Hello readers and welcome back to a new series for the website, which as I stated last time began as an outgrowth of a file that’s been sitting in my Google Drive for months now so I thought I’d just break out some of the more important elements. That initial post was called “What’s a Reader For?” and was going to take a look at all the sources we bring into account each day as we try to understand the world. In the age of the internet and social media I realize that could be an infinite amount so I’m going to break it down into the sources I try to follow.
So what are some more important resources for finding out what’s going on in the great city of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota? The first post collected my major “go to” sites. But if you’re interested in even more, here's a handful of others, many I get direct to my email inbox whenever they publish new content.
I’ve written before that my wife comes from the great northern region of this state, and has helped me understand its rich history and customs. Another person who has helped me understand the culture of “Up North” is Aaron Brown. Aaron has been blogging about life in that part of the state for as long as I can remember and also has a daily column in a newspaper (he’s also finishing up a book’s worth of history of the area). I would highly recommend him for anyone looking to understand how the northern areas approach politics and life and how this has changed, especially in the last decade.
Another great site for radical info and people’s struggles is Fight Back! News. They cover protest movements and (lately) strikes and are a great source for learning about actual progressive and leftist struggles both here and around the country and world.
Another site that I’ve been following via newsletter since it launched two years ago is the Minnesota Reformer. Now some of you may know I’ve had some issues with this site’s editor but I can’t deny the quality coverage it has provided, especially during the Minneapolis Uprising of 2020 and beyond. I’d also like to single out their state reporter Ricardo Lopez as he’s broken some major stories in St. Paul over the years.
I will also mention here that the City of Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Council have decent email newsletters providing information about resources and what those entities are doing on a weekly basis. I’ve waxed and waned (on Twitter) about how they get covered by journalists here, but there’s no doubt a ton of information about municipal affairs in their newsletters.
I’d also like to quickly shout-out the last of the “old school” Minnesota blogosphere tenants still going strong: Sally Jo Sorenson of Bluestem Prairie. Sally has been a great source for news about southern Minnesota and is worth checking out for her incisive commentary about all of state politics. Another “old schooler” that I just recently became aware of again is the Minnesota Progressive Project.
And finally a quick look at some email newsletters that provide coverage of art and music and other things. The MPLS Art newsletter is a great roundup of local galleries and helps me know what’s showing where. Other great newsletters can be found from the Minneapolis Institute of Art (I’d recommend their latest supernatural exhibit), the Soo Visual Arts Center, and the Walker Art Center. In terms of music, while I don’t usually have time to peruse it, the Electric Fetus has a great roundup of newly released music and vinyl, and while my wife and I haven’t been in years, the Minnesota Orchestra has great ways of reaching us with their newest lineups. Other options include the Landmark Theater for film, and the world-class Guthrie Theater which offers a newsletter to broadcast its stage shows each year. I’ll wrap up this list with a few others: Minneapolis Climate Action is a great activist collective I’ve followed for a while now; Friends of the Hennepin County Library hosts tons of literary events (many online these days); and Housing Link provides a huge amount of resources and their email newsletter is invaluable for housing information (needless disclosure: I am also friends with someone who works for them).
Here are a few more links to round out the set: Open Streets Mpls has been hosting events and lobbying for a more pedestrian-centered mindset in our fair city; the Weisman Art Museum is yet another phenomenal gallery; and Hennepin Theater Trust is a collection of all the great stages adorning that street in Minneapolis.
Once again feel free to post comments or reply to the email regarding your own source lists. This is not meant to be exhaustive, but there’s only so much time in the day to read. Upcoming areas this series will be taking a look at include: Books/Literary, News & Journalism, Environment, Politics, and a few other topics. Thanks for reading!
Hello readers and welcome back to this long-running series for my website, the Reading List. As you may recall, the list took a hiatus last year and I read several non-fiction books over that time (The Shadow Factory by James Bamford and Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman). Now my fiction list is back and I hope it reflects a broader move by the publishing industry over the last few years to include more BIPOC authors overall. To that end, my first selection was a stunning and elaborate 2020 novel by Ayad Akhtar, Homeland Elegies.
This book got a lot of coverage at the time so if you would like more of a plot run-down it shouldn’t be too hard to find in reviews. My interest piqued in this novel upon watching Dessa interview the author for a Rain Taxi event in 2020. This was a masterful, eloquent book that was also fairly difficult to decipher at times. On one side the title is a perfect metaphor for Akhtar’s life in the United States as he gained notoriety as a playwright. But on the other it is also a crying out for how Muslims have been treated in this country, especially after the 9/11 attacks. As has been noted in many reviews this could be considered a piece of “autofiction” as the main character just happens to share Akhtar’s same name and profession and the only other name change that I noticed was not using his step-sister’s real name (or including her much at all). This is an interesting concept but it did confuse me as it seemed this book was a straightforward retelling of the author’s life story that very well could have landed on the nonfiction side of things. But as I’m not quite sure how much the author drew from his own life (it seems like a lot) I am going to review it as it stands.
The book revolves around many major themes: racism, capitalism, religion, and other weighty objects that resonated with me as I am dealing with my own issues in life. Crucial among these are the author’s relationship with his parents and how he has turned away from their version of Islam in favor of his own relationship to that religion and the unknown. The parts in which the fictional “Akhtar” deals with his parents were familiar to me as I have also dealt with overbearing religious parents for much of my life and it was very relatable. But the story winds its way through those parts leading to more challenging perspectives such as the plight of Muslims in America and how they have had to adapt over the years. There is a strong portion of the middle of the novel in which his car breaks down outside Scranton, Pennsylvania and he is taken for a ride by the repair shop that illustrates just how badly people still treat those with brown skin. This is balanced out with the author later joining up with a billionaire “merchant of debt” named Riaz, who ends up getting investigated by the SEC for saddling municipalities that refused mosques with incredible amounts of debt, which his company then bets against. Akhtar is masterful in concluding sentences, like this one from the Scranton repair shop bit: “I was going to stop pretending I felt like an American.” And as he finds a significant other (later discovering she transmitted to him a sexual disease) who claims their meeting was ordained by her psychic, Akhtar comes clean with his own belief in a power guiding him through life via dreams: “I have to own it, this brand of crazy is fully baked into me.”
I found this book to be quite difficult to read at times and had to look up more than a few words from the author’s remarkable breadth of language. There were also many Muslim and Pakistani words I had not encountered before and gave an even more lucious illustration to the world Akhtar paints throughout. But despite this I would highly recommend this book as it deals with every major thread of the past few decades, the narrative of the fictional “Akhtar’s” life tightly wound around them. I am still wondering how much of this book was based on real life and how much was embellished but perhaps that is the point. The real Akhtar, as the video interview shows, is quite erudite and this makes for a riveting page-turner despite the immense and flourishing language. And I have to say again the parts that spoke to me the most were when the author had to deal with his ailing parents. As somebody who has turned away from that I found these bits moving as they resembled my own struggles with the Christian religion and belonging as an atheist.
Up next I will continue the path of reading more BIPOC (and women) authors in taking up a novel I haven’t looked at since my college days: Chinua Achebe’s 1958 landmark novel Things Fall Apart. Thanks again to all readers out there for bearing with me as I take up this series once more for the website.
John Abraham is a published author and freelance journalist who lives in the Twin Cities with his wife Mary and their cats. He is writing a speculative dystopian novel and is seeking representation and a publisher.