Book Report: 'Up North' loaded with history
I've always had a weakness for ongoing fictions that grow with the years.
When I was a kid I liked "Gasoline Alley" because Skeezix grew up and his father got fat. Recently I've been watching reruns of the entire Walton's dramatic series. Normally, when a TV cast member died, the producers killed her off and went on with it. But in "The Walton's" when Ellen Corby (Grandma) suffered a heart attack in real life, the writers wrote it into the script and Corby kept right on going, even though she could no longer talk. When Will Geer (Grandpa) died, they buried him and went on with the show.
That's so much better than Superman, who looks the same as when he was introduced in 1932.
I'm not a big fan of police procedurals, but have a weakness for Walter Mosley and his character, Easy Rawlins, ever since he was introduced in "The Devil in the Green Dress." In his latest outing many years later Easy reappears in "Little Green," (Doubleday, $25.95). And he's aged considerably. He's recently recovered from an auto wreck. He's gathered a big adopted family around him. But he's pooped out and that adds grit to his latest of many appearances in Mosley's fiction.
The University of Minnesota continues to roll out books of general interest.
"Up North." That's the place where lots of folks want to be when it comes to summer.
How that all happened is recounted in a scholarly work, "Lure of the Northwoods: Cultivating Tourism in the Upper Midwest," by Aaron Shapiro (University of Minnesota Press, $24.95 paper.) To say it's scholarly is not to say it's dull, however. Of course it's loaded with footnotes
and bibliographies, by the author, a historian at Auburn University and previously national historian for the USDA Forest Service.
But it's also lots of fun, especially for people who have enjoyed resorts like Cragun's, Breezy Point Lodge, and Ruttger's near Deerwood, Minn., which had its humble beginnings circa 1911 in a big old farmhouse, according to one of the many photos that punctuate the book.
The states of Minnesota and Michigan and Wisconsin got behind the inheritors of logged over and mined over wastelands up North and promoted them as places to come and enjoy nature. (I just read in the Star Tribune about the program to restore open pit mines on the Mesabi Range into lakes for fishing and watersports, so time marches on.)
Cartoons in newspapers like the Minneapolis Star did their part, too. Foley of the Star did several cartoons reproduced here touting tourism as a road to economic success. He pictures a farmer with a hoe that says "publicity" and a watering can that says "hospitality" near a corn shock strung with moneybags and says "Seems to me this is one crop worthy cultivating," followed by a banner that states "$450,963,860 spent by tourists in Minnesota during the last 11 years."
Also interesting are reproductions of advertisements and posters announcing the glories of the northwoods all done up in marvelous color, as well as profiles of well-known promoters like Sigurd Olson and Aldo Leopold.
I'm writing this column in late May as the snow melts in our alley. If we ever manage to get into the garden, I'll dip into a book I also recently received from the University Press. It's called "Minnesota's Bounty: The Farmer's Market Cookbook" ($29.95) by Beth Dooley who has been on the Minnesota cooking scene for a quarter century.
And if we don't ever get into the garden, I can always fall back on Dooley's book. Alongside our house near the blackberry patch, ferns are popping up whenever the sun decides to shine. Dooley has what looks like a great recipe for fiddlehead fern frittata (note the alliteration) made with goat cheese. Yum. I'm also happy to report that Dooley provides recipes for rutabagas, my favorite root vegetable, eaten by Norwegians on the Scandinavian peninsula and fed to livestock on the European continent. Dooley has a very hot tip in one of her beggie recipes. Universal ingredient X: grated nutmeg.
Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.