A small table in the back of the bar. Dimly lit. Glasses of absinthe and half-finished novels lying face down on the tabletop. The hum of conversation and two friends discussing literature.
“So many good books out,” says one.
“Any from Minnesota?” Asks the other.
“Well, funny you should ask.”
“There’s an article on that very subject.”
The Twin Cities offer a bold a thriving literary scene, continuing the long history of fantastic literature from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Garrison Keillor. The American Bookseller’s Association just held their Winter Institute in Minneapolis last February, and institutions like the Loft/Open Book help foster local talent.
Anybody from Minnesota, they ask?
Read on, we say.
Marlon James: Anyone who has followed the career of this Jamaican-born, Minnesota transplant, wouldn’t necessarily call him new. His first novel, John Crow’s Devil came out back in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2014’s A Brief History of Seven Killings that he received well-deserved national attention. The book, which explores Jamaican history through various voices and perspectives, won the 2015 Man Booker prize for fiction (James is the only Jamaican author ever to be short-listed, let alone win), should be on anyone and everyone’s summer reading list.
Nathan Hill: The St. Thomas professor’s debut novel has taken the literary world by storm. The Nix, which has led to comparisons between Hill and legendary American novelist John Irving, among others, is a tale of a young boy abandoned by his mother, his attempt to reach her later in life after she gains viral notoriety for throwing rocks at politicians, and a Norwegian house spirit (the Nix after which the book is named). Politics and fantasy, social climates present and past, and, at its core, a story about wants and needs, The Nix is a unique piece of fiction. As the hype surrounding the book continues to grow, now is the perfect time to cross it off your list.
Julie Klassen: A novel full of romance and intrigue, Klassen’s The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill tells the story of Jane Bell, who, after her husband dies, becomes the owner of a secluded coaching inn. She enlists the help of her mother-in-law (a fascinating relationship in and of itself), until two men she thought she had left behind return to her life. You’ve probably heard it all before, but never quite like this. This is the book you take the beach with you, or out to the porch with a glass of wine at sunset.
Jim Walsh: Music in the Twin Cities deserves the Jim Walsh treatment. Prince especially. The most recent book released by Walsh, The Gold Experience: Following Prince in the 90’s, which was just released January of 2017, is a must-read for any true fans of the purple one as it follows Prince’s tumultuous, and perhaps most fruitful, decade in music. If you’re looking for an overview of the Twin Cities music scene, and all of the great music writing that has come from it, Walsh’s 2016 book Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes is more than worth a read as well.
Sinclair Lewis: There’s a profound relevance and timelessness to Lewis’ work, and not just his most famous Main Street. One of Lewis’ later works, It Can’t Happen Here, which follows a whimsical dictatorship of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip who defeats FDR for the presidency on a platform of nationalism, patriotism and a return to “traditional” values, feels eerily familiar and so relevant to the current social and political climate. It might be time to revisit the later classic from one of Minnesota’s most beloved sons.
Tim O’ Brien: The author of the acclaimed The Things They Carried, a book that has found place on countless reading lists, has other works certainly deserving of your time and attention. In the Lake of the Woods which came out in 2006, is our latest favorite. The novel is a true gem for any local, telling the story of a senator forced to disappear into the northwoods of Minnesota. The Macalester College grad, now in his 70’s, writes deftly about both small town Minnesota, and the trials and tribulations of the Vietnam War, for a fascinating balance of at-home and far away.
Larry Millett: A Twin Cities gem, Millet is best known as the last word on Minnesota history and especially architecture; for anyone interested in Twin Cities history and architecture, there are few that can hold a candle to Millet. But those who know Millett’s work are also familiar with his unique take on crime-writing, specifically his Sherlock Holmes novels. Millett’s Shadwell Rafferty character, an associate of Mr. Holmes, has found adventure in a series of novels since 1996. They’re fantastic potboilers and page-turners, often set right here in Minnesota.