MSP Reading Time: 100 Things to Do in the Twin Cities Before You Die

25449651

The bucket list, all that stuff that one should experience in life before one, well, “kicks the bucket” seem to be a pretty popular format to base local travel books around currently. Perhaps due to its slightly morbid nature, I find it a fascinating concept, having browsed through various lists before, 1000 albums, 1000 books, etc. I am a bit of a list junkie, I must admit, as I write about over on my other blog, Reading Rainstorm. It looks as though this one is only one among many books detail the essential one hundred things citizens should experience before dying (or moving?) So, of course, I was eager to check out the list of must do activities in my home metro of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and their various suburbs. All in all, I found 100 Things to Do in the Twin Cities Before You Die to be a pretty solid list.

While it might be a bit more of a stretch in a medium size metro area like the Twin Cities, I feel that compiler Tom Weber put together a very nice list of some of the most awesome things to do around here, including museums, annual festivals and events, famous local cuisines, and our well known performing arts venues (oh, and sports). It was quite fun going down the list with my fiancee, a transplant from California, tallying off all of the things we’ve done. Even with all of my activity in the course of writing this blog (and my 34 years in the area compared to Lindsay’s 4 years), she’s beaten me out. I’ve only accomplished 42 of the suggestions in, while she’s gotten up to 46. Almost half! I guess we locals occasionally take the wonders held in our neck of the woods for granted while people seeing them through new eyes get through more. I have certainly had a lot of fun adventures with her over the last year.

Of the ones I can check off, a few of my favorites from the blog appear in the list, though I’m definitely looking forward to getting through even more of them with my love, and there are quite a few that I have yet to experience that seem pretty interesting. Of course, as is true for any such book published two years ago, it is not quite up to date. There are a few on the list that, if you haven’t accomplished them already, will be impossible (eating at the Oak Grill at the Macy’s in downtown Minneapolis, for instance).

Of the entries that remain, though, there is plenty of exciting inspirations. I really enjoyed the lists taking advantage of the extreme seasons of the Twin Cities, not forgetting to neglect all of unique experiences to be had in the dead of winter, from ice skating to art sled racing. Over the course of the next year, I’m hoping to check off a few of the more interesting things I haven’t done yet and write about them here, one for each season.

Specifically, I’m hoping to do #27 and experience Powderhorn Park’s May Day Parade for spring, check out a free summer movie or concert in one of Minneapolis’ park (#25), finally get to #23, one of BareBone’s Outdoor Puppet pageants for Halloween, and hopefully next winter they’ll be enough snow for next year’s #31 art sled rally.

Also, regardless of season, I’m looking forward to #64, touring the Capitol with my state worker sweetheart this year, as well. In any case, we’re well set to check off half of Weber’s list in the next year.

This is a cross post with my book blog, Reading Rainstorm.

 

 

Minneapolis Reading Time: Jazz Music at the St. Paul Public Library

CIMG0521

Rice Park’s statue of F. Scott Fitzgerald on a snowy spring day not unlike today. You know, Fitzgerald hated snow!

[Cross post with my Reading Rainstorm blog segment, Land of 10,000 Pages]

I attended a very interesting little event at the St. Paul Public Library a few weeks ago and have just gotten around to writing about it! Music of the Jazz Age was a relaxing, casual Sunday afternoon event held at the ornate Magazine Room on the third floor of the George Latimer Central Library. This was one of the first events by a new literary group in the Twin Cities, Fitzgerald in St. Paul, a nonprofit dedicated to celebrating the achievements of classic American author F. Scott Fitzgerald in his hometown of St. Paul.

IMG_2745

George Latimer Central Library, St. Paul

This is particularly interesting to me as I prepare to move in with my sweetheart into Fitzgerald’s very own neighborhood in St. Paul! Yes, I’m crossing the river and moving into the other Twin City! As was mentioned by the librarian in the introduction to the Music of the Jazz Age program, we were walking in the footsteps of Fitzgerald in at the George Latimer Central Library, and in my own daily life too! Of note, the Magazine Room also houses the F. Scott Fitzgerald Reading Alcove. It was a superb space to listen to some of the music of his time. Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda Fitzgerald themselves coined the term “the Jazz Age,” to refer to the era they lived in, and some very talented musicians were invited to perform some examples of the jazz that inspired the moniker.

Vocalist Connie Evingson, accompanied by Dan Chouinard on piano and Chris Bates on bass, performed some elegant renditions of some popular pieces from the 1920s, including some mentioned in a few of Fitzgerald’s stories. Three O’Clock in the Morning, one of the songs sung by Evingson, was mentioned in The Great Gatsby, for instance. A few excerpts from Fitzgerald’s works were read and one felt almost as though one had gone back in time, to when you were actually allowed to smoke in the library! Although Lindsay and I were among a handful of people under age 50 in the audience, I would recommend people of all ages keeping an eye on Fitzgerald in St. Paul, which will be offering a monthly series the first Sunday of every month at FitzFirst@Four. The next one, at Common Good Books, discusses Fitzgerald’s story The Rich Boy on April 3rd at 4 pm. Similar stories appear in one of the books I mentioned in my entry My Twin Cities Reading List, The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

4669

153518Next, I think I’ll be reading this book, A Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s St. Paul.l Perhaps, as I walk in the footsteps of the great writer, I’ll share more of my discoveries!

 

 

 

 

 

Madison Bound

 

img_20160212_133640

Stained glass, Winona County Historical Museum

Over the next few days, I will be tackling a small backlog of adventures I missed writing about back in February. The first adventure is a fun road trip for those times when you might require a change of scenery from the Twin Cities. Over Valentine’s Day weekend, Lindsay and I crossed state borders for a little trip to Madison, Wisconsin, a fun college town that makes a nice weekend getaway from the Twin Cities. Here are a few highlights and recommendations from the trip!

Taking the scenic route down the Mississippi from St. Paul, we stopped for lunch in the sleepy but interesting college river town of Winona, Minnesota. This is the town where my grandparents lived, so I spent a lot of time here growing up, but it had been awhile since I visited so it was fun to stop again, see how things changed, and introduce Lindsay to another weird Minnesota town.

img_20160212_131227

Riverboat exhibit, Winona Historical Museum (Courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

We had a delicious lunch at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse, one of my favorite restaurants in the state. In addition to the yummy food and friendly, laid back artsy vibe, they share a space with a used and new bookstore, The Book Shelf, which always has good finds. We then explored the recently renovated Winona County Historical Society Museum, which I’ve found to be one of the best local historical museums in Wisconsin, displaying a variety of interesting artifacts from one of the oldest cities in the state. After climbing into a reproduction steamboat and marveling at some preserved storefronts, we then took the opportunity to explore some art in the collection of Winona’s ambitious and newest museum, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. It may seem like an unusual location for the collection, but Winona does have a historic port supplying lumber and flour for shipment down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. The Marine Art Museum explores the “historic human relationship with water,” an apt mission for a museum set on the banks of the Mississippi River. Featuring contemporary photography as well as work spanning the artistic movements from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, including such luminaries as Monet and Picasso, it is one of Minnesota’s hidden gem museums.

img_20160212_204045

Capitol District Madison being transformed into a skiing track.

Crossing the border into Wisconsin, we were in Madison by early evening, where we had a date to catch comedian and actor David Cross perform at the Orpheum Theater, located on State Street, the epicenter for entertainment in Madison. The humor of Cross, of Arrested Development fame among others things, was a great way to kick off the trip, especially when he upset the more religious portion of the audience.img_20160213_133136

Madison, the capital city of Wisconsin and home of the University of Wisconsin, is always an entertaining place to visit. Situated on an isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, with the Capital building sitting on top of a hill, it is a compact, walkable city that seems to pack a lot into a relatively small area. We were in town during the last big cold snap in the Upper Midwest, and it came just in time for the Madison Winter Festival, though a lack of snowfall required the city to haul in a layer of snow to surround the Wisconsin State Capitol building for racing cross country skiers. With folksy fiddle music playing on the loudspeakers and a few quirky little snow sculptures, downtown Madison became a wintery wonderland.  

IMG_2638

Spending the weekend exploring the isthmus area over the weekend was a fun and relaxing way to brave the cold and enjoy each others’ company. Particularly with the Winter Festival going on, parking was difficult downtown, but most things are in easy walking distance of each other. At the center of Capitol Square is, of course, the Wisconsin State Capitol building, a pretty impressive edifice of state government. They offer a free and quite informative tour throughout the building, visiting the executive, legislative, and judicial branches where we marveled at the ornate interiors and fossils embedded in the stone walls. It was pretty interesting to be standing right there behind the leather upholstered chairs where the Wisconsin state legislatures make laws (rather poorly, under current administration, eh?). The tour was full of the usual list of notable “bests” that Wisconsin’s capitol building can boast (taller than the US Capitol Building, largest granite dome in the world, etc.) Some of which seem a little questionable, perhaps, but now I am looking forward to touring the Minnesota State Capitol building, to see what we can boast!

img_20160213_140600

Wisconsin State Capitol building interior (Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

In addition to the Wisconsin State Capitol, we also visited the Wisconsin History Museum and its entertainingly goofy exhibit on Wisconsinites in Hollywood. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is also a good place to check out, which hosted several fascinating collections, including a surreal and energetic collection of 1970s prints by Wisconsin artist Warrington Colescott inspired by Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. That’s one for the reading list! The exhibit goes on until April, so if you’re in town, stop in!

img_20160214_152044

Sculpture Garden roof of Madison Contemporary Museum of Art, enjoying the snow

Strolling along State Street, we stopped in a variety of charming boutiques and shops, either just browsing or in full shopping mode. Of course, the bookstores were where we found the most to peruse. Browzers Bookshop is a maze of used books, with plenty of weird things to look at and you’ll probably get quite the deal there too! At the venerable independent feminist bookstore A Room of One’s Own, one can browse a very wide selection of new and used books. This was a very nice bookstore to spend some time hanging out and picking out a new book or two (or, hell, more).

IMG_2654

Some of Wisconsin’s fine beers, at the Old Fashioned

 

Of course, nothing says Wisconsin like enjoying an alcoholic beverage and we certainly had our fair share, so leaving the car behind was a wise choice. The charming, quirky, and rowdy bars of State Street and the Capital Square serve up some tasty Wisconsin beers and delicious cocktails. The Old Fashioned, a bar and restaurant specializing in Wisconsin’s food and drink specialties is a good place to start. Offering more than a hundred Wisconsin beers and a half dozen versions of the Old Fashioned, along with cheese curds, cheese plates, and many other tasty treats, it is a good place to go to be overwhelmed by choices. Just arrive early, the place is packed to gridlock by 6 on weekends. Breakfast, though, is a more relaxing time to visit. We had a perfectly decadent Wisconsin breakfast: A rich cheese plate, giant (and affordable) apple fritter, a breakfast old fashioned, and a pint of Tyrena Brewing’s Devil Made Me Do It Coffee Imperial Oatmeal Potter.  

Paul’s Club, on State Street, is another good place to stop in for a drink. Where else can you go to a bar that has a full side tree inside of it, along with a good beer and cocktail list?The Great Dane Pub is a pretty cool place to stop by in the Capital Square area as well, a brewpub that offers a nice rotating selection of brews, including the Stone of Scone scotch ale. Also come for the shuffle boards (Wisconsinites are super serious about this game).

If you find yourself famished while shopping on State Street, a nice place to stop by for very filling Laotian and Thai cuisine is at Vientiane Palace Restaurant, which has a lot of delicious food for reasonable prices, including some very tasty pad thai noodles. My eggplant dish was also very tasty. Graze is a romantic and atmospheric choice for dinner. A new restaurant specializing in farm to table cuisine, we had a very lovely meal here and I would recommend it for a fancy evening out, with nice views of the Wisconsin State Capitol and very good food. Again, the cheese plate is highly recommended, as is the oyster plate.

img_20160215_143457

Some of the collection of the National Mustard Museum (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

On the way out of town, we stopped by one of Wisconsin’s many “quirky” attractions. Where else, for instance, could you visit a museum devoted entirely to a condiment? Located just outside of Madison in Middleton, Wisconsin, the National Mustard Museum is worth a stop for anyone with even a little appreciation for mustard. An exhaustive selection of gourmet mustard varities from across the world upstairs, and a tongue in cheek celebration of the history and art of mustard downstairs, it is a cool and funny place to stop to sample some tasty sauces. After picking up some mustard for upcoming gatherings, we left Madison for St. Paul. A quick stop in Osseo, Wisconsin, for some top notch pies at the Norske Nook  Restaurant and Bakery rounded out or trip (and our bellies). All in all, it was a great weekend sampler of a winter town in Wisconsin, and I am looking forward to returning.  

img_20160213_120827

Did you know Tony Shahloub was from Green Bay? Display at the Wisconsin History Museum (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

 

 

Favorite Twin Cities Bookstores

IMG_1554

Interior of The Bookhouse, Dinkytown

There is still a few shopping days until Christmas for those of us who celebrate the holiday in one form or another, and, for me, nothing makes a better gift than a book. For those of us who don’t, the time off can be used to curl up with a book. I’ve been meaning to post a list of a few of my favorite bookstores in the Twin Cities after poking around them all year, purchasing a few more books than I might need.

One of those things that people often cite about the Twin Cities is our high rankings in the “most literate cities” indexes published every other year or so. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul tend to hover in the top five, with Minneapolis often topping the list. Our only rival seems to be Seattle for this coveted spot. In addition to selling books, art, and other needed items, many of these locations offer interesting literary events as well, including author discussions, readings, performances, and more things that help give you fun things to do over the weeks. 

 Being a generally bookish person, this may be one of the reasons I feel so at home here. One of the gauges for judging the “most literate” cities is the number of independent bookstores, and the Twin Cities have our share. In fact, it can be hard for me to decide which to visit whenever I find myself needing to purchase a book. I always check the local stores before falling back on online options, to keep my consumption of literary materials local. Here are a few of my favorites and ones that I’ve visited recently, though they are by no means a comprehensive list, just some that I visit often. On occasion, I’ll also mention a good place to eat/drink nearby as well!

Magers and Quinn227159701

The big one, the Twin Cities’ largest independent bookstore, Magers and Quinn is one of my favorite bookstores in Minneapolis, offering new and used books and consistently sponsoring all manner of authors, events, and concerts, so that there’s always something going or coming up there. I’ve written about their participation in the awesome Books and Bars, but last August, for instance, I saw New York researcher Richard Beck present on his new book, We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s, which included a local element that brought some very interesting discussion. Discussing the infamous “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s, I’ve yet to read it yet, but it looks to be an intriguing read with much to tell us today as well. I may not have heard of this book without the promotion offered by Magers and Quinn.

IMG_1432

Big Brain Comics, Washington Avenue

Big Brain Comics

For graphic novels, zines, comics, and any other combination of the literary and visual arts, Big Brain Comics should be your first stop. Definitely my favorite comic shop in the Twin Cities, it’s got everything you might want; from superheroes to my personal favorite, memoir comics. 

IMG_1555.JPG

Bookhouse Exterior

The Bookhouse

A maze like warren of used books on all topics, this is the place to go to look for reference material for your various classes at the U. Stocked with an utter sea of books on all topics, fiction and nonfiction, I love looking at all of hidden gems here. In particular, they have a great collection of books on folklore, mythology, history, and local topics, all fields of interested to me.  A fixture in Dinkytown for decades, I recall spending a lot of time browsing for folklore and mythology at its earlier basement location across the street. It’s great that they are weathering the great upset of Dinkytown going on. Last summer, I traded in a pile of my old books here as well!

If you stop by to browse books, you might as well grab lunch at one of my favorite quick lunches in Dinkytown, Lands End Pasties, located in “Dinkydale” right downstairs.

IMG_1153.JPG

Moon Palace Books, E 33rd Street

Moon Palace Books

My favorite new (open since 2012) independent booksellers in Minneapolis, Moon Palace Books is a great little store tucked away just south of Lake Street on East 33rd Street in the Longfellow neighborhood, I’ve stopped by a few times to get certain items I’ve needed when I’ve been in the area and I really enjoy the cozy ambiance here. A very fun place to browse a great selection of new and used works!

IMG_1223.JPG

Dreamhaven Books Mural, E 38th Street

Dreamhaven Books

A hidden gem in the South Minneapolis Standish neighborhood, Dreamhaven Books is happily back to regular hours since this summer, so I recommend heading down to and checking them out. Offering all manner of rare and mysterious science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other niche materials, they’ll help you track down the most obscure and arcane tomes, old and new, which in my case little known Lovecraftian pulp writers from the Twin Cities. You can really get lost in the shelves here, especially in the marked down sections. There are always surprises to be found at Dreamhaven and you’ll find things you must have that you didn’t even know existed. Make sure you come with plenty of time for browsing.

IMG_1421.JPG

Interior of Common Good Books, citing St. Paul’s superiority

Common Good Books

St. Paul’s preeminent independent bookstore selling new books, Garrison Keillor’s own Common Good Books is still a booklover’s paradise in its new location on the intersection of Snelling and Grand Avenue in St. Paul’s Macalaster-Groveland neighborhood, and it still includes Keillor’s old study furniture. They provided the materials for George Saunder’s visit last week!

If you get hungry while stopping by, it is just around the corner from one of my all time favorite Twin Cities restaurants, the Khyber Pass. Their lunch buffet is particularly great and affordable, as is their tea! If you haven’t had Afghani cuisine yet, it is a must try!

IMG_1445.JPG

Eat My Words Bookstore, during Northeast Open Streets last August

Eat My Words

A awesome new used bookstore in Northeast Minneapolis, Eat My Words also offers a lot of local authors rarely seen in other bookstores, along with an assortment of handcrafted zines from artists across the country. I’m excited to see the events that they offer here as well! Right across the street from Dangerous Man Brewing, I’d say that enjoying a local craft beer (the Peanut Butter Porter, say) along with a newly purchased local publication sounds like a pretty great idea!

A few other favorites include Micawber’s Books in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul, which I wrote about way back in March of 2014, and some that I’ve only been two once, though I really enjoyed them and can’t wait to return for another favorite bookstore entry, Boneshaker Books, and Uncle Hugo’s. In the end, all of this only scratches the surface of the Twin Cities bookstores and I apologize for totally prioritizing Minneapolis in this entry!

 

MSP Reading Time: Rain Taxi and George Saunders

[Cross post with my Reading Rainstorm blog segment, Land of 10,000 Pages]

On Monday, I was excited to head out to Macalester College see a writer 25893679who has been described as “the best on the planet,” George Saunders, presenting in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the awesome local literary publication, the Rain Taxi Review of Books. Publishing four times a year and offering reviews of independent and obscure works of literature in diverse genres, from poetry to graphic novels, memoir to science fiction, if you see it in the racks at local coffee shops or bookstores, don’t forget to grab a copy. They’re free! Like the City Pages, and the late lamented Vita.mn and Onion papers, they have a tendency to pile up on my couches and in the backs of my friends and family’s cars. Of course, for the low price of $12 a year, you could subscribe and make sure you get all four copies. Always plenty of fodder to pile up on that ever growing reading list!

IMG_2236

Crowd queuing to listen to George Suanders, Kagan Commons, Macalester College

When Rain Taxi began back in 1995, one of their first issues reviewed a book of short stories by a new writer, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders. To help celebrate this, and the new edition of Saunders’ charming and eccentric children’s/adult’s picture book, the Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, Saunders visited the Twin Cities to read a few of his works and talk about his writing style. I don’t think you could choose a better introduction to the wit and style of George Saunders than the Gappers of Frip.  Read to a rapt audience by George Saunders himself, it was great way discover Saunders’ humorous and surreal, yet true to life writing. I can thank my English major sister for introducing me to his work, though I am still trying to complete my reading of his opus. I would also recommend listening to Saunder’s audiobooks, as he has a great, expressive reading voice, which made his live reading even better! Saunders was even kind enough to mention that the Twin Cities is a great place to do readings!

IMG_2237

George Saunders discussing Gappers to rapt attention

There is nothing cynical in Saunders’ work, but it also does not shy away from depicting the dark injustices faced by every citizen in our imperfect world, poverty, prejudice, greed, apathy, fear. Yet these elements are accompanied by a gentle, bright humanism that really shines through as well, making it a great exploration of the world as it is.

I’ve read that one, along with his latest collection Tenth of December and have always been in absolute awe at his writing prowess. More than any other author, I feel, he is able to capture the idiosyncrasies and feelings of everyday life infused with a total oddness that is itself true to life. In both Tenth of December and CivilWarLand, normal, flawed humans deal with absurd and bizarre situations they way we do with all of those inconvenient but normal problems of everyday life. Each story, also, takes a totally different and unique situation and takes it totally unexpected directions. In his discussion of his writing, Saunders mentioned a really interesting thought, that the writer’s job is really to bring their subconscious to the table, to make the richest and most resonant writing.

This is the stuff that draws me into Saunder’s stories, and into the deep, obsessing world of books in general. As Eric Lorberer, editor at Rain Taxi said in the video celebrating the magazine’s 20 years, books, “as the vital transporters of ideas, and of culture, and of values,” writing as a work of art and books will never leave humanity. Nothing exemplifies this better than the work of George Saunders. 

Twin Cities Zinefest 2015

IMG_2200

Bryant Square Recreation Center, site of the Twin Cities Zinefest 2015

On an unseasonably warm Saturday, my sister and I stopped by the latest Twin Cities Zinefest, on hiatus since 2013. I attended in 2012 and really enjoyed it, so I was very excited to see what awesome stuff was on exhibit this time around. Held at the Bryant Square Recreation Center off of Lyndale Avenue just south of Lake Street, more than a dozen exhibitors displayed their creations to an appreciative audience. It is amazing how much talent  and ideas from the metro came together to share their visions.

As I have written earlier in my exploration of the Floating Library this summer, the medium of the zine is one that I find fascinating and evocative. As a DIY way to explore your own creative impulse and share stories and topics that are often neglected, ignored, or hidden, zines are a great window into other people’s lives. Whether intricate and elaborate or simple and spare, each of these pieces are something to treasure. We were both very inspired by the many diverse offerings, each representing a different style, genre, or topic of creative expression, whether comix, photography, memoir, social justice, fantasy, poetry, or the undefinable. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Minnesota, and the Twin Cities in particular, have a very strong and vibrant zine community, one that I have found very influential to my own writing styles. As I reported recently, I am trying to put together my own zine with the help of anyone else who is interested; check out the details in my blog entry here. Hopefully, we can share them in future Twin Cities events!

IMG_2202.JPG

A few of the awesome pieces we picked up from the exhibitors at the Zinefest

 

 

 

MSP Reading Time: new book Downtown Minneapolis in the 1970s launched at the Mill City Museum

IMG_2196.JPG

Mill City Museum at night

[Cross post with my Reading Rainstorm blog segment, Land of 10,000 Pages where I discuss some of my favorite nonfiction books discussing the 1970s]

One of my favorite attractions to suggest to visitors to the Twin Cities is the Mill City Museum. A cool and innovative space nestled inside the stony, almost medieval looking ruins of the Washburn A. Mill, the museum informs and illustrates the history of Minneapolis unlike any other place in the city, I think. Back in the day, the mill district was processing more wheat than any other location in the world, feeding people across the globe and of course, making tons of money for the gilded age mill barons. If you are a local and haven’t been there, it’s one of those cool local places that should be a must see.

It also makes an atmospheric place for events and last Thursday I attended one such free gathering, the launch party of the new Minnesota Historical Society Press book, Downtown: Minneapolis in the 1970s. Photographer Mike Evangelist was a suburban kid working downtown during the 1970s, and used his time off to take photographs all over downtown Minneapolis, capturing this period in which the modern, corporate city we know today was emerging from the body of the older Minneapolis. The IDS Center sprung up, skyways began to arch over the busy city sidewalks, while areas such as the Gateway District had been flattened for parking lots in previous years.

IMG_2198

Crowd at the Mill City Museum entranced by presentation of Downtown Minneapolis in the 1970s- 1970s skyline compared to today

The Mill City Museum made a very appropriate and atmospheric locale for this discussion and gallery, as the mill district was all but dead at the time, the milling having left for other places and this area of downtown was all but abandoned, a victim of the changing of the times explored in these photographs. The launch party presentation was fascinating as Evangelist and his collaborator on the book, writer Andy Sturdevant, discussed the background by the photos and the world that they came out of, along with a gallery of the original photographs to examine. This seems to be a particularly interesting period of the city’s history and I’ve found myself quite curious about the 1970s myself. While I was not alive in any part of the 1970s, my parents certainly told some stories about the period and it was great to see what has changed and what has remained the same. In particular, the common appearance of bicycles in these photos illustrate the place they had in Minneapolis even forty years ago, the first year that bicycles outstripped the sale of cars in the 20th century. We even learned some rare and hidden information, such as the current, secret location of all of those classic Nicollet Mall streetlamps prominent in these photos. I am looking forward to reading this book in more detail soon. Available currently at local bookstores, and of course, the Hennepin County LibraryMay need to wait a little while for that one, after the discussion on MPR the other day, the number of requests have jumped!  

Make sure to follow the Old Minneapolis Facebook page, for those of you who are into that whole social media thing. I just checked it out and there are all sorts of intesresting vintage photos and stories posted very frequently. Great for something to look at on a lunch break downtown!

MSP Reading Time: Talking Volumes talks Welcome to Night Vale

[Cross post with my BookLikes book blog, ReadingRainstorm]

Minnesota Public Radio’s nearly twenty season old program, Talking Volumes, always has some fascinating, inspiring conversations with some of the best authors working today. As the autumn begins, new shows begin to appear, marking the perfect time to grab some new books and listen to the authors expand upon their writing. Hosted by Kerri Miller with the help of the Loft Literary Center, I always like to attend at least one of them a year.

Back in 2013, I attended the thought-provoking conversation with everyone’s favorite Canadian speculative fiction rock star Margaret Atwood, getting a couple of my books signed. It was very interesting to listen to her thoughts on the use of science in literature, and writing about the apocalypse, which seems to have become a bit of a theme for me.

On Sunday, I attended the equally thought-provoking show with Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink, creators of the super popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale and the new tie in novel, at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. Perfect for the coming Halloween festivities, I’ve been listening to Cranor and Fink’s creepy, witty, inexplicable stories, utterly mystified by its popularity. The two writers’ voices mesh so seamlessly into one stylish, eerie whole, aided by the pitch perfect announcing of voice actor Cecil and the atmospheric music of Disparition.  How did something so weird, so admittedly inaccessible, become such a big thing? It was very informative to listen to Kerri Miller chat with the two writers about their philosophies and craft, especially in the portions where she disagreed with them. These were some of the questions I had with the show too, and I am very curious to see how it all translates into a novel.

It was an intriguingly appropriate venue to discuss the meanings of Night Vale and how the authors create such a memorable, intricate, and bizarre, every myth is true setting. After all, Night Vale is a radio drama in the form of a podcast, detailing the community news, eccentric personalities, tongue in cheek commercials, and musical interludes. Seems familiar, eh?  I have a deep interest in fictional towns, so this parallel made for some cool discussions.

In fact, the podcast has often been described to me as Garrison Keillor meets H.P. Lovecraft, or the Prairie Home Companion crossed with the X-files. This is, as Kerri Miller pointed out, we were sitting in “the house that Lake Wobegon built.” The show started off with a trivia contest, asking audience members questions of whether something happened in Night Vale or Lake Wobegon, which again hinted at the parallels between these two imaginary communities and the weird relationships they have with the “real world.”

I am captivated, obsessed with this theme that both radio dramas share, the fictional town or community set in our world, but just a little bit outside of our normal, everyday experiences. In some ways, they are able to express the feelings of place, and of region even better than an actual location. Fink, for instance, spoke about how he sees “the places often pretty clearly, the place is important, I feel, the setting” and mentions using the hometown library he remembered growing up, a weird, inexplicable place” as the real world inspiration for Night Vale’s own “unknowable” library and its dangers.

Throughout my attempts to dabble in fiction, I have always found myself captivated, obsessed with some of the ideas explored in Welcome to Night Vale and found myself drawn into these elements specifically. One thing that Night Vale seems to specialize in is a juxtaposition between the mundane world that we all live in, and the weirder, stranger world that exists just outside our understandings. Things are weird in Night Vale, and the people accept this.

Meanwhile, the music highlighting the show, original songs by Aby Wolf, were a great compliment to the eerie, beautiful atmosphere of Night Vale and is definitely worth checking out by itself. After all, one of my favorite aspects of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast is being exposed to new, local music scenes.

I’m looking forward to reading the book!

You can listen to Sunday’s show here right now, and keep an eye on the future scheduled shows as well!

A Zine Exploring the Hidden Sides of the Twin Cities: Searching for Contributions

IMG_1661.JPG

Shock a Piece of History

There are a lot of stories out there, stories that reflect our lives in this place that we live, stories that illuminate things we didn’t even know were there. Everyone knows secrets hidden below the everyday, in a city we all think we know. I’ve kind of been yearning to put a few of them together into a little self-published zine and I was wondering if anyone would like to collaborate?

I’m planning to put together a collection of stories that would explore the strange, quirky, wonderful, and just plain obscure aspects of life in the Twin Cities. Anyone interested in contributing stories, poems, art, fiction, non-fiction, anything exploring or capturing some of the stranger feelings and ideas of what it means to live in the Twin Cities would be greatly appreciated. Whether, eerie, beautiful, or just weird, I’d like to show some of the mysteries and lesser known things hidden under the surface of the metro.

I’m just doing this for fun and I’m definitely open to suggestions about distributing, creating, or producing the end project. There could definitely be multiple issues if enough material comes in, but I’m aiming to get one done by the end of the year. So, as of now, a (flexible) deadline of December 31st for volume one. If there is anyone else you think might be interested, let them know too. Feedback, criticisms, and questions are highly encouraged, too. Email any contributions, questions, etcetera,  to burk0277@gmail.com. Thanks!

Club Book at Stillwater Public Library: Emily St. John Mandel

IMG_2124

Front entrance of the Stillwater Public Library, on a chilly Monday night in October

Monday, I attended one of the Twin Cities many author events, listening to the Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel discuss her book Station Eleven at the Stillwater Public Library, in the Washington County Library System. I do not often make it out this far east, sadly, so I had not yet been to this impressive library building before. A beautiful, impressive Carnegie Library building updated to serve the modern world, I would love the chance to explore the stacks and resources at my leisure in the future. Hosted by Club Book, one of the many free literary events hosted by local library systems, courtesy of the Legacy Amendment! Check out those writers coming up in the next few weeks!

The evening was a grey and chilly one, the historic town nestled into the St. Croix river valley under hazy clouds and quickly changing autumn leaves. Perfect for the approach of Halloween and a discussion of the end of the world. As I wrote recently in my book blog, I have been reading a lot of post-apocalyptic literature lately and Station Eleven was by far my favorite, and one which generates a lot of discussion, as I discussed here. When I heard that Emily St. John Mandel herself would be in Stillwater to talk about it, I was there! Listening to her discuss her writing process and reasons behind writing about this topic was inspiring. Why are people so interested in stories of the end of the world? Some of the theories Mandel has heard include the continued reality of economic inequality, divorce, or a longing for redemption. For us impermament beings, perhaps, it just feels like this “fraught world we lie in always seems like its ending.”

She chose to write of the world after the Georgian Flu and the end of the modern world in order to reflect upon her sense of awe at this world we live in, one in which we can talk to people on the other side of the globe instantaneously and travel there in a matter of hours. For a lot of people, myself included, much of this world seems so precarious, yet of course we always take it for granted the internet will still be working in the morning. As Mandel said, “every season brings a new wave of absolutely disastrous narrative.” It appears that, just last week, some weirdoes were predicting that last Thursday would be, for real, judgement day. I just saw a new article discussing which American cities would be totally underwater in a century or so. Whatever your background or belief system, it seems that the end of the world is a perennial interest of many of us; I know that I find myself pondering what the coming years will bring.

In Station Eleven, the cause of the collapse of the age of electricity is the Georgian Flu, a virulent epidemic that kills an estimated 99% of the population. Mendel said she chose an epidemic due to the apolitical, timeless nature of the threat- unlike a nuclear war, the political climate will not become dated. Plagues and epidemics are among the scariest threats, like earthquakes, it is not a matter of if, but when. People might dress themselves as the walking dead and drink a lot, as in the upcoming Zombie Pub Crawl this weekend, but the fear remains- not of zombies, but of germs.  

One of the things that I liked most about Station Eleven is its realism, but also its hope, whatever comes, humans will survive, and more than survive. The novel’s arc words, “Survival is insufficient,” reflect this, as the members of the Traveling Symphony continue to travel the Great Lakes region performing Shakespeare. As a librarian, this is always the crux of my thoughts; how will we keep up, preserve, the cultural, artistic, and scientific achievements of this and earlier ages? Throughout Station Eleven, aside from the works of Shakespeare, one of the leading remains of our world that reminded was the small press graphic novel of Miranda, which was read and absorbed by surviving generations in very different ways. I am sure that, in coming centuries, this confluence of the St. Croix, Minnesota, and Mississippi Rivers will continue to remain a hub of human activity, and I hope that we can make it better and continue, not just to survive, but to thrive. 

Before I left, of course, I had to purchase another of Emily St. John Mandel’s novels, which I look forward to reading soon!

Here are a novels that depict a post-apocalyptic world in the former Twin Cities; check them out at any of our local libraries! Let me know if you discover any others!

River Rats, Caroline Stevermer, 1992– a young adult novel set after a nuclear war, following a group of young traveling musicians as they travel up and down the Mississippi. The silent and empty ruins of Minneapolis and St. Paul are among the most haunting portions of the novel.

Bone Dance, Emma Bull, 1991 – An interesting cyber punk, post-apocalyptic urban fantasy (how often do you see one of those, especially in Minnesota?), Bone Dance doesn’t go right out a say it is set about a century after a nuclear war devastated North America, but there are plenty of hints to show where it is, including a climatic scene in the remains of the IDS Tower.

Minnesota Cold, Cynthia Kraack, 2009– This interesting novel depicts Minnesota after an another nuclear event, as an orderly but tyrannical rogue state, which I can describe only as North Korea as run by Target. It is interesting that I can still recognize aspects of the state in the author’s descriptions.

Cifiscape Vol. 1, The Twin Cities– This intriguing anthology of local speculative fiction has a post-apocalyptic bent. Most of the short stories and comics collected here depict the Twin Cities after some kind of collapse or dystopia. The cover image, from Ken Avidor’s Bicyclopolis is one of the most atmospheric images of an apocalyptic Twin Cities I’ve seen.