6 Local Books and Albums to Give this Holiday

Minnesota books

Think South: How We Got Six Men and Forty Dogs Across Antarctica
– Cathy de Moll –
The executive director of 1990’s International Trans-Antarctica Expedition tells the inside story of the dogsled journey of almost 4,000 miles across some of the most frigid and inhospitable territory on the planet. This immensely readable account hinges on the delicious details of history: the way expedition leaders Will Steger (Minnesota’s famous adventurer, who contributes a foreward) and Jean-Louis Etienne first met by accident in the northern Arctic, the way one of their number couldn’t ski, the sketchy legal status of a plane they used. Schoolchildren of the time will remember following the expedition in class; it was a moment of cooperation between nations that marked off the seventh continent as something beyond international disputes, an unearthly realm whose very presence lends a sense of meditative eternity.

– Adam Levy –
After Adam Levy, front man of longtime local rock band the Honeydogs, lost his son Daniel to suicide, he was unable to write songs for more than a year and a half. This year he released a solo album of songs about his son, named after the beach on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where Levy scattered Daniel’s ashes, and at times its emotional impact is shattering. At the same time, it’s gorgeously elegiac, beautifully performed, and replete with the wistful uplift of the love that remains after loss. With a CD sleeve adorned with Daniel’s gonzo illustrations, it’s that rare piece of art that melds the personal and the universal with remarkable grace and honesty.

Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America
– David M. Krueger –
It’s a Minnesota story that seems to be too good to be true: a farmer in 1898 claims to uncover a rock with carvings telling about a pre-Columbus expedition by Vikings to the Upper Midwest, culminating in mass murder by Native Americans. And too good to be true it was—its authenticity was questioned soon after, and multiple examinations have lent considerable evidence that it was a hoax. Still, in some quarters the Kensington Runestone has been a source of fierce loyalty, a subject of Scandinavian ethnic pride, and a stubborn insistence that it tells a true history some would prefer not to admit. At this point, adherence to its validity is pretty much a badge of kookiness, and Krueger digs deep into how its myth demonstrates a complicated relationship with history, heritage, and belief in Minnesota and in America itself.

Minnesota music

Degrees of Freedom: The Origins of Civil Rights in Minnesota, 1865-1912
– William D. Green –
A history book both accessible and illuminating, William D. Green’s study of race in Minnesota focuses on the little-understood period following the Civil War, when Frederick Douglas could give a fiery speech to a raucous audience in the Twin Cities, then be denied a hotel room afterward. This account follows the broad strokes of history while also uncovering the stories of ordinary laborers, farmers, and business operators—including the African-American founders of Pig’s Eye Landing, which would soon be renamed St. Paul. Minnesota has long been a place of contradictions, home to progressive politics, racial violence, and societal gaps that persist to this day. Green’s work is an indispensable tool for understanding the long-view perspective on where we have been, and how we might get to where we want to be.

– Dan Israel –
“Gotta make your peace with the change,” sings Twin Cities troubadour Dan Israel on his latest recording, and it feels like a motto for the entire undertaking. “Dan” wended for days from my car’s stereo with a melodic stew of harmony vocals, the occasional fiddle and trumpet, and an unassuming production style that accents an ensemble musical sound and Israel’s time-worn vocals. The songs have the architectural integrity of a small-town schoolhouse or chapel, and like those structures they’re all about time: the encroachment of the northern cold, domestic comings and goings, the ashes of bygone love ready to be swept away.

The Grave Soul
– Ellen Hart –
Former chef and longtime prolific mystery writer Ellen Hart’s protagonist, restaurateur and private investigator Jane Lawless, returns for the 23rd time to unknot the riddles lying beneath the northern surfaces of the Twin Cities. Hart has been called the “lesbian answer to Agatha Christie,” which sounds about right, especially the comparison to a writer who was masterly in combining the mind-maze of the whodunit with moral complexities and an of-the-moment, contemporary feel. This time Lawless’s client is a man in love with a woman whose dark dreams point toward a sordid and obscured family past—a fine accompaniment to a glass of red and a seat by a winter fire.