A Minnesota Tradition

If you follow the Minnesota literary scene you may be aware that the Minnesota Book Awards have been awarded since 1988.  Between now and November 16, 2018, submissions are being accepted for the awards that will be announced on April 6, 2019.

Coffman Library’s collection contains many of the books that have been award winners, finalists or nominees during the history of the awards.  Copy the following link into your browser to see the complete list of past award winners and finalists.

https://thefriends.org/minnesota-book-awards/minnesota-book-awards-winners/#past

To be eligible a book must have a 2018 copyright date and only authors, publishers and agents are eligible to make submissions.  If you could make a submission, what Minnesota book would you recognize for the upcoming awards?

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Some of 2018’s Best Books and More

By Carol Van Why
Originally published in the September 2018 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter

In June, the Library Committee asked you to tell us what new books you’d like to see in the library. Those titles are among the dozens that will begin to appear on the library’s Recent Arrivals shelves (just inside the second floor door to the right) this week. You can also find them under the “We Suggest” menu item New Books – 2018.

Our statistics tell us that Coffman’s reading interests, in order of popularity, are fiction, mystery, biography, and history. With the help of a financial donation from a resident, the Library Committee has been able to purchase 17 new books in the mystery/thriller genre. Look for new books by favorite authors like Baldacci, Krueger, Penny, Sandford, and Winspear.

You’ll be happy to hear that several of our new fiction purchases are based on such historical figures as Eliza Schuyler Hamilton and Alma Mahler. A new work by a favorite Minnesota author, Julie Schumacher, and popular fiction by contemporary Asian American authors should also be popular with Coffman readers.

Many of our nonfiction purchases are award winners and will grace library shelves for years. Biography highlights include recent works on Grant and Eisenhower. At least two of our history selections are actually true crime tales set in previous centuries. If you liked The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson these may appeal to you.

Though not as popular with Coffman readers, our science and environment collections contain more award-winning titles per shelf than any other library category. We’re pleased to have added important new books on both the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. And most readers will not be able to resist Simon Winchester’s latest. Now there’s an author who has proven to be able to turn any subject into a riveting read.

I hope you’re inspired to browse what’s new in the library. To help, we’ve put together a list of all the new titles, arranged by genre or subject. Pick up your own copy from the library’s table today.

For the next couple of months when the new books are not signed out to others,
you’ll find them on the library’s Recent Arrivals shelves. Thereafter, you’ll find them shelved in their permanent locations.

Don’t forget to sign books out and return them promptly for your fellow residents to enjoy.

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Most Definitely A Community of Readers!

By Carol Van Why

We asked and you told us what you’ve been reading this summer. All of your recommendations are combined in a list that you can find on the Library’s website at the Resident Reading List – Summer 2018. Titles appear in a genre/broad subject arrangement. Most but not all of the books on the list are in the Coffman collection. If you can’t find something contact one of the Library Committee members for help. Enjoy!

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Lounge, Connect, Browse, Borrow

By Carol Van Why and Victoria Tirrel
Originally published in the August 2018 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter

So good to see so many people enjoying the library these days, either for reading or taking advantage of Coffman’s wifi. By now we hope that even those of you who are new to Coffman know that the library has its own website. Connect with us at 1666coffman.com. Once at 1666 Coffman’s site click on “1666 Coffman Library” on the far left.

When the site opens, slide your cursor over the menu bar at the top to discover topics ranging from using the library, donating materials, making memorial donations, to book cart sales and reading ideas. Click on any of the menu items to locate the information you need.

You’ll find our most recent blog post on the site’s opening page. We try to have new content there twice a month. If you’ve subscribed to the blog, you’ll receive an email whenever there’s something new on the site. You have to click on the link to take you directly to the new content. If you’ve been doing this, you already know that we highlight a new book each week for you to look for on the Recent Arrivals shelves.

That reminds me that last year Coffman residents borrowed 913 items from the library, up 26% from 2016. We couldn’t do it without your support. Your generous book donations are the lifeblood of the collection. A modest annual appropriation from the association helps us add some of the year’s best books to the collection. Watch for a blog post later in the summer to link you to a list of what’s new to borrow.

Want to know more about the library? Cochair Katie Weiblen is available to give you a personal tour of the library and answer your questions.

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What I’m Reading This Summer

By Victoria Tirrel

When the mercury hits 90 or the rain falls, you’ll find my nose in a book. This summer I’ve read my way through some of my old favorites and a few new ones courtesy of the Coffman Library.

I recently finished Miller’s Way by Anna Quindlen, a novel about a young girl growing up in a valley named for her family that is under threat of being drown by a new water diversion project. The book spans her life from grade school until adulthood, the dynamics of a well-drawn family of diverse characters, against the backdrop of the ’60s to today. It’s a novel for people who love place and family.

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad kept me reading eagerly. Winner of both the Pulitzer Price and the National Book Award, it’s the story of an escaping slave named Cora. Whitehead doesn’t stint on the brutality, but the subtlety he adds to the portrayal of slave life and escape keeps the book a page turner. Highly recommended!

I’m now about a third of the way through Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach, which tells the story of the daughter of a man with mafia connections as she works in the Brooklyn Naval Yard during WWII. So far it’s rich with history and possibility…can’t wait to find out what happens. Egan won the Pulitizer Prize for her earlier book, A Visit from the Goon Squad, so you know the writing is excellent!

I hope you’ll check out these novels and the myriad other wonderful books waiting on the shelves of your library. Happy summer reading!

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Special People, Special Books

By Carol Van Why
Originally published in the July  2018 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter

Cheri Register’s name is one that often comes up in Coffman conversations whenever good books are mentioned. In a 2017 Book Night mini-review, Sara Evans shared that Register’s book The Chronic Illness Experience is one she suggests to friends who are coping with chronic conditions. Interestingly, Jane Brody, New York Times columnist, praised an earlier edition of this book in her “Personal Health” column in February, 1989. Clearly, this book has staying power.

Shortly after Register’s The Big Marsh was published, Gretchen Kreuter invited Cheri to discuss the book at Book Night. Cheri Register died in March 2018, but not before two of her books received Minnesota Book Awards. The Big Marsh is one of those, as is Packinghouse Daughter. Recently, both books have been added to the Coffman library’s collection. Gretchen Kreuter donated Packinghouse Daughter, and I donated The Chronic Illness Experience.

Bettye Olson is not a Coffman resident but lives in nearby Lauderdale. Not only is she a friend of many residents and a longtime attendee at Mag’s exercise class, but it’s said that she is one of Minnesota’s most influential twentieth century artists. Bettye’s Coffman friends feel privileged to share her with art lovers near and far.

At least once or twice a day, Coffman’s eastsiders are fortunate to enjoy one of Bettye’s works hanging in the 1E elevator lobby. Now, thanks to Afton Press, Bettye Olson’s life and lengthy career are documented in a stunning book entitled, Persistence of Vision: The Art of Bettye Olson. As part of a group that raised seed money to support publication of the book, I’m pleased to have my copy become part of our library’s collection.

Look for all three of these important books in Coffman library’s recent arrivals area. Remember to sign out books on the clipboard located on the library’s table.  The library’s loan period is two months.

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Great American Read

By Carol Van Why, Library Co-Chair

When I visited the St. Anthony Park Library recently I picked up a flyer promoting the Great American Read.  Turns out it’s a joint PBS/American Library Association/American Booksellers effort to celebrate and promote reading.

Copy this into your browser to watch video of the program launch: http://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/home/

Hosted by Meredith Vierra the video features well-known authors, celebrities and ordinary people talking about their love of reading and favorite novels.  On the same website, click on Read-the-List in order to print the 100 favorite books and see how many you’ve read.  I can tell you that many of them are on the Coffman Library shelves.

It seems that readers around the country are invited to vote on their favorite book from the list.  PBS and its partners will announce the winner in the fall.

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Reviewers Spotlight Strong Women

By Joanne Kendall
Originally published in the April 2018 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter

On Wednesday, April 18, Coco Weber will review The Round House, one the novels of Louise Erdrich in which she speaks so powerfully of and for the Native Americans who are central to her writing.

The strong women in Code Girls by Liz Mundy sparked lively conversation and recollections of World War II in the discussion that followed Huber Warner’s Book Night review in March. Those in the audience at Katie Weiblen’s February Book Night review of Emma, recall the delight her telling of the single-mindedness of its author, Jane Austen, and the determination of the main character—their strengths quite a contrast to Katie’s softly genteel stage setting in a Georgian-Regency Period mini-parlor.

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Glimpses: Lost in a Good Book

By Fred Gaiser
Originally published in the February 2018 issue of 1666 Coffman Newsletter

One of my regular courses at Luther Seminary was Theological German, a course taken
primarily by graduate students who needed to pass two language exams as prerequisite for a PhD. To that end, I kept a supply of German mysteries to help students learn to “read” a
language rather than just decipher it.

One day I took one of those mystery novels off my shelf to read while eating at a
restaurant. Engrossed in the novel, I was brought out of my reverie by voices at the next table. I asked myself why are those people speaking English? After all, aren’t we in Germany? It was, I think, an extreme example of being “lost in a good book.”

Lost in a Good Book turns out to be the title of a novel by Jasper Fforde, one of a series
featuring a woman named Thursday Next, a “literary detective.” Fforde envisions the characters in books as one might understand the characters in a play. That is, while “on stage” they are bound to the written text and the nature of the character as created by the author, but “offstage” they have a life of their own. When characters are given freedom, one result—in fiction as in life as we know it—is, alas, mischief or mayhem, which is why the BookWorld requires its own policing system (Jurisfiction), and our hero Thursday Next is a Jurisfiction agent who must enter books in order to police the miscreants.

Though we cannot actually enter books physically, as Thursday does, we can enter them in
our minds, even get “lost” in them. Reading takes us to different places, even distant ones. In his book The Gutenberg Elegies, Sven Birkerts writes, “Language is the landmass that is continuous under our feet and the feet of others and allows us to get to each other’s places” (p. 82). Again, as Birkerts notes, reading the literature of another people or another culture can erode the sense of “irreconcilable otherness” that otherwise cannot be overcome (106). “True, the lives depicted in many of the works are in certain aspects alien to me. But …the fact that I can enter those lives by way of language confirms for me the existence of a commonality prior to all cultural differences” (106). Is this too optimistic, especially in these days when diversity is celebrated and often insisted upon? Is it not still the case, for example, that men are from Mars, and women are from Venus? Perhaps, but Birkerts suggests that even this might be overcome through reading. (This is why it is particularly frightening that, according to many reports, Donald Trump simply does not
read.)

The full title of Birkerts’s book is The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an
Electronic Age. The title reflects the author’s fear (in 1994) that genuine reading might be a thing of the past. Indeed, Birkerts might suggest that it’s even worse today, given the advent of social media, text messages, Twitter, and Instagram. Or are these networks simply one more step in the long history of reading?

The first chapter of Karin Littau’s fascinating book Theories of Reading is entitled “The
History of Reading.” Littau reminds us that “whether you are sitting studiously at your desk or curled up comfortably on your sofa, whether you are in a public library or in the privacy of your home, the likelihood is that you are reading these words silently. To read silently, rather than aloud, is a relatively recent phenomenon” (13). Earlier on, books and other written materials were usually read aloud, not only because the material was best shared but because most people were simply unable to read. In churches, the Bible was not read in splendid solitude, but was read aloud as an experience meant to bring people together. Actually, when most church-goers could not read at all, the purpose of stained glass windows was to draw them into the biblical story in pictorial form. The windows were essentially picture books, sermons, preaching on texts.

As an aside, my all-time favorite stained glass window is in St. Jakobskirche in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany. The large windows behind the altar portray many  of the biblical stories. The picture of the manna in the wilderness depicts peasants sitting on theground while it is “raining” pretzels! That’s not just story, it’s preaching—indeed,
great preaching. The artist would easily have earned an A+ in my biblical preaching class!

Back to Jasper Fforde and his BookWorld, where, as noted earlier, characters can take on totally new lives. The Cheshire Cat, for example, has much more to do “offstage” than he is allowed when confined to his textual and pictorial tree in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—including nothing less than serving as librarian of the “Great Library,” the huge expanse where everything ever published can be found—something like the Library of Congress writ large.

What of our Coffman library? It is certainly a jewel of our building, but is it “great” enough to interest the Cheshire Cat? Perhaps not in extent, but certainly in the way it serves our in-house needs, and occasionally I find there an altogether unexpected treasure.

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An Interview with Gretchen Kreuter

By Barbara Woshinsky
Originally published in the December 2017 issue of 1666 Coffman Newsletter

Gretchen Kreuter has resided at 1666 Coffman since 2004. She says about herself: “I’m an author, an historian, and a retired college president. I have two adult children. My daughter is at Penn and writes about things I don’t understand (linguistics and its many varieties); my son lives in Eagan and does things with computers that I barely grasp (on a good day).” We would add that Gretchen was an inspiring member of the library
committee for many years. Two of her books are found on the authors shelf.

What books are on your nightstand now?
—None. I sometimes use the end of the day to look at reviews.

What influences your decision about which books to read?
New York Times Book Reviews, especially good friends ‘recommendations, and I really
like the new arrivals shelves in our library.

Is there a book you read as a child that was especially important to you?
—A book that started my interest in the natural world was Along Nature’s Highway. My
mother gave it to me when I was four years old. It’s inscribed with the date: August 24, 1944.

What historians do you especially enjoy reading? What do you look for in a history book?
—I especially like the work of Doris Kearns Goodwin. (Sidelight: she was an assistant to
Lyndon Johnson, who dictated to her while he sat on the toilet.) I also admire David
McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman. The author does not make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but he restores Truman to a humanity others have ignored.

You were the moderator of the Coffman Book Night for many years. Is there a moment you
particularly remember?
—Thor Kommedahl, my predecessor, dealt with latecomers to Book Night by giving brief
talks about esoteric subjects, for example, the history of the paper clip. Thor became a legend, and there were darn few latecomers.

Although you mostly read nonfiction, do you have a favorite novel or novelist?
—I am fond of the books of Anne Tyler and Anne Lamott.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
—I have been reading David Sedaris because he is odd and witty. I’m writing a memoir
which is not odd, but it is witty. Reviewers have suggested that he makes up some of his stuff but they forgive him for that. The temptation to make up things haunts memoir writers.

If you could require the President to read one book, what would it be?
—The President? Can he read?? I have an imaginary book for him: You Can Hike the Gobi
Desert with No Water.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
—Rachel Carson, Anne Tyler and Alexander McCall Smith. Perhaps I’d include Beatrix
Potter too. She’s so much more than Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-Duck!

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