Here is a wholly subjective list of titles -- reflecting the opinions of a cross-section of the state's bibliophiles -- that evoke Minnesota's people and places.
"Main Street," by Sinclair Lewis (1920). The Nobel laureate's enduring portrait of small-town Minnesota life is hardly a valentine, but it still packs a punch and is still being read.
"A History of Minnesota," by William W. Folwell (1921). A definitive history of the state's early years, written by a man who was instrumental in shaping a good deal of the history he recorded.
"Giants in the Earth," by O.E. Rolvaag (1927). Masterpiece of 19th-century immigrant life on the prairies by a Norwegian who settled in Minnesota and became a professor at St. Olaf College.
"Millions of Cats," by Wanda Gag (1928). Though not explicitly Minnesotan in setting or detail, a pure product of Gag's upbringing in New Ulm.
"The Voyageur," by Grace Lee Nute (1931). Colorful and meticulously researched mix of history, sociology and folklore that remains fascinating.
"Canoeing With the Cree," by Eric Sevareid (1935). Seminal journalist's classic account of youthful adventure in the North Country.
"On the Banks of Plum Creek," by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1937). This story of the peripatetic Wilder family's days in a sod hut near the southwestern Minnesota town of Walnut Grove is one of the best in the eternally popular series.
"Canoe Country," by Florence Page Jaques (1938). Beautifully designed and illustrated (by her husband, Francis Lee Jaques) primer on the enduring romance of the Arrowhead Region.
"The WPA Guide to Minnesota" (1938). Essential, chock full of history and arcana, and still incredibly useful.
The Betsy-Tacy books, by Maud Hart Lovelace (1940-1955). Nostalgia- inducing children's classics set in Mankato.
The works of Frederick Manfred (1944-1992). Prolific and larger-than-life chronicler of the mythology and history of western Minnesota and the Dakotas.
"North Star Country," by Meridel LeSueur (1945). Folklore approach to the history of the state, notable for its populist zeal and obvious affection for regional characters.
"The Singing Wilderness," by Sigurd Olson (1956). A defining and meditative collection of essays by one of the fiercest defenders of Minnesota's natural resources.
"The Face of Minnesota," by John Szarkowski (1958). Back in print after 40 years, the influential photographer/curator's sweeping portrait of the state and its people remains exhaustive and inspiring.
"Morte D'Urban," by J.F. Powers (1962). National Book Award winner by arguably the state's most elegant and criminally neglected writer.
"Shall We Gather at the River," by James Wright (1968). Sparsely detailed snapshots of the Twin Cities and the state emerge time and again in Wright's haunting and elegiac collection.
"Wind Chill Factor," by Thomas Gifford (1975). The first of the blockbuster mystery-suspense novels to come out of Minnesota.
"Staggerford," by Jon Hassler (1977). Hassler's debut was perhaps the best of his funny, tender and beloved Minnesota novels.
"Letters From the Country," by Carol Bly (1981). A tough, practical and clear-eyed series of essays, polemics and meditations on life in the rural western half of the state.
"A Romantic Education," by Patricia Hampl (1981). Indelible portrait of a childhood in St. Paul by a master of the memoir.
"Lake Wobegon Days," by Garrison Keillor (1985). Like it or not, this is the one book of relatively recent vintage that has played a huge role in coloring national perceptions of our state.
"Rules of Prey," by John Sandford (1989). The book that launched the hugely popular, Twin Cities-based Lucas Davenport series.
"Grass Roots: The Universe of Home," by Paul Gruchow (1995). A masterful celebration and defense of rural life from an ardent conservationist.
"The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth," by Bill Holm (1996). A loving and erudite portrait of Holm's tiny western Minnesota hometown of Minneota.
"Lake Street," by Wing Young Huie (2001). A concentrated, urban update of Szarkowski's book.