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!


One thought on “MSP Reading Time: My Twin Cities Reading List

  1. Pingback: Minneapolis Reading Time: Jazz Music at the St. Paul Public Library | MSP Adventure Time!

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