. around 28 pages. $18.00
  • History of the Little Town in the Big Woods (Clarissa, Minnesota). Clarissa, Minnesota. Independent News Herald, 1997. $36.00
  • Carver Beach Annual, April, 1932. (Chanhassen, Long Lake). Issued Yearly by the Carver Beach Property Owners Association. $90.00
  • History of the Ebenezer Lutheran Congregation, Mayfield Township (Pennington County), Minnesota. Oklee Herald, Oklee Minnesota, 1956. $18.00
  • Minnetonka Yacht Club, Deephaven Minnesota, 1948. Articles Of Incorporation, By-Laws, members, Trophies, etc. $36.00
  • Plat Book of Pennington County, from data…1951 $60.00
  • Souvenir, Hotel Andrews…Hennepin at Fourth St. ca 1915 $60.00
  • Remembering E.W. and Jessie Hallett (Crosby) $60.00
  • Richard Burton. Little Essays in Literature and Life. New York, the Century Co., 1914. This copy signed by Burton and furtherinscribed by Minnesota writer William Edgar to Kermit Roosevelt and dated May 22, 1914. $150.00

From Corner Books:

  • Red Top Cab Co. Directory of Minneapolis & St. Paul complete with Streets, Buildings, Schools, Churches, Clubs, Hotels, etc. price 50c n.d. Also includes apartments, asylums and homes, lakes, libraries, mills, parks and parkways, theaters… a great small pamphlet with illustration of cab on the front.
  • Duluth Junior College Engineer’s Club. Blueprint, 1935 and 1936. Published by the Engineer’s Club. Illustrated blue paper covers; two different sizes. Text is mimeographed with illustrations in blue colored photographs. Stapled binding. Good condition for age.
  • East High Annual 1920. Cardinal. Published annually by the Senior Class of the East High School, Minneapolis, Volume XIV. Intro by Ruth Fitch Cole. “You are young because you have dreams; because each day with its work and its lay is filled with hope.” 160 pp. Good condition internally. Cover has splotches and is worn.

From Spring Hollow Books:

  • The High School Party Book: Attractive Suggestions for Parties That Are Different. Eva May Brickett. Minneapolis, MN: The Northwestern Press, copyright 1937   $10
  • Modern Pantomime Entertainments For Teen Ages, Adults, and Grammar Grades. Effa E. Preston. Minneapolis, MN: T. S. Denison & Company, copyright 1938   $10
  • School Proms: Complete Practical Suggestions for Staging the School Prom. Marietta Abell and Agnes J. Anderson. Minneapolis, MN: The Northwestern Press, copyright 1941.  $10
  • Programs for High School Assemblies Vol. 2: A Collection of Suggested Programs for Various Types of School Assemblies. Marietta Abell and Agnes J. Anderson. Minneapolis, MN: The Northwestern Press, copyright 1936. $10
  • Carnival Capers for Schools. Dora Mary MacDonald. Minneapolis, MN: The Northwestern Press, copyright 1932. $10
  • Vaegteren en Samling aandelige Salmer (A Collection of Spiritual Psalms). Red Wing MN, 1881. 14-1/2cm x 10-1/2cm, 327 pages. $75
  • Adams, R. H., curator. Thos. B. Walker Art Collection: Descriptive Catalogue of Carved Jades.n.d. $30
  • University of Minnesota Centennial Showboat Anniversary Program. 1967. $20
  • Railroad Magazine, February 1954. Cover article: Railroads of the Twin Cities: A Service second to none in Minneapolis-St. Paul. $15
  • The Gopher: 1914 University of Minnesota Yearbook. $65

From Main Street Fine Books & Manuscripts:

  • (GENERAL ORDERS — CIVIL WAR — MINNESOTA). TOWNSEND, E.D. General Orders, No. 184. Washington, DC: War Department, Adjutant General’s Office, 1863. 16mo. Self-cover. 8pp. Near fine. Binding traces at gutter (not affecting text). This lengthy and fascinating General Order chronicles the Fort Snelling court martial trial of Captain James Starkey of the 1st Minnesota Mounted Rangers, charged with “Making false muster,” “Willingly signing muster rolls containing false musters,” “Making false return to his superior officer of the state of his Company” and “Conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” Each charge is elaborated in great detail. Starkey was found guilty of most of the charges and sentenced “To be cashiered, and to be forever disqualified from holding any office of trust or profit under the Government of the United States” — this latter sentence commuted by President Lincoln, who always believed in giving someone a second chance. Signed in type at the conclusion by Townsend as Assistant Adjutant General. General Orders were usually made in modest quantities for distribution to the various army commands, where the company clerks would collect them (hence the occasional file holes). A great many were destroyed during the course of the war, and original examples of most survive in surprisingly few copies. (#38792) $95

From James & Mary Laurie Booksellers:

  • Schanilec, Gaylord. Ruminator Broadsides. Complete set of five portfolios with six broadsides in each portfolio. St. Paul, MN: Ruminator Books / Midnight Paper Sales, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2004. Each broadside is signed and numbered and limitations range from 70 to 120 copies. Broadsides measure approximately 11 x 15 inches (27.9 x 38.1 cm.). This project was done in collaboration with Midnight Paper Sales and each broadside is illustrated by its proprietor, printer and reknown wood engraver, Gaylord Schanilec. The authors included in this now almost unobtainable complete series of portfolios are:

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

  • Dayton, George Draper. dedication. Emma Willard Chadwick Dayton. Minneapolis: Privately Printed, [1931]. Published as a memorial to Emma Willard Chadwick Dayton by her husband and sons. Bound in full leather by Augsburg. Contained in a slipcase. Signed by George Draper Dayton II on the front end paper. Fine condition. Fine condition. Full Leather. (#9015686) $300.00
  • Heffelfinger, Lucia L. Peavey. Memoirs of Christopher B. Heffelfinger. Minneapolis: Field & Tuer, 1922. 1st. One of 40 copies bound in dark brown morocco, cover stamped in gilt. Minor wear to extremities, otherwise fine. With two frontis portraits and additional black & white plates throughout. Near fine. Hardcover. (#9018593) $400.00
  • Bergson, Henri. Creative Evolution. Translated by Arthur Mitchell. New York: Henry Holt, 1913. reprint. Bound in publisher’s original blue cloth with spine stamped in gilt. Some bumping to corners and wear to extremities. From the library of Edgar Hermann with his pencil signature on front fly leaf in pencil and his bookplate on front free end paper. On the back of the front free end paper is a charming pencil sketch of a child dancing by Wanda Gag. (#9018782) $500.00
  • Krueger, William Kent. Iron Lake. 9/98 written in blue ink. Final typed and edited manuscript draft on 8 1/2 x 11 inch sheets. 354 numbered pages. Extensively edited, corrected and formatted for publication of the author’s first novel. First and last leaves a little rumpled but not affecting the text. With this final draft the title of the novel was changed! Do you know what its original title was? From the collection of Howard Block with a presentation signed by the author thanking him for his support and belief. Housed in a custom made blue drop-back folding (clamshell) box. A wonderful document that shows a great deal about the publication process and the interplay between the author and the publishers. Fine condition.. (#9017905) $2,000.00
  • Fleming, A. M. Autobiography of a Dakota Squatter; and Other Stories. Boston: Meador, 1934. 1st. Bound in the publisher’s original blind ruled learther covered boards, spine and cover stamped in gilt. Very light sunning to spine, otherwise fine. Near fine. Hardcover. (#9018698) $750.00
  • Catlin, George (1794 – 1872). Ball Players taken from The North American Indian Portfolio. London: Henry Bohn, ca. 1866. IPrinted by Day and Haghe, Lith to the Queen. Image size 17 1/2 x 12 inches. Paper size 23 1/2 x 18 inches. Framed in a beautiful modern Italian dark burl wood. Fine condition.

“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:

  • Anon Okodakicipye Wakan kin Wiwicawangai 1894. This appears to be an unrecorded catechism done in both Dakota and English. Page 23 and no others available. $100
  • Skratthult, Olle i Viser a Hikstorier 1908 $100
  • Official Brand Book of the State of North Dakota (N. D. Brand Record)  1944 $125  196 pages and a beautiful copy

The 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.

]]> 0
Helen Hoover: Wilderness Writer Fri, 15 Nov 2013 16:07:31 +0000 Lori Williamson

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.

]]> 0
Guest blogger – featuring food! Fri, 17 Aug 2012 16:21:47 +0000 Lori Williamson
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.

Debbie Miller
Reference Specialist, MHS Library

Co-author, Potluck Paradise: Favorite Fare from Church and Community Cookbooks

]]> 0
Yahoo Minnesota Mon, 18 Jun 2012 21:58:42 +0000 Lori Williamson “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.

]]> 0
Autochthonous Minnesota Wed, 30 May 2012 22:26:44 +0000 Pat Coleman 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.

]]> 2
The Planet’s Gone to the Dogs Thu, 16 Feb 2012 19:05:47 +0000 Pat Coleman

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.

Learn More:

]]> 2
Civil and Indian Wars Thu, 06 Oct 2011 21:08:56 +0000 Pat Coleman Spine of Minnesota in the Civil and Indian War

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. AndrewsCharles Flandrau

C.C. Andrews, 1865, on the left and Charles Flandrau, 1862, on the right.

]]> 5
Those were the days, indeed Fri, 29 Jul 2011 17:21:57 +0000 Pat Coleman 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.

Those were the days cover

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.

]]> 3
Minnesota-Eye Views of the African-American Experience Thu, 24 Feb 2011 22:03:17 +0000 Lori Williamson
Iron CityIron City, back cover

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.

South of FreedomSouth of Freedom, back cover

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”!

]]> 3
Blessed by Bly and Bly Mon, 31 Jan 2011 21:13:30 +0000 Pat Coleman Carol and Robert Bly

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.

Snowy FieldsLetters from the Country

]]> 5
Dylan Thu, 02 Dec 2010 22:42:37 +0000 Pat Coleman I’ll just sit here and watch the river flow and lick my wounds…

On December 10th Sotheby’s [London] is auctioning off what is arguably the most significant piece of 20th Century Western culture to come on the market, Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics to “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” Critics have run out of superlatives to describe Dylan’s genius and even a phrase like “the voice of a generation” seems laughably inadequate. The auction estimate of $ 200 -300 thousand dollars will, I predict, be shattered. I would want to go to the auction with a half a million to feel competitive. While we sit here, all tangled up in blue,    hoping for an angel to bring this home to Minnesota, let’s nominate Dylan to our 150 Best Minnesota Books list.

Bob Dylan. Tarantula. Hibbing, Minnesota: Wimp Press, [1970].


Like an inordinately large number of books on our list Tarantula has an interesting publishing history. Dylan’s first book – consisting of largely enigmatic poetry – was scheduled to be published in 1966. He was 23, a “famous shy boy,” and a “magic name,” as the publisher said. His motorcycle accident delayed the publication because Dylan was in the process of making a few changes when he was sidelined. Since the publisher, Macmillan, had galleys already made up the inevitable happened. Like everything “Dylan” it was bootlegged. The first bootleg copy was allegedly printed in Hibbing under the imprint of the Wimp Press. It was a low quality mimeographed printing which promised that any profits would “contribute to the furtherance of Woodstock Nation.”  Because this edition is virtually impossible to find nowadays we will allow collectors of all 150 best books to substitute the first legal printing of the book published by the Macmillan Company in 1971. In fact if you don’t have the money to buy the above mentioned holy grail of Dylan manuscripts, there is an autographed copy of Tarantula available for just $15,000. The MHS library has Professor Dennis Anderson’s copy of the book along with boxes of his research material gathered in Europe where he taught a class on Dylan.  From the book…

look, you know i don’t wanna

come on ungrateful, but that

warren report, you know as well

as me, just didn’t make it. you know.

like they might as well have

asked some banana salesman from

des moines, who was up in Toronto

on the big day, if he saw anyone

around looking suspicious/…

Allow me one more pontification: Dylan’s Chronicles is a “Minnesota Must Read” [not that that is the list we are making here]. I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised by how fun and informative the book is.

Chronicles: Volume One

]]> 3
Supplement, wherein Patrick waxes rhapsodically about vacation… Fri, 15 Oct 2010 15:31:15 +0000 Pat Coleman Missili in Giardino

As I was walking down the tiny streets of the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome… What’s that? You didn’t hear me? I said I was walking in the Trastevere a few days ago on a street so narrow Vespas could hardly pass each other. I passed an appropriately little used book store and there on the bargain book shelf outside the store was a copy of a book that stopped me in my tracks. It was facing cover out so I recognized the author’s name but I had never seen the title. It turned out to be the Italian translation of Max Shulman’s “Rally Round the Flag, Boys!” This beautiful copy is the “seconda edizione” and was printed in Italy a year after the first English language edition. I picked it up for 2 Euros for the MHS library although I’ll tell the IRS it is worth much more. 8 Euros at least.

The next day in the older part of Rome I saw several stores selling “Peanuts” related tee shirts, in Italian of course, and thought Romans must be reading our list of 150 best Minnesota books. Blame the thought on jet lag.

Chow, grazie!

]]> 9
Mean Streets Fri, 08 Oct 2010 13:44:21 +0000 Pat Coleman I know you know that I have been avoiding discussing genre fiction but …

…down these mean streets a man must go.

The Chuckling FingersThe Chuckling Fingers, Reprint

First of all I am not the biggest fan of mysteries and secondly we seem to be drowning in a sea of these forgettable novels. Does every Minnesota writer take a class at The Loft on mystery writing? I am not ready or willing to declare any recent book in this category a “best Minnesota book” but I look forward to being educated by readers of this blog on the joy and significance of Minnesota “whodunits.” I can say with some confidence that there are two older outstanding mysteries that are worthy of our list. They are …

Mabel Seeley. The Chuckling Fingers. Garden City N.Y.: Published for the Crime Club by Doubleday, Doran, 1941.

Thomas Gifford. The Wind Chill Factor. New York: Putnam, 1975.

Mabel Seeley, from Herman, Minnesota, was a major figure in the development of the female detective story according to Howard Haycraft, reviewer for The New York Herald. There is a sub-genre of mystery writing called the “had-I-but-known” school and Seeley mastered this. The Chuckling Fingers is introduced by the heroine with this great opening line: “Other people may think they’d like to live their lives over, but not me – not if this last week is going to be in it.” It takes place at a private estate on the North Shore of Lake Superior and Seeley nails the local color of the Arrowhead region in the mid-twentieth century. The book has been reprinted by Afton Historical Society Press with a beautiful dust jacket image by Paul Kramer, but disappointingly without any new introductory or biographical material.

There is a story I love of Mabel’s epiphany. She was almost hit by a car as she crossed the street in front of the Capitol one day. Her one thought in that millisecond was: “My, God, I’m going to die and I have not written any books.”

The Wind Chill FactorGifford’s novel is set in a fictional Taylors Falls, Minnesota and although there are dead librarians and Nazis [is there a “Fourth Reich” sub-genre of mysteries?] the most memorable character may be the cold weather. Cars don’t start, ball point pens don’t write, ears are “whipped cherry red”, wind chews away at bare branches, and snow squeaks underneath your feet. WCF, Gifford’s first book, is a very well told tale and was very well reviewed and received, selling 40,000 hard cover and 750,000 paperback copies. It brought some popular literary recognition to Minnesota. Tell me if I’m wrong but I believe this book jump-started the writing of so many local mysteries like John Camp’s “Prey” series.

Gifford’s book, The Assassini, [a decades pre-Dan Brown look at a secret society of Vatican killers] brought him the most recognition but my personal favorite is Gifford’s second book, The Cavanaugh Quest, which was nominated for the Edgar Award in 1977. WCF is clearly his most locally iconic work and thus makes our list of best books.

Thomas Gifford died too young at the age of 62.

]]> 2
Two Andrews Present at the Birth Wed, 08 Sep 2010 17:06:56 +0000 Lori Williamson Minnesota and DacotahDebates and Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention

C. C. Andrews. Minnesota and Dacotah: in Letters Descriptive of a Tour Through the North-West, in…1856… Washington: R. Farnham, 1857.

Debates and Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention for the Territory of Minnesota, to Form a State Constitution Preparatory to its Admission…T. F. Andrews, official Reporter to the Convention. St. Paul: G. W. Moore, 1858.

Let me suggest two very different – but fun and interesting – additions to our 150 best Minnesota books list. The only connection between the works is the author’s last name and the time period, which is around the time Minnesota was entering the Union as a state.

Since we have already listed travel narratives from the earliest explorers it is appropriate to list a travel account from the settlement period. Minnesota and Dacotah is an easy call. The author, Christopher Columbus Andrews, was an extraordinary Minnesotan. He may be best known as the state’s first Fire Warden but he was also a lawyer, Civil War soldier, Minister to Sweden and Norway, and the author of about 50 works covering a wide enough range of topics to gain the sobriquet “renaissance man.” He presents a clear and detailed picture of getting to this part of the word in the mid-nineteenth century. He is also clearly and without exaggeration promoting settlement, favorably comparing territorial Minnesota to Greece and Italy. One interesting section that I wish he would have said much more about was a visit to Hole-in-the-day’s home: “… a walk on Boston Common on a summer morning could not seem more quiet and safe than a ramble on horseback among the homes of these Indians.”

C. C. Andrews

Think Minnesota politics is wacky now? It is, one could argue, constitutionally mandated. The United States was coming apart when Minnesota petitioned for statehood and much, including control of Congress, depended on the outcome of our state’s constitutional convention. Without going into excruciating detail, suffice it to say that Democrats and Republicans could not get along well enough to be in the same room and two separate constitutional conventions were held simultaneously. In the end two manuscript copies of the constitution exist and two differing accounts of the convention were printed along with the agreed upon constitution.

Constitution of the State of Minnesota, Republican VersionConstitution of the State of Minnesota, Democratic Version

T. F. Andrews was a reporter at the convention and recorded the debates as the Republicans heard them. It is mostly dry reading with “I move to strike…” kinda language but it is important and no complete Minnesota bookshelf should be without it. Occasionally the transcription is more interesting and evocative of the mood, as  this excerpt of delegate Thomas Galbraith Diogenesionly demonstrates:

“We do not intend to be brow beaten by St. Paul. We are the last men who    should cry out: “afraid of St. Paul!” We need no protection from those who       rushed in here today, [Democrats] cried out “I move to adjourn,” and then ran out again. – Did they scare us? Let them come on, we are ready to die in our tracks rather than yield. (Applause) We, afraid of St. Paul! Who is St. Paul? (Laughter) Let them come. We have no guns, no pistols, no slung [sic] shots, but we are ready to meet them, and will not be driven from this hall.”

]]> 0
Homegrown Homers or… Tue, 17 Aug 2010 15:40:00 +0000 Pat Coleman

War! Huh Good God y’all

What is it good for?

Finally an answer to Edwin Starr’s sixties anthem- LITERATURE.

Mister Roberts

It is hard to imagine a more poignant setting or easier access to raw human emotion than a war. Writers are aware of this and have exploited the theme from Homer on. There are already more than 3,500 novels written about the Viet Nam war and I can say with some confidence there is another one being printed as you read this. Minnesota writers are no exception and three books on our list of Minnesota’s 150 greatest cover three different 20th Century conflicts.

Thomas Boyd. Through the Wheat. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1923.

Thomas Heggen. Mister Roberts. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1946.

Tim O’Brien. Going After Cacciato: A Novel. New York: Delacorte Press. 1978.

Thomas Boyd: Lost Author of the Thomas Boyd, a World War I doughboy, was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery. His first book was a largely autobiographical novel about his experiences in the French trenches. Scott Fitzgerald helped Boyd edit the manuscript, gave it a critical reading, and pronounced it “the best war book since The Red Badge of Courage.” Boyd’s novel was universally praised for its honest depiction of a soldier’s life and after 87 years it is still a good read. It is also still in print and a 1978 edition, published with an afterward by James Dickey, is readily findable. There is also a new audio version of the title.

After the war Boyd and his wife, Peggy (who wrote under the name Woodward Boyd), became an integral part of the literary scene in St. Paul. He managed the Kilmarnock bookstore, lived in the Summit Hill neighborhood, and made a living writing a few more books and dozens of short stories. With his second book Boyd suffered a sophomore slump, familiar to many writers, but his extended into his junior and senior years. He never had another success like Through the Wheat and became what his biographer dubbed, “the lost author of the lost generation.”

An entirely different kind of book came out of the Second World War. Thomas Heggen’s Mister Roberts focused on the daily life and experiences of the more typical enlisted man. The novel follows a cargo ship “from Tedium to Apathy and back again, with an occasional side trip to Monotony”.

After getting his journalism degree from the U of M (where he had written humorous stories alongside fellow 150 Best Minnesota Books author, Max Shulman, at the “Minnesota Daily”) Heggen enlisted in the navy and served on a ship much like his fictional U.S.S. Reluctant. The book was an immediate success and the characters were so extraordinarily well drawn that Heggen was encouraged, possibly by his cousin Wallace Stegner, to adapt the novel into a play. With the help of Joshua Logan the play was awarded “best play” and “best author” Tonys and was made into a 1955 movie staring Henry Fonda, James Cagney, and Jack Lemmon, who won the Oscar for best supporting actor.

Mister Roberts PlaybillMister Roberts Playbill

While the movie is far better known, the book is simply far better.

Tragically Heggen was found dead in a bathtub in his New York apartment. He had committed suicide at the age of 29! With the play Heggen had achieved monetary fortune and literary fame (“Attractive women formed an orderly queue outside his bedroom door” according to the Grumpy Old Bookman), but he was expected by everyone to write a sequel. He was haunted – no crippled – by writers block. Heggen couldn’t cope with the prospect of failure and like the hero of his novel died a meaningless death.

Going After Cacciato: A NovelNorthern Lights

A stunningly different kind of war novel, and perhaps the best of the three, is Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato. It won the National Book Award for fiction and if that isn’t criteria enough to automatically get a Minnesota book on our list I don’t know what is.

The story is surreal and likely the product of psychological trauma inflicted by the horror that was the war in Viet Nam. Seemingly happy and stable, Private Cacciato decides he has had enough of the war and that he can just walk away from it. He starts walking west and his squad, including the narrator Paul Berlin, sets out to bring him back but they too are walking away from the war by following him across the world until they take up residence in Paris. Along the way, jumping back in forth in time, some of the horrors of the war are described in disturbing detail like picking up a helmet with the soldiers face still in it. Cacciato just may be the great American novel for the 60’s generation with its underlying theme of responsibility and duty verses freedom and individuality.

While we are on the subject of Tim O’Brien, several of his books are must reads but for his best description of Minnesota I recommend Northern Lights. I have been in mortal danger from hypothermia a couple of times in my life and one of them was from just reading this book.

]]> 6
Veritas Caput Fri, 30 Jul 2010 16:20:08 +0000 Pat Coleman Down the Great River

I only know of one book on our list that was so controversial it required the intervention of the Minnesota Historical Society. It was…

Willard Glazier. Down the Great River: Embracing an Account of the Discovery of the True Source of the Mississippi… Philadelphia: 1887.

Civil War Captain, Willard Glazier, mounted an expedition to the source of the Mississippi in 1881 and claimed to have discovered a lake beyond Lake Itasca that was the true source of the river. He named the new veritas caput “Lake Glazier.” The author and his expedition then continued their journey down the Mississippi stopping to tout Glazier’s discovery at towns along the way.

Glazier’s book Down the Great River was published in 1887 and reprinted in 1888, ’89, ’91, and ’93. Each edition grew as the author added testimonials backing his claim. These came from authorities like the Ex-Mayor of Brainerd, the Postmaster at Leech Lake, and various clergymen.

Down the Great River Title PageThe controversy became a significant economic issue when a textbook publisher endorsed Glazier’s claim. Another textbook company, not wanting the expense of reprinting their geography, mounted yet another expedition which concluded that Glazier’s lake was in fact “Elk Lake” and had been known since 1803. Nicollet had shown it as an extension of Itasca on his 1836 map.

The Minnesota Historical Society asked the State Legislature to prohibit textbooks from mentioning Willard Glazier’s claim. Legendary politician Ignatius Donnelly successfully shepherded that bill into law. Not satisfied to let the issue die there the MHS hired J. V. Brower to survey and report on the headwaters. Glazier also returned in 1891 to press his lost cause.

The book is a fun read and was lavishly illustrated and beautifully produced in gold embossed decorative bindings of various colors. Collect them all.

Patrick Coleman with two edition of Down the Great River

]]> 6
“High Priestess of the Women’s Magazine” Fri, 16 Jul 2010 10:08:50 +0000 Pat Coleman phpCmfR3B

I wrongly assumed that I we already had this book on our list of 150 Best Minnesota Books because she was my nominee for inclusion into the MHS’s MN 150 exhibit. Let us rectify this now…

Margaret Culkin Banning. Mesabi. Harper and Row Publishers: New York, 1969.

The title of this blog is a quote from the local literary critic James Gray. I am not sure if he was tweaking her or praising her but since she wrote over 400 short stories and essays for magazines he clearly had a point. Over her sixty year career she also wrote, by my count, 36 novels. Many Minnesotans of her day considered Margaret Banning a much greater literary light than Sinclair Lewis.

Minnesota, Duluth in particular, was always Banning’s home base but she experienced a lot of life from Vasser [where she met Lady Gregory], to a settlement house in Chicago, to London during the Blitz, and to delegate to a Republican National Convention. Her experiences qualified her to write about women in society and how their roles were changing. She even tackled issues like birth control which many Catholic writers might have shied away from.

Mesabi, may not be her most typical book but it is a great one for our list. It is about the city she loved, Duluth, and “one of the men that matter” in that town, Hugh Champlain, the President of Greysolon, the major Iron Range mining company. In a holographic note on the half title of the MHS’s library copy, Banning says that in order to get the novel right it “took three years of research to feel that I was sure of my facts.” She goes on to write that these facts “have not been disputed by men in the mining industry, who like it almost with out exception”. One of those men surely was LeRoy Salsich the president of the Oliver mining company and Banning’s second husband!

Here is what we wanna know from you, dear readers… Have you read any of Banning’s books? Do you have a favorite? How does her work hold up? Was she an inspiration to the modern woman’s movement? Is she too prissy and prudish for today’s readers? Let us hear from you.


Better academic paper writing requires you to avoid poor grammar and poor writing styles. A poorly organized academic paper cannot earn you a good grade. A poorly structured academic paper limits you in proper communication with your reader. It is good to try and eliminate these problems from your writing.

]]> 2
Sons of Saint Paul Tue, 01 Jun 2010 17:24:15 +0000 Pat Coleman A Series of Unfortunate Events…and a fewer number of fortunate ones have prevented me from keeping a timely schedule of announcing more of the 150 Best Minnesota Books. One of the fortunate events was the three day auction of the collection of Floyd Risvold. Floyd lived in Edina and had the greatest collection of American historical manuscripts that have been offered for sale in a generation. Of the 1,300 lots at this sale the Minnesota Historical Society bid on 60 and won 22; see the article in the Minneapolis Tribune if you are curious. All those events are behind us now. Accept my apology as we get back to business.

Max Shulman. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Doubleday: New York, 1951.

Charles Schulz. Happiness is a Warm Puppy. Determined Productions: San Francisco, 1962.

There is so much to say about these entries I hardly know where to begin so I especially look forward to your comments, dear readers. Here goes. These books make our list because Dobie Gillis and Charlie Brown are two iconic fictional Minnesotans who made a significant impact on American life and culture. Shulman and Schultz were two Saint Paulites, sons of immigrants, and served in World War II. They were both slightly subversive humorists, and, I don’t want to press the similarities too far, but both Gillis and Brown are at their core just two guys looking for love in the anxiety filled era of the Cold War. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis

Back cover of Dobie Gillis

Inside flap of Dobie Gillis Shulman’s Dobie Gillis is perhaps better known from the TV series of the same name that ran from 1959 to 1963. Max wrote the scripts for the shows in the first seasons so the characters are consistent from print to film. The Many Love of Dobie Gillis (MLODG) is probably even sexist by the standards of its own time but the references to local people and places will be enjoyable to readers. The book centers on the University of Minnesota (which the author says in a note in the sequel to MLODG “is, of course, wholly imaginary”) and Dobie’s quest for love, learning, and a livelihood. I was tempted to list Shulman’s 1950 Sleep Till Noon because it has this nearly perfect opening sentence; “Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Four shots ripped into my groin, and I was off on the biggest adventure of my life . . . But first let me tell you a little about myself.” It would be as impossible to ignore Charles Schulz in this book blog as it is to avoid him in day-to-day life. Even if you missed the six years of “Peanuts on Parade” statues around Saint Paul (or the ceaseless silly debate over whether F. Scott Fitzgerald or Snoopy was more deserving of a place of honor in Rice Park) you still can’t tune out the syndicated cartoon strips, holiday specials and accompanying music, Met life ads, hundreds of books (of which the MHS has cataloged 117 in many languages), and the endless pop psychologizing about Charlie Brown’s depression. Selecting a single title for this list was a difficult, almost paralyzing, choice. There are now complete compilations of all of Shultz’s 18,000 comic strips but HIAWP was Schulz’s first book and made him even more rich (he made over $ 1 billion dollars during his lifetime and was still making $ 35 million a year six years after he died) and famous when it climbed onto the New York Times best seller list.

Happiness is a Warm PuppyThree foreign language Peanuts covers

Finally, remember my pontification many entries ago that a Minnesota author on the cover of “Time Magazine” automatically gets a spot on our list. April 9, 1965 qualifies Shultz.

Peanuts on the cover of Time, 1965

]]> 1
Home Grown Smut Wed, 04 Nov 2009 21:09:03 +0000 Pat Coleman Capt. Billy's Whiz Bang, 1921Capt. Billy's Whiz Bang, 1932

Wilford (Billy) H. Fawcett returned to Minnesota from World War I with a footlocker full of dirty jokes. On a slow night in 1920 while he was working at the Minneapolis Tribune he sorted through the jokes and put them into a pamphlet he titled “Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang” [whiz-bang being the sound shells made during the war]. So our next best Minnesota book is:

Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang

The content was loosely organized around Whiz-Bang farm in Robbinsdale, the original Lake Woebegone. Characters included Gus, the hired man; Deacon Callahan, whose daughter, Lizzie’s virtue was always being designed upon; and Pedro the bull who rejected unworthy author submissions. The masthead read “explosion of pedigreed bull.” The jokes were juvenile, sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, and haven’t aged well.

The Girl: “You mustn’t come into my dressing room.”

The Man: “Why not? Am I not good enough?”

The Girl: “You might be worse.”

Or “Harold” said the pretty young teacher, “in the sentence ‘I saw the girl climb the fence’ how many i’s would you use?”

“Bofe of ‘em teacher” replied Harold with a grin.

Fawcett found a printer and enlisted his sons to distribute the press run from their wagons to Minneapolis at baseball games, drugstores and local hotels where the consigned blue humor was held under the counter. Word of mouth fueled sales. The magazine went from an initial press run of 5,000 to half a million once Fawcett created a distribution network that revolutionized the industry. Soon the “Whiz-bang” was in newsstands, hotels, and trains, all over the country.

By the end of the decade Fawcett had twelve magazines. “True Confessions” was the first followed by titles like “Screen Play,” and “Modern Mechanics” [which was sued by "Popular Mechanics" beginning a seemingly never ending series of lawsuits]. Roscoe Fawcett, Billy’s brother, was brought into the business and much of the work during summers was done on Pelican Lake at Fawcett’s Breezy Point Lodge.

When Billy divorced his wife Annette, who he referred to in his publications as the “henna-headed heckler,” she used his money to purchase a competitor of the “Whiz-bang” called the “Eye-Opener” and moved it to Minnesota. For a period of time Minnesota was the capital of indelicate literature.

The company eventually moved to Greenwich, Connecticut and played perhaps an even more important role in dictating literary taste. Fawcett Publication began Whiz Comics, staring Captain Marvel, and a line of original paperback books under the Gold Medal imprint.

The Company kept the same “Whiz-bang” sensibilities. The Gold Medal Books editor in 1964 stated that they were trying to blend the “shoot ‘em up sex novel” with a helping of good literature. When Gold Medal Books editor -in-chief, William Lengel received a scathing review of a manuscript his inclination was to publish it rather than pass on it. One such title was Mandingo a title that sold two million copies in its first five years.

It is hard to understate the impact, for better or worse, Fawcett had on American culture. By the mid 1960’s the Fawcett brothers presided over an empire with $75 million and 200,000 million units in annual sales.  CBS bought the company for $50 million in cash in 1977 [$ 160 mil in today's dollars].

The Minnesota Historical Society library has a nearly complete run of “Captain Billy’s Whiz-bang” and has microfilmed it for posterity.

Whiz comics

]]> 16
Come All Ya Rounders Thu, 27 Aug 2009 15:23:24 +0000 Pat Coleman Rails to the North StarRails to the North Star New

If you have been paying attention to our civic fathers lately you would have heard the news that a Nineteenth Century technology is going to lead us into the bright Green future. Sometime before I die, light rail (formerly known as Street Cars or the Trolley) is on track to whisk us to Minnesota Twins games and high speed rail is promising to take us to see the Chicago Cubs. Because of the significant role railroads played in the development and identity of this state and region, a train book must be on our list. The best work, I believe, is…

Prosser, Richard S.  Rails to the North Star. Minneapolis: Dillon Press, 1966.

Prosser’s book is a comprehensive and chronological description of the developments of Minnesota’s transportation landscape. As a reference tool it is indispensable and the maps alone make it worth your shelf space. There are over fifty pages listing railroad companies that built in Minnesota and six pages of companies that incorporated but never built a mile of track.

From Prosser’s last chapter, titled “20/20 Hindsight:”

One hundred years have elapsed since the birth of the original parent of Minnesota railroads, a ten mile stretch of track between St. Paul and St. Anthony over which wheels first turned on June 28, 1862. Growth of Minnesota Population, land cultivation, industry, and trade are all due in some measure to one or another offspring of that pioneer which, whether remembered by the name of William Crooks or St. Paul and Pacific, will be embossed forever in the annals of history. Today, Minnesotans can well be proud of the rails which lead to the North Star, with principal trains second to none – the rails which symbolize wealth and commerce.

The University of Minnesota Press reprinted the book in 2007 with a new forward by noted rail historian, Professor Don Hofsommer, and an uninspired new subtitle, “A Minnesota Railroad Atlas.” Sorry for that little snipe but as long as I am at it, I liked the original cover a lot better than the reprint’s image. Still, kudos to the U of M Press for keeping this available (the colored maps in the book must have given the publisher pause)  because for thirty years I have been wishing people “good luck” in finding and affording the original volume of this much sought after work.

Rails to the North Star maps

]]> 2
Picturing Minnesota Wed, 15 Jul 2009 20:35:26 +0000 Pat Coleman ElevatorsBrown County Fair

This blog has at least one faithful reader. He comments on every entry but insists on privately leaving his criticism off the blog. So in order to protect his anonymity let’s refer to him pseudonymously as TO’S. TO’S noticed that the list was favoring the wordy over the graphic and suggested that the next ten selections have pictures in them. I at least agree that there needs to be more illustrated books on our list of the 150 greatest Minnesota books. So here are two books that no Minnesota library – hell, let’s say no Minnesotan – should be without:

John Szarkowski. The Face of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958.

Bill Holm (essays) and Bob Firth (photography). Landscape of Ghosts. Stillwater, Minnesota: Voyageur Press, 1993.

The unusually accomplished artist/curator/critic Szarkowski began his professional career at the Walker Art Center after his service in World War II. As Minnesota approached its Centennial he was approached to commemorate the anniversary with this photo project. The result was a wondrous success capturing this place – these people – in a moment in time that words alone could never describe. If your heart doesn’t first swell with pride and then break from nostalgia while perusing this book then I’d say, “You’re not from around here are ya?” Szarkowski’s text is surprisingly interesting and, because the images are so compelling, too often over looked. He does an excellent job of summarizing mid-century understanding of the history and geography and geology of the state. He integrates text from postcards to government reports, one of which, a 1956 “Report of the Governor’s Committee on Higher Education” [see page 186] is as timely now as ever. His photos, shown here, are from Red Lake, pre-yuppified Grand Marais, Bloomington, and the Brown County Fair.

Father and Son, Red LakeGrand Marais, MNBloomington, MN

TO’S wisely suggested another book of photographs done 35 years after Szarkowski. Since I wholly agree, and could not say it nearly as well, here is his nomination in his words:

Take a look at Bill Holm and Bob Firth’s LANDSCAPE OF GHOSTS (Voyageur Press, 1993) for my candidate for best MN photo book: fine balance of text and image (not “illustrating” but echoing each other); real depth in Holm’s writing, with the expected humor and attitude and erudition; delicious color plus a slightly quirky sense of composition and subject matter in Firth’s photos that sets them apart from the scenery porn that’s common to photo books; crisp design and right size, good in the hand and on the lap; and a bonus in the poems that Holm sprinkles thru the text, a little anthology of MN prairie writers (Bly and Bly, Philip Dacey, Phoebe Hansen, Mark Vinz) and oh yeah, Walt Whitman and Robinson Jeffers and Willie Yeats to boot. If someone asked me what rural MN or the Midwestern prairie is all about, I’d send him a copy of this. How can you not love a book that starts, “Here is a book full of pictures of stuff nobody wants to look at and of essays on subjects no one  wants to read about”?

I prefer the peopled landscape of Szarkowski but this is not a competition so all I will add is that it is especially gratifying to see some themes and images that overlap in both books and encourage you to look at both works side by side.

Grave yards

]]> 5
…Zen Again Fri, 05 Jun 2009 00:16:32 +0000 Pat Coleman Zen

We joked awhile ago that any Minnesota author or book to make the cover of Time Magazine is automatically on our list. Let’s say the same thing for any Minnesota author or book the makes it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. New York: Morrow, 1974.

Pirsig’s philosophical/autobiographical novel is listed in Guinness as the bestseller most rejected by publishers; 121 to be exact. When Morrow accepted the manuscript they were either very lucky or smart enough to know what Pirsig knew, that after the decade of the Sixties society and our culture was aching for just this philosophical discussion. It was time for what Pirsig called his “culture-bearing book.” For Morrow’s $3,000 they got a book that sold over 4 million copies and the sales of rights to translate ZMM into 27 languages. If you were around in 1974 you know what a publishing phenomena the book became. It went into the back pocket of almost every pair of torn jeans on campus.

The book is still a valuable and worthwhile read as its many anniversary editions attest and it is only slightly dated. I did cringe every time the word “groovy” was used.

The meat of the book is an attempt to unify the seeming rift – exacerbated by the political and cultural conflict of the 1960s – between the classic and romantic [or square and hip; technological and humanistic; Lori and Pat] ways of looking at the world. Quality, he concludes, is what those word views have in common.

Noting that it is difficult to jump into the middle of this book without the author’s careful set up, here is a sample of his prose:

…care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristics of Quality.

Thus, if the problem of technological hopelessness is caused by absence of care, both by technologists and anti-technologists; and if care and Quality are external and internal aspects of the same thing, then it follows logically that what really causes technological hopeless is absence of the perception of Quality in technology by both technologists and anti- technologists.

Mercifully the philosophy is broken up by the bones of the story, a 1968 motorcycle road trip Pirsig took with his son Chris, two friends and a ghost named Phaedrus, who is Pirsig’s pre electro-shock therapy self.

One note: ZMM contains two sentences that could or should be the motto of our book blog:

“What’s new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like instead, to be concerned with the question “What is best?,” a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream.

One complaint: I read ZMM in the 1984 “A Bantam New Age Book” edition (note the silly logo from the back cover), painfully slogging through terrible quality printing ironically reading hundreds of pages of discourse on the theme of “Quality.” At times the book is almost illegible. The letters in this edition bleed together and the ink is not even uniformly distributed on the same page. It drove me crazy! I hope these New Age publishers come back in their next life as Harp seals in Newfoundland.

The only thing good about this particular edition is the “Afterword” by the author with his heartbreaking account of Chris’s death outside the Zen Center in San Francisco in 1979.

Zen paperZen paper back

]]> 6
A Working Class Poet Is Something to Be Fri, 15 May 2009 21:21:47 +0000 Pat Coleman

First I’ll begin with an apology to the faithful readers of this blog. It has been too long between entries and I promise that will not happen again. There was an unusual confluence of good news leading me to rest on my laurels and bad news resulting in a furlough here at the MHS. [Op-ed: Please feel free to contact your elected officials to lobby for the resources necessary to maintain the high quality of the Historical Society.]

We also apologize for missing National Poetry Month and will make up for that by nominating an extraordinary work that qualifies for our canon; for anyone’s canon.

Thomas McGrath. Letter to an Imaginary Friend. Denver: Alan Swallow, 1962.

Born in North Dakota in 1916, McGrath became our Walt Whitman with the publication of his “pseudo-autobiography,” Letters. McGrath was a working class, radical, political poet, which usually damns one to obscurity, and this may explain why his work is not better known. But most critics agree that McGrath’s politics do not interfere with his art and in fact his experience as a farm boy, logger, rider of rails, shipyard welder, labor organizer, and soldier (as well as Rhodes Scholar) provide him with the raw material to write work that is as historic as it is insightful. The work is sensual, lusty, and manly (just in case you, dear male reader, might be poetry adverse). “Love and hunger!-that is my whole story” is a line from the book. Nature also plays an important part in McGrath’s poetry as it did in his life.

Sometimes at evening with the dusk sifting down through the
And the trees like a smudge on the white hills and the hills
Into the hushed light, into the huge, the looming, holy
Night:–sometimes, then, in the pause and balance
Between dark and day, with the noise of our labor stilled,
And still in ourselves we felt our kinship, our commune
Against the cold.

McGrath would go on to add parts II, III, and, in 1985, part IV to this narrative epic poem. All four parts were published in a definitive text edition by Copper Canyon Press in 1997, seven years after the poet’s death in Minneapolis.

To further entice you to read McGrath see the article about him from the New York Times Review of Books.

]]> 4
Populist Moment? Tue, 24 Mar 2009 18:30:51 +0000 Pat Coleman

“If you put a banker, a lawyer and a capitalist in a barrel and roll it down a hill, no matter where it stops there will always be a son-of-a-bitch on top.”    Saying from the Farmer’s Movement

An article in the New York Times this week suggested that, given the bad economy [there I go again], and the pitchfork and torch level of anger to lavish bonuses paid to those who may have been responsible for it, we may be looking at resurgent political populism. If the Times pundits are correct we should hear a variation of the above quote emanating from the halls of congress soon. For further inspiration, I suggest they look to Minnesota history and literature, especially one of Minnesota’s best books…

Edmund Boisgilbert, MD (Ignatius Donnelly) Caesar’s Column: a Story of the Twentieth Century. Chicago: Schulte and Company, 1890.

I know you are familiar with Edward Bellamy’s 1890 utopian novel, Looking Backward. It was a bestseller at a time when the public was hungry to hear that all the social and economic strife would be amicably resolved and a just society would result. An alternative dystopian view came from Minnesota’s voice of the people, Ignatius Donnelly. Donnelly was a key figure in the Greenback Party, the Farmer’s Alliance Party, and the People’s Party. In his first novel, Caesar’s Column, he explored what would happen if the combined nineteenth century trends of corruption and concentration of wealth in the hands of a powerful few continued unabated until 1988. In other words, what would happen if his reform movements failed? The populists answer was that this would lead to barbarism and an unprecedented bloody revolution in America.

Two years after its publication Donnelly penned the preamble to the People’s Party platform and it read just like Caesar’s Column. “From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed two great classes – paupers and millionaires… A vast conspiracy against mankind has been organized on two continents and is taking possession of the world. If not met and overthrown at once it forebodes terrible social convulsions, the destruction of civilization, or the establishment of an absolute despotism.”

Yes, the novel is melodramatic, especially to the modern reader’s ear, but contemporary readers were not bothered by the tone. Word of mouth created a publishing sensation. The first printing of two hundred copies was published under Donnelly’s pseudonym and sold out quickly. By the end of 1890 the book was selling 1,000 copies a week. By the end of the century it had sold almost a quarter of a million copies in the US and twice that many in Europe. Donnelly’s dystopia was as popular as Bellamy’s utopia. Harvard reprinted the book in 1960 and it is still in print today.

Martin Ridge’s biography of this renaissance man of Minnesota, Ignatius Donnelly: Portrait of a Politician, was awarded “Best Book” by the American Historical Association when it was published. The MHS has kept the book in print.

]]> 4
An Arts Job is a Job! Tue, 24 Feb 2009 03:56:13 +0000 Pat Coleman

Strike me dead if I don’t stop beginning every conversation with the words “the economy” but we were just talking about the last time we were in such a pickle. It reminded me both of another of Minnesota’s greatest books and a successful model for government to support the arts and mitigate the recession.

Minnesota: A State Guide. Compiled and Written by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration… New York: Viking Press, 1938.

When Mabel Ulrich became director of the newly established Minnesota Writers’ Project she believed that there weren’t any “mute inglorious authors” in the state but soon found out how wrong she was. She ended up hiring 120 promising writers from virtually every walk of life who were unemployed and in desperate need of the paycheck the feds were offering. Some of these writers were as well known as Meridel Le Sueur. The end result was a lovely publication which kept a lot of people off the dole and stimulated tourism which helped the local economy. Not to mention a book great enough to make our list 70 years later.

My experience with the WPA guide was probably typical. My family drove around the state quite a bit [a Vista Cruiser full of kids strikes me now as a silly form of recreation] and kept the Guide in the glove box. When we drove into Esko, for example, my father would hand the book back to me and I would begin reading aloud.

The Finns are a clannish people who cling to their Old World manners and customs, and to a stranger may sometimes seem unfriendly. At one time a suspicious farmer accused them of practicing magic and of worshiping pagan deities. Entire families, he claimed, wrapped themselves in white sheets and retreated to a small square building set apart from the dwellings and worshipped their gods calling upon them to bring rain and good harvest to the Finns, and wrath upon their neighbors. On investigation, however, it was discovered that although they did wrap themselves in sheets and visit these “shrines” almost daily, it was not in the zeal of religion but for the purpose of taking baths. The Finns here are almost fanatical advocates of cleanliness, and each has his own “sauna” or steam bathhouse.

Because of the WPA Writers project a whole lot of writers owed their livelihoods to the Federal government. I owe them my love of Minnesota and its history!

]]> 3
A Dark Chapter in Minnesota’s Political History Tue, 20 Jan 2009 16:35:18 +0000 Pat Coleman

The last time the economy sucked this bad and left wing of the political spectrum was in the ascendency, the right wing used every possible trick to bring them down. In the 1938 gubernatorial race a book was published that was so repugnant that it makes our list of 150 best books.

Ray P. Chase. Are They Communists or Catspaws: A Red Baiting Article. Anoka: N. p., 1938.

Chase was an Anoka publisher who had run for governor in 1930 and served one term in Congress from 1933 -1935. In the heated Governor’s race between Farmer-Labor incumbent Elmer Benson and “boy wonder” Harold Stassen, Chase wrote and published a small book trying to prove a link between the current administration and the Communist Party. The five examples he used, however, were all Jewish. This was a blatant introduction of anti-Semitism into Minnesota politics. Some of Chase’s examples were not even that close to Gov. Benson and seem to have been chosen simply because they looked so Jewish. In response the Farmer-Labor party produced a leaflet saying that this “expensively gotten up book” “smack[ed] of the tactics of the fascists of Europe” They demonstrated that Chase’s book altered photos to smear the Governor.

Chase embraced the pejorative term “red baiting” saying “radicals bait America and everything American”. The term “catspaws” refer to people who are manipulated by Communists. Chase disingenuously writes that “Communists are entitled to respect for their courage. Catspaws who accept their support and deny their acquaintance are entitled to somewhat less respect”.

Epilogue: Catspaws helped defeat Benson but the “silver lining” was that it prompted the organization, Jewish Community Relations Council, to combat local anti-Semitism like this. They have been doing good work for the last 80 years.

]]> 5
Merry Christmas from Minnesota’s Best Books Thu, 18 Dec 2008 20:10:40 +0000 Pat Coleman
“Were you trying to lose my job for me? Ruin me?”
“I knew the little pup,” said French. “He’s a thief. I did what I had to do.”
“Since when did you start passing judgment on children?”
“Since I became Santa Claus.”
“And next summer, if you’re still Staggerford’s Indian? You’ll pass judgment on the tourist kids?”
French chuckled at himself in the mirror. “An Indian doesn’t pass judgment. That’s Santa’s job.”

Getting tired of the same old Christmas stories? Both Jon Hassler and J. F. Powers [see the last blog] wrote Christmas stories for the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts [MCBA], series of “Winter Books”. Hassler’s 1988 Staggerford’s Indian is the tale of French, a down and out Indian with PTSD, who gets a job as Santa in the town’s department store. It was the MCBA’s first Winter Book. Power’s The Old Bird: A Love Story, a sweet –not saccharin- story of an old man who gets a job near the holidays, was the 1991 Winter Book.

Like all the books in this series these titles are as beautiful as artifacts as they are as literature. For the most part, they are hand printed on hand made paper, illustrated, and very elegantly bound. The Minnesota Historical Society Library has a complete run of the MCBA Winter Books and I would encourage you to come take a look.

Other Minnesota Christmas stories we should hear about?

]]> 0
Minnesota’s Humanity in Print Thu, 04 Dec 2008 17:46:15 +0000 Pat Coleman

Barbara Tuchman coined the phrase, “Books are humanity in print,” and nowhere is this more obvious than the work of two of Minnesota’s literary giants, J. F. Powers and Jon Hassler. So our next two best Minnesota books are…

J. F. Powers. Morte D’Urban. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1962.

Jon Hassler. Staggerford. New York: Atheneum, 1977.

Powers and Hassler have much in common so it seems appropriate to mention them together. Both ended up at St. John’s University after interesting starts to their careers and both are thought of as “Catholic” writers although the term seems ridiculously limiting to me. As a bit of trivia, of interest only to a few of us here at the MHS, Powers earliest job was working for the WPA Historic Records Survey in Chicago. When World War II broke out Powers tried for, and was denied, status as a Conscientious Objector. He came to Minnesota to serve time in the Federal prison at Sandstone. He had the Irish penchant for writing short stories [read his "Lions, Harts, Leaping Does"] but became famous with his National Book Award winning novel of a priest in Stearns County, Mort D’Urban. Powers was married to writer Betty Wahl (Rafferty and Co.) who he met at St. Ben’s.

Jon Hassler came to Minnesota in a more traditional way, birth, and experienced life in the southern, urban, and northern parts of the state. He didn’t start writing until he was in his mid forties and Staggerford was his first novel for adults. It concerns life in a fictionalized Park Rapids and introduces characters that turn up in his subsequent work.  His recognizably Minnesota characters, like Powers, are wrought with foibles and pettiness and problems but are likable if not lovable in spite of their shortcomings. One of the smartest things that has been said about Hassler’s writings was from a reviewer who pointed out the unusual ability he has of “making good people interesting” [take that Jonathan Franzen].

]]> 0
Professional (i.e. successful) Explorers Mon, 10 Nov 2008 19:59:57 +0000 Pat Coleman Well, I got my wrist slapped for snottily suggesting that Pike was not the gold standard for either an explorer or a diplomat. To avoid sounding critical of iconic Minnesota figures I’m sticking to the undisputed success stories with the next two nominations for Minnesota’s 150 best books.

Detail of Nicollet's Map of the Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi River

Henry R. Schoolcraft. Narrative of an Expedition Through the Upper Mississippi to Itasca Lake, the Actual Source of this River; Embracing an Exploratory Trip Through the St. Croix and Burntwood (or Broule) Rivers. New York: Harper, 1834.

J[oseph] N. Nicollet. Report Intended to Illustrate a Map of the Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi River, Made by I.[sic]N. Nicollet, While in the Employ Under the Bureau of the Corps of Topographical Engineers. Washington: …. 1843.

Schoolcraft’s 1821 A Narrative Journal of Travels… to the Source of the Mississippi River documented his earlier expedition with Lewis Cass, on which he was the geologist. That trip incorrectly identified Cass Lake as the river’s head. When Schoolcraft went back in 1832 to settle conflicts between the Ojibwe and Dakota, he took the opportunity do further explorations and create an accurate map of the region west of Lake Superior. At long last he correctly identified the veritas caput (“true head”) of the Mississippi. Although Schoolcraft deserves great credit for his work, an Indian named Oza Windib, or Yellow Head, led him directly to Lake Itasca. God forbid Indians ever get credit for discoveries, so it has recently been suggested that Oza Windib was the first Swede in Minnesota. I suspect that Schoolcraft would have noticed that small fact.

Yet another Frenchman figures prominently in our history. Over the course of three expeditions to this region, Joseph Nicollet, with Carver’s Narrative in hand, completed the first scientific measurement of the upper Mississippi territory correcting some of Pike and Schoolcraft’s distortions along the way.

I admit to being prone to hyperbole, but it is difficult to overstate the importance of Nicollet’s map. It was so accurate and complete, with careful attention to both the original and European place names, that it was copied for decades and is still useful to researchers. Unfortunately, Nicollet did not live to see his map published. He died of a stomach ailment shortly before the U. S. Senate document was printed. The House printed the same report two years later. There are also two known copies of a wall map version of Nicollet. It breaks my heart to report that the MHS was an unsuccessful bidder on that map in 2006 when it sold at auction for $64,000.

Detail of Nicollet's Map of the Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi River

]]> 2
The City Beautiful Thu, 09 Oct 2008 18:52:14 +0000 Pat Coleman

Another one of those beautiful “must have” Minnesota books is:
Edward H. Bennett. Plan of Minneapolis: Prepared Under the Direction of the Civic Commission… Edited and Written by Andrew Wright Crawford. Minneapolis: Civic Commission, 1917.

In 1909, Daniel Burnham [chief architect for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and the subject of the 2003 bestseller, The Devil in the White City] and Edward Bennett published their Plan of Chicago. It was dubbed “Paris on the Prairie” by wags who couldn’t help but notice the influence of the École des Beaux-Arts where Bennett studied from 1895-1902. Also in 1909, a Civic Commission was formed to discuss a city plan for Minneapolis, consisting of a dozen Minneapolis organizations from the Woman’s Club to the Trades and Labor Assembly. They hired Bennett, who as Chicago’s chief proponent of The City Beautiful Movement believed that cities could be “White” like the Columbian Exposition and that people would be uplifted through their contact with art and beauty and order.

The author and editor of this work, Crawford, always gets short shrift so let me rectify that. He was a lawyer and art connoisseur who is most often associated with his hometown Philadelphia. Crawford was civically active with a strong interest in city planning and in the development of city parks. His interests made him the perfect choice to author Bennett’s Plan of Minneapolis. Crawford’s avocational interest in architecture earned him an honorary membership in the American Institute of Architects. For a bit of his prose and the rationale for the plan, let me present a few lines from Chapter 1 “The Coming Metropolis:”

  • Minneapolis is the commercial and officially designated financial capitol of an empire greater in size than Great Brittan, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Switzerland combined.
  • Minneapolis is now a large city. The greater city that the future is so surely and so swiftly bringing must be a more economic, a more convenient, a happier and a more generally beautiful city.
  • City planning is the exercise of municipal imagination. It is the scientific and expert vision of inevitable city growth, and the preparation of plans to provide for that growth. It is municipal prevision, municipal prevention and municipal preparedness. (bloggers note: The 3MP’s of planners?)

Ultimately very little of the Plan [of which 1,000 were printed and distributed] could be implemented because, in spite of the emphasis on science and imagination, none of the planners anticipated the most important shaper of 20th century American municipalities: the automobile. Still, it seems to me that they anticipated a refocus on the riverfront by 70 years and had countless other ideas that we might wish had been implemented.

I hate giving this much attention to Minneapolis, so allow me to mention the less grandious but 11 years earlier St. Paul eqivilant, Report of the Capitol Approaches Commission to the Common Council of the City of St. Paul, 1906. This would be another fine addition to a complete Minnesota book collection but at 31 pages we can not nominate it for our list of best books.

I would love to hear from architects, city planners, and the Met Council on our selection of Bennett’s work for our greatest Minnesota books list. Does anyone think about the issuses raised by the Plan? Know about this book? Study it? Still look at it from time to time? Click on “Comment” and let us know.

]]> 9
Of Maps and Men: or Vigorous and Lusty Minnesota Tue, 23 Sep 2008 20:00:01 +0000 Pat Coleman

The overwhelming response to our last post, admittedly one of the least significant of the best Minnesota books, makes me a little nervous about nominating one of the most significant books on our list.

A. T. Andreas. An Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Minnesota. Chicago: A. T. Andreas, 1874.

Anyone remember door-to-door salesmen? Fuller brush men? Me neither. Musta been before my time. But in 1873 salesmen covered Minnesota like locusts, hawking a landmark publication: the first illustrated atlas of any state. These salesmen were not only looking for subscriptions to the forthcoming book but also appealing to their client’s vanity. They pushed subscribers to immortalize themselves by paying extra to have everything included in the book, from their portraits and biographies (at 2 1/2 cents per word), to images of their cows, to prosperous farms and businesses. While the salesmen were doing their work, a crew of surveyors were scouring the U. S. Land Offices consulting the work done out in the field and drawing their own maps. Andreas had chosen Minnesota for his bold experiment and departure from other map publications because we were prosperous, in spite of our youth, and Minnesota was cartographic virgin territory. For a detailed discussion of Andreas’s business model and methods see an 1879 article, in the MHS library, by Bates Harrington titled “How ’tis Done: A Thorough Ventilation of the Numerous Schemes Conducted by Wandering Canvassers Together With the Various Advertising Dodges for the Swindling of the Public.”

The result was a beautiful oversize volume of maps showing all the counties and significant towns, along with one map of the northern third of Minnesota that is virtually empty. A map librarian at the Library of Congress wrote that within the Andreas “… is an unexcelled historical, biographical, and pictorial record of Midwestern America in the vigorous and lusty Victorian era.” About 10,000 subscribers paid $15 for the atlas but because of the panic of 1873 many reneged on their promise. The text, which includes W. W. Clayton’s “History of the State of Minnesota,” was not especially new or interesting, but that wasn’t why people looked at the book. Some “deluxe” copies were sold with three panoramic or “bird’s eye” maps of St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Winona. (Collectors note: don’t settle for a copy without these stunningly beautiful panoramas.) Andreas showed the world a 16-year-old state in all its splendor; what an impact this must have made on the Minnesota psyche. We know from early letters that many people who had come early to this state were unsure they had made a good decision. This one book, the Andreas Atlas, must have at least temporarily eliminated this lingering inferiority complex. There could be no doubt that we were on the map to stay.

]]> 9
Pigskin Review Tue, 09 Sep 2008 19:38:41 +0000 Pat Coleman

If politics is not your favorite spectator sport, Minnesota history has a lot more to offer. Chief among these offerings is the golden era of the Golden Gophers football team. For 16 seasons Coach Bierman turned out winning team after winning team. Five National Championships! His record was 93 wins, 35 losses, and 6 ties, or a .727 percentage. Compare that to Jim Waker’s .291. Was that unfair? Sorry. I’ll stop talking sports and get back to something I know, books. Another one of Minnesota’s 150 best books is:

B. W. “Bernie” Bierman Winning Football: Strategy, Psychology and Technique. New York: Whittlesey House, 1937.

If you can find it, another fun book [what is called a little big book] to add to your collection is Coach Bernie Bierman’s Brick Barton and the Winning Eleven illustrated by R. M. Williamson.

As the season begins (the Gophers won their first game with 22 seconds left to play) let’s hopelessly pray that we will see the likes of those mid-century elevens again sometime before we die.

]]> 2
The Republicans are coming… The Republicans are coming… Mon, 25 Aug 2008 17:13:23 +0000 Pat Coleman

It won’t/shouldn’t surprise readers of this blog that there are a couple of political titles on the 150 Best Minnesota Books list. So, as the invasion of St. Paul – popularly know as the Republican National Convention – begins, let’s nominate two of them.

E. V. Smalley. A History of the Republican Party from Its Organization to the Present Time; To Which is Added a Political History of Minnesota from a Republican Point of View… St. Paul: E. V. Smalley Publisher, 1896.

Robert Esbjornson. A Christian in Politics; Luther W. Youngdahl: A Story of a Christian’s Faith at Work in a Modern World. Minneapolis: T. S. Denison, 1955.

You may be surprised to hear this but it is hard to over emphasize the significance of the Republican Party in Minnesota. They built this state; all the great Minnesota institutions- like the Historical Society and the University- are Republican institutions.

Democrats won (or as Smalley argues, stole) the state’s first election but after that Republicans ruled Minnesota for the rest of the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth. In 1973, when my father became the first Democratic majority leader of the Minnesota Senate in 116 years, he wondered aloud how another Irish Democrat, Senator Richard Murphy, had screwed up so badly that Republicans had the run of the legislature’s upper body for more than 11 decades. E. V. Smalley celebrates this “continuous position of political power” in his 426 page oversize book that we have nominated as one of Minnesota’s best books. Smalley attributes this long run of success to the “progressive spirit” of the Republican Party. They were the party of regulation and fair taxes. Even when the party finally lost the executive branch in 1898 it was really just to “silver republican” John Lind, who was replaced two years later by another reform minded, trust-busting Republican, Van Sant.

The second book we are placing on the 150 best books list, Esbjornson’s biography of Luther Youngdahl, illuminates another important era in the history of Minnesota’s Republican Party. After the short reign of the Farmer-Labor Party during the 1930’s, Republicans reestablished their leadership. Youngdahl was emblematic of these Governors. His main gubernatorial initiative was known as the “humanity in government” program. He was concerned about the sorry state of mental hospital facilities, interested in civil rights, and worked to enhance public education. Influenced by the “social gospel” movement, he defined being a Christian politician quite differently than those running for office today.

From A Christian in Politics:

The Christian in politics…is not content with the measure of wealth and justice attained along the first mile of conflict and compromise. He sets out on the second mile, speaking for the un-represented groups and demanding benefits for the under-dogs, even though they cannot help him politically. He appeals to the consciences of men, not just their self-concern. He sub-ordinates his personal ambition to his public duty.

But as we know, history is the process of change over time. “[D]emanding benefits for the under-dogs”? Republicans don’t look much like Youngdahl anymore.

Gov. Youngdahl sets fire to various restraints at Anoka State Mental Hospital

]]> 5
So Wild A Dream Fri, 08 Aug 2008 19:50:01 +0000 Pat Coleman I just returned from my most arduous canoe trip in years [an estimated 65,000 - 75,000 paddle strokes] reminding me that I’m not 20 years old anymore. Four friends and I retraced a trip in the Quetico that Aldo Leopold took in 1922. Tom, one of my canoe mates, was reading Eric Sevareid’s Canoeing with the Cree, which also reminded me that we have not officially placed this classic on our list of best books, so here it is:

Arnold Sevareid. Canoeing with the Cree. New York: Macmillan, 1935.

This is the book most often recommended to me as one of Minnesota’s 150 best books. I couldn’t agree more, but I admit that I am a bit surprised by such wide spread agreement. This true adventure story begins on the Minnesota River at Fort Snelling and ends a harrowing four months and 2,250 miles later in Hudson Bay. I won’t take away any of the pleasure of a full reading, but Tom marked two passages in his copy with campfire charcoal that I’ll share. The first passage comes when the boys, using horrible maps and bad advice, had just come life threateningly close to missing the outlet of the God’s River.

Half a mile westward and suddenly we were in a strong current. Again we had done it! And missed the river by only half a mile!

“Mr. Sevareid,” said Walt pompously, extending his hand like an archduke, “I congratulate you, rawther splendid you know.”

“Sir Port, positively gorgeous. You, my lord, not I, deserve the plaudits of these gaping multitudes.”

But only the spruce and the birch could witness our triumph.

This proved the truth of an earlier passage that Tom had marked…

This was another indication of something we came to realize many times before we reached home, that the God who guides the footsteps of errant fools most certainly was riding on the weathered prow of the Sans Souci [their canoe].

I love the last paragraph of this coming of age story…

We went by the school, sitting on its terraces among the yellow trees. As we drew nearer and nearer to home, high-school boys and girls passed us on their way to classes. We realized that we were looking at them through different eyes. We realized that our shoulders were not tired under the weight of our packs. It was as though we had suddenly become men and were boys no longer.

I recommend collectors find a copy of the first edition. It was published under Eric’s original name, Arnold, and the dust jacket has an image canoeists will find familiar, a photo by Sevareid of Walter Port’s bare back in the bow of Sans Souci. The edition currently in print is, however, the best. It contains an introduction by Ann Bancroft, who wisely sums up the one of the reasons this book is timeless: “Only our acceptance, our willingness to go where we are small and where we need to respect the power and objectivity of nature, makes it possible for us to experience a hero’s journey. And we are all eager for that journey.”

There can’t be any better place to read a book than sitting on jack pine needle covered granite in canoe country. Other books we painfully carried over countless portages? The Secret Life of Lobsters, Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez, and Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. I love the juxtaposition of reading gritty urban novels in the wilderness, so I brought along John Banville’s Dublin in his Christine Falls.

]]> 12
Land o’ Ten Thousand Treatment Centers Thu, 31 Jul 2008 21:12:17 +0000 Lori Williamson I had just picked up my paddle the other night to canoe under the full moon when my phone rang. It was my old friend Tim J. who wanted to talk to me about Minnesota’s 150 best books.

First, let me urge y’all to communicate on this topic by leaving a reply on the blog. Don’t e-mail me, don’t phone me, and don’t give me your opinion at a party. Share your thoughts with everyone. I am as infallible as a 14th Century Pope. Criticize me, argue with me, agree with me, surprise me. I don’t care but do it publicly. Leave your opinion because we value your take on Minnesota books.

Back to Tim. He had a brilliant suggestion and another suggestion for a subtopic that is outside the scope of this list. His subtopic is academic textbooks by Minnesota Professors that have had a wide – sometimes worldwide – impact on their disciplines. Tim, feel free to list some of the textbooks you mentioned, and others feel free to weigh in. My thought is that most of the books on the 150 list will be non-academic books, more accessible to the general public, and more uniquely Minnesota than universals like math or chemistry.

His brilliant suggestion? It is a book I have known about and picked up for the MHS Library twenty years ago, but hadn’t considered for the list until Tim made his case for its inclusion here.

Vernon E. Johnson I’ll Quit Tomorrow. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1973.

This book had a huge impact on our culture. Johnson’s experimental work with alcoholics began in the early 1960s. The treatment program he developed at his Minneapolis based Johnson Institute is outlined in detail in I’ll Quit Tomorrow. This program became known as the Minnesota Model. Since then Minnesota has become jokingly known as the Land of Ten Thousand Treatment Centers, although a recent article on pointed out that Minnesota ranks 48th out of 50 states in the number of adults in treatment, and blames rate freezes and regulatory changes for the tough times experienced by local social service providers. Still this is both an important part of our economy and a significant part of Minnesota’s cultural image.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

]]> 1
Betsy, Tacy, and Guest Blogger Tue, 22 Jul 2008 16:56:58 +0000 Lori Williamson Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart LovelaceEmily by Maud Hart Lovelace

[A note from Patrick:] There will be times during the course of rolling out the list of 150 best Minnesota books that I will admit to knowing just enough to know I am ignorant. This is one of them. Maud Hart Lovelace absolutely deserves a place on this list but I’m not qualified to choose the title or write about Maud. Fortunately we have enlisted the aid of a guest blogger to do the honors. Betsy Sundquist introduced herself to readers of this blog in comments under the first posting if your want to check out her credentials. Take it away Betsy…

Maud Hart Lovelace. Betsy-Tacy. New York: Crowell, 1940.

Maud Hart Lovelace. Emily of Deep Valley. New York: Crowell, 1950.

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. Throughout 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.

Betsy Sundquist, guest blogger

]]> 3
Nouvelle Decouverte, New Discoveries, and No Discovery Mon, 14 Jul 2008 14:31:12 +0000 Lori Williamson We have been having far too much fun lately so let’s get serious for a while and talk about three of the most important and indispensable Minnesota books. Although they are from three different centuries and three different nationalities, the theme of exploration connects them. These books could hardly satiate the old world’s hunger for accounts of this strange new world and its exotic inhabitants.

Father Louis Hennepin. Description de la Louisiane, Nouvellement decouverte au Sud’ Ouest de la Nouvelle France…Paris: Chez la Veuve Sebastien Hure, 1683.

Jonathan Carver. Travels Through the Interior Parts of North-America, in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768. London: C. Dilly; H. Payne; and F. Phillips, 1781.

Zebulon M. Pike. An Account of a Voyage Up the Mississippi River from St. Louis to its Source. Washington, D. C., 1807.

The oldest, rarest, and most expensive (in case, as I hope, you are attempting to acquire all 150 books) book on our list is the Hennepin. In recounting his trip up the Mississippi River from the Illinois River the Friar gives the first written account of the French holdings of Louisiana and becomes Minnesota’s first author. The question is whether Hennepin is Minnesota’s first writer of fiction or non-fiction. I chose this edition because the narrative embellishments become intolerable in subsequent editions. In his 1697 sequel, Nouvelle decouverte… Hennepin claims to have first paddled down to the mouth of the river before returning north! And in a matter of days!! LaSalle remarked of his underling: “It is necessary to know him somewhat, for he will not fail to exaggerate everything; it is his character.” Fowell dryly states that the writings of early explorers “… may be said to contain truth.”

Carver began with an advantage: he had read Hennepin. This piqued his amateur curiosity to find out more about the Mississippi River and its inhabitants. To make a long and complicated story bloggably short, Carver contributed greatly to the knowledge of the river and of the Dakota people, with whom he spent a winter. Unfortunately Carver’s London publisher added much material that was both plagiarized and fanciful, even by the lax standards of this genre. As they expected, this made the book extraordinarily popular. It was quickly printed in all European languages but Carver’s veracity was widely questioned. It wasn’t until the legendary Dr. Jack Parker, from the James Ford Bell Library, discovered Carver’s original manuscript in the British Library that Carver’s reputation recovered. I have listed the third edition of Carver because it is considered the best edition, having added a biography of the author, an index, and 3 colored plates, one of which is Europe’s first image of a tobacco plant.

Thomas Jefferson read both Hennepin and Carver. In 1805 he sent young Zebulon Pike to acquire land from the Indians for permanent forts, to bring the influential Chiefs to St. Louis for talks, and to discover the source of the Mississippi, which Carver had misidentified as Lake Pepin. Pike proves to be shockingly inept in diplomatic encounters with both the native population and the British traders. He also proved to be a poor explorer and poorer cartographer. He concluded that Leech Lake was the source of the Mississippi and that Cass Lake (called Red Cedar Lake) was the “upper source,” whatever he meant by that. Pike’s only success was procuring the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers for what would become Fort Snelling. Still this is an important part of Minnesota history, a good story, and a must read.

For readers inclined to cheat, skip the above and read Tim Severin’s highly entertaining Explorers of the Mississippi. New York, 1968.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

]]> 3
Notes from the Book Fair Tue, 01 Jul 2008 18:52:24 +0000 Lori Williamson Life doesn’t get any sweeter for Minnesota bibliophiles than it was last weekend! It was the 18th annual Twin Cities Book Fair and 50 dealers from around the country brought their best books. I was especially gratified to see how many of the 150 best Minnesota books were available. Just from the last two posts, for example, I saw several volumes of Sig Olson’s writings. The best might have been at the booth of Winona book dealer and Professor, John Campbell. It was Open Horizons and was signed with a long presentation to Florence Barker, author of Bird Songs of Southeastern Minnesota. There were many copies of Jacques Canoe Country available but the Rutstrum book remains as elusive as ever. Steve Anderson of Ross & Haines books in Hudson had Lindbergh’s Why is Your Country at War… for a reasonable $500 and Rulon-Miller of St. Paul had a rare dust jacketed copy of Lindbergh’s The Economic Pinch for $450. Rare book dealers from Rochester, New York, Boston, and Paris (Tennessee, sorry) had books that made taking out a second mortgage on your house seem like a reasonable idea. All have vowed to help the MHS secure every foreign language edition of Sinclair Lewis’s Mantrap.

Speaking of the collections, I had an especially good book fair. After last year’s effort to educate dealers about the rich tradition of Minnesota pulp fiction writers I seem to have created a market for these titles. Of the genre fiction that showed up at the fair the MHS bought two Poul Anderson firsts in beautifully graphic jackets, two Frank Gruber westerns, and a handful of Sci-Fi magazines (again, great graphics) with local authors featured prominently on the covers. These will not be on the list of Minnesota’s best books, but I thought you might enjoy seeing an example, at right.

I’ll be checking more titles over the next few days – since I can’t remember every book in the library and don’t yet have an iPhone – but so far the best book from the fair came from the booth of Paul Johnson whose Apple Valley store is simply called “The Bookman.” It is a very rare printing of a Louise Erdrich short story, “Snares,” which was published by the Friends of the Library of Middlebury College in 1987.

Special thanks goes to the Dean of Minnesota Book sellers, Jim Cummings, who brought gifts for the MHS to the fair. These were a photo that Jim took as an eight-year-old boy of the farm buildings at Crosby Farm in St. Paul (which may be the only image of that old landmark) and several photos of Ignatius Donnelly’s home at Ninninger, documenting the first and unsuccessful preservation fight in Minnesota. Donnelly, by the way, will be an honored author on our 150 list. Stay tuned and let me hear what you found at the book fair.

]]> 0
Summer in Minnesota – Books 19, 20, 21 Tue, 24 Jun 2008 15:00:51 +0000 Lori Williamson

Welcome to the first week of summer. I’m among those who believe there is absolutely no reason to live in Minnesota unless you enjoy and take advantage of our impressive parcels of wilderness. Last week, playing the role of Bourgeois [as in the wise old respected leader, not as in a member of a fussy upper class] to a small group of middle-aged voyageurs, I hosted a meeting to plan our summer trip into the Quetico-Superior wilderness. This is simply what Minnesotans do unless they’ve inherited the family cabin up north. To enhance the experience of wilderness, and to remind us of it when we are not there, we are lucky to have books. The three best…

Florence Page Jaques. Canoe Country. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1938.

Sigurd F. Olson. Listening Point. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958.

Calvin Rutstrum. Way of the Wilderness: A Complete Camping Manual… Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Company, 1952.

Sigurd F. Olson is the Dean of outdoor writing. He began selling his stories to hunting and fishing magazines in the 1920s. By the mid-1950s he was writing books that would spark a cult-like following of people who believe that the wilderness experience is a spiritual one, of which I’m a card-carrying member. As is the case with many of the authors on this list, it is hard to choose just one of Olson’s books. I would love to hear your opinion. I chose his second book, Listening Point, because it is the name of Olson’s getaway, which became a Mecca for environmentalists. Curiously, this is the signed first edition of the “Minnesota Statehood Centennial Edition” as it was “prepared in tribute to the State.” Here is a sample from Sig’s first book, The Singing Wilderness:

There have been countless campfires, each one different, but some so blended into their backgrounds that it is hard for them to emerge. But I have found that when I catch even a glimmer of their almost forgotten light in the eyes of some friend who has shared them with me, they begin to flame once more. Those old fires have strange and wonderful powers. Even their memories make life the adventure it was meant to be.

Olson’s books were illustrated by Frances Lee Jaques, which greatly added to their charm. Jaques was at his best, however, when illustrating the writings of his wife Florence Page Jaques. The two collaborated on several books including Canoe Country, and the U of M Press has kept this title along with Snowshoe Country and Geese Fly High in print. Going into the woods is one thing; knowing how to get in and out safely is quite another. Calvin Rutstrum, from Marine on St. Croix, was the go-to guy for this information and once again [thanks Todd] the U of M Press is keeping his books in print for us. I choose this edition of Way… because it is so uniquely bound in a Duluth Pack-like cover. It is impressive how much harder camping was a half a century ago. I’m proposing a new movement – retro camping. Let’s go into the wilderness without equipment or technology invented after WWII. – wood not kevlar. Wool not polypropylene. Canvas not Gortex. Rutstrum can be our guide.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

]]> 1
Happy Father’s Day, and books 17 and 18 Tue, 10 Jun 2008 20:37:15 +0000 Lori Williamson lindberghs-res.jpgspirit-res.jpg

I am fairly certain that the only father/son combo making the list of Minnesota’s 150 best books will be the Lindberghs. As evidence of their relationship (and so I can sneak in another great book) I offer their joint biography by CAL Sr.’s political right hand man, Lynn Haines. His wife Dora Haines finished the book upon his death.

Years ago my own father, knowing that I revered the elder Lindbergh for his political leadership and courage, invited me to a breakfast meeting with Charles Lindbergh Jr. Unfortunately for Lindbergh, it was 1974 and he suddenly became ill and never made it back to Minnesota from his home in Hawaii. Fortunately for me, the meeting never happened. I was an arrogant young pup and wanted to grill him on unsavory aspects of his biography and accuse him of abandoning his father’s principals. I’m much better now, thanks.

Charles A. Lindbergh, Sr. Why is Your Country at War and What Happens to You After the War and Related Subjects. Washington, D. C.: National Capital Press, 1917.

Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. The Spirit of St. Louis. New York: Scribner’s, 1953.

Lindbergh had already written a book, We, about his solo flight across the Atlantic, but he was unsatisfied with that first effort. He spent years working on a fuller and more readable account and earned a well-deserved Pulitzer for Spirit. Less known to readers of this blog, I suppose, will be the work of his father, a United States Congressman from the Sixth District. He was a progressive and an initial opponent of U.S. entry into World War I. Among other arguments in this work CAL believed that the war was a struggle for commercial hegemony and wrote that if we conscript young men to fight and die in a war then the profits made from that war by the “Money Trust” should also be conscripted. Naïve, perhaps, as Roosevelt showed us in WWII, but the idea of shared responsibility and sacrifice is one we could use a little more of today. So, Jenna and Barbara, if you are looking for a Father’s Day gift, don’t overlook this volume. This book, often referred to as the “poison book of Lindbergh,” was so controversial that a mob broke into the print shop in Washington and destroyed the plates (making this a very rare title). It also made some Minnesotans so angry that the author was burned in effigy and even shot at during his Nonpartisan League-backed campaign for Governor in 1918. In 1934 the text of the book was brought back under the revised title of Your Country at War and What Happens to You After A War, with a dust jacket blurb by Father Coughlin calling CAL a “prophet before his time.” The best book on the elder Lindbergh is the 1973 Lindbergh of Minnesota: A Political Biography by Bruce Larson.



]]> 1
Minnesota’s Women Historians – 14, 15, 16 Tue, 03 Jun 2008 15:59:36 +0000 Lori Williamson


As this primary campaign season ends, I no longer know quite what to call myself. Am I a “first wave” or a “second wave” feminist or simply, as a colleague told me, “an old feminist”? Probably the latter. I do the best I can. Bedtime reading for my daughters was frequently a book called Girls Can Be Anything in which a snotty pre-school boy keeps telling a female classmate that she can’t play with him because girls can’t be X, Y or Z. His trump card (sorry Hillary) was that girls certainly couldn’t be president. My girls grew up to be “third wave” feminists and are now both Obama supporters (sorry again Hill). C’est la vie.

When I was raising those daughters I was becoming aware that one very important field that didn’t need to parse feminism, that didn’t seem to discriminate against woman in the least, was history. The giants of Minnesota history were all women. Lucille Kane and Sue Holbert ran the archives and manuscripts division here at the MHS. June Holmquist and Jean Brookings ran MHS Press. Nina Archabal, Rhoda Gilman, Helen White, Lila Goff, and Pat Harpole ran the rest of the institution. I was proud to work with and for those legends while studying these “Best” Minnesota books.scn0001-res.jpgscn0001-res.jpgscn0001-res.jpgscn0001-res.jpg

Agnes Larson. History of the White Pine Industry in Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1949. 

Henrietta M. Larson. The Wheat Market and the Farmer in Minnesota, 1858 –1900. New York: Columbia University, 1926 

Grace Lee Nute. The Voyageur. New York: Appleton, 1931.

The Doctors Larson were business historians. However, Henrietta’s book is also an absolute necessity if you want to understand Minnesota political history! In her Columbia University M.A. Thesis on the Nonpartisan League, written six years earlier, she states that the League was “a barometer registering general conditions in the ‘wheat’ West”. Since the Nonpartisan League (about which we will have more to say later) morphed into the Farmer Labor Party, which morphed into the DFL, this book is still relevant.

Agnes’s book holds a special place in my heart. My first job at the MHS was cataloging a pile of lumbering artifacts the size of the Cathedral. I learned more about the timber industry in three hours with her book than in 9 months of handling the material culture lumbering left behind. It broke my heart to read, in her beautiful prose, that Pinus Strobus often reached over 200 feet high. In our life time one would be lucky to see a 120 foot high White Pine - what a marvelous forest that must have been.

Dr. Nute’s The Voyageur is still in print and still the best book on this important Minnesota icon, and the industry that preceded the lumbering and the milling. Much like Doris Kearns Goodwin today, she could do unparallel research and make it exquisitely accessible to a popular audience. Don’t leave home in a canoe without it.


]]> 3
Pontifications and books 11, 12, and 13 Mon, 19 May 2008 16:09:50 +0000 Lori Williamson Pat’s Pontification # 1: If you are a Minnesota writer who makes the cover of Time magazine (for your writing, Jesse, for your writing), you have to be on the 150 Best Books list. If Time confers two covers on you, you get two books on the list.time-lewis.jpgtime-lewis-2.jpgtime-garrison.jpg

So let’s add three books using this foolproof method of choosing Minnesota’s best books.

Sinclair Lewis. Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott. New York: 1920.
Sinclair Lewis. Babbitt. New Yor
k: 1922.
Garrison Keillor. Lake Wobegon Days. New York: 1985.

Lewis is the 600-pound gorilla of Minnesota literature. Try as you might to ignore him, he is going to have to be dealt with. And for good reason! He is still relevant and still a good read, which is not something you can say about most 88-year-old American literature. If you read Lewis in school I would encourage you to reread him. Like Huck Finn, these books change significantly each decade of your life. Main Street was taught as a novel about the small mindedness of small towns but it is, perhaps more importantly, the first feminist novel. Carol asks, in chapter 16, “What is it we want – and need? … I think perhaps we want a more conscious life. We’re tired of drudging and sleeping and dying. We’re tired of seeing just a few people able to be individualists.”

My only difficulty here was whether to list Lewis’s canonical works or my favorites. Personally I love Lewis’s worst book, Mantrap, where an effete Eastern lawyer goes to the north woods for adventure that ends in a canoe chase through a burning forest. Fabulous! I also love It Can’t Happen Here, Lewis’s most political novel about fascism coming to America. But then there is Pat’s Pontification #2: when Hollywood thinks you are culturally iconic enough to make your Minnesota novel into a film three times, as is the case for Babbitt, your book automatically makes this list.

Just down the road [15.21 miles to be exact] from Gopher Prairie is, of course, Lake Wobegone. With a deft and lighter hand Keillor updates Lewis’s cultural criticism and re-presents Minnesota to the world. Touted by Time as the new Mark Twain, I think of Keillor as the new Sinclair Lewis.

Please allow me one more pontification while I’m on a roll. PP#3: When a book spawns published parodies, it is a good indication that the author has struck a significant nerve and the book should be considered for the Best 150 list. Come into the MHS library and read parodies of all three of these titles. They are Ptomaine Street; The Triumph of the Nut, a 1923 book containing a parody of Babbitt; and Fascist Home Companion.


]]> 9
Northern Exposure Mon, 12 May 2008 21:33:32 +0000 Lori Williamson cook-map.jpg

Last Friday evening WTIP  in Grand Marais, Minnesota interviewed me about the Best 150 Minnesota Books blog. It was great fun and made me long for a visit north. Two things came up in the interview that might be worth mentioning. First, they asked me about the wiki that I started, to identify fictitious Minnesota towns and the real towns on which they are based. If you are interested in Minnesota fiction this may amuse you, but more importantly I need your help identifying these Minnesota places. Second, host Ann Possis claimed that Canoeing with the Cree by Eric Sevareid was her favorite book. How can you not love a woman who appreciates such a guys-growing-up-on-an-outdoor-adventure book? Thanks Ann.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

]]> 5
Numbers 8, 9, and 10 Fri, 09 May 2008 21:32:26 +0000 Lori Williamson plant-life-res.jpgbirds-resize.jpg

Natural History is destiny. In Minnesota anyway. Hell, if it weren’t for the beaver the only language you could hear around here would be Dakota. The great outdoors and the environment are crucial to our identity as Minnesotans, as many books on the 150 list will eventually attest. We care about our surroundings. We keep phenological journals to remember when the ice went out and when the first foolish robins show up in our back yards and we keep it to ourselves when we find a patch of morels. Fortunately for us, scientists have been describing the flora and fauna of this state for 150 years and surely will never be done. Let’s get started with three of the “best” books in this field.


Thomas S. Roberts. The Birds of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1932. gnawers-res.jpg

C. L. Herrick. Mammals of Minnesota: A Scientific and Popular Account… Minneapolis: Harrison and Smith, State Printers, 1892.

Conway MacMillan. Minnesota Plant Life. Saint Paul: Geological and Natural History Survey, 1899.

In my opening post for this blog I was only slightly joking about Nachtrieb’s The Leeches of Minnesota being one of the 150 best Minnesota books. It is more beautiful than The Mosquitoes of Minnesota by William Owen and not as compelling as Washburn’s The Hymenoptera of Minnesota. Roberts’ two-volume work, however, is the king of these natural histories. See this glowing review of Roberts in the July 1932 issue of “Auk” . The Birds of Minnesota has gorgeous illustrations by Allan Brooks, F. Lee Jaques [of whom we will hear more later], Walter Breckenridge, Walter Alois Weber, and even Louis Agassiz Fuertes. Compulsive collectors will need to own several copies of Birds. There is a signed, limited, ¾ leather edition and several updated editions. Like all of these books, Roberts provides a snapshot in time of the state’s environment. It is surprising to see what birds are no longer native to this area for example, or to think about unlisted species that have now come to exploit a Minnesota habitat. Herrick’s early work on mammals is wonderful for its very funky illustrations, although educators today prefer Evan B. Hazard’s 1982 Mammals of Minnesota with its beautiful illustrations by Nan Kane. Finally, MacMillan is one of those books you would have to take if you were banished from the state. You can almost smell the various environments he describes. plant-life-res.jpg

]]> 3
Numbers 6 and 7 Thu, 01 May 2008 19:56:34 +0000 Lori Williamson oxford.jpgcheney.jpg

In an effort to mix it up a bit here, I’m going to suggest two of Minnesota’s best 150 books that I am betting you have never seen. The books also address one of my very, very few pet peeves. The Twin Cities support a vibrant and creative book arts community. Thanks are due, in large part, to the efforts of Jim Sitter and civic visionaries such as Governor Elmer Andersen and Jay Cowles, who helped create the Minnesota Center for Book Arts twenty-five years ago. My peeve is that too many people believe that the birth of MCBA was the beginning of this important aspect of local culture. In fact, Minnesota has a long and rich history of fine presses making beautiful books.  As is often the case in history, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. We will write, discuss, and list more fine press books in upcoming posts but for now…

Arthur Upson. Octaves in an Oxford Garden. Minneapolis: E. D. Brooks, 1902.

Richard Realf. A Fragment of the Poem Symbolism. Minneapolis: Chemith Press, 1906.

The early Twentieth Century was a time of literary foment in Minnesota. Edmund Brooks and his rare bookstore were at the center of this scene, along with William C. Edgar and his literary magazine “The Bellman.” Brooks served as patron for Arthur Upson, who wrote poetry in the morning and cataloged rare books for Brooks in the afternoon. Tragically, Upson died very young [probably a suicide], drowning in Lake Bemidji. Mary Moulton Cheney was also part of this cultural growth spurt. She worked with Upson and decorated his 1904 book, The City. Her Chemith Press book, listed above, is a good example of her exquisite work. Cheney was a designer, a member of the Handicraft Guild, and head of what became the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.  For more on this era I suggest reading the 1945 U of M Press book Of Brooks and Books by Lee Grove.   As a reminder, all of these books and “The Bellman” are available for your perusal in the MHS library.  Shown below are both colophons, which should be one of the first things you look at in a fine press book, as they frequently give details about how and who put the book together. 

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian


]]> 7
Numbers 3, 4, and 5 Thu, 24 Apr 2008 16:13:49 +0000 Lori Williamson 3-books-resize.jpg

Many years ago I thought I had invented a wonderful little icebreaker. I asked friends, colleagues, and strangers at cocktail parties (ok, they were keggers) this question; “if you were banished forever from Minnesota but had time to grab a book or two, which ones would you take to help you remember the place you love?” (When you come from Irish rebels it is easier to imagine banishment than the more traditional “stranded on a desert island” scenario.) Thinking this would be a good way to begin a discussion of not only books but of what one loves about Minnesota, I was appalled that few people had an answer.

Well, folks, this blog is the place to remedy that. Plus it is always nice to have some time to think about the question rather than being blindsided by some know-it-all snot at a party. Let us know what your favorites are, and if you want to pair them with an alcoholic beverage and a piece of music, knock yourself out.

Three more of Minnesota’s 150 best books are:

Edward D. Neil The History of Minnesota; From the Earliest French Explorations to the Present Time. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott and Co., 1858

William Watts Folwell History of Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1921 – 1930.

Theodore C. Blegen Minnesota: A History of the State. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1963.

It almost seems like a joke that there was a history of the state the year it was born, but it is really not that unusual for contemporaries to write history. Neil, serious about the subtitle’s statement “present time,” updated the book through five editions adding 338 pages of newly discovered stories and information to the growing appendixes. The added vignettes have wonderful titles such as, “An Effeminate Man” and “A Nose Bitten Off.”  Collectors will want to try to acquire the limited, large-paper first edition for their shelves. 

Folwell’s work is monumental. The amount of detail is overwhelming. In fact, Professor Norman Moen once told me that I would know more Minnesota History than almost anyone else if I just read the footnotes in this book. Try that; it is totally true! Collectors will want to have the ¾ leather bound limited edition and the 1950’s reprint.

Professor Blegen’s book seems quite dated now, but it is important for providing a one-volume history that, along with its author, facilitated resurgence in the study of local history. Taken together these three books also provide a case study in historiography.

Exiled? I’ll take Folwell, a cup of Pig’s Eye Parrant’s moonshine, and the fife and drums of Ol’ Fort Snelling. Maybe.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

]]> 5
Numbers 1 and 2 Fri, 18 Apr 2008 21:50:02 +0000 Lori Williamson leisure-class-spine.jpgOk. The hardest part is just getting started. Do I begin at the beginning, with the earliest indispensable Minnesota book? Father Hennepin’s books will surely make the list. Or do I attempt the impossible; begin with the least important book on the list and end with a drum role and suggest the ultimate state volume?  Since I’m not ready to pronounce The Leaches of Minnesota less important than The Great Gatsby, let’s jump right into the middle of this.

Today is grey and cold. I am in a dark mood so very, very uncharacteristic of the Irish. It does remind me of another ethnic group’s stereotype, however, so we will begin our Best Minnesota Books list with two Norwegian-Minnesotans.   

Thorstein Veblen Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study in the Evolution of Institutions. New York: Macmillan Company, 1899.

O[le] E[dvart] Rolvaag Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1927.

Veblen’s provocative and seminal first book is the only one on our list that is also on the Grolier Club’s list of One Hundred Influential American Books Printed before 1900. No one could coin a phrase like Veblen. His term “conspicuous consumption” was perhaps more relevant than ever as McMansions sprung up like dandelions in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. His related concept of “conspicuous waste” plagues us more today than at the time Veblen wrote his treatise. Veblen’s beautiful rhetoric reminds me of the late William F. Buckley. The last line of Theory, for example, is: “The advantage of the accredited locutions lies in their reputability; they are reputable because they are cumbrous and out of date, and therefore argue waste of time and exemption from the use and the need of direct and forcible speech.” The price of a first edition of this book is beyond most collectors’ means. There are nice copies available however; John Kenneth Galbraith wrote the introduction for a 1973 reprint of Theory and several variant editions are currently in print, including one retitled Conspicuous Consumption.

giants-in-the-earth.jpgRolvaag’s book was first published in Norwegian under the inexplicably dull title I de Dage or “In Those Days.” There is no more powerful description of pioneer life in this region than Giants and no better example of how fiction can enhance historical understanding. I love to phone my non-Minnesota friends – who don’t understand the harsh life of the Upper Mid-Westerner – and read the last paragraphs of this beautiful novel. It is worth giving away the ending. Collectors will want to find the beautiful but rare first edition, with the woodcut image of a sod house on the dust jacket. O. E. does the same great job describing the urban immigrant experience in his 1933 The Boat of Longing, which is another “must read.”

Check back to see if Boat eventually makes our list of 150 Best Minnesota Books.   

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

]]> 3
Welcome to the Best Books Blog! Mon, 14 Apr 2008 19:59:48 +0000 Lori Williamson


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.

]]> 14