When it comes to literary merit, Minnesotans have a lot to be proud of. We're home to three of the largest nonprofit literary publishers (Graywolf Press, Coffee House Press, and Milkweed Editions) and the largest nonprofit literary center in the United States (the Loft Literary Center). Also, Minneapolis and St. Paul are frequently ranked among the most literate cities.
So it should come as no surprise that there are shelves upon shelves of books that take place in Minnesota. While the list could go on and on, here are our top 15 picks for books set in our great Land of the 10,000 Lakes (in no particular order).
Year in Review 2012: Literature
Vestments by John Reimringer (2011)
Setting: St. Paul, MN
This book has been called a love letter to St. Paul. The main character, James Dressler, is a priest who finds himself on a temporary leave of absence due to a momentary weakness of the flesh with his high-school sweetheart. He heads back to his childhood home in St. Paul where, among other things, he works through the dynamics of his dysfunctional relationship with his drunk and violent father. Reimringer makes St. Paul his other main character, describing the city with as much care as he does James's convoluted relationships, faith, and self-reflection.
Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor (1985)
Setting: Lake Wobegon, MN (fictional)
The term "quintessentially Minnesotan" could certainly be used to describe the writing of Garrison Keillor. The man has created a Minnesota world of his own through his radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, which brought about the inspiration for the fictional town of Lake Wobegon. Lake Wobegon Days was the bestseller that brought Keillor and his Minnesota brand to national light with its layered collection of stories featuring the eccentric, stoic, Lutheran characters of the fictional town.
Little House on the Prairie: On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1937)
Setting: Near Walnut Grove, MN
We'd be remiss if our list didn't include this children's classic. In the book -- the only one in the series set in Minnesota -- the Ingalls family settles in a dugout on the banks of Plum Creek. Here, Laura and her sister Mary go to school for the first time, a grasshopper plague brings devastating ruin to crops, and Pa meets his match in a blizzard.
The Long Shining Waters by Danielle Sosin (2011)
Setting: Lake Superior
The Long Shining Waters follows three women, each from a different century, whose stories are tied together by the shores of Lake Superior. Grey Rabbit, an Ojibwe woman from the 1600s, struggles to understand her increasingly powerful and disturbing dreams when they start bleeding into reality. Norwegian Berrit lives with her fisherman husband Gunnar in 1902, and has a push and pull relationship with the lake she lives near. Then there's Nora, a seasoned, no-nonsense bar owner in the new millennium who takes a haphazard road trip around the lake when her bar -- and her livelihood -- burns down. Each woman is tested by Lake Superior, which brings them to their knees in vulnerability but also gives them strength.
Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace (1943)
Setting: Deep Valley, MN (fictional town based on Mankato, MN)
The entire Betsy/Tacy series, most of which is set in Minnesota, may bring back childhood memories for some. The series is based on the life and friends of Maud Hart Lovelace, with the title character modeled after the author herself. In Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Betsy, Tacy, and their friend Tib befriend opera-house owner Mr. Poppy, discover theater, and ride in the first horseless carriage in town.
The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang (2008)
Setting: St. Paul, MN
The Latehomecomer is the compelling, true account of author Kao Kalia Yang's journey with her family from from the forests of Laos, to a refugee camp in Thailand, to St. Paul where they made their home. Here, Yang explores the harrowing circumstances Hmong families faced post-war as they fled Laos, as well as the everyday difficulties she dealt with as she adjusted to life in a new country. It's an opportunity to see St. Paul through another perspective, a perspective of struggle and change.
Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (1920)
Setting: Gopher Prairie, MN (a fictional town based on Sauk Centre)
In Main Street, a St. Paul woman marries a small-town man who convinces her to move back with him to his hometown. The main character, Carol Kennicott, grows frustrated with the backward ways of the town, and tries to reform folks to no avail. Instead, she is viciously shut out by cliques. While many small-town folks were offended by the portrayal of small-town people as ignorant and malicious, the novel still stands as a classic today.
The Music of Failure by Bill Holm (1985)
Setting: Minneota, MN
Bill Holm's rhythmic writing style comes through in his other writing as much as it does in his poetry. This collection of philosophical essays and prose poems explores and examines the land he and his Icelandic ancestors called home, and the communities gathered on that land. The animals and people inhabiting the western Minnesota prairies are fleshed out with Holm's eye for details and craft.