MSP Reading Time: Library Book Sale Season!


Book frenzy!

Well, it really does seem that spring is here in Minnesota (the nasty rumors I hear of the chance of snow next week notwithstanding). I think I feel safe in stating that the worst is behind us. It is only going to get warmer from here on out. I heard a few rumbles of thunder last weekend, and I see the beginnings of the first hostas of the spring poking out of gardens I pass on the way to work. The sign of spring I appreciate the most, though, is not related to weather. Traditionally, the various branches of the Hennepin County Library system schedule their biannual book sales in March and April, and this has been my main source of books and other media for years now. When I start to smell freshly defrosted dirt or see a few robins poking around in it, I know that soon I will be adding untold new titles into my library. I tell you, it is all I can do to refrain from rubbing my hands together in unmitigated greed when I think of it.


Queue begins for booksale, Westonka Library

Yeah, I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that there are few things I like more than a library book sale, and those offered by the friends of the various Hennepin County libraries are some of the best. As a metro well known for literacy and love of a good book, these are always treasure troves of book deals and it is always an adventure to delve into them in search of lost delights. I literally have dreams about them and what I might find. Featuring boxes and boxes of materials, some slightly damaged or obsolete titles weeded from library collections and some donated by other library patrons, you never know what will be uncovered. Attending a booksale often places you in the center of a book frenzy as book hungry patrons crowd elbow to elbow as they rifle through rows of books new and old looking for a bargain. You often spot regulars, people who show up at many of them, usually early in the lines. While the future of print media and libraries may still be digital, as more and more is offered online, at library sales, books are still king and the smell of yellowed antique paper and and freshly printed pages alike still fill the air.

I would say that at least of quarter of my library has been withdrawn from one public library or another over the years. At this point, I have not read a quarter of these acquisitions and should probably lay off for awhile, at least until I put a dent into my reading list and so some major weeding- after all, I have seven shelves filled to bursting already. This newest haul has put me over the top a little- I may need to invest in another one, at least until I do a little weeding of my own. It is so hard, though!

Last Saturday, I visited probably the best kept secret among the HCL book sales, the Westonka branch Sale in Mound, a bedroom community on the western outskirts of the metro. (Well, maybe, judging by the number of people  there, its not THAT much of a secret). Whereas most county library sales average around $2.00 per hardcover, $1.00 per paperback (still a great deal, don’t get me wrong), Westonka’s prices cannot be beat- they have been asking for a buck a book, and .50 cents per paperback. It’s like it’s the ‘70s or something! Thanks to this, it has attracted a bit of a following. Packing hundreds of titles into its small meeting room, arranged in lose categories, usually with nonfiction forming a protective circle around the fiction, with the children and juvenile materials in the back, there is always something for any taste.

Arriving early at a booksale is essential, in my mind. The books will be fresh, all manner of opportunities still preserved. Being among the first to hit the tables guarantees a good selection. On the other hand, visiting later in the sale can also turn up interesting finds, as stuff that had been buried underneath layers of donations begin to rise to the surface. Also, it is often the custom at HCL booksales that later days are “bag days,” in which books can be purchased in bulk, a dollar for an entire grocery bag stuffed full with treasures.

It can be a little frantic; you and two dozen other people crowding into the Westonka branch’s little conference room, stuffed near to bursting with books of all topics and ages, piles of CDs, DVDs, and even old fashioned VHS, cassette tapes, and vinyls, if you’re into those sort of things! Everyone sifting through the piles, scanning the tables, peeking at the as yet unloaded boxes stashed under the tables, looking for whatever catches their fancies. Some, like myself, are there for the pure joy of scoring cheap books that we had been looking for, while others are making a little money on the side by snatching up whatever is popular on Amazon and reselling them online. This is Minnesota, though, so in general people respect personal space and won’t go shoving past to grab stuff out from under you (mostly!).

I think I can understand a little bit of the bargain hunters’ ; you keep a list of authors and subjects you are looking for in the back of your mind as you scramble through the random piles of withdrawn library books and donations, ranging everything from last month’s bestseller, lightly used, to a yellowed and obscure antique volume. This is particularly true at Westonka; for some reason, I am always amazed at the bizarre variety they have continually offered. One of my favorite parts is discovering just what I will uncover in any upcoming sale. This year Westonka worked out quite well for me; I got a couple of books I had been looking for, a few surprises, and some fun nostalgic stuff. Check out my BookLikes blog for a full accounting!


The haul! end cost = $12!

So, upcoming booksales this weekend include the Southdale and Edina branches, both of which I have had good luck at, as well as at Brooklyn Park, Golden Valley, and Hosmer. I am aiming to hit up at least one of these and add to the hoard. Check here to keep informed as to upcoming sales. Also, most have another sale in the autumn as well, so if you miss one this spring, just wait a few months.

Twin Cities Dumpster Diving!

Hey, check out this article published by the City Pages which describes one of the more adventurous adventures you can try in the Twin Cities, and features my cousin as a bonus! Keep on the adventures, man!  A very interesting article in any case. I have not tried this myself, it must be said, but I am totally open to the experience! I must admit, I am totally curious where that dumpster of used books is- what, they’re not even going to donate them to the library book sales?? Whatever!



MSPIFF and Garage Sales

Last Saturday was a fun, busy day for me in Minneapolis. After scooping up an impressive pile of cheap books at the Hennepin County Library book sale out in Mound, my home town, (more on this later!) my sister and I checked out the World’s Largest Textile Garage Sale, organized by the Minnesota Textile Center at the University of Minnesota Reuse Program Warehouse. Our mom is a basket weaver and often does events at the Textile Center, so we thought it would be an awesome place to pick up some early Mother’s Day gifts. Having never been to this long running even, though, we were not exactly sure what to expect. It was a little overwhelming! In the dim, cave like ambiance of the warehouse, packed with ratty old office chairs, battered file cabinets, much used beakers and petri dishes, and electronic components of no discernible origin, people scavenged through tables heaped with all manner of textiles and tools.  For crafty types, it was a smorgasbord of bargains, from looms, reams of fabric, guidebooks, and piles and piles of yarn. And a lot of stuff I had no idea what they were! We definitely got some stuff we think Mom will appreciate, and maybe next year we will bring her too!

The real highlight of the day, though, was seeing Letters to Momo at the St. Anthony Main Theatre, part of the wonderful Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF), a sure sign of spring in the Twin Cities. MSPIFF is a great way to encounter movies from around the world, as well as from right here in Minnesota and, even if you only end up seeing one or two, there are always very intriguing offerings. This year, they are showing films from more than fifty different countries, representing every continent (er, not including Antarctica). We chose A Letter to Momo, a lovingly animated modern fantasy from Japan.

A Letter to Momo was a great, heartwarming type of movie, one of those that can please all ages I would say, not unlike the work of Hayao Miyazaki (not surprising, as many of the crew here worked in Miyazaki’s films) that follows an eleven year old girl, who, having recently lost her father, travels with her mother to a remote fishing town in the Seto Inland Sea, where she tries to deal with her grief and new surroundings and encounters a trio of funny/creepy yokai. If I brought my Mom to this one, she would definitely have been weeping by the end! A very well thought out modern anime drama with enough humor and fantasy elements to satistfy anyone.

A Letter to Momo is playing again this Saturday at 9, and I definitely recommend taking the opportunity to see it on the big screen! In addition, there are a lot of other films to check out too, and I’m hoping to get at least one more in this year.

Wake Magazine Recommends Lesser Known Slices

Check out this list of neglected Minneapolis pizza joints compiled by the writers over at the Wake, the U of M’s student magazine. Some really interesting choices, none of which I have tried yet, but now I am really craving pizza. Watch for a few lists of my own in the next few week! Perhaps a list of neglected St. Paul pizza places might be a good idea. Good thing I’m craving pizza now! Thanks for the recommendations, Wake Mag!

MSP Reading Time: My Twin Cities Reading List

So, the last week the winners of the annual Minnesota Book Awards, a yearly honor for the best books written by Minnesotans, was announced at a gala in St. Paul’s Union Depot. I was sadly not able to attend, but here is the full list of winners, courtesy of the City Pages. Organized by the friends of the St. Paul Public Library, I always enjoy following the nominations and voting for the reader’s choice award.

I managed to read one finalist on the list so far, Penny A. Peterson’s ‘s fascinating Minneapolis Madams: The Lost History of Prostitution on the Riverfront, a very informative social history of Minneapolis. In any case, these lists are a great way to expand that reading list (as if it isn’t already long enough). I was inspired to share my own short list of some of my favorite books about Minneapolis and St. Paul, that really speak to life in the metro.

Fiction & Poetry

War for the Oaks- Emma Bull

The War for the Oaks is one of my favorite urban fantasies (a pioneer in the genre), with a juxtaposition yet complimentary depiction of mundane contemporary life and the strange, alien world of the supernatural fairies that seem to lurk just out of everyday perception.  Bull expertly weaves together many threads into an entertaining plot; Celtic folklore, rock music, and love, all under the backdrop of a lovingly described 1980s Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The Antelope Wife- Louise Erdrich

The Antelope Wife is a breathtaking work of magical realism that in dreamlike prose explores the life of urban Ojibwe living in Minneapolis and on the reservation, and the encounters and interactions of various cultures, both violent and sublime, into a soup of life and story. This is definitely one I need to read again.

St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald

 I enjoy the style of the “Roaring ’20s” and these stories are an example, I think of how Fitzgerald did much to cement the feeling of the time in public memory. I really enjoyed was the recreation of St. Paul during these time periods complete with local landmarks still in existence today. I particularly enjoyed the Basil Duke Lee stories, which chronicles the everyday life of a wealthy teenager on Summit Avenue.

The Year of Ice- Brian Malloy

A poignant depiction of a troubled young man struggling to come to terms with his sexuality in 1970s Minneapolis after the tragic death of his mother in the icy Mississippi, the personality and feelings were very well developed and the book spared no details in this tragic coming of age, though the setting of the Twin Cities in 1978 was particularly well done. 

Twin Cities- Carol Muske-Dukes

Carol Muske Dukes’ poems in “Twin Cities” explore some very heady imagery and feeling; beginning with Minneapolis and St. Paul, crossing the country to and from each coast, and across the world, Dukes explores the dichotomy of doubles, of mirrors; everything has two sides. These poems feel to me to be very full of emotion and scene, drawing us in with some really beautiful language, as the poet takes us to many different times and places; aspects that really attract me to the medium of poetry. 
As she writes in the first line of “Twin Cities II,” “I come from Twin Cities, where the river, between, surging, stands”where we come from and where we are going, both sides of the river, and the many other parallels of life are reflected throughout Carol Muske Dukes’ collection.


 Days of Rondo- Evelyn Fairbanks

A very informative and interesting memoir recalling the black experience in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, a neighborhood bulldozed to make way for Interstate 94 in the early ’60s, Evelyn Fairbank’s writing, as she expresses her memories growing up in the Twin Cities during these teams, captures and wonderful first hand perspective of the life of this part of Twin Cities history.

Lake Street USA- Wing Young Huie

Compelling photography,  Huie’s images reflects a lot of the contemporary urban life in the Twin Cities, as diverse groups of people come to live in close proximity, sparking both tension and awareness. Lake Street demonstrates the realities, positive and negative, of the neighborhood and the people who live there. Huie’s work, I feel, could easily affect the attitudes of many towards the area. In any case, Huie’s work, I feel, really exhibits the life of the growing, changing Twin Cities, and I am glad that such an expressive photographer is recording this dynamic metro.

Through no Fault of My Own: A Girl’s Diary of Life on Summit Avenue in the Jazz Age- Coco Irvine

A charming slice of life from an entitled Twin Cities “roaring twenties” childhood, Clotilde “Coco” Irvine, 12, of Summit Avenue, received a diary for Christmas, 1926, and spends the rest of the next year putting into it her troubles, desires, ideas, and other thoughts. The entries are written with a wit and vibrancy that still can cause laughter, both rooted in the idiosyncrasies of the year 1927 and timeless to young adulthood in any era.  In spite of being the daughter of the Vanderbilt-like logging family, the Irvines (who built the house that later became the Minnesota Governor’s Mansion, no less), her writing is down to earth yet is also quite eloquent. Peg Meier’s introduction and notes add depth to this slice of history and its author

John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crook’s Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920-1936- Paul Maccabee

An exhaustive and interesting treatise on the world of organized crime in St. Paul during the 1920s and 1930s, there is probably no resource that collects as much information on the subject in publication. Drawing from extensive research of court records, newspapers, and other resources Maccabee pieces together the corrupt and vivid underworld of St. Paul in which cops and criminals coexisted in the Twin Cities. In addition, he discusses the locations of shootouts, murders, kidnappings, and other events), some of which still exist in St. Paul, which makes it great for history tours. 

Lost Twin Cities- Larry Millet

Larry Millet has written several readable accounts of the architectural history of the Twin Cities, and this is one of my favorites showing all of the buildings and places that have been lost to us over the years, such as the old Gateway District. Great photographs, too.

As a librarian, I’m all about book suggestions and hope that a few of these can help keep anyone else’s reading list an insurmountable adventure as well, and books are a great way to continue the exploration of our great metro. Speaking of books, I am really looking forward to checking out some of my favorite destinations for cheap books in the Twin Cities tomorrow morning, one of the Hennepin County Library system’s frequent library book sales, but more on that later, after I take stock of the latest haul!

Russia in Minnesota!

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Russian Tea House sign

Like a lot of people, I do not get to travel as much as I would like, but as in any city, the Twin Cities offer a variety of opportunities to experience some of the worlds culture and still get to work tomorrow morning.

Last week, I went on one of my favorite day trip “staycations,” taking in a couple of tastes of Russian culture in Minneapolis-St. Paul, the Russian Tea House and the Museum of Russian Art. Visiting both in an afternoon is a fun way to get to know a little more about the culture of a nation that has definitely been in the news lately, under more grave circumstances. It is definitely valuable, I feel, to learn more about the world through food and art, and these local spots have  a lot to offer.

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Russian Tea House, exterior

We began our afternoon with a spot of tea and so lunch at the Russian Tea House, on University in the Midway area of St. Paul. A cozy, casual restaurant tucked into an old Victorian house, I think it is one of the best deals for lunch in the cities. After ordering from the counter, take your lunch upstairs to the creaky upper floor dining room to enjoy the view of the bustle down on University and the Minneapolis skyline in the distance. Oftentimes, an accordionist will be in attendance, accompanying lunch with some traditional Slavic music. The Tea House offers a variety of delicious, hearty fare for extremely reasonable prices; the borscht is probably some of the best I’ve had, vegetarian, served with or without sour cream and full of beets, onions, beans, and dill. I also recommend the savory potato dumplings, verenyky, topped with sauteed onion. This is great comfort food, perfect for a winter evening (or a spring afternoon that feels a little wintery). If there is one thing that Minnesota and Russia have in common, it’s the stereotypical penchant for an icy climate.

Also, one cannot visit without having one of the awesome chocolate poppy seed rolls, washed down with the Russian Tea Houses’ tea, served steaming in a continuous flow from a large tureen, a rich black tea lightly sweetened with a hint of saffron. Definitely one of my favorite tea flavors around. With limited hours, open only for lunch on Fridays and Saturdays from 11:00 to 3:00, there may be a bit of a line, but any wait is well worth it. I also recommend picking some up borscht or Russian tea cookies for the road, keeping them around for dinner or lunch later.

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The Museum of Russian Art, exterior

After a filling, cheap, delicious lunch, it was time to make a trip across the river over into south Minneapolis to check out the Museum of Russian Art (TMORA). It is about a 1o mile drive from the Russian Tea House. Definitely one of the most interesting “hidden gem” museums in Minneapolis, TMORA is devoted to displaying art and artifacts from Russian history, the only such collection in North America. Housed in a historic building, the old Mayflower Congregational Church built in 1935 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, an interesting setting for Russian Art and Minnesota. It makes for a very atmospheric setting for a museum.  A small museum, TMORA’s collections can be taken in in an hour or two, though like all art museums you can be sucked in by the artworks and it is easy to take your time examining the pieces which span the centuries, from medieval to modern. In addition,  The collection of Soviet art is particularly interesting. In addition, the museum hosts special exhibits on a regular basis.

Currently, the museum is featuring the atmospheric monochrome works of the artist Eva Levina-Rozengolts, painted during her exile in Siberia, which makes some very moving pieces. Also, the museum is showing an exhibit called “The Art of Collecting,” which explore the background and history of the museums collections, the largest collection of 20th century Russian art outside of Russia. A very good time to drop in for first time visitors, I think. In any case, I highly recommend checking it out sometime! Either of these places are a good place to get a little taste of Russian culture and history.

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The Museum of Russian Art, interior

Russian Tea House, Friday and Saturday 11:00-3:00, 1758 University Ave, St. Paul

The Museum of Russian Art, Monday-Friday 10:oo-5:00, Saturday 10:00-4:00, Sunday 1:00-5:00, Admission $9 Adults, Seniors $7, students $5, children free, 5500 Stevens Ave S, Minneapolis

First Ave


First Avenue, on a cold, foggy Minneapolis night

So, a couple weeks ago I noticed a tweet by the University of Minnesota’s “fortnightly” student magazine, The Wake, which I enjoyed reading since I was a student at the U (at some point in the not too distant past- not too distant, really!) The tweet advertised a chance to win tickets to see a show at First Avenue, the 7th Street Entry specifically, for a few bands on tour from New York. Didn’t really think much of it at the time, just “hey, free swag- retweet!” Traditionally, I’ve been pretty hopeless when it comes to music knowledge, so I take any opportunity to enrich my appreciation with some audio adventure.

 Turns out I got the tickets, and a cool new vinyl release too,  if only because just one other person retweeted. So my sister and I headed downtown last Thursday to see the show at the venerable First Ave. On the docket were the bands Bollywood, Team Spirit, and the headliners, Skaters. We arrived a bit early, I grabbed a beer and we made claim to a couple of stools with a good view of the stage.

The 7th Street Entry, which I had not visited before, is a much smaller venue than the rest of First Avenue, much more intimate one could say. The dim, musty cave-like charm of the rest of the club is continued, though. The turnout was pretty good, at least for a snowy Thursday night in late March and the three bands played to a pretty packed       house, with the typical enthusiastic Minnesotan dancing  (i.e., mainly standing around with a few head noddings).

 Bollywood, a local Minneapolis art-rock band, was the opener, and they had an interesting style, with an array of monitors on stage broadcasting ‘80s and ‘90s TV shows to distract me. Skaters, hailing from New York and working off their debut album, Manhattan, headlined the show and were also a pretty fun rock band, that felt kind of retro in style. My favorite of the night was definitely Team Spirit, also of New York, who had a really fun, energetic stage presence that really got the crowd going. Plus, they had a Minnesotan! In all, a great night on the town and I offer my thanks to the Wake for providing a cool Thursday night.