Finds from the shelves


Glenda Martin picks from the Women’s Press’ bookshelves

Each spring when I return to Minnesota, a favorite task is waiting for me. Books sent by publishers, by authors, by agents to Minnesota Women’s Press for possible mention in this newspaper are on the shelves. It’s like a treasure chest. Many of the books become book selections for my book groups.

Last year’s find
For example, in spring 2006 I found “The Floor of the Sky” by Minnesota writer Pamela Carter Joern on these very shelves. It is now on the reading list for 140 women in my winter 2008 book groups in Arizona as well as the 36 women attending the Minnesota fall reading retreats around the theme, “The Republic of the Imagination.”

The novel takes place in the Sandhills region of Nebraska, where a 72-year-old widow lives on land homesteaded by her grandfather. When her 16-year-old pregnant granddaughter comes to stay for the summer, the intertwining family stories unfold. The title of the book comes from Willa Cather, “Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky.”

New in 2007
This year I’ve found several books as possibilities for book groups. Debra Marquart’s memoir set in North Dakota is titled “The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere.” Elegant writing takes you to Marquart’s growing-up place, you experience the land and the shared remembrances of a family history, and you come away enriched.

I’ve not known the work of Susan Richards Shreve, even though she has published 12 novels and 26 books for children, but after becoming immersed in “A Student of Living Things,” I may have to read more. The book is set in the near future in Washington, D.C., where Shreve’s main character attempts to find the killer of her beloved brother. The reality of how we have been set up to fear and doubt other humans is juxtaposed with the importance of music and the connection to plants and animals in our individual lives.

“Astrid and Veronika” by Linda Olsson was originally titled “Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs,” which for me is a truer title for the novel. This is a lovely story of friendship between two women of different generations. The story is set in Sweden and New Zealand, with descriptions of the land and water as powerful as one might expect written by an author born and educated in Stockholm, but living in Auckland since 1990. The book is an affirmation of the value and strength of women’s friendships. The following, also from the shelves, may be of interest for readers who enjoy stories connected to the Mississippi river.

“The River Queen: A Memoir” by Mary Morris tells of her journey in a houseboat from Wisconsin to Tennessee with a crew of two men and a dog that hates her. At midlife she visits the river towns she learned of through her father’s stories.

Or perhaps a novel about pirates, buried treasure, secrets and ghosts from 1811 through the 1930s could satisfy your Mississippi River exploration. Set at the bend of the river in Missouri, “The River Wife: A Novel” by Jonis Agee is a story of love and passion with a wide range of characters.

I’m intrigued with Minnesotan Heather McElhatton’s “Pretty Little Mistakes: A Do-Over Novel.” This interactive novel has one beginning and 150 endings. The stories are based on decisions you, the reader, make. This is not your literary read but certainly entertaining.

Glenda Martin is the founding co-publisher of Minnesota Women’s Press and co-publisher of BookWomen, a readers’ community for those who love women’s words.