The world has changed and there will be no going back. News that we’ll have even fewer bookstores in 2011 is a depressing non-surprise, another sign that we are reading and thinking differently — and probably less. Yes, there’s a good chance that you bought or just unwrapped an e-reader this holiday season, but when the same device that delivers a good read also offers Angry Birds, how many tired people will opt to blast pigs with a slingshot instead of reading a book?
People will still read books, but the selection of titles (and ideas) is becoming narrower. The experience of wandering in a bookstore, life-changing especially for the young, is going away. A Facebook feed is no substitute. When I heard that Biermaier’s Books, by the U, was closing, my heart especially sank. How many books did I find there, through guidance or serendipity, that I would never have read otherwise? One alum and former neighbor told me he learned more from the books he found at Biermaier’s than in most of his college classes.
That said, I’d like to share a selection of this year’s books by Minnesota writers. Talk about them, give them away, and try to buy them in a store.
• I’m not sure how big Chris Monroe plays outside of Minnesota, but the “Violet Days” cartoonist is the top banana in the local preschool set, and she deserves a wider audience for her work. Chico Bon Bon, the star of her “Monkey With a Toolbelt” books, is earnest, ingenious and hardworking, a nice antidote to all the snotty characters out there, and Monroe surrounds him with a million tiny, often humorous details that make each page absorbing. Her new book, “Sneaky Sheep,” is in the same vein.
• There are plenty of ABC books to choose from, and every kid should have at least one, so why not choose “Minnesota’s Hidden Alphabet,” a clever photography book that finds letters in the unlikeliest of places.
• For slightly older readers, “Bink and Golly,” by Alison McGhee and Kate DiCamillo, gives girls their own version of the odd-couple friendship archetype. There’s Frog and Toad, Bert and Ernie, and these two girls, one tall and refined, the other short and a little bit crazy.
• McGhee does a really nice job with books for teen readers, but she doesn’t have a new one. So instead, check out Steve Brezenhoff’s “The Absolute Value of -1,” in which teens weather family crises by forming their own dysfunctional family unit. Or Pete Hautman’s “Blank Confession,” a smart crime thriller in which a teenager walks into a police station and confesses to murder.
• Peter Bognanni’s “The House of Tomorrow” isn’t billed as a young-adult novel, but young readers will appreciate his sympathetic portrayal of outsiders. A boy is raised in strange isolation in a dome home tourist attraction, and forms a friendship with an angry young dude who knows all about punk rock, and thus opens up the whole world.
• “Paddle North,” by Layne Kennedy and Greg Breining is a stunning picture book for grownups that shows exactly why people keep going to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and want to protect it.
• Another nice coffee-table topper is “Prairie Lake Forest,” by Doug Ohman and Chris Niskanen, which visits Minnesota’s state parks, nicer than those in most other states and wonderfully different from one another.
• A more substantial read, “North Country: The Making of Minnesota,” by Mary Lethert Wingerd, is one of the best regional history texts I’ve read, gracefully written, exhaustively researched and filled with amazing details and images.
• My other favorite fiction titles this year included Louise Erdrich’s “Shadow Tag,” a troubling tale of romance gone very bad, set in modern-day Minneapolis; William Kent Krueger’s latest Cork O’Connor thriller, “Vermillion Drift”; John Jodzio’s short-story collection, “If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home”; Mary Sharratt’s witch-trial tale, “The Daughters of Witching Hill.”
And of course, there are so many others. For whatever reason (another 4-8 inches!?), we produce an awful lot of good books and writers here. Most of them don’t have banner ads or media coverage, but you might find them stacked together on a table at a bookstore. I hope you run into a few in 2011.