Fiction is more popular than nonfiction at most public libraries, but many nonfiction memoirs on a topic that interests you also read like a novel. A few memoirs I would recommend center around Minnesota in the 1800’s. They include:
I Go to America: Swedish American Women and the Life of Mina Anderson by Joy K. Lintelman (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2009) This has local interest because Mina ended up living in rural Mille Lacs County—Bogus Brook township. The author has done extensive research about single Swedish women who immigrated to America and this is added to Mina’s own story. Born in 1867, Mina’s childhood is spent in Dalsland, Sweden, where her family lives in a large house with several other families. Her father works at the foundry 10 to 12 hours a day. Mina goes out on her own to work as a servant at the age of 15. With financial assistance from an uncle, she immigrates to America in 1890, working as a domestic. Mina soon marries and moves with her husband to farm acreage near Milaca. Mina’s story helps to explain why so many Scandinavians moved to Minnesota and the experiences they had upon arrival.
Harvest Journal: Memoir of a Minnesota Farmer, Part I: 1846 – 1903 by Sandra K. Wilcoxon & Frederick A. Cummings (Hats Off Books, 2000) Here is another story by an early Minnesotan. Mr. Cummings came to Minnesota from Vermont as a youth after he lost his mother. He arrived with an uncle in 1855 to the township of Waukokee near Rochester. Mr. Cummings started his life as a school teacher and this is reflected in his highly literate writings. He is also a poet, using his powers of rhyme as a way to reflect on certain life feelings and events. Mr. Cummings also follows the news of the day and reports on news events ranging from Indian wars to presidential politics. As most farmers, he also reports the weather and economic conditions. A touching part is the description of a child who dies in infanthood.
No More Gallant A Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers by James a Wright and edited by Steven J. Keillor (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001) This is a must read for Minnesota Civil War buffs. Wright was a student at Hamline University when it was located in Red Wing. He and many of his classmates signed up for service or as he says “responded to President Lincoln’s call for assistance.” He details the adventures of the 87 men as they learn to become soldiers. His pride shows through in how the First Minnesotans and their leaders were well regarded in behavior and battle. He also is realistic in his assessments of the difficulties of fighting with little food, battered clothing and little protection from the elements for months at a time. Originally 800 pages long, Keillor does an excellent job of editing Wright’s manuscript to tell the complete story of the First Minnesota Volunteers.
If you are a fiction reader and want to venture into nonfiction, try memoirs. Just put in the keyword “memoir” in the ECRL card catalog and a list of memoirs will appear for you to put on hold, from celebrity exposes to plain old Minnesota farmers.
Katherine Morrow, Branch Librarian
Mille Lacs Lake Community Library