The pictures from yesterday's storm and flood in Duluth are astounding. I grew up there; that city is in my bones; that city defines me. And yet I look at some of the pictures of crumbled broken streets and mud slides and water up to the car roof, and I do not recognize them. That's Sixth Avenue East and Fourth Street? That's a parking lot? It looks like a river!
That's Vermilion Road? But --but--it's all in pieces!
You love it too, I'll bet. Everybody who's visited loves Duluth--that huge beautiful glittering powerful lake, those houses perched on the steep hillside, those avenues that you can barely get up in winter, those green, green spaces that dot the city, those creeks and streams and rivers that flow down the hill and into the lake.
Since we cannot be there during this ravaged time, we can, at least, read about the city. Here are some books that will give you a sense of that wild and lovely place. And yes, I am overdoing it with adjectives. I feel so bad for what that city is going through right now.
"The Long-Shining Waters", by Danielle Sosin. (Milkweed Editions). Her novel embodies Lake Superior, and three women--from three different periods of time--who live there. A native American, an immigrant, and a contemporary tavern-owner. It's the lake, and the geography, that binds them together.
"Cold Comfort," essays by Barton Sutter. (University of Minnesota Press.) These lovely essays, many of which were written for Minnesota Public Radio and published in Minnesota Monthly magazine, give a great sense of Duluth. The moose, the bears, the snow, the canoes on top of the cars.
"Babbitt," by Sinclair Lewis. It's unclear if the city of Zenith was modeled after Duluth--probably not, actually, though I grew up hearing that it was--but what the heck; read it anyway.
"Minnesota Diary: 1942-1946," by Sinclair Lewis, edited by George Killough. (University of Idaho Press) Extremely well annotated. You might find some familiar names here; Lewis lived in Duluth in 1945 in a beautiful brick house at 26th Avenue East and 2nd Street. I hope it survived the flood; that house was pointed out to me when I was still a child, and I walked past with awe. Not only did a famous writer live there, but I heard there was a bowling alley in the basement. Duluth at its finest!
"The Minnesota Stories of Sinclair Lewis," edited by Sally Parry. OK, this might be enough Lewis, but truly, these stories are mean and fascinating.
"Time Between Trains," "North of the Port," and "Twelve Below Zero," short stories by Anthony Bukoski published by Southern Methodist University Press and Holy Cow! Press. Yes, his short fiction is set in Superior, but you can't understand Duluth without understanding Superior, its alter ego. And these are magnificent stories.
"Picture Duluth," by Dennis O'Hara shows Duluth at its most gorgeous.
"Shelter Half," by Carol Bly (Holy Cow! Press). Set in Duluth and up the Shore.
"Lost Duluth,"by Tony Dierckins and Maryanne Norton; photos of now-gone structures. Let's hope this flood doesn't mean they will have to put out a second volume.
There are so many others--the poetry of Louis Jenkins, the thrillers of Brian Freeman. We can't be there, perhaps, during this muddy and waterlogged time, but our thoughts can be there, and our hearts. And our books!
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