Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Can't Resist a List: Help Me Make a Midwestern List!

In my exploration of "Top 100" and even "Top 1000" lists, I found several regional lists from the U.S. For my home state of Maine, I found a book, The Mirror of Maine, which was actually a catalog of an exhibit. The Agee Films website has a list of 125 Great Southern Books (of which I've read 32 -- I like me some Southern writin'!) And the San Francisco Chronicle invited readers to submit selections for a couple of Western 100s -- one for fiction and one for non-fiction. At least one of the Chronicle selections caused me to wonder whether anyone had actually read the book -- for whatever the title may suggest, Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac is about Wisconsin.

And that brings me to the project I want your help with -- a Midwestern booklist, since I couldn't find one on the Internet. This idea had been percolating in the back of my mind for a while, and came to the fore when Onkel Hankie Pants inquired whether the Guardian's list of 1000 Novels included Ole Rolvaag's Giants in the Earth. No, said I. Humph, said he. And I agree, it should be in there. But even more so, it deserves to be on a list of books to read for a sense of the Midwest and its literary riches.

I could make a pretty good list off the top of my head, but some states might get short shrift. I could do a little better by trolling the Library of Congress subject headings. But I think a better list would come from a variety of people, so I'm asking my blogreaders and other friends to weigh in. Please send me, in comments or, if you just can't figure out comments, by email, your list of Great Midwestern Books. Here are a few rules:

1. The Midwest shall be deemed to consist of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. No arguments please. This list is attested both by Midwest Living magazine and by Joel Mabus, whose song is at the top of the page. States on the edges do partake somewhat of their neighboring regions, but they're still "hopelessly Midwestern".

2. The works submitted should actually take place in/be about the Midwest, no matter where the author was born. For example, take Ernest Hemingway, born in Oak Park, Illinois. A Farewell to Arms? Nope. "Big Two-Hearted River"? Ya sure, you betcha.

3. Any type of "bound printed material" qualifies -- novels, short stories, poetry, non-fiction. (Poetry should be specific -- for example Sandburg's poem about Chicago, or Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology, not just "the poems of X"). We're leaving out songs and screenplays and movies this time, OK? But I guess stage plays are OK too.

4. Please include a brief annotation, with the state with which the work is identified and a little about why you'd include it.

5. Submit as many as you want. I don't have a preconceived idea of how long the list will be. Don't worry about duplications -- votes will be counted.

Just to get you started, here's an example of what I want:

SOUTH DAKOTA: Wilder, Laura Ingalls. The Long Winter. My favorite of the "Little House" books describes the trials of the Ingalls family and their neighbors in De Smet during an exceptionally hard winter. Lots of ups and downs, from the abject misery of twisting sticks of hay to burn in the stove to the joy when the train finally gets through and the missionary barrel of Christmas gifts is opened, give a realistic picture of the life of the homesteader.

Let the list begin!


SingingOwl said...

I love "The Long Winter."

MINNESOTA, Keillor, Garrison, "Lake Woebegone"

Minnesotans and Wisconsinites love Garrison Keillor for many reasons. His homespun but sometimes edgy tales of life in this barely fictional Minnesota town are thought provoking, sometimes touching, and almost always laugh-out-loud funny. From the Lutherans to the Norweigan batchelor farmers to the housewives and children and ne're do wells, most midwestern folks feel they know these characters because they really do know someone just like them.

Sisterfilms said...

As you know, most of the books I read outside of school take place in alternate realities. So the only one that comes to mind off the top of my head is:

MINNESOTA: Collins, Cyn - West Bank Boogie. Although I haven't read it all, it's very good with fun filled facts and photos of "Minneapolis's own Haight-Ashbury" as one review said.

I'll keep thinking - but PLEASE! Don't let anyone suggest Gentian Rosemary and Thyme, for the love of all that is good!

lynn said...

Absolutely include Giants in the Earth.
Dakota by Kathleen Norris -- an exquisite rendering of place.
I'll think of more.


Amber Pasternak said...

OHIO, Pollock, Donald Ray - Knockemstiff

This book has been generating buzz locally and nationally since it came out. It is a short story collection and is similar to Winesburg, Ohio in that it tells the connected stories of the inhabitants of an Ohio town. The words gritty and grim are often used to describe this work. The author is a native of Knockemstiff and worked in a meat packing plant and paper mill before entering Ohio State's MFA (Creative Writing)program.

SonShineIn said...

Teamster Rebellion, by Farrell Dobbs
The story of the 1934 Teamster Truck Strike that shut down Minneapolis, by one of the leading organizers. Followed by Teamster Politics and Teamster Bureaucracy.

Heed The Thunder, by Jim Thompson
One of noir writer Jim Thompson's early novels, a creepy, picaresque Nebraska gothic story of an extended family in the sandhill country.

War For The Oaks, by Emma Bull
The preeminent Twin Cities fantasy novel, about a battle between the good and evil fairy tendencies for the soul of the area. Already something of a period piece, since it takes place mostly in pre-gentrification South Minneapolis in the rock scene that flourished there in the early to mid 1980s.

Strange Days, Dangerous Nights: Photos from the Speed Graphics Era by Larry Millett
A compilation of news photography, mostly from the Twin Cities, from the 1940s and 1950s, when standards for acceptable graphics were much different than they are today. Mostly crimes, courts and accidents, with a leavening of human interest/feature shots.

In The Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen
The story of the American Indian Movement and the occupation of Wounded Knee. Journalist Matthiessen charts the rise and fall of AIM as an armed, insurrectionary group, and the court battles that resulted in the imprisonment of Leonard Peltier.

The Bomb by Frank Harris
A novelization of the events surrounding the Haymarket confrontations of 1886 in Chicago, written by the notorious English editor who was the friend and biographer of Oscar Wilde.

Lesa said...

What a fun project! Can't wait to see the list. And, I'm going to have to check my list of books. I know I read some terrific books about Ohio, my home state.

Lesa Holstine

Ohio Traub said...

How about Oak Openings (or The Bee Hunter) by James Fenimore Cooper? This shows you how to zero in on the honey tree.