56 great books to give as gifts or read yourself

Wonderlands: Essays on the Life of Literature

By Charles Baxter

Novelist, essayist, poet and teacher Charles Baxter is one of the literary treasures of Minnesota, and in “Wonderlands” he generously shares his vast knowledge and approach to reading, writing and teaching. These are not the usual writing tips; these are essays of insight and wisdom. Give your characters a request, not a command; inventory who they are and what they have — because what they have can be lost. He examines charisma, he gives generous nods to other writers (James McBride, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison), all in his distinct and clear voice. (Graywolf Press, $17)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

Joan Didion: The Last Interview

Introduction by Patricia Lockwood

A new entry in the “last interview” series, this curated collection of interviews with Joan Didion is marked by her consistently brilliant way of thinking, but also by her shifts in tone over time. The interviews, presented in chronological order, offer Didion reflecting on “Play It as It Lays” and “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” in 1972; by 2021, she is responding to the global pandemic. Patricia Lockwood’s introduction — strong, smart and convincing — is reason enough to read the collection. (Melville House, $17.99)

Reviewed by Jackie Thomas-Kennedy

The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen

By Isaac Blum

Hoodie Rosen is “a walking bar mitzvah.” His life is bound by rituals: daily arguments over Torah at school, weekly Shabbos with his family, the merciless teasing of his friends, until he breaks the one rule that will make him an outcast — falling in love with the daughter of the mayor, who is trying to block his Orthodox Jewish community from settling in their town. Isaac Blum writes laugh-out-loud funny exchanges between teen boys debating scripture with their rabbi, even as he plumbs the heartbreak of first love and the challenges of friendships that reach across yawning cultural divides. (Philomel, $18.99)

Reviewed by Trisha Collopy, Star Tribune

The First and Only Book of Sack 2.0

By Steve Sack

Steve Sack, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Star Tribune, published his first collection for the newspaper’s 150th anniversary in 2017. When he announced his retirement last spring, readers suggested that he update that collection (which won a Minnesota Book Award in 2018 ). This volume, like the first, is a real gem. Sack has an unfailing ability to capture the foibles and failures of politics and politicians in a single frame, and in this book he has selected his best from more than four decades of cartooning. The last 27 pages, titled “Since Last We Spoke,” includes a stellar bunch of cartoons created since the book’s first edition. (Star Tribune, $17.95)

Reviewed by Lynette Lamb

Duluth’s Grand Old Architecture: 1870-1940

By Tony Dierckins and Maryanne C. Norton

In this sizable volume, Duluth author Tony Dierckins and architectural historian Maryanne Norton have compiled an impressive annotated photo collection of both existing and lost structures of their city — bridges, civic buildings, churches, schools, private homes, and more. Ranging in size from the sprawling Glensheen mansion (once home to the Congdon mining family) to the tiny, ornate Northwestern Oil Co. gas station (now serving as a malt shop), the structures contained in this volume paint a vivid portrait of a vital Gilded Era city that experienced a dramatic cycle of boom and bust — and is now happily booming once again. (Zenith City Press, $60)

Reviewed by Lynette Lamb

This Contested Land: The Storied Past and Uncertain Future of America’s National Monuments

By McKenzie Long

US national parks are famous and beloved — sometimes too beloved, judging by the summertime crowds at parks such as Yosemite. America’s national monuments, on the other hand, are far less known and visited. In Utah, for instance, Zion National Park juggles 4 million visitors a year, whereas Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument sees less than a fourth that many. The two differ primarily in how they were created: national parks by congressional vote; national monuments by the nimbler but less secure method of presidential decree. Author/outdoorswoman Long climbs, hikes and paddles her way through these national treasures, leading to a thoughtful series of essays describing the monuments and discussing their histories and significance, as well as the threats to their futures. (University of Minnesota Press, $24.95)

Reviewed by Lynette Lamb

Still Dreaming / Seguimos Soñando

By Claudia Guadalupe Martínez, illustrated by Magdalena Mora

“Still Dreaming / Seguimos Soñando” is a story of Mexican Repatriation, told through the eyes of a young boy and written in both English and Spanish. Fearing deportation, the boy’s family packs up, leaving behind the pecan tree his great-grandfather planted, the boy’s aunts, everything he’s ever known and loved. Their loaded car drives south through the night, heading from Texas to Mexico. Claudia Guadalupe Martínez tells a moving story of loss and hope, and an endnote explains the history behind the American law that forces long-established families to emigrate. Twin Cities artist Magdalena Mora conveys the boy’s fear, anxiety and hope in her color-saturated illustrations of ink, gouache and digital media. Ages 7-8 (Lee & Low Books, $20.95)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

Mashkiki Road: The Seven Grandfather Teachings

By Elizabeth S. Barrett, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder

Three children set off into the forest to gather cedar and sage for their Grandma Mindy. Along the way, they meet the animals that represent the seven grandfather teachings — including Makwa, the black bear that represents courage; Amik, the beaver that represents wisdom, and Migizi, the bald eagle that represents love. Elizabeth S. Barrett and Jonathan Thunder, both Red Lake Ojibwe, have teamed up to tell a simple story of tradition, morals and respect. Ages 3-7 (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $17.95)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

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