"Vikings in the Attic: In Search of Nordic America"
University of Minnesota Press, $22.95
Scandinavian culture, to use a Swedish slant, is more than hardtack and herring.
Eric Dregni grew up fourth-generation Scandinavian in Minnesota of mostly Swedish and Norwegian heritage with a dash of Danish.
He assumed that his family was normal "and our culture simply the way people must live, if they had any sense." Then, when he went into the wider world, he was surprised that not everyone ate "Jell-O-like fish" (that would be lutefisk, to the uninitiated) or "gut-wrenching" meatballs at Christmastime.
Dregni makes clear in this wonderfully entertaining book that he has no intention of making any claim to Scandinavian exceptionalism (as these kind of travel memoirs often do).
Rather, he is more interested in learning why so many Scandinavian-American Midwesterners like himself prefer to drop the hyphens and consider themselves Norwegian or Finnish or Swedish, even though many of them have never been to Scandinavia. What does it mean, he asks, to claim to be Scandinavian "so many times removed?"
He discusses bizarre and fascinating aspects of Scandinavian history in the Midwest, insisting that the Scandinavian presence is subtle, yet profound, and ranges from the superficial (a suspicion of flashy styles of clothing) to the significant (a penchant for forming cooperatives).
"Vikings in the Attic" is serious and fun and full of little Scandinavian insights, with chapters on food, Vikings, politics and festivals, as well as brief portraits of "notable Nordics" (the great Norwegian fiddler Ole Bull and the Swedish socialist Joel "Joe Hill" Hagglund to Carl Sandburg and the landscape architect Jens Jensen). His book, Dregni says, is for all those people who think Scandinavian history is boring. He proves them wrong.
"Vintage Views along the West Michigan Pike: From Sand Trails to US-31"
Arbutus Press, $35
The "West Michigan Pike" of the title refers to the west coast of Michigan, which runs along Lake Michigan. The road trip begins in Grand Beach and ends in Mackinac City. Authors M. Christine Byron and Thomas R. Wilson have assembled an impressive number of archival photographs, postcards, advertisements and other examples of ephemera to evoke "a kind of time travel" to an earlier era.
Ernest Hemingway is here as a young man, holding a fishing pole and fishing net as he stares directly into the camera, as is a photograph of the nation's first highway travel information center (in New Buffalo, Mich.).
Also included are old images of Michigan's dunelands; South Haven, once known as the Atlantic City of the Midwest; tulip time in Holland, Mich.; Interlochen State Park, among many others.
A quirky and evocative guide to a lost world.Copyright © 2015, CT Now