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Lots of books from and about Minnesota this week First off, try a big doorstopper, "North Country: The Making of Minnesota," by Mary Letherd Wingerd (University of Minnesota Press, $34.95). Wingerd, a St. Cloud State history professor, tells a different story of the state, beginning with the Dakota War of 1862, then segueing back in time and uncovering how native American and white settlers and trappers got along for years until capitalism reared its head and treaties were broken in the name of progress.
One of the many attributes of Wisconsin's Thomas R. Smith that attracts me to his poetry is his reverence for past writers, some of them almost forgotten, like John Clare (1793-1864), who was probably driven mad by England's Enclosure Act of 1809. He's a star in Smith's new volume, "The Foot of The Rainbow," (Red Dragonfly Press, $15, paper) as Smith expatiates on the permanence of poetry. JOHN CLARE AND THE RAIN Northern spring woods somber with overcast. Against the flattened sky and lake, hazy overlap of green.
Here are two good reads to take on your last trip to the cabin up north. The first is "Beautiful Malice," by Australian author Rebecca James (Bantam, $25). We're introduced to Katharine Patterson, a mysterious character who wishes to cast off her past and moves to a new city, changes her name and enrolls in a new school. Why? As the book opens, Katharine says she has some regrets for not attending her friend Alice's funeral. Alice was the woman Katharine met during her new life. Alice was the flip side of Katharine: Gregarious, beautiful, the center of attention.
We lost one of America's literary treasures last year when Bill Holm of Minneota, Minn., and the world left us to mourn his passing and glory in what he left behind. Now the University of Minnesota Press has memorialized Bill with a reprint of one of his first and most moving books, "The Music of Failure" ($16.95). It's fruitless to try to explain in my own stammering what's so great about Bill Holm and inheritance he left us. The book under consideration came out 25 years ago before Bill was a household word with literary aficionados.
Fifty years ago in Bowling Green, Ohio, a fellow named Charlie Perkins made the best goldarned bologna outside of Bologna, Italy. Business was so good, Perkins put a new neon sign out of his little butcher shop at the edge of town. The sign simply said "PERKIN'S MEAT'S." The sign bothered the dickens out of the English Department at the university I attended, but it didn't bother the locals, who kept buying Charlie's bologna and braunschweiger and Dutch loaf despite his problems with the apostrophe. Charlie Perkins is gone now, but the problem with sign language lives on.
Kudos to Julie Kramer for yet another well-told mystery entitled "Silencing Sam" (Atria, $23.99). Kramer is a freelance TV producer from White Bear Lake, Minn., and former producer of WCCO's evening news. I reviewed her first book, which unpacked the world of TV news production in a most informative way. But I really got excited last month when I read in Cheryl Johnson's gossip column in the Star Tribune that reporter Joe Kimball's wife (that would be Julie Kramer) had written another mystery in which the heroine was accused of murdering a Minneapolis gossip columnist. Ooh-ee!
I'm fond of books that deal with just one year in the life of world history. A few years back, I reviewed a book simply titled "1900." I liked it because it ground so exceeding fine, so fine that I found out that that was the year National Biscuit Company - Nabisco -- began taking crackers out of barrels and putting them in boxes. Journalist James Mauro, former editor of Spy magazine, has taken the trick a step further. He's centered in on the year 1939, but taken from a specific point of view: The World's Fair of 1939, held on what had been a garbage heap in New York City.
It's time to go to the lake. Worrying about that seven-day hiatus when it rains morning, noon and night, or when the fish all stop biting? Don't worry. Bring some books along.
Recently New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that years ago the motto was as "General Motors Goes, So Goes the Nation." He followed by saying, "I'm very glad that isn't true today." That's an understatement. I've just finished reading "Sixty to Zero," by Alex Taylor III (Yale University Press, $26). Taylor, a senior editor at Fortune magazine, cut his journalistic teeth covering the auto industry for the Detroit Free Press.
"The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows," by Jacqueline Cobian West, black and white illustrations by Polly Bernatene (Dial Press, $16.99), just blew me away. I must confess I didn't approach the book with much enthusiasm because adolescent novels aren't usually my cup of tea, unless you count Jon Hassler's early forays into the genre. But the author went to school in the town where I live and now dwells in nearby Red Wing, Minn., and I loved the book of poetry, "Cherma," which the University of Wisconsin Press published recently.