Escaping in a book is a lifetime passion of mine. Since I was a little kid, I have loved to read and have done so whenever I can spare the time. The winter months are perfect for reading.
    Lately, I’ve used an audio book service to listen to books when I am doing mundane tasks on the farm or in the house. My fellow farm people are likely tired of seeing my head adorned with my ear plugs. But it has been a lifesaver for me to be able to learn about interesting things and to have other things to ponder just now.
    I also love to give people books as gifts. I had some fun the other day ordering a few of my favorite books, hoping the recipients would enjoy reading them.
    Selecting books for others leads me to review a few books that some of my fellow dairy friends might enjoy. Because I probably haven’t written a book report since the seventh grade, I might not have the sharpest skills. I will give it a shot for three favorite books. They are written by regional authors. They are relatable for place, beliefs and/or looking at things with a fresh perspective.
    “This Tender Land” details the summer of 1932 with a mix of interesting characters, places and experiences that shed insight into the Great Depression and what people endured and triumphed over. The book details four friends, orphans who are thrown together in an epic adventure on the Mississippi River.
    They are escaping from circumstances beyond their control, forced to flee an Indian Training School and journeying into the unknown. They have each other in their encounters with people who are also adrift, such as struggling farmers, traveling faith healers and families displaced during the immense poverty of the era. William Kent Krueger, a local author, does a great job of describing the places his characters wind up, including Mankato and St. Paul, with many insightful details of the people living there.
    As the book jacket describes, the book is “an enthralling, bighearted epic that shows how the magnificent American landscape connects us all, haunts our dreams and makes us whole.” I loved this book because its engaging characters made me think about this history in a new way.
    If you wonder if Minnesota Nice is a thing, a very fresh perspective can be gained by reading “If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now.” This book helped to remind me why to embrace the rural life that most of us who live on the cold, snowy prairies are accustomed to, but sometimes forget to appreciate.
    The author, Christopher Ingraham, tells the story of his decision to uproot his life and move with his family to Red Lake County, Minnesota, after he made the community of 1,400 people famous by calling it “the worst place to live in America” in a Washington Post story he wrote. After the residents invited him to visit their community to see why the ranking of bottom of the list of 3,000 counties in America was just plain wrong, Chris and his wife eventually decided to relocate there. They wanted to raise their twin boys away from the East Coast suburbs, avoiding the commute and costly living.
    Chris’ telling of the story is funny, revealing and clever in descriptions of his interactions with new neighbors and Midwestern norms. His preconceived ideas get turned around in some funny situations. He taps into data and detail, yet finds the charm and sentiments of small town, rural living. The description of fall decorating with a corn shuck is hilarious. I liked the book for its honesty and humor.
    If you are a fan of the creation story and cow art, the two are combined in a beautiful book by Bonnie Mohr. She is a favorite rural artist of many people and lives in Glencoe, Minnesota. The book “Once There Were No Cows” was published in 2014, but is timeless and makes a treasured gift for a family with small children. I ordered several copies for Christmas giving this year.
    The art on each page is a beautiful depiction of God’s creation of the world. The final pages of the engaging book explain how “God wanted an animal that would give more than it would take. … God wanted an animal that would be appreciated and loved intensely because of the profound impact she would have on all mankind.” Each remaining page is the artist’s depiction of the seven dairy breeds.
    Those of us working with cows every day need the reminders this book provides. Mohr’s descriptions of how “dairy farming is a special and beautiful lifestyle and that it provides a good life filled with rich and meaningful lessons,” is fulfilling to share with others. I think the dedication written to all dairy farmers is meant to be re-read every so often to remind us to be thankful for “living life as a guardian to God’s most wonderful creature, the cow.”
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, Minnesota, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.