Recognizing Remarkable Residents

By Carol Van Why

Thor Kommedahl was one of the Coffman pioneers.  He spent his career in the Department of Plant Pathology on the St. Paul Campus.  At Coffman he was a longtime member of the Library Committee and could be called The Father of Book Night.

In Thor’s memory, the Library Committee purchased Seeds on Ice: Svalbard and the Global Seed Vault by Cory Fowler.  Highly illustrated and very readable, it’s a book that chronicles efforts to store and preserve for humanity, seeds of the world’s food crops on a remote, Norwegian island 810 miles from the North Pole.  It’s hard to imagine a better book to recognize someone who was intensely proud of his Norwegian heritage and whose career was devoted to the health and betterment of maize, one of the world’s most important crops.  Find this book in the Library’s Science/Technology/Math section.

We thought we knew all about the accomplished Gretchen Kreuter.  She has been a professor of history, college administrator and author.  At Coffman she’s served on the Board of Directors, the Library Committee and more.  Then, filling some big shoes, she became Book Night’s convener when Thor Kommedahl resignedIt wasn’t until one Sunday afternoon when Gretchen shared a portion of a memoir in progress with some lucky residents, that many of us learned she was an artist as well.

The Library Committee was happy to add Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear to the library’s collection in honor of Gretchen Kreuter.  Find this book in the Library’s Biography section.

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New in the Library for Fall 2017

By Carol Van Why

It’s always been the Library Committee’s goal at any given time to have something new for every reading taste in the Coffman Library.  For the next month or so look for the books below on the Library’s Recent Arrival shelves.  Thereafter you’ll find them shelved in their permanent locations throughout the library.


  • Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable by Sujatha Gilda (2017)
  • Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan by Howard Sounes (2011)
  • Flying Funny:  My Life Without a Net by Dudley Riggs (2017)
  • The King Years:  Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement by Taylor Branch (2013)
  • Lise Meitner:  A Life In Physics by Ruth Lewin Sime (1997)
  • Notorious Victoria:  The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored by Mary Gabriel (1998)


  • Barkskins:  A Novel by Annie Proulx (2016)
  • A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (2015)
  • Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift (2016)


  • Dark Fire by C. J. Sampson (2004)
  • Dark Net by Benjamin Percy (2017)
  • Dissolution by C. J. Sampson (2003)


  • Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency.  by Joshua Green (2017)
  • Dream Hoarders:  How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust by Richard V. Reeves (2017)
  • Good Care Giver:  A One of a Kind Compassionate Resource for Anyone Caring for an Aged Loved One by Robert Kane (2011)
  • Loving: Interracial Intimacy in America and the Threat to White Supremacy by Sheryll Cashin (2017)
  • Power Paradox:  How We Gain and Lose Influence by Dacher Keltner (2016)
  • The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and how to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance by Ben Sasse (2017)


  • Citizen:  An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014)
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Discovering Good Science Books in the Coffman Library

By Carol Van Why

When I compare our collection of science-themed books with various published “Best of” lists, I’m always surprised to find that our library collection contains many notable books.

Most of the science books are on the upper level, west side of the library.  Browse the shelves labeled SCIENCE/TECH/MATH; NATURE/ENVIRONMENT; NATURE WRITING.  We’ve tried to make it even easier to find a good book by marking our favorite titles with green, 166SIX PICKS labels.  One recent and excellent book in this area of the library is Dava Sobel’s Glass Universe:  How Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars.

But don’t confine your explorations to the upper level.  There are a number of excellent scientific biographies in the BIOGRAPHY section on the lower level.  In this section we arrange the books according to the subject of the book (e.g., Einstein, Watson).  Biographies about more than one individual are shelved nearby in BIOGRAPHY COLLECTIONS.  Look for Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures in this section.

We add books to the collection frequently so make a point of regularly checking our Recent Arrivals shelves on the lower level.  New there this week are Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s new one–Astrophysics for People in a Hurry–and Scientist as Rebel by Freeman Dyson.

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Local Mystery Writer Ellen Hart in a Master Class

By Carol Van Why

Minneapolis-based mystery author, Ellen Hart has joined other elite mystery writers represented in the 1666 Coffman Library’s collection.  On April 27, 2017 in New York City she was awarded the Mystery Writers of America’s (MWA) Grand Master Award.  Other notables to have received this award are:  Agatha Christie, John Le Carre, P. D. James and Tony Hillerman.

The MWA is the group known for presenting the annual Edgar Awards for best mysteries in various categories.  Winning an Edgar Award recognizes an author for one book while the Grand Master Award recognizes lifetime achievement and consistent quality.

If you haven’t read any of Hart’s mysteries, consider borrowing one of the Jane Lawless series, which features a restaurateur as sleuth.  Five of the titles in this series have won Lambda Literary awards.  Ellen is also a friend of another favorite author in the Library’s Mystery/Spy/Adventure section–William Kent Krueger.  Perhaps we can expect the MWA to grant him their Grand Master Award in a few years.

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Recommendations Basket

By Mary Lynn Kittelson
Originally published in the April 2017 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter

Sometimes you want to read a book, but you have no idea what to choose. It can feel daunting on some days.

Well, the library now provides a recommendations basket. It’s a little red wire basket sitting on the library table as you enter. In it are index card descriptions of books that we on the Library Committee have been impressed by, and why. There are three categories: biography & history, fiction & mystery, and everything else. The cards tell you in what bookcase and on which shelf the book can be found. We are steadily adding cards to the basket as we go, offering more good ideas for books. After all, there’s nothing like a friendly tip on a good book.

You can also read these recommendations cards on the Coffman library website, with eye-catching graphics provided by webmistress Victoria Tirrel.

And if you would like to write up your own book recommendation, we welcome it. Please take a card and also a green sheet (folded up underneath the basket), and you will see the format we are using. You can drop your recommendations card off at Mary Lynn’s at 104.
By the way, the basket is inspired by those scrappy little post-it comments from bookstore staff on their new and featured books. These intriguing notes can make you grab the book off the shelf and pay good money. With our cards, all you do is sign it out!

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Writing from Warm Places

by Barbara Woshinsky
Originally published in the March 2017 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter

…books she had read to him [are] landscapes they have already walked through. (93) —Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

At this time of year, even the hardiest of Minnesotans may long for balmier climes. If you can’t take a Caribbean cruise and don’t own a second home in Madeira, the next best thing is to wrap yourself in a warm book. Here are some compelling suggestions from the 1666 library collection.

The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje, is a spellbinding story of love and betrayal that won its author the Booker Prize in 1992. A film based on the novel starring Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas earned nine Academy Awards. Though the novel begins in postwar Italy, its heart lies in Cairo and the Libyan desert. A plane crashes in the sand; a badly burned man, later known only as the English patient, floats down to earth and is rescued by Bedouin tribesmen. From the outset, the book’s language appeals to all the senses: “He could smell the oasis before he saw it. The liquid in the air. The rustle of things.” (6) “He saw the moving veins of flamingos cross his sight in the halfdarkness of the covered sun.” (9) As the story moves back and forward in time, we slowly learn the truth about the mysterious “English” patient and the others surrounding him.

If you are in the mood for lighter reading, you can travel several time zones to the east to make the acquaintance of Dr. Paboun Siri, the reluctant official coroner of Laos. The library has just acquired the first of Colin Cotterill’s engaging mystery series, The Coroner’s Lunch, which won the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger in 2009. Dr. Siri, a curmudgeonly old veteran of the Pathet Lao campaign, is afraid of no one—except the spirit of a Hmong shaman ancestor. Battling incompetent bureaucrats, Siri consults the dead to solve the murder of an important official’s wife. The novel combines evocative descriptions of Laotian culture, with its blend of French baguettes and larb na, beauty and decay, while taking satirical aim at the less-than-paradisiacal socialist world Siri fought so long to achieve.

Those of you who know we spend the winter in Miami may wonder at the absence of Floridian authors from this article. Of course, South Florida offers a fertile climate for crime writers such as Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan. Others, like Diana Abu-Jaber, depart from the CSI model of Miami to show what it’s really like to live in this vibrant and fascinating place. That may be the topic of a future article!

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1992; reprint, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1996).

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So Many Lists, So Little Time

By Carol Van Why

Since late last year every serious media outlet has published their version of a Best Books of 2016 list. Just scanning these lists embarrasses me, because most of the time I haven’t read a fraction of the dozens of books mentioned.

This year I’m putting less pressure on myself. I scanned those lists just to find titles in the 1666 Coffman Library’s collection. I have to say that I’m impressedFind them in the Library’s shelving sections shown in bold print below.

Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Hillbilly Elegy – J. D. Vance
Lab Girl – Hope Jahren

Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterley

Hamilton:  The Revolution – Lin-Manuel Miranda

Commonwealth – Ann Patchett
La Rose – Louise Erdrich
They May Not Mean to But They Do – Cathleen Schine
Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
Wintering – Peter Geye

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation – Rebecca Traister

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

A Great Reckoning – Louise Penny

The Gene: An Intimate History – Siddhartha Mukherjee
Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars – Dava Sobel
I Contain Multitudes:  The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life – Ed Yong

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right – Jane Mayer

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Library’s Website Back in Business

By Victoria Tirrel and Carol Van Why
Originally published in the March 2017 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter

When you’ve finished reading this issue of the newsletter open your computer and go to  You’ll arrive at 1666 Coffman Library’s new website!  Before you explore the content, we want you subscribe to the website.  Find “Subscribe by email” on the right side of the page.  Fill in your name and email address in the boxes and then click on “Subscribe.”

Next time you open your email you’ll find a message from the 1666 Coffman library committee.   The email contains a link, which you must click to confirm your subscription.  Now each time the library publishes any news you’ll receive an email announcement.  With just a click you’ll be taken directly to the newest post on the library’s site.

Much of the website content is in place, but we’ll add more in the next month or so.   Our site should be the first place you check to learn how to use the library.  You’ll also find guides to some of the best books we’ve added to the collection in the last three years and suggestions for more good reading.

Victoria Tirrel is the website administrator.  Mike O’Connor continues to host the site and provide technical assistance.  Carol Van Why is the content coordinator.   All library committee members write occasional articles that appear as blog posts on the site.  Barb Gaiser provides digital copies of library related 1666 Coffman Newsletter items so they can be archived and retrieved from the site.

Finally, thanks to Bob Tapp for his early work on the site.  Residents reported missing the link to Bob’s Your Virtual Library when we took the site down a couple of years ago.  We’re pleased that our new website provides that link once again.

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Book Night…It’s All Ours!

By Joanne Kendall
Originally published in the March 2017 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter

Twenty five people who attended the February 22 announcement of future plans for Book Night were reminded that all Coffman endeavors belong to the whole community. Then they were invited to share the honors as the 23-year Book Night tradition continues.

Victoria Tirrel outlined The Plan that grew out of a community survey, an evening of discussion, and the resulting outline drawn up by volunteers Kendall, Tirrel and Katie Weiblen.  Then she issued the invitation.

  1. “Everyone is welcome to sign up to present a book review. “
  2. “ You who choose not to be reviewers can support Book Night by signing up as Planning Partners to assist an individual reviewer.”

Then came a brief, yet spirited drama–“probably more a skit,” said Kendall, “to help you, the audience, see how the new plan will work.”   She and Jean Larson, as partner and reviewer, pointed to two instruction sheets that will guide each reviewer and planning partner. Six other actors with scripted lines demonstrated the united effort involved in planning and producing Book Night (and almost every 1666 Coffman program):  Dottie Waltz, Barb Gaiser, Fred Waltz, Helen Tang, Vern Weckwerth (and Al Cecka, in absentia).

In the next several weeks, sign up opportunities will be available at various gatherings for readers who would like to review at a future Book Night and for those who like the idea of being their planning partners.

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Library Committee News

by Katie Weiblen, Joanne Kendall, Victoria Tirrel
Originally published in the February 2017 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter

At the February 15 Book Night, Coffman’s own Jean Larson will talk about her recently
published book, Hope on the Journey: Walking with Chronic Disease. This book
combines essays and poetry about caring for her husband Milt through a decades-long
journey with Parkinson’s Disease. It just recently arrived on the library shelves, thanks to a donation from Vic Cox. To complement Jean’s presentation, there will be brief reviews of one or two books on related issues.

We invite residents now to recommend book titles on living with chronic disease
and medical issues related to health care. We will compile a reading list to share on Book
Night. Titles you recommend should be given or emailed to Victoria Tirrel, #202, by February 18.

What’s next? Read on: As promised, book lovers, readers, and listeners-to-all-things-books are invited to a Book Night update meeting on Wednesday, February 22, at 3:30 pm in the Social Room. Ideas offered by community members will be fleshed out and volunteers for presentations noted. Those attending will review the resulting vision—format and content for future Book Nights—and offer any new ideas.

An important part of the discussion will involve addressing the challenges of
ensuring that a vital, creative Book Night will continue. That process now needs to
become more concrete and will depend on resident involvement—volunteer reviewers
and others who will agree to work on the logistics involved (scheduling, room
arrangements, microphone availability, and providing information for poster publicity).

Where did this vision begin? The December resident survey on views related to
Book Night provided a good indication of community thinking. Then, the January Book
Night featured three four-minute reviews by Shirley Ungar, Joanne Kendall, and Ed
Lotterman. Respectively, they reviewed Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture
Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barr Estabrook; three books by travel writer
Patrick Leigh Fermor, including A Time of Gifts; and The Last Fine Time and other works
by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Thanks to these reviewers for kicking off 2017 in style (and with

The rest of the January Book Night involved a lively exchange of ideas about new
formats and themes moderated by Katie Weiblen. Discussion focused primarily on fiction
but all the ideas that emerged are relevant for other reading areas, such as history,
biography, and essay.

Victoria Tirrel then summarized ideas from the information gathering process, the
resident survey and that Book Night gathering. Since survey respondents indicated a
strong preference that the Book Night tradition continue, there will be Book

Night reviews scheduled from February through May. The promised update meeting is
now set for February 22 to unveil the plan that includes an ongoing focus on books in
both traditional and new formats for Book Nights. Many people stayed after the January
meeting to talk in small groups, a great sign that there is excitement about and energy for
Book Night’s future.

Book Night at 1666 Coffman is alive, well, and flourishing thanks to a community that
values the life of the mind it promotes!

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