Holiday books roundup: Regional

  • Article by: LAURIE HERTZEL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 30, 2011 - 11:23 AM

"Once There Were Castles" by Larry Millett

FICTION

"AMERICAN BOY" by Larry Watson (Milkweed Editions, $24)

After a lengthy hiatus, the author of "Montana 1948" is back with a coming-of-age tale about a 17-year-old boy in rural Minnesota in the 1960s. Matthew Garth's life changes when a mysterious woman moves into his mentor's home. (Watson will be at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis on Dec. 12.)

"GLASS" by Sam Savage (Coffee House, $15)

Although the story is told through the memories of a depressive, aging widow -- which makes it sound rather bleak -- "Glass" is actually a fast, glittering and beautiful read. A wonderful follow-up to Savage's bestseller, "Firmin."

"I GAVE MY HEART TO KNOW THIS" by Ellen Baker (Random House, $26)

Set Up North during World War II, Ellen Baker's second novel is steeped in time and place. It tells the story of Grace, a young woman who is working for the war effort by building ships in Superior, Wis. Despite the horrors of war, the world feels wide open to Grace, but as time moves on and the war ends, everything begins to change.

"GRYPHON: NEW AND SELECTED STORIES" by Charles Baxter (Pantheon, $27.95)

Seven new and 16 selected short stories by University of Minnesota English professor Charles Baxter. "Midwestern in temperament if not location, with residents in conflict with somebody who seems to be a hair's breadth from cracking completely," said our reviewer, Mark Athitakis.

"MERIT BADGES" by Kevin Fenton (New Issues Poetry & Prose, $15)

These linked stories about a young man growing up in a town that might possibly be Winona, Minn., (but is called Minnisapa) are funny, poignant and heartbreaking. Winner of the AWP Prize for the Novel.

"THE LONG-SHINING WATERS" by Danielle Sosin (Milkweed Editions, $24)

Danielle Sosin tells the stories of three women who lived along the shore of Lake Superior in three different times -- an Ojibwe mother, a Norwegian immigrant and a bartender in Superior, Wis. But the real protagonist of her lovely book (winner of Milkweed Edition's National Fiction Prize) is the lake itself.

NONFICTION

"VOYAGEUR SKIES: WEATHER AND THE WILDERNESS IN MINNESOTA'S NATIONAL PARK" by Don Breneman and Mark Seeley (Afton Historical Society Press, $32)

A stunning visual chronicle of the seasons in Voyageurs National Park, through Don Breneman's striking photographs -- trees, water, otters, eagles, loons, frost-tipped autumn leaves. Mark Seeley adds the text, examining the climate of the park and the effects of weather on nature.

"OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE HUMAN CONDITION" by Geoff Dyer (Graywolf Press, $18)

This collection includes about 25 years' worth of English writer Geoff Dyer's powerful essays and journalism, on subjects ranging from camus to doughnuts.

"ONCE THERE WERE CASTLES" by Larry Millett (University of Minnesota Press, $39.95)

This beautiful book is a heartbreaker, showing us stately mansions that once graced the Twin Cities but have since been torn down. Larry Millett, former architecture critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, collected old black-and-white photographs and plenty of stories about 90 of the 600 vanished historic homes. "The simple truth is that large sections of both Minneapolis and St. Paul were once far more urbane and beautiful than they are today or ever will be again," he writes. True, and sad. (Millett will be at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts at noon Dec. 3, and at the St. Paul Central Library at 2 p.m. Dec. 11.)

"A VIEW OF THE LAKE" by Beryl Singleton Bissell (Lake Superior Port Cities, $16.95 )

If it has ever occurred to you -- as it certainly has to many, especially in the summer -- to chuck it all and move up to the North Shore, Beryl Singleton Bissell's memoir about moving rather impetuously to Schroeder, Minn., will both inspire and caution. In essays originally published in her local paper, she writes about the people, the weather, the animals and, of course, that lake.

"SHEEPISH" by Catherine Friend (DaCapo Press, $16)

Nearly 20 years ago, Catherine Friend and her partner moved to a farm near Zumbrota, Minn., to raise sheep, goats, chickens and llamas. In her newest memoir, "Sheepish," a charming and very funny sequel to "Hit by a Farm," Friend explores the indignities and joys of sheepherding. (Friend will sign books with Beth Dooley at 1 p.m. Dec. 3 at Magers & Quinn in Uptown.)

"SHELTER" by Sarah Stonich (Borealis Books, $24.95)

After her divorce, Sarah Stonich felt the pull toward north, toward the part of the state where her father grew up and where she spent summers. In her memoir, "Shelter," she buys a patch of unimproved land and gets to work building a new home -- and a new life. (Stonich will read at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20 at the University Club in St. Paul as part of the Carol Connolly Reading Series.)

"ONE DAY I WILL WRITE ABOUT THIS PLACE" by Binyavanga Wainaina (Graywolf Press, $24

Binyavanga Wainaina's remarkable, lyrical memoir about growing up in Kenya brings to life the cacophony of languages, sounds and smells of Nairobi in strong, luminous prose. "This book is important because it brings us news from a part of Kenya seldom heard from," says our reviewer, Emily Carter. "And it brings us a new voice, one that is anthropomorphic, poetic and pointed."

POETRY

"WHORLED" by Ed Bok Lee (Coffee House Press, $16)

Twin Cities spoken-word artist Ed Bok Lee proves that words on paper can be as powerful as words spoken. The poems in his second collection, "Whorled," are "alternately devastating and grandstanding, word-drunk and built for speed," says our reviewer, John Freeman.

"TALKING INTO THE EAR OF A DONKEY" by Robert Bly (W.W. Norton, $24.95)

Nature and spirituality permeate Robert Bly's poetry, and the poems in his latest collection, "while spiritual, celebrate the worldly delights: shining fish, giant moose and birdsong," said our reviewer, Elizabeth Hoover. "He often contrasts the contented wisdom of nature with the human longing for meaning."

"THINGS TO SAY TO A DEAD MAN" by Jane Yolen (Holy Cow! Press, $15.95)

Jane Yolen, prolific writer of children's books, addresses grief in these poignant poems written after her husband's death from cancer. Raw in their sadness and detail, these poems also show, ultimately, that there can be great beauty in loss.

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