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James Lileks

Columnist | Variety
Phone: 612-673-7858

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
This is the vibrant heart of a great city? It’s an anti-human bunker.

Four ways to save Minneapolis: Demolish City Center — or most of it

The 1980s blank wall of a building fails to offer what a vital city center needs: connection.
Decorations at USBank Plaza. Not spectacular, but hey, it’s something!

Lileks: Ranking the downtown trees

Do people still think of downtown Minneapolis as a holiday-decoration destination?Possibly not. Without a Holidazzle — and I mean the old-style, with the incandescent parade…
Lileks: Let there be light (if you have the password)

Lileks: Let there be light (if you have the password)

Me, January 2023: "Ha-ha, future self, I'm just jamming these Christmas lights in the bin in a big wad, knowing it will take an hour…
There were 115 tellers’ stations at the new Northwestern National Bank when it opened in XXXX. Mildred Mullowney was the first customer to make a de

A ferocious fire in 1982 destroyed a Minneapolis bank but left a Charles Lindbergh plane unscathed

The Northwestern National Bank Building, full of tall columns and grand marble, was completely lost.
James Lileks’ dog is named Birch, a reflection of his color.

Lileks: What your dog's name says about you

"Huntington" is not one of them.
Lileks: The Christmas catalog season is a gift all its own

Lileks: The Christmas catalog season is a gift all its own

The mail brings a sheaf of catalogs every day, and they all fall into one of several categories.
Be careful how you use — or don’t use —  punctuation in texts.

In praise of proper punctuation

I have finally learned to let go of punctuation while textingYou, on the other hand ... Keeping doing this ... Stop itLet me explain. A…
Want to comment on your shopping experience? These days, you can submit a video.

Lileks: Ratings aren't enough — now stores want your video praise

Wife: "We need bleach." Me, shifting instantly into instinctive hunter-gatherer mode: "I will venture out and secure some bleach." Later, at the store: I am…
Resetting our clocks twice a year has become a ritual that isn’t likely to change.

Lileks: It's too late to argue about daylight savings time

We will revisit this in the spring, have the same conversation, and change nothing.
If Beer World is half as enchanting as the ads make it seem, who wouldn’t want to visit?

Lileks: A toast to the enchanted land of Beer World

I wish I could visit Beer World. I only know what I see in the ads, but that's where Beer World exists. It is a…
One difference between men and women: the number of pillows on a bed.

Lileks: Pillow-piling and other tactics in the battle of the sexes

The very name of the sham pillowcase tells you it's a lie.
Margaret Hamilton and Peg Lynch, from the “Ethel and Albert” TV show.

Lileks: What if the most evil being in the land of Oz was your aunt?

Growing up with the Wicked Witch of the West.
The briefcase, once a symbol of corporate clout, has fallen on tough times.

Lileks: The once prestigious briefcase has lost out to backpacks

They're more practical, but lack structure and purpose.
When you have to put up photos and awnings to make the building look human, something’s wrong with the original design.

One of the ugliest buildings in downtown Minneapolis will likely be demolished. Should we care?

The YWCA sticks out like a sore thumb. But it is an example of a certain style of architecture.
Too bad we can’t negotiate for everything the way we can for cable TV.

Lileks: Need to cut costs? It might be easier than you think

What if just asking works everywhere, and we don't know it because we never think to try?
Lileks: It's time for a new Halloween candy

Lileks: It's time for a new Halloween candy

We have become complacent and stagnant, and a national initiative to regain our confectionary edge is needed, stat.
The latest trend in decorating with pumpkins: stacking them.

Lileks: Stacking is the new pumpkin paradigm

Arranging them in a row is passé.
Sir Michael Palin, taken recently in London.

From Monty Python to WWI: Michael Palin's new book resurrects his long-lost great uncle

The prolific actor, comedian, writer and producer has created the silly and the sublime.
A list of “iconic” Minnesota locations could include all the places that Mary Tyler Moore never actually lived, worked or visited.

Lileks: Our pop-culture landmark status is far from famous

We just need more history.
Does your dog understand you better than your partner does?

Lileks: Does your dog understand you better than your partner?

The relationship between dogs and humans is not about ice cream and TV.
According to the latest surveys, our coffee scene doesn’t garner much respect from outsiders.

Lileks: Our coffee may be weak, but ... OK, there is no but

Worse than New Jersey?
Northrup, September 2023

The University of Minnesota's Northrop Mall is grand — but it could've been glorious

Cass Gilbert's original plans called for a European-style plaza leading to an open-air theater, a botanical garden and a small harbor.
We mocked so-called elevator music in the 1970s, but now that it’s gone, we miss it.

Lileks: It's time to bring back 'elevator music'

Perhaps we'd be a less jangly society if vapid mood music was the norm.
Salesman Ron Falato demonstrated a paring knife at the State Fair.

The fair is over but the stuff we bought lives on

We are at the point in September where we regret, or celebrate, our State Fair impulse purchases. One year I was watching this guy make…
The newly crowned Miss Downtown Minneapolis Sandra Lee Larson on Nicollet Mall.

Who were the Miss Downtown Minneapolis winners and what did they do?

For years, young women were selected to serve as civic champions, winning mink coats and accolades in the process.
A small portable iron.

Lileks: The boomer skills have outlived their usefulness

Sometimes you see a link to an article headlined "50 things Boomers Did That Are Useless Now," and you cannot resist. You know you will…
Lileks: Has your phone's speech-to-text sap cotton wurst?

Lileks: Has your phone's speech-to-text sap cotton wurst?

I know the technology is amazing, and we take it for granted — but I'm convinced it's broken, and I'm not alone.
Instead of new foods, the State Fair needs more welcoming entrances

Instead of new foods, the State Fair needs more welcoming entrances

How about a giant gopher? We know just where it should go.
The State Fair is crowded with strange people wearing stranger T-shirts and eating even stranger foods, but many people consider that part of its allu

Lileks: Don't love the Minnesota State Fair? You're not alone.

Here are six reasons you may not want to go.
Ron Kelsey, owner of the world’s largest seed bag collection

Lileks: Minnesota State Fair history? It's in the bag

75 years of rural design.
The lure of getting back on stage overcame the anxiety of auditioning.

Lileks: A star is born ... well, not even close, actually

We're all acting, a little. Our early years are full of auditions.
Mill City Church, at 685 13th Av. NE. in Minneapolis. In the background to the right is Christ Family Kingdom Center.

A Minneapolis block may hold a world record for churches

The four houses of worship in Northeast have long histories.
The Skyride, on a sunny day at the fair.

These new Minnesota State Fair attractions join our old fair traditions

Additions abound, but most of us go to the fair to do (and eat) our favorite old things again and again.
Eventually, the things we want to remember end up in a box that we store next to other boxes of things we want to remember.

Lileks: There's no clean break when you're cleaning out a grown kid's room

You're either a saver or a tosser.
A locally made “Titanic” sequel would need to have a schmaltzy romance like the one between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the original.

Lileks: Some gigantic notions about a Minnesota 'Titanic' sequel

The Titanic wasn't the only sinking ship in the sea.
Moviegoers filled a Minneapolis movie theater.

Lileks: Why don't we ask for refunds at the movie theater more often?

My seat was behind a railing that cut through the view of the screen.
Minnesota dogs don’t get much love from the internet.

Lileks: Three cheers for our ugly mutts

The honor of our dogs has been sullied, and this cannot be allowed to stand. Or sit, and stay. A survey by Mixbook Photo…
Margot Robbie in “Barbie.”

Lileks: 'Barbie' movie brings back sweet memories for this dad

I don't speak Barbie, but I associate the character with some of the happiest, simplest days a dad can have.
Skittles is about to introduce its newest flavor — mustard.

Lileks: Mustard in Skittles is the devil's work

Skittles candy is releasing a new flavor: mustard. Why? What sins have we committed to deserve these sadistic confectionary combos? This is the point where…
Lileks: Think extra crunchy cookies are good? Then rock on

Lileks: Think extra crunchy cookies are good? Then rock on

This might mean new warnings on packages: This product was processed in a facility that contained nuts, granite, milk and marble.
Lileks: Taco Tuesday is now for everyone

Lileks: Taco Tuesday is now for everyone

Taco John's has been fighting to hold the copyright to the term "Taco Tuesday," but now they're letting it slip from their tired grasp.…
Once you have edged the lawn, you must edge again, because the disorder will bother you.

Lileks: We'll return to our regular yard work right after this message

A video cannot possibly presume all the ways in which you might make a bonehead mistake.
Lileks: New State Fair foods leave us in a pickle

Lileks: New State Fair foods leave us in a pickle

Honestly, we're fine.
How many versions of classic potato salad are there?

Lileks: The great Minnesota potato salad schism

Pick a faction.
Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in “Barbie.”

Lileks: Here's what will happen if you see the Barbie movie

Don't make me do this.
Lowry Avenue Bridge

The best bridges in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the story behind each

More than a city of Lakes, Minneapolis is a city of bridges. We have so many that we have spares, like the Third Avenue and…
Does ketchup belong in the refrigerator? The debate continues.

Lileks: Where to you fall on the Great Ketchup Debate? Fridge or cupboard?

The answer is "no."
Scooter drivers too rarely use the bike lane.

Lileks: Hey, scooter drivers, get off my sidewalk

You're going to put someone's eye out!
In the early 1900s, steam boats shuttled people to and from Big Island Park along Lake Minnetonka.

In 1906, it was full steam ahead for Lake Minnetonka's Big Island Park

The amusement park promised carousels, roller coasters and modern luxuries.
Lileks: Summertime, and the complainin' is easy

Lileks: Summertime, and the complainin' is easy

In old newspapers, "drought" is often spelled "drowt." It suggests that readers were confused by the proper spelling and thought it should be pronounced "dro-you-ghet?"…
A robin sat on her nest.

Lileks: Disturb a robin's nest, go to jail?

We signed a treaty with birds?
Lileks: Credit cards are getting coy and cagey

Lileks: Credit cards are getting coy and cagey

I was unaware my card was capable of astral projection.
Lileks: An ordinary day and extraordinary memory

Lileks: An ordinary day and extraordinary memory

It was Father's Day, too many years ago. The best gift possible: Time together and a memory made.
Waste Management worker Daniel Westerhaus emptied trash bins.

Lileks: Feeling the rhythm of the trash bins

Every sensible person has wondered: What if I am right, and the whole world is mad? What if I see things as they truly are,…
Apple’s Vision Pro headset, on display at the company’s headquarters, will not be available until next year.

Lileks: With Vision Pro, Apple wants us to focus on the big picture

It's like a big TV, except it's strapped to your head and follows you to the bathroom on commercial breaks.
A bicyclist rode on the Midtown Greenway.

Lileks: New stop-sign law deals blow to non-bikers' superiority complex

Without opportunities for silent disapproval, we're at risk of losing our ability to be passive-aggressive when it really counts.
Bavarian dancers erected a traditional Maypole on May 1.

Lileks: We're going to miss you, May

There's so much May, and there's never enough.It's one of those jumbo months, 31 days — who could ask for more? All of us. It…
Lileks: It's time to graduate from 'Pomp and Circumstance'

Lileks: It's time to graduate from 'Pomp and Circumstance'

There are others, you know.
AM car radios likely will soon be a thing of the past.

Lileks: AM car radios are fading out

News item: Some carmakers are dropping AM radios from their new models because electric cars interfere with the signal. Your reaction: Gosh, what's next to…
Lileks: His attempts to grow grass are like a salute to male pattern baldness

Lileks: His attempts to grow grass are like a salute to male pattern baldness

Our columnist declares war on the weeds in his lawn.
Do you remember what was said at your high school graduation speech? We asked our columnists for the advice they dispensed at theirs.

What we learned from our own high school graduation speeches

Our columnists recalled the advice they dispensed to their peers decades ago. Do they stand by their words?
Lileks: It's the opening of skeeter season — does anything keep them away?

Lileks: It's the opening of skeeter season — does anything keep them away?

Let's consider our options.
Minnesotans greeting a stranger have perfected the art of saying a lot by saying very little.

A turning point in learning to speak the Minnesota code

Spring is here, it's ours, and we're going to savor all 17 days of it.
Heffelfinger fountain in the Lyndale Park Rose Garden in Minneapolis.

Great cities have great fountains: Here are the 6 best in the Twin Cities

Admire turtles, gargoyles, cherubs and more.
Lileks: Seeking lessons from a BBQ Dad

Lileks: Seeking lessons from a BBQ Dad

A Craigslist ad went viral the other day, and for good reason: A group of young men wanted to hire a "BBQ Dad" to…

Lileks: If stores incorrectly post a low price for an item, is it OK to make them honor it?

Adventures in the check-out lane come with a moral dilemma.
Lileks: The Post Office regrets to inform you ...

Lileks: The Post Office regrets to inform you ...

Anyone keeping track of the precipitous decline of civilizational standards can add this to the list: The other day I received a piece of mail…
A mother and her baby girl sat in an airline seat.

Lileks: The scream war at 35,000 feet

It's man-baby vs. baby, man
What will Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport charge us for next?

Lileks: Is the airport taxing Minnesota nice?

Add the hospitality tax to high prices and it's downright inhospitable.
Do IQ test really judge how well our minds work?

Lileks: Are Minnesotans smarter than North Dakotans?

On average, no.
Martin Cooper held a contemporary copy of the device he used to make the first cellphone call in 1973.

Lileks: Happy birthday to a chattering millstone

That techno-marvel in your hand? It's 50 years old.
Electronic ordering panels in a Chicago McDonald’s restaurant.

Lileks: Kiosks are killing the fast-food clerks

What's better: a day filled with irritating human encounters, or one where every transaction has the rote, sterile perfection you get when dealing with a well-programmed machine?
Macy’s Furniture Gallery in Edina is an example of an earth-sheltered building, a short-lived fad in commercial architecture.

Macy's furniture store in Edina is facing the wrecking ball. It's not a big loss.

The 1970s "earth-sheltered" building has fans.
When AI takes over pizza delivery, we all might risk starving to death.

Lileks: AI certainly is no pie in the sky

Pizza delivery lacks certain ingredients for success.

Lileks: What's Minnesota's most popular nightmare?

The most recent survey of the world's nightmares boils them down to two categories: snakes and teeth falling out.