The best often-overlooked Minnesota books to get through a long winter

Why am I passionate about this?

After more than 30 years in daily journalism in Minnesota, I moved to a trout stream near Durango, Colo., to stage a second act. Editors at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where I worked for 26 years, gave me a freelance contract to write a Minnesota History column every Sunday. It’s morphed into a popular crowd-sourcing of history with readers feeding me delicious family stories. I’m the lucky one who gets to weave these stories—enriching my knowledge of what being Minnesotans is all about.


I wrote...

Minnesota, 1918: When Flu, Fire, and War Ravaged the State

By Curt Brown,

Book cover of Minnesota, 1918: When Flu, Fire, and War Ravaged the State

What is my book about?

In what mushroomed into a unprecedented trifecta of woe, Minnesotans in 1918 faced the state’s deadliest wildfires and a lethal influenza outbreak just as the nation’s first World War erupted. Award-winning Minnesota journalist Curt Brown puts a human face on the dread—braiding the three simultaneous calamities into a gripping read with true accounts impeccably researched from across the state. Published 100 years later in 2018, the book was written in the pre-COVID days but morphed into an especially relevant flashback.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of My Name Is Joe Lavoie

Curt Brown Why did I love this book?

A master of nonfiction crime writing, William Swanson uses his W.A. Winter pen name for fictional works, including this 2022 book that clung to my thoughts weeks after the last page. Based loosely on a Minnesota crime spree in the 1950s, Winter takes readers into the mind of Joe Lavoie—the wheelchair-bound lone survivor of three brothers who engaged in a shootout with police in 1953. Set in 1991, 38 years after the crippling police gunshot, the taut writing takes you into Joe’s mind and explores his dysfunctional family on what turns out to be his last stand.

By W.A. Winter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Name Is Joe Lavoie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Minneapolis, 1953—A wild crime spree stuns the Upper Midwest, leaving a trail of blood and betrayal that terrifies a region and shatters the family at its core. 

Thirty-eight years later, the tattered remnants of the notorious LaVoie crime family—sisters, brothers, and children too young to remember or understand—gather for an edgy reunion in a Minneapolis suburb. Among the guests is Joe LaVoie, sole survivor of the fraternal gang behind the ’50s bloodshed, a convicted cop-killer crippled by a police bullet during the final shootout. Now, an old man facing his own death, Joe is both desperate and terrified to learn…


Book cover of The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse

Curt Brown Why did I love this book?

Picking out one of this master storyteller’s plethora of great reads is nearly impossible, but this 2002 novel features Father Damien Modeste, a woman who has lived as a man on the remote Ojibwe reservation of Little No Horse. The gripping plot takes a turn amid an investigation into a potentially phony saint named Sister Leopolda.

By Louise Erdrich,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A powerfully involving novel from one of America's finest writers, and winner of America's prestigious National Book Award for Fiction 2012

Sister Cecilia lives for music, for those hours when she can play her beloved Chopin on the piano. It isn't that she neglects her other duties, rather it is the playing itself - distilled of longing - that disturbs her sisters. The very air of the convent thickens with the passion of her music, and the young girl is asked to leave. And so it is that Sister Cecilia appears before Berndt Vogel on his farm, destitute, looking for…


Book cover of Chief Bender's Burden: The Silent Struggle of a Baseball Star

Curt Brown Why did I love this book?

This 2008 biography of a Hall of Fame baseball pitcher follows Charles Albert Bender from the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota to his heyday with the Philadelphia Athletics in the early-1900s. While fans know about Minnesota baseball stars like Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, and Jack Morris, Bender’s amazing life has been all but forgotten. Swift breathes new life into a man with a foot in both his Indian and white worlds.

By Tom Swift,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chief Bender's Burden as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The greatest American Indian baseball player of all time, Charles Albert Bender, was, according to a contemporary, "the coolest pitcher in the game." Using a trademark delivery, an impressive assortment of pitches that may have included the game's first slider, and an apparently unflappable demeanor, he earned a reputation as baseball's great clutch pitcher during tight Deadball Era pennant races and in front of boisterous World Series crowds. More remarkably yet, "Chief" Bender's Hall of Fame career unfolded in the face of immeasurable prejudice. This skillfully told and complete account of Bender's life is also a portrait of greatness of…


Book cover of The Gift of the Deer

Curt Brown Why did I love this book?

This quirky 1966 memoir comes from a Chicago couple who traded in their big-city careers for a cabin at the end of the Gunflint Trail in Minnesota’s remote northeastern Arrowhead country. She had been a top-notch metallurgist—fiddling with a new way to temper steel for farm implements at International Harvester’s research lab near Chicago. He had been an art director for a textbook publisher. No one thought they’d make it through one Minnesota winter but they endured for 17 years on the edge of the wilderness and write soothingly about their new lives amid nature.

By Helen Hoover,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Gift of the Deer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic story of a family of deer and the humans who loved them

One Christmas Eve an emaciated deer stumbled across the yard of Helen Hoover's remote cabin in northern Minnesota. Barely surviving the brutal winter, gaunt from starvation, blind in one eye from a hunting wound, he became the central character in Hoover's best-selling book, The Gift of the Deer.

Hoover and her husband Adrian named this deer Peter and nursed him back to health, setting out cedar branches, corn, and carrots. From that Christmas on, the Hoovers observed Peter and his growing clan for four years. Hoover…


Book cover of This Tender Land

Curt Brown Why did I love this book?

The author, well known for his mysteries, used to write daily from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. at the St. Clair Broiler by our first home in St. Paul. In 2019, he penned a gorgeous narrative chronicling three boys and a sweet young girl named Emma and their 1932 odyssey from an Indian training school breakout down the Mississippi River. Krueger drops readers smack-dab into the Great Depression and a magical trek. It reminds me of Amor Towles' Lincoln Highway but was written first.

By William Kent Krueger,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked This Tender Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1932, Minnesota-the Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O'Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent's wrath. Forced to flee, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own.

Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphans will fly into the unknown and cross paths with others…


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Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

Wendy Lee Hermance Author Of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.

Wendy's book list on why Portugal is weird

What is my book about?

Weird Foods of Portugal describes the author's first years trying to make sense of a strange new place and a home there for herself.

Witty, dreamlike, and at times jarring, the book sizzles with social commentary looking back at America and beautiful, finely drawn descriptions of Portugal and its people. Part dark-humor cautionary tale, part travel adventure, ultimately, Hermance's book of narrative non-fiction serves as affirmation for any who wish to make a similar move themselves.

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

What is this book about?

"Wendy Lee Hermance describes Portugal´s colorful people and places - including taxi drivers and animals - with a poet´s empathy and dark humor. Part travel adventure, part cautionary tale, Weird Foods of Portugal is at it´s heart, affirmation for all who consider making such a move themselves."


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Minnesota, Philadelphia, and miracles?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Minnesota, Philadelphia, and miracles.

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