Twin Cities bookstores that can help you get lit even during quarantine

So many of us are staying at home to help limit the spread of COVID-19, and a lot of our to-read book piles are slowly shrinking. Quarantine is very important for flattening the curve, but it’s definitely rough on local bookshops, which must remain closed to the public in Minnesota for now. Since libraries are closed, too, we no longer have to feel guilty about buying so many books we could have borrowed. (Just me?)

Right now, Twin Cities booksellers are adapting to the constantly changing situation, working to stay afloat and serve loyal customers while ensuring the health and safety of everyone. Which is no small task. After browsing through their websites, here are a few tips for supporting them:

  • Buy books from their websites: maybe you have been looking forward to it, or maybe you just miss browsing bookstore shelves for the title you didn’t know you had to have, or maybe you’re a tsundoku devotee. Either way, you can feel good about the purchase. The indie shops need the orders; Jeff B., not so much.
  • If you can’t find a book on their websites or want a recommendation, call or email them — after all, who doesn’t need a little more human interaction right now? Even millennials might pick up the phone! Especially for used books, it’s likely not everything will be listed online.
  • Buy gift cards — whether for future use once we can return to “normal” life or as presents to make sure your friends and family are buying from indie book stores.
  • Engage from afar: Watch their social media accounts for live readings and book discussions that are now online.
  • For audiobooks, use, an independent platform gives proceeds to the local bookstore(s) of your choosing. Right now, the website is donating all proceeds for every one-month gift membership to your chosen bookstore(s).
  • If buying over phone or email makes you anxious, you are having trouble finding a title, or there’s some other reason, buy books from This new independent platform gives about 75% of profits to local bookshops across the U.S. and keeps a running tally on its homepage of how much it has raised. (Some of the shops below now use, which is still in its beta version, as their e-comm platform.)

Below is a non-definitive list of bookstores in the Twin Cities that are still filling web, email, and phone orders right now. Please remember this can change, and I’m sure I missed some that should be included. My intent is to help people spread the love around and also see which locations you didn’t know about or haven’t visited. Maybe when this all ends — and it will end, rest assured — we’ll see each other at one of the locations for a reading, book club, or just to browse.

Birchbark Books | 612-374-4023 | email via form | Note: specializing in books by or about indigenous peoples — every Louise Erdrich title is signed!

Book House in Dinkytown | 612-331-1430 | email via form

Daybreak Press Global Bookstore | 612-584-3359 | | Note: specializing in global books that focus on faith, social justice, and women’s empowerment

DreamHaven Books | 612-823-6161 | | Note: specializing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, film and media books, comics, and graphic novels

Eat My Words Bookstore | 651-243-1756 | 

The Irreverent Bookworm | 612-500-4339 | | Note: free shipping on all Minnesota orders

James and Mary Laurie Booksellers| 612-338-1114 | | Note: specializing in used and rare books and records

Magers & Quinn Booksellers | 612-822-4611 | email via form | Note: free shipping on orders over $25

Midway Used & Rare Books | 651-644-7605 | | Note: free shipping on orders over $20

Milkweed Books | 612-215-2540 |

Moon Palace Books | 612-454-0455 |

Next Chapter Book Sellers | 651-225-8989 |

Once Upon a Crime: Mystery Books | 612-870-3785 |

Paperback Exchange | 612-929-8801 |

Red Balloon Bookshop | 651-224-8320 | | Note: specializing in children’s lit, free shipping on orders over $20

Subtext Books | 651-493-2791 | | Note: $2 shipping in Minnesota, $4 across the U.S.

Wild Rumpus Books | 612-920-5005 | | Note: specializing in children’s lit


O say can you see…?

The shot that almost got away, but didn’t. (James Figy/The Reporter-Times)

Yesterday, I covered the Mooresville fireworks celebration at Pioneer Park. I did this last year, too, when I was an intern for The Reporter-Times. But this year they didn’t need a story, just photos.

Since I was simply taking photos, I wanted to get some good shots. But there was one shot in particular that I wanted to get—the shot that got away. The one for which I was willing to sacrifice life and limb.

At the Mooresville fireworks celebration, they honor the flag in an unconventional—and better-than-conventional—way. It’s not like other festivals where they merely take down the flag when it gets dark and fold it up while everyone stands in silence, then get on with the real show. No, the flag ceremony is its own spectacle.

The Pioneers have a troop of parachuters fly in with four different flags—the POW-MIA, Colts, Indiana state, and lastly Old Glory herself. They land one after the other as someone on the main stage belts out the Star Spangled Banner over the PA system.

Last year, I was on the opposite side of the park from where the parachuters landed. The photos I took, or tried to take, showed tiny, blurry specks of red and blue. But you couldn’t make out what they were. You couldn’t see them in their Uncle Sam-eating-an-apple pie  glory. No, these images weren’t patriotic enough. They were a disgrace to the nation, to all that is good and striped.

So this year, I showed up early and kept a vigilant eye on the sky. I scoped out the park, and spotted the hidden landing strip. It was camouflaged as a large roped-off portion of grass with a gigantic X in the middle of it. A clever disguise!

The parachuters were set to land at 9 p.m., and as the clock ticked towards 9:15, I started to get nervous. The local cover band had been jamming “Brick House” for the past 10 minutes, so I think they’d exhausted their set list and probably were more eager than I was.

Then it happened: the roaring propellor, the the shimmering glint of hope approaching like an All-American Godot.

Four dark dots appeared overhead and started to grow. The crowd went nuts. But not me: It was go time. I had my camera in hand and aimed up, trying to focus, trying to watch their descent. They circled around overhead, gliding past each other, and at points I thought they would collide.

First one down was the POW-MIA. I snapped a quick five or so, and did the same for the Colts, then the Indiana flags. But I was too far forward, and couldn’t get the angle I wanted. So as the American flag bored down on me, coming in hot and patriotic, I jumped heroically back. I sprinted. I ignored the shouting of the police. I ignored my own personal safety, and as it sailed in, I leapt 12 feet into the air and snapped furiously. “Move shutter! Move!” I yelled. And although I dashed my head and camera against the asphalt, I still had the satisfaction of knowing that I’d honored my country. Everyone clapped and clapped, and I knew they were clapping for me as much as the parachuters. Six months later, when I woke up in a hospital bed—

Well, I don’t have time for the whole story right now, but it went kind of like that. I declare independence from you naysayers who say “nay” to my account. To you I say, “Let’s just let history be the judge.”

Yes, maybe I took a few liberties, but what else is the Fourth of July about?

The Bee’s Knees

The day I saw the hives, Stephanie and I swapped bee stories. Honeybee facts, statistics, jargon—this was our dinner conversation, while everyone else in the restaurant talked about the Pacers or something. We were eating Thai food that was abnormally hot. Yes, I know that Thai is known to be spicy, but this was so hot that I cried.

Matt and Tiffany show me how a Top Bar hive works. In it, the bees hang their comb from little slats on the ceiling, rather than in frames like the traditional Langstroth hives. Top Bar hives are supposed to be more natural, and they were created by missionaries for use in developing countries.

Matt and Tiffany show me how a Top Bar hive works. In it, the bees hang their comb from little slats on the ceiling, rather than in frames like the traditional Langstroth hives. Top Bar hives are supposed to be more natural, and they were created by missionaries for use in developing countries.

The day before, the editor of The Reporter-Times called me to see if I could write some stories for the Sunday and Monday papers. Actually, he wanted to see if I was ever going to finish a story I’d worked on for the past two weeks. I assured him that I was just about to finish it. And I did. Most of the time, the deadlines make it happen.

Anyway, he also asked if I wanted to take a story about a family that had taken up beekeeping. I jumped on it. Maybe I was too excited. But thinking about how cool Stephanie’s articles for Angie’s List magazine are and how interesting bees are, I wasn’t going to let this one get away.

So I called the Crites family the next day and asked if I could come out to see their hives. Serena, the mom, said that I was more than welcome to come out anytime. And although it stormed all day, I arrived at their house during a brief window of sunshine. It was just dry enough for the bees to be active, and Matt, Serena and their twin, 17 year-old daughters Taylor and Tiffany showed me the hives.

They explained the different kinds of hives and the plight of honeybees and how they decided to get bees to pollinate their garden. After all, having honeybees around doubles a garden’s yield. They became beekeepers for their health, for the environment, and I think I summed up their mindset best in the article:

The Verroa Mite, neonicotinoid pesticides and a host of other threats are killing off honeybees and leading to colony collapse disorder, in which the bees leave the hive and never return for no one reason. Matt, an Army veteran and hunter, said he is not a crazy environmental activist, but the honeybee situation is a scary because pollination from honeybees is responsible for a third of all food.

Although beekeeping can be an expensive hobby, it doesn’t have to be. And the bees don’t really bother you, so people afraid of being stung all the time do not need to worry. In fact, Serena has severe allergic reactions to bee stings, but she isn’t afraid to walk right up to the hives so long as she is calm. She told me:

If you have a backyard, you have flowers, you want to help the environment and you want to help the bees, you can put a hive in your backyard for $300. And you don’t need to have that much space. Like our hives, they fly out three feet, see something interesting, then fly up and get it.

There are lots of people like the Crites family who care about honeybees, as well as the environment, and want to do their part. You can get more information about local beekeeping groups at

But make sure to check out Stephanie’s awesome Indy bee story and national bee story, and take a good look at the graphics. And my bee story—“Family goes ‘apiary wild’ over honeybees”—is pretty good, too, if I do say so myself.

Robert Neal—actor and professor

Robert Neal looks over the Queen Anne monologue from "Richard III" during the Speech for the Stage course that he teaches at UIndy. (James Figy)

Robert Neal looks over the Queen Anne monologue from “Richard III” during the Speech for the Stage course that he teaches at UIndy. (James Figy)

Robert Neal is a tall mountain of a man with booming voice and intense eyes. The first time that I saw Robert, he had a big black beard, long coat and overlarge pirate hat. He was playing Orsino in the strangest production of “Twelfth Night” that I’ve ever seen. (So, I guess, the weirder of two productions.) At the time, the IRT was doing some 60-minute Shakespeare plays for high school kids, and they decided to spice this one up by playing off the Pirates of the Caribbean. But that was nearly 10 years ago.

More recently, I saw him in the IRT’s production of “Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Who am I this Time? (and other conundrums of love).'” It was amazing. I recognized him from “Twelfth Night”—and I believe another play in between, though I don’t remember what it was—even though he looked completely different.

However, I was even more amazed when I found out that he has been teaching at the University of Indianapolis as an adjunct for quite some time. This guy has acted in 30 plays over the past 13 seasons at the IRT, not including his other appearances. I was even more amazed, when I sat down to interview him, that he was an English major during his undergraduate career. When I asked him about he told me:

I ended up majoring in English because I always had this love of reading and language and that kind of thing. I found out what I really loved and what was great about that was it taught me the power of sound and meaning together. Then when I ended up in acting, it really coalesced for me in that I loved language, but I love the sound of language, too. So I was using both things.

You can read the full article in The Reflector here.

Nikki Giovanni on Kurt Vonnegut and Antarctica

If I say something stupid, which does happen, I prefer to be in the company of friends. Not famous people. But when I met Nikki Giovanni, I said something pretty stupid.

Nikki was speaking for a diversity lecture at UIndy, and she kept bringing up Kurt Vonnegut, a personal hero of mine. So I recommended: “If you’re staying a few days, in town you should check out the Kurt Vonnegut museum.”

Nikki Giovanni spoke about everything from diversity, the Civil Rights movement and Emmet Till to Kurt Vonnegut, alcohol and Antarctica on Feb. 5 at UIndy. (Photo credit goes to Ayla Wilder)

Nikki Giovanni spoke about everything from diversity, the Civil Rights movement and Emmet Till to Kurt Vonnegut, alcohol and Antarctica on Feb. 5 at UIndy. (Photo credit goes to Ayla Wilder)

She smiled (coyly) and said, “Oh, dear.” And she proceeded to tell me how she and Kurt were close friends, how he would take her son to the circus. He loved the circus, she said, but since his kids were grown, he would always ask to take her son whenever the big top was in town. He would babysit for her, too. I was instantly jealous of her son’s childhood.

But the reason I brought Vonnegut up in the first place was she deeply wanted him to go on her next trip—to Antarctica. Apparently she and her nonagenarian aunt went there a few years back, and ever since, she has wanted to take a group of writers. And writers from Indiana would be great, according to her, because they would know how to describe a flat, empty landscape.

Although I wrote an article about her reading for The Reflector, there were other things that I didn’t write. At least, not until now. So here’s her pitch for a writers booze cruise—I mean, research trip—to Antarctica:

It would just be wonderful to put 10 of you all on a boat, with a couple of cases of wine, beer, you know? Because you’re going to come up with something different.

When you think about it, well I always think about it when I think about Indiana, cause my first thought is Kurt Vonnegut. He was one of the best and most imaginative writers, you know? And Kurt’s gone, so we don’t get to take Kurt to Antarctica. But you can see that there’s, I don’t mean a Kurt, but that kind of mentality. Can’t you see Kurt Vonnegut, and beer, and Antarctica?

So that’s what I’m saying, and so I just keep talking about things because somebody’s got to do it. NASA’s not listening to me right now. They haven’t said a firm no, but they’re always asking for more information and more information. And of course they’re going to push it, and I’m going to say, ‘Fuck you.’ And that’ll be unhappy for everybody. Because, well, what the hell? I mean, they have the beds, right? You can only go in December, because otherwise you’re stuck down there. And they have the beds. It’s just that.

I mean, we’re writers: how much food do we eat? And a couple of cases of wine, you know, if we come through Chile—that’s it. And we’d just get to talk and imagine. I think that we can’t always look at things as what their worth is.

I’m still waiting for an invitation. Nikki had talked more about Kurt, Antarctica and beer earlier in the evening. The best way to sum it all up is with this Vonnegut-ism:

And so on.

That time I visited Emily Dickinson’s house

When I was an intern at Metonymy Media, I wrote a lot of blogs. Some were about cars or travel, and some were about other things that I had more or less interest in. But one of my favorite blogs was one I wrote about a trip that I took to the Emily Dickinson House in Amherst, Mass. I started this blog about five times, because I didn’t know exactly what I was trying to say—not that I didn’t have anything to say.

The Emily Dickinson house is located in Amherst, Mass., where the poet spent almost all of her life.

The Emily Dickinson house is located in Amherst, Mass., where the poet spent almost all of her life.

The problem with writing what you’re passionate about is there is too much to say. I have been reading Emily Dickinson since middle school. I have been extremely interested in her work and her life. And after a 90-minute tour of her house and her brother Austin’s house—called The Evergreens, which sits right next door—I had even more to say.

I thought that I wouldn’t be able to say anything for a while, but I took some solace in these words from who else but Emily Dickinson:

Life is but life, and death but death!

Bliss is but bliss, and breath but breath!

And if, indeed, I fail,

At least to know the worst is sweet.

Defeat means nothing but defeat,

No drearier can prevail.

I think it turned out all right, but you can read it here and decide for yourself.

Essential Tremor Awareness Month

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard showed up to say a few words before the first ever Essential Tremor awareness walk started on March 22 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

“I appreciate the fact that you are coming out here, raising awareness about this, raising money,” Ballard told the group of about 40 people before the walk. “… It’s diagnosed so often that we have to get the word out in some form.”

However, this wasn’t the only walk. The International Essential Tremor Foundation held walks all across the United States on the same day to raise awareness about the neurological condition, which is often confused with Parkinson’s Disease.

“We want people to know … this is a real condition and there’s a lot of people out there who probably haven’t been diagnosed yet,” said Jacqueline Hudson, the Indiana ET support group leader.

You can read my full article here.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard shares a laugh with Jacqueline Hudson, the Indiana support group leader, before the first ever Essential Tremor Awareness Month walk. (James Figy/The Reporter-Times)