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

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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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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