Books by local authors make great gifts


According to, “Icelanders have a beautiful tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the night reading. This custom is so deeply ingrained in the culture that it is the reason for the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” when the majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving.”

I would love to see that tradition transplanted to Minnesota. This year we are planting somewhat late, but maybe we can sow the idea by running a list of recent books by local authors. Maybe these books will find themselves gift-wrapped and waiting to delight and inform their recipients.

See if you find something here that might just suit your sister, your sweetheart or co-worker, your soulmate or that curious acquaintance who might become a friend. If you possibly can, get the books at a local bookstore, such as Moon Palace Books(with the sweet Geek Love Cafe inside its walls) on Minnehaha Avenue, or Boneshaker Books in the Seward neighborhood, or Magers and Quinn in Uptown, or Birchbark Books, Louise Erdrich’s store over by Lake of the Isles. Common Good Books on Snelling in St. Paul is another great book store. A couple of wonderful up-to-date used bookstores are worth checking out. One is in Dinkytown, The Book House, and the other on Grand in St. Paul, Against the Current. Most all the following books are on Amazon, or can be ordered from the publisher, and specific ordering information is also listed in some reviews, but it’s also fun to go to a real bookstore. And if the store doesn’t have the book you’re asking for, it’s good promotion for the author: The more “asked for” their book is, the more traction they get.

“The Way She Told Her Story” by Diane Jarvenpa. 2018. New Rivers Press. With four other titles to her credit, one the winner of Midwest Independent Publishers Association book award in poetry, Diane Jarvenpa (also known as Diane Jarvi in her role as singer/songwriter) is a consummate poet devoted to the beauty and truth of the natural world. Do not ignore her heartening work.  (EKlaassen)

“A People’s History of the Seward Neighborhood” by the entire Seward Neighborhood, edited by Wendy Epstein, Marilyn Matheny and Rick Musser. 2018. Nodin Press. Many years in the making, and resulting in hundreds of photos, maps and footnotes, this intriguing, attractive book covers more than 150 years of trends and events in the strongly political, activist area that is Seward. A finely honed social and political consciousness is evident throughout—from the story about the hospital for the “mildly insane,” to the one about the deadly labor riots. Also available at the Seward Co-op. (EKlaassen)

“If You Could Ask Everyone You Met Just One Question: A Road Trip Memoir” by Ty Sassaman. 2018. MCP Books. Sassaman finished a graduate degree in education at Harvard and didn’t know what to do next, so he went on a long road trip and asked people what they’d like to ask everyone they met. He uncovered an abundance of grist for the mill, which he milled in intricate, complex, sophisticated and very personal ways. The underlying story concerns his difficult relationship with his father. The book won an Independent Publisher Book Award and rightly so. (EKlaassen)

“Stepping Around the Cowcatcher: A Minneapolis Childhood” by Henry T. Gallagher. 2018. Henry T. Gallagher. Late in life, after living for years away from Minneapolis, Gallagher contacted childhood classmates to relive their early years together in South Minneapolis. He has come up with a charming and sometimes provocative tale. Order the book from (EKlaassen)

“Future Home of the Living God: A Novel” by Louise Erdrich. 2017. HarperCollins. Erdrich, the New York Times bestselling, National Book Award-winning author of “LaRose” and “The Round House,” paints a startling portrait of a young woman fighting for her life and her unborn child against oppressive forces that manifest in the wake of a cataclysmic event. (Erdrich’s website)

“The River’s Roar: In Search of a Man Who Has Lost His Way” by Jon Westby. 2017. Pike Lake Press. Vivid, reverent nature images, fun interactions with people, goofy guy-humor plus profound biblical ruminations make this a book I couldn’t put down. Westby, a teacher in the Minneapolis Public Schools, journaled extensively during five hiking/camping trips to the Minnesota north country and beyond. He describes insights about his work, children and marriage as well as that which immediately surrounds him. Westby’s first book, “They Will Know They Are Loved,” is about the premature birth of his twin sons. Order from  (EKlaassen)

 “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen” by Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley. 2017. University of MN Press. I heard Sherman’s talk on de-colonizing food at the Seward Co-op annual general meeting, and even though I was already familiar with the story and the food, I was bowled over to learn so much. Try Birchbark Books to further support Native American businesses. (DKeefer Ramage)

 “The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death and the Search for the Meaning of the World’s Strangest Syndromes” by Frank Bures. 2016. Melville House. From the many sides of a prism, all reflecting the influence of culture on health, wellness and disease, Bures delivers an effulgent tale, part travelogue, part personal memoir, part scientific research. Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” says, “I would follow him anywhere,” as he traverses China and Africa and the inner reaches of his own mind to discover how we human beings live in our bodies. (EKlaassen)

“Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.” 2016. Random House. If you or your giftee enjoy Trevor Noah on TV, get the book. His unique viewpoint, due to his illegal birth at a time on the cusp of great change, is the stuff of wondrous stories and, at times, very very funny. If you want to save $10 by getting the paperback, it’s due out Feb. 5. (DKeefer Ramage)

“The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA” by Doug Mack. 2016. Norton. Mack gives us another one-of-a-kind travel book (also by Mack: “Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day: One Man, Eight Countries, One Vintage Travel Guide, ” 2012). He goes to The U.S. territories—American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—to meet their 4 million people. Thirty thousand miles later he writes, as Kirkus Review sums it up: “An entertaining, informative guidebook to some cool places populated by people to whom attention should be paid.” (EKlaassen)

“Goodnight, Loon” by Abe Sauer, illustrated by Nathaniel Davauer. 2014. University of MN Press. For very young children I suggest this board book—an obvious pastiche (but better!) of “Goodnight, Moon.” The rhymes are cleverer and the illustrations more illuminating than the original Moon book, and its point of reference is the Minnesota north woods. My only quibble is saying good night to a deer tick; I mean, come on. Available everywhere, including the Scandinavian shop, Café Finspang, in the Midtown Global Market (where I got it), the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Target. (DKeefer Ramage)

“Hannah, Delivered” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew. 2014. Köehler Books. Jarrett Andrew’s first novel is a page-turner, vibrant and full of warmth. The sympathetic main character is a young Minnesota woman who goes to New Mexico and becomes a midwife. I loved the characters and the scenery. The ethical issues faced in midwifery naturally come up. (EKlaassen)

“Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota” by Gwen Westerman and Bruce White. 2012. MN Historical Society Press. The authors examine narratives of the people’s origins, their associations with the land, and the seasonal round through key players and place names. Anishinabe tales and names are also covered. This is an eye-opening book, and chances are every tale you read will be utterly new to you. You didn’t learn any of this in school, that’s for sure. Available from the MNHS online or from Birchbark Books either online or in-store. (DKeefer Ramage)

“The Great Minnesota Cookie Book: Award-Winning Recipes from the Star Tribune’s Holiday Cookie Contest” by Lee Svitak Dean and Rick Nelson. 2018. Lots of gorgeous photos that make you want to eat every kind of cookie imaginable (think almond palmiers, snowball clippers and chocolate-drizzled churros) grace this book. The stories and taste-tested recipes of the best of the best in the Star Tribune’s holiday cookie contest won’t disappoint you. The book signing, at Common Good Books, is sadly past, but get the book anyway and bake away.
Lee Svitak Dean is the longtime food editor at the Star Tribune and has written “Come One, Come All: Easy Entertaining with Seasonal Menus.” Rick Nelson has been writing about restaurants and food at the Star Tribune since 1998. (EKlaassen)

“Got to Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound” by Andrea Swensson. 2018. University of MN Press. Beginning in the year of Prince’s birth, 1958, with the recording of Minnesota’s first R&B record by a North Minneapolis band called the Big Ms, the book traces the rise of that distinctive sound through two generations of political upheaval, rebellion, and artistic passion. Funk and soul become a lens for exploring three decades of Minneapolis and St. Paul history as longtime music journalist Andrea Swensson takes us through the neighborhoods and venues, and the lives and times, that produced the Minneapolis Sound. … A visit to Prince’s Paisley Park and a conversation with the artist provide a rare glimpse into his world and an intimate sense of his relationship to his legacy and the music he and his friends crafted in their youth.
” ‘Got to Be Something Here’ nails the atmosphere that I grew up in. Clubs, policies, and things that didn’t make sense back then, after reading this book make all the sense in the world. I think anyone who wants to undrstand musicians who hailed from North Minneapolis needs to read it. There are answers in these pages.” –André Cymone.
Swensson is an author, radio host and music journalist. She hosts a weekly program about the Minnesota music scene, The Local Show, at Minnesota Public Radio’s 89.3 The Current and contributes to the Local Current Blog. Prior to joining MPR, she was the music editor at City Pages, where she founded the AAN AltWeekly Award-winning Gimme Noise music blog. (Common Good Books website)


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