The best historic memoirs that speak to the love of place

Why am I passionate about this?

I've always loved a sense of place. Perhaps it is because I have lived in the same river valley my whole life, my home for 45 years, and shared a cabin with my siblings that has been in our family for 93 years. Even so, I'm always looking for the nuances in familiar landscapes that expand our understanding of ourselves and each other. I have published dozens of personal essays, two memoirs, Return to Wake Robin: One cabin in the Heyday of Northwoods Resorts and On a Clear Night: Essays from the Heartland, and many monthly perspectives for NPR’s WNIJ radio station. As a former teacher, I enjoyed helping my students find their writing voice. 

I wrote...

Return to Wake Robin: One Cabin in the Heyday of Northwoods Resorts

By Marnie O. Mamminga,

Book cover of Return to Wake Robin: One Cabin in the Heyday of Northwoods Resorts

What is my book about?

In a series of evocative remembrances, Mamminga takes us to Wake Robin, the Northwoods cabin her grandparents built in 1929. Preserving the spirit and cultural heritage of a vanishing era, she conveys the heart of a place and the community that gathered there.

Bookended by the close of the logging era and the 1970s shift to modernity, these essays represent the golden age of Northwoods camps and cabins—a time when such retreats were the essence of simplicity: the familiar cadre of fishing guides, the call of the weekly square dance, the lodge as gathering place. By tracing the history of one resort and cabin, she recalls a time that will resonate with anyone who spent their summers Up North—or wishes they had.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Christmas Memory

Marnie O. Mamminga Why did I love this book?

There is no finer memoir celebrating a love of place than Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. His opening lines take you right into the heart of the kitchen in a rural Alabama home where he lived as a young boy with an elderly distant cousin in the late 1920s. Those few cherished years would influence his writing and life for as long as he lived.

Writing in concise, elegant language, Capote centers his brief memoir around one Thanksgiving and Christmas when he was seven and his beloved cousin, Miss Souk Faulk, was in her late sixties. Perhaps it is because I have hosted Thanksgiving for my family for years, that I so appreciate Capote’s ability to capture, with humor and poignancy, the power of traditions with those you love.

By Truman Capote,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Christmas Memory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A holiday classic from "one of the greatest writers and most fascinating society figures in American history" (Vanity Fair)!

First published in 1956, this much sought-after autobiographical recollection from Truman Capote (In Cold Blood; Breakfast at Tiffany's) about his rural Alabama boyhood is a perfect gift for Capote's fans young and old.

Seven-year-old Buddy inaugurates the Christmas season by crying out to his cousin, Miss Sook Falk: "It's fruitcake weather!" Thus begins an unforgettable portrait of an odd but enduring friendship and the memories the two friends share of beloved holiday rituals.

Book cover of Out of Africa

Marnie O. Mamminga Why did I love this book?

I have never been to Africa and probably will not get there, but because of Karen Blixen’s haunting memoir, Out of Africa, I feel I have seen its beauty and allure. Living on and managing her coffee plantation near the Ngong Hills of British East Africa (now Kenya) from 1913-1931, Blixen’s love of place is clearly evident in her mesmerizing descriptions of her home, the people who lived beside her, and the African wilderness that surrounded it all. 

With lyrical language, Blixen brings to life the gentle elephants traipsing across the plains, the roar of the lions, the herd of running zebras, but more importantly, the captivating images of an environment that has long since disappeared for all. In my dreams, I am there.

By Isak Dinesen,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Out of Africa as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1914 Karen Blixen arrived in Kenya with her husband to run a coffee-farm. Drawn to the exquisite beauty of Africa, she spent her happiest years there until the plantation failed. A poignant farewell to her beloved farm, "Out of Africa" describes her friendships with the local people, her dedication for the landscape and wildlife, and great love for the adventurer Denys Finch-Hatton.

Book cover of All Creatures Great and Small

Marnie O. Mamminga Why did I love this book?

Bewitched by the fragrant fells, humble farms, and verdant scenery of Yorkshire, England, James Herriot, a 23-year-old veterinarian, found his love of place and stayed there till the end of his life. Set in the 1930s, All Creatures Great and Small documents not only the charming vistas of Herriot’s veterinary world, but also the beguiling animals and characters who gave voice to this enchanting landscape.

As a young teacher back in the 1970s, I came across his memoir and was immediately smitten even before it became a wildly popular series. Although I did not know it at the time, I think Herriot’s approach to finding a story in the everydayness of life subconsciously influenced my own writing of personal essays and memoir. To him, I tip my pen.

By James Herriot,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked All Creatures Great and Small as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 3, 4, 5, and 6.

What is this book about?

A tie-in to the PBS Masterpiece series and Christmas special, available on streaming and home video.

All Creatures Great and Small is first volume in the multimillion copy bestselling series. Delve into the magical, unforgettable world of James Herriot, the world's most beloved veterinarian, and his menagerie of heartwarming, funny, and tragic animal patients.

For fifty years, generations of readers have flocked to Herriot's marvelous tales, deep love of life, and extraordinary storytelling abilities. For decades, Herriot roamed the remote, beautiful Yorkshire Dales, treating every patient that came his way from smallest to largest, and observing animals and humans alike…

Book cover of Gift from the Sea

Marnie O. Mamminga Why did I love this book?

Although times have certainly changed since Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote Gift from the Sea in 1955, the struggle to define ourselves and our relationships has not. Secluding herself on an almost deserted island, Lindbergh uses a variety of distinctive beach shells as writing prompts to philosophically examine the way we live and relate to each other.

The simplicity of being isolated in a rustic cottage beside a beautiful beach with only seagulls as companions allows Lindbergh the freedom to explore and question the choices we make. In today’s noisy, frenetic world, who among us wouldn’t like to escape to an island to contemplate our life’s trajectory? A soft breeze, the rhythmic music of the waves, the sun on our backs, and time to think. Sign me up.

By Anne Morrow Lindbergh,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Gift from the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Quietly powerful and a great help. Glorious' Emma Thompson

'Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves.'

Holidaying by the sea, and taking inspiration from the shells she finds on the seashore, Anne Morrow Lindbergh meditates on youth and age, love and marriage, peace, solitude and contentment. First published in 1955 and an instant bestseller, Gift from the Sea's insights - into aspects of the modern world that threaten to overwhelm us, the complications of technology, the ever multiplying commitments that take us from our families - are as relevant today as they ever were,…

Book cover of Life on the Mississippi

Marnie O. Mamminga Why did I love this book?

It is no secret that Mark Twain loved the Mississippi River. Most of us know this from his classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But Life on the Mississippi, Twain’s memoir of his youthful adventures as a steamboat pilot in training published in 1883, gives us a deeper picture not only of the author but also the Mississippi.

Like a meandering current, Twain weaves together a historic journey of the river, life on a steamboat, the changing landscape, and the challenges of navigation. Throw in a few tall tales and signature Mark Twain philosophy, and you feel as if you know the author and the river intimately. As a Midwesterner, I sometimes visit the Mighty Miss, and like Twain, I am always moved by its sweeping grandeur and power.

By Mark Twain,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Life on the Mississippi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Life on the Mississippi (1883) is a memoir by Mark Twain of his days as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River before the American Civil War. It is also a travel book, recounting his trip up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Saint Paul many years after the war.

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Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

Book cover of Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

Kathleen DuVal Author Of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional historian and life-long lover of early American history. My fascination with the American Revolution began during the bicentennial in 1976, when my family traveled across the country for celebrations in Williamsburg and Philadelphia. That history, though, seemed disconnected to the place I grew up—Arkansas—so when I went to graduate school in history, I researched in French and Spanish archives to learn about their eighteenth-century interactions with Arkansas’s Native nations, the Osages and Quapaws. Now I teach early American history and Native American history at UNC-Chapel Hill and have written several books on how Native American, European, and African people interacted across North America.

Kathleen's book list on the American Revolution beyond the Founding Fathers

What is my book about?

A magisterial history of Indigenous North America that places the power of Native nations at its center, telling their story from the rise of ancient cities more than a thousand years ago to fights for sovereignty that continue today

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

What is this book about?

Long before the colonization of North America, Indigenous Americans built diverse civilizations and adapted to a changing world in ways that reverberated globally. And, as award-winning historian Kathleen DuVal vividly recounts, when Europeans did arrive, no civilization came to a halt because of a few wandering explorers, even when the strangers came well armed.

A millennium ago, North American cities rivaled urban centers around the world in size. Then, following a period of climate change and instability, numerous smaller nations emerged, moving away from rather than toward urbanization. From this urban past, egalitarian government structures, diplomacy, and complex economies spread…

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