Chris Niskanen knows all these things, too. Like me, Niskanen grew up in the same area I call home. Now he’s taken his passion for Minnesota and turned it into a handy guide for anyone who wants to know what it’s like to live “Up North.”
The Minnesota Book of Skills by Chris Niskanen brings to life the basic know-how that makes us uniquely Minnesota. Whether you want to know how to gracefully get off a ski lift or how to can green beans, this book covers it and more.
The book is broken into 75 easy-to-digest chapters that offer insight into not only how we do the things we do in Minnesota but why we do the things we do. Some topics are distinctly Minnesotan (i.e. “BWCA Skills Everyone Should Know”), but many of the topics are things that anyone who spends any time in the outdoors should know (like “Mastering Campfires,” “How to Back Up a Trailer,” and “The Essentials of Layering”). Minnesotans (both currrent and former residents) will appreciate Niskanen’s story-telling ability and keen eye for Minnesota culture. Those of you without Minnesota ties will find the book a useful guide to the art of self-reliance and enjoying the outdoors.
Niskanen does a beautiful job of weaving personal stories together with helpful tutorials throughout the book. His chapter “Corn Husk Dolls and Fairy Houses” is a delightful glimpse into childhood in Minnesota, and I was fascinated by the intricate details and craftsmanship of “Build a Birch Bark Canoe.”
The Minnesota Book of Skills is designed to be more of a reference book than anything else. It’s not organized well (although there is an index) and there are no transitions to weave the diverse subjects together. For example, a chapter on “When Nature Calls” (about using the bathroom when you’re in the woods) is followed up immediately by a chapter called “Home Pickling Like a Pro.” When the book is read in short bursts, it’s not an issue. But if you plan to sit down and read this book in an evening, you’ll find it is a lot of information to process at once.
Fortunately the human interest stories and helpful guides make up for the book’s lack of transitions. Niskanen, who is a a former newspaper columnist and now works for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is a gifted writer who is able to connect us to the characters and stories that make Minnesota what it is.
I found The Minnesota Book of Skills to be a very enjoyable read that made me feel more connected to my little corner of the world. I’m happy to have this little reference book on my shelf and I think you would, too.
While Minnesota Historical Society Press did provide me with a review copy of this book, the opinions expressed here are 100 percent my own and were not edited by the publisher, author(s), or their affiliates. This post also contains affiliate links which help support this blog at no additional cost to you. Please read my full disclosure policy for more information.