Books about North Dakota and Minnesota (especially creative ones) aren’t incredibly common, but I think they’re one of the most powerful and accessible ways to understand the part of the world that I call home. And they’re fun and easy to give as gifts, because there’s something for everybody and we don’t often treat ourselves to a brand new book, but most of us really like to receive them.
Ever since I read that books are a traditional Christmas gift in Iceland – and that folks set aside cold winter evenings to curl up and read their new gift stash — I’ve been a little jealous of Icelanders. So if you’re looking for a last-minute gift idea, you can run over to your local bookstore and pick up one of these titles. They’re focused on a small slice of the world and may have a decidedly Midwestern flavor or subject matter, but like any good book, anyone can enjoy them, no matter where they are in the world.
If your spending limit is a bit more than the retail price, throw in some coffee or tea, a coffee shop gift card, warm socks or a cozy blanket to really knock it out of the park. The extraverts on your list will need an excuse to slow down and chill and the introverts will know that you really, truly get them. And of course, if you’re spending your Christmas money (or just treating yourself in the New Year), these books are a great everyday indulgence that just might teach you a little more about one of the most underrated places in the world. So here are some of my favorite books about North Dakota and Minnesota, arranged by the type of reader.
I chose just one book by each author to keep things fair (and brief), but if a title intrigues you, I encourage you to go deeper. And just so you know, if an author didn’t ship from their site, I included an affiliate link to take you to a place where you can buy it. That means I might receive a small commission if you buy after clicking through from my site – which just might fund my next book! Nearly every title here is available in North Dakota and Minnesota bookstores too – perfect for the impulse buyer and last-minute shoppers out there.
So without further ado, here are some of my favorite books about North Dakota and Minnesota. If you love a title on this list or have questions about it, please feel free to comment below!
For the backroad cruiser: Zach Hargrove’s Abandoned North Dakota: Weathered By Time features gorgeous full color photos from ghost towns and abandoned places around the state. Hargrove is a meteorologist with a knack for photographing dramatic weather systems and night sky images (including the northern lights which he wrote about for my site a few months back). It provides a nice contrast with the quiet, mostly rural scenes.
For the mystery fan: The protagonist in Jess Lourey’s Mira James Mysteries is quick, clever, and snarky. The books (which are consistently funny and set in rural Minnesota) clip along at a breezy pace. Author Jess Lourey sprinkles them all with Midwesternisms any resident would recognize. I’m reasonably sure that her readers are responsible for runs on the Nut Goodie, the made-in-Saint-Paul treat that makes a frequent cameo.
For the one who likes thrillers: Murder On The Red River by Marcie Rendon is part crime thriller, part murder mystery and a dash magical realism. Cash, the protagonist, is a character so raw, real and compelling that I thought about her well after I breezed through this book. The story is set in rural western Minnesota (literally in the place I grew up) and exposes many of the ugly secrets (including tension between Native American and white populations) that we try to hide.
For the historical fiction fiend: In A Fireproof Home For the Bride, author Amy Schiebe drops the reader right into Minnesota and North Dakota in 1958. (Modern Red River Valley residents will recognize many places in this novel.) But this book doesn’t pull any punches. The complexities of one woman’s liberation and the dark side of Minnesota nice.
For babies and toddlers: The Twelve Days of Christmas in North Dakota by Roxane Salonen is an adorable board book for the littlest ones. It highlights a child’s journey around the state and features a geographically diverse range of local traditions and landmarks. The illustrations also show a diverse cast of kiddos, which I always appreciate.
For the kiddos (and dog lovers): Pickles the Dog: Adopted in North Dakota by Kat Socks is sweet tale of a shelter pup’s exploits on a North Dakota farm. I love the vintage look of the illustrations and the pro-adoption message. As an added bonus, a portion of the proceeds benefit local shelters.
For the small town person: Chuck Klosterman’s Downtown Owl is a fictional account of a real 1984 blizzard. The acerbic, irreverent style that drenches his columns and essays flows deep under the surface here, illuminating beauty and boredom, terror and malaise. Anyone who grew up in a small town or working-class neighborhood will recognize people they know in these characters.
For the sports fan: North Dakota Tough: Unknown and Forgotten Stories From A Rural State by Jeff Kolpack is a good choice for anyone who enjoys sports or a compelling human interest story. The longtime sports columnist weaves a series of essays about sports heroes both famous and underrated into a larger profile of the grit and nose to the grindstone work ethic that sets people from their home state (and not just athletes) apart from the pack.
For the naturalist cook: The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Beth Dooley and chef Sean Sherman will absolutely change the way you look at the landscape of the Midwest. (I randomly turned to a page about how to prepare the cattails I grew up seeing in marshes and was instantly intrigued.) This James Beard-winning cookbook focuses on pre-colonization food that Native nations have enjoyed for centuries. It’s a fascinating study of history, food, foraging, and resilience, and the proud resurgence of interest in a traditional way of life.
For the seeker: Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris is a quiet yet profound book about the emotional and spiritual effects of a landscape on the people who live there. Technically, this book is set just over the South Dakota border, but she gets that wide open ruggedness of the plains and the thought processes that guide small town life exactly right, so it gives you great insight into life on the Great Plains in general.
For the baker or farmer: Molly Yeh’s Molly on the Range is a delight. It’s rare for a cookbook to be laugh out loud funny, but this one is. Packed with gorgeous natural light photos, it details her freewheeling journey from a fledgling food blogger to a Minnesota farm wife and mother who just happens to host an Emmy Award-nominated cooking show.
For the leader: People who doubt that new immigrants are a powerful force in the Midwest have never met Laetitia Mizero Hellerud. She’s a writer, public speaker, community building advocate, and four-time refugee who has distilled her own story of resilience and reinvention into lessons anyone can learn from. Her book, Being At Home In The World: Cross-Cultural Leadership Lessons To Guide Your Journey, is practical and conversational, full of advice on how to get out of a rut and start making your community a better place.
For the beer fan: I figured it would weird if I didn’t include my own book! I always tell people that North Dakota Beer: A Heady History is equal parts beer and history, so if you like either of those things, this book is a good option. It also covers cultural and culinary traditions and immigration patterns as it details what people were drinking — and when, where and why — from white settlement through the present. And it’s also amusing, since people are funny and human behavior is pretty consistent over time.
What about you?
Which books are you interested in giving or receiving this year? (Sharing this post might be a great hint!)
What book exemplifies the Midwest for you?
Which books about North Dakota and Minnesota are your favorites?
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