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James Lileks

Columnist | Variety
Phone: 612-673-7858
Location: Minneapolis
Other languages: None

James Lileks is a Star Tribune columnist. 

Lileks, a Minneapolis resident since 1976: "I've never repeated myself once. I don't like to say I write a 'humor' column, since that's subjective. What might be amusing to me might leave you poker-faced. Let's just say my columns are not intended to be taken seriously." He also writes "Streetscape" pieces, which detail the delights and errors, past and present, of the Twin Cities urban environment. He's the author of four novels, four pop-culture "humor" books on vintage subjects and two collections of columns. "People who like my stuff will probably like, and those who don't are probably grateful for the heads-up, and will avoid it," Lileks says.
Recent content from James Lileks
Birch, the rescue dog, waits for food.

Pets: When your dog growls at you

Despite his training, our rescue dog still goes a bit feral over certain foods.
On the fourth Thursday in November, we feast.

Lileks: Let's move Thanksgiving to another day

We have no idea when the first Thanksgiving really took place. It could have been a Monday in September.
The 1950 Gophers football team carried coach “Bernie” Bierman off the field after their lone win of the season. Bierman resigned earlier that week

Minnesota Moment: A movie moment for the Grey Eagle

University of Minnesota football coach "Bernie" Bierman stood on the sidelines for the last time Nov. 18, 1950.
Tiger Roholt and his special guest, Stan Lee.

The time a 12-year-old kid brought Stan Lee to Minnesota

In 1978, a Minneapolis kid held a comic book convention at the Ridgedale shopping center, and his special guest was Stan Lee.
Stan Lee, the Marvel Comics maestro and co-creator of Spider-Man, X-Men and Black Panther, was loved by fans.

Why we loved Stan Lee

A fan explains why we loved the Marvel Comic maverick.
Southwest Minnesota offers a patchwork of farm fields and rolling dirt roads.

Lileks: Lessons from getting down to Loose Minnesota

Last week I had the opportunity to drive to the southwest part of the state, to get out of the city, breathe some country air…
Feel better?

Lileks: Why you should put up your holiday lights now

A study nags you to get in the holiday mood ASAP. Your happiness depends on it.
Ditches across Minnesota filled with cars as the Armistice Day blizzard hit several states in 1940. Parts of Minnesota got more than 2 feet of snow.

Minnesota Moment: The deadly Armistice Day blizzard

The Star Journal's headline tells the story of the storm: "City, Northwest Buried by Worst November Storm; Death Toll Rises; Many Still Lost; Cold to Continue."
The midcentury skyscraper was severe but serene, unadorned and unconcerned with things like context or history. It was a machine for making money. If

How the shape of windows tells the history of Twin Cities architecture

Windows are more than just a means to bring in light and air; they're a way to read the style and technology of an era.
The Zombie Walk, a march consisting of a large group of people who dress zombies in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Nov. 2, 2018.

The word of the week: Zomboid

This word is a grave mistake
Coya Knutson took calls at her Oklee, Minn., home in 1954 after she was elected to Congress.

Minnesota Moment: Coya Knutson makes history

A schoolteacher became the first woman elected by Minnesotans to serve in the U.S. House.

Lileks: Neat stuff that doesn't work is cooler than old stuff that doesn't

A year ago, I replaced the old-style doorbell with a video device that pipes an image of the visitor right to my phone, showing me…
Don't forget to turn your clocks back.

Lileks: Everything (and more) about daylight saving time

Why not fall forward? And other questions.

Lileks: You think that winning the lottery won't change you? Ha!

That existential void isn't going to fill itself.
ValleyFair Spooky Trick or Treat at ValleyScare 2016 Fall Arts Preview pick

Lileks: How to ruin Halloween for everyone

Halloween might look like a child's holiday, a merry pretext for costumes and candy, but if you're a pedantic killjoy like me, it can be…
A sure sign of adulthood: You actually ask for a shot.

Lileks: Recalling the bad old days of flu shots

I wrote some breezy japery about the flu a few weeks ago, and some readers thought I was minimizing the need for a shot or…

Lileks: A look at Amazon's demise in the year 2079

A look to the future, when retail tastes shift again.
The Charles M. Babcock memorial in Elk River, the day before its dedication in 1947.

Minnesota Monument: Honoring the father of Minnesota's highway system

A monument to Charles M. Babcock was dedicated on his homesite in Elk River in 1947.

The word of the week: Tea

This 'tea' is a tart drink, indeed
Sliced American cheese no longer cuts the mustard with younger consumers.

Lileks: Does American cheese deserve to die?

The millennials' newest victim, according to Bloomberg News, is American cheese.
Some fall color along the North Shore.

Lileks: Are drab leaf colors really the most disappointing thing about fall?

Most of us have three phases: 1. Oh, the leaves are starting to turn. Pretty! 2. Hmm, they're all brown. 3. Well, they're gone. In a week it'll be dark at 4:54 p.m. Why do I live here?
It may be time to go through the junk drawer.

Lileks: Who is this dead Swede, and why is he so tidy?

They call it Swedish death cleaning: You approach your possessions as if you were charged with emptying out your house after you’ve died. No one…
Was Franken Berry cobbled together from the corpses of strawberries?

Lileks: Who's to blame for long Halloween season? Ask Franken Berry

Perhaps we've become tired of being tired of pumpkin spice.
When Southdale opened in 1956 — with Dayton’s and Donaldsons as its anchors — there wasn’t much else around it.

Minnesota Moment: Southdale, our first 'nation's biggest mall'

Visionary architect Victor Gruen saw the enclosed shopping center as an antidote to the Twin Cities area's car-centric development.

Lileks: When China thinks you're in the market for panic bars

Once a week, I am reminded that someone in China thinks I am an industrial-supply executive. Here's the latest e-mail:Dears,The is Vepin from Tybonder Co.,…
Pedestrians in downtown Minneapolis are guided or cautioned by a cacophony of disembodied voices.

Why Twin Cities walk signals and garage alerts should have Minnesota accents

Talking walk signals and parking garage alerts add to the urban cacophony. At least they could speak Minnesotan.
Whatever temperature you pick, your spouse is likely to disagree.

Lileks: Have you turned on the heat yet?

Firing up the furnace is a rite of autumn.
A 1910 automobile ad in the Minneapolis Tribune.

Minnesota Moment: Brave motorists head for far-off South Dakota in 1910

At the time, drivers faced potholes, mud, meandering paths and horses headed in the opposite direction.
There’s a generational disinterest in mail.

Lileks: Are millennials about to stamp out the mail?

All post offices should be closed. Except for the one closest to my house. For that matter, can we be finished with daily mail deliveries?…
Calhoun Square in Uptown.

Lileks: Is South Uptown really a better name for CARAG?

If you call yourself Uptown, you have to deal with the eternal complaint that "Uptown is so over."
The Northwestern Bell Tower in 1939.

Minnesota Moment: Northwestern Bell tower rises during Depression

Northwestern Bell Phone Co. announced plans for an enormous new tower next to City Hall in Minneapolis, just before the stock market crash.

James Lileks: Zero-star reviews deserve zero stars

The lawn sprinkler had a lifetime guarantee. Yours, or its, that's the question.If it ceases to work, it's dead, and its lifetime is over. When…

Lileks: Let's play Flu Shot Roulette yet again

Roll up your sleeve: It's questionably effective flu shot season again.
Horace Greeley praised Minnesota’s weather during his stop in 1871.

Minnesota Moment: When Greeley came to the fair – the other fair

In addition to talking about crops, the author, newspaper editor, politician and all-around public intellectual also praised Minnesota's weather.
Is a thief lurking? (Dreamstime)

Lileks: Porch theft is rampant in Minneapolis! Or is it?

Minneapolis is No. 3 in packages stolen from the porch, according to We are possibly No. 4 in purloined patches, according to, but…
A pair of ruby slippers once worn by actress Judy Garland in the “The Wizard of Oz” are displayed at a news conference Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, at

Lileks: How the Ruby Red Slipper Case really unfolded

You could say the crook slippered up

Lileks: Grubby little fiends

The other day I was reading the news on my phone, and accidentally clicked on an ad. My screen was taken over by a picture…
The fair has no car traffic, yet there are streets and sidewalks.

Why the Minnesota State Fair could be a template for our future cities

We've got a model of the New Urbanism design movement right here in the Twin Cities: It's called the Minnesota State Fair.
The Mighty Midway at the Minnesota State Fair.

Lileks: What will the State Fair be like in half a century?

It's one thing we don't want to change.

Lileks: Why old TV was bad

My wife made a reference to the "summer TV season" the other day, and I had to check to see if we hadn't time-traveled back…
It's State Fair time again.

Lileks: Let's enjoy some meaningless State Fair stats

Some things about the fair you might not know.

Lileks: Excuse us while we gripe about our neighbors' complaints

“For immediate release,” said the public relations e-mail. That was three weeks ago. I like to let them know who’s boss. Now that a decent…
Brookstone, the ubiquitous seller of cool but largely unneeded things, is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Lileks: It's (mostly) my fault Brookstone stores are closing

Retail's secret weapon: People
Minnesota-style pizza truly is museum-worthy.

Lileks: Why the new Pizza Museum should be in Minnesota

Minnesota is true pizza pioneer.
“Titanic,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet is a “truvie.” Spoiler alert: It sinks.

Word of the week: Truvie

To tell the truth (cinematically)
Canny entrepreneurs are already selling permanent straws.

Lileks: How to tell if your straw is a forgery

Straws probably will be banned before they're relegated to Designated Sipping Areas. And then what? How will you get fluids from cup to maw? Don't worry. Canny entrepreneurs are already selling permanent straws.
Some years Target hangs a giant yellow pencil over the front of the store.

Lileks: Back to school talk already? Stop it

They're already out of everything!
Ten-Forward vodka is inspired by "Star Trek."

Drink up, Trekkies – this vodka is for you

New line of booze was inspired by the hit sci-fi TV series and includes a taste of space.
Chicken Soupe au Pistou with Zucchini Noodles.

Word of the week: Zoodles

It's what you make if you have oodles of zucchini and you're tired of zucchini bread.

Lileks: But what do they do to the cows? What?

Drove back and forth to Fargo this week. Split time between Hwy. 10, the miniseries, and I-94, the three-hour movie. Here is a report.1. There…

Lileks: 10-4, good buddy, we got Secret Smokey and 'bear meat'

State Patrol paranoia lightens a lead foot on I-94.
There’s a trick for not running out of propane.

Lileks: So the propane hose is hissing? I'll just light it anyway

Altogether now, men, what's your first instinct? We are daredevils who scoff at danger.
The Minnesota IDs has a new security feature: If you hold the license up to the light, a walleye is visible.

Lileks: Is that a new Minnesota driver's license or a fishing permit?

New licenses aren't Real ID, but they do have a walleye.

Lileks: You can check in anytime you want, but you can never log out

Marriott hotels has announced that it will use facial recognition to check in guests in some Chinese hotels. It'll happen here, eventually. As much as…
Wise Acre Eatery, 5401 Nicollet Av. S., Minneapolis, is one of two former gas stations at that intersection converted to other uses.

How a corner gas station can make a Twin Cities neighborhood vibrant

Corner gas stations can invite visitors to linger, and hopefully enjoy an urban neighborhood.
Three Bird scooters at 9th and Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis.

Lileks: What it was like to ride a scooter in downtown Minneapolis

Electric scooters look fun, fancy-free and speedy. Are they fun? Yes. Useful? Well. ...

Lileks: Camp is for snipes, slivers and sunburn

There were dozens of sleeping bags, soft and bulging like caterpillar pupae. There was a neat line of tiny suitcases — pink, with ponies; black,…
The 1917 Minneapolis city plan placed a plaza on 4th Street. This view looks east.

Minneapolis once had a chance to be the Paris of the Plains

If the city had adopted a 1917 plan, it would have looked like the City of Light, with diagonal boulevards and roundabouts.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

National Portrait Gallery is one of Washington, D.C.'s best.

The National Portrait Gallery's unsung collection includes outsider art, presidential portraits and other gems.

Lileks: In the war against mosquitoes, we always lose

Nothing ever works. They've got us outnumbered. We are here to be eaten.
Not all text messages are on point, much less on target.

Word of the week: Mismessaged

Get the message?
Hardware store.

Lileks: Study says you only go to 25 places. Really? That many?

According to a new study, people visit exactly 25 places over and over again. According to another study, lazy newspaper columnists bloviate about any “study”…
Oreos come in every conceivable flavor, including State Fair.

Lileks: Oreo's new 'State Fair' flavor neglects to put Minnesota on the box

Oreos are now available in State Fair flavor. But is it the taste of the Minnesota State Fair or some wannabe?

Lileks: A reader's guide to summer book clichés

It's summer reading time, we're told. Apparently people who read nothing more substantial than the back of the cereal box now go to the beach…
Must the firework be purchased in another state, or through nefarious means? It is not legal.

Lileks: A handy guide to legal vs. illegal fireworks

Hint: If it's fun, it's illegal.
The old Forum Cafeteria.

An ode to the Forum, a lost Art Deco masterpiece from 1930s Minneapolis

It’s not the food people remember. It’s the decor. The Forum was a bright Art Deco masterpiece, opening in 1930 to give the city what…
Construction continued along 5th Avenue S. during the evening rush hour Friday.

Lileks: Scenes from the Ken Burns doc on 35W reconstruction

  Scenes from Ken Burns’ next epic documentary, “Homeward Bound: An account of Road Construction in Minneapolis.” (Bittersweet fiddle music. Voice-over actor reads a letter.)…
Homewood Suites by Hilton is rising at 66th Street and York Avenue S.

How to fix ugly suburban intersections in the Twin Cities

By adapting modern design trends, an intersection near Southdale gets a much needed update.
A raccoon captured attention (and hearts) in a skyscraper escapade in downtown St. Paul.

Lileks: It's Father's Day, and the St. Paul raccoon is so grounded

Don't make me come up there, kids.
It's getting more difficult for travelers to compare the cost of a flight on different carriers.

Lileks: $97 to Paris, or, lies the internet tells us

Taking a flight can be full of misery and anxiety; why shouldn't the experience of booking one be, too?
Kent Whitworth, the new CEO of the Minnesota Historical Society, remembers visiting Split Rock Lighthouse as a child.

New CEO of Minn. Historical Society looks to the future: 'We're in the experience business'

Maximizing inclusion and experience is at the top of Kent Whitworth's to-do list.

Lileks: Should we feel a twinge of guilt when we wipe out the ants?

Sorry, ants, you blew it by moving into this yard.

Lileks: You'll never forget when the bus is due

Daughter will be graduated from high school this week, and I cannot tell you how conflicted I am about this. Some say "will be graduating"…
From the June 1, 1934, Minneapolis Star: Fern Greenberg, left, and Sadie Pilch fried eggs on the sidewalk on 5th St. between 2nd and 3rd Avs. N. The e

Lileks: Think last weekend was hot? Try sweating through the 1934 'drouth'

Reading the papers, you realize how much things have changed for the better.

Lileks: Why June bugs are nature's most annoying insects

The other night, I sat outside with a nice cool beverage and started to yell at my wife. Nothing bad; we just live under the…
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