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North Dakota Recommended Reads

50 states lead art
Jeannie Phan

We asked, you answered!

NPR recently compiled a list of the best books about every state, so we asked our audience: What book best represents North Dakota?

From Louise Erdrich novels to oil field memoirs — the books below will help you learn more about our state.

Do you think there's an essential North Dakota book missing from the list? Let us know, and we may share your name and selection on the radio and online.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
Recommended by Marilyn P. in Fargo, ND

"Erdrich’s writing is wonderfully descriptive plus the stories her writing tells are so true to life in ND, for Indigenous people as well as other populations."
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris
Recommended by Jack D. in Bismarck, ND

"Author well summarizes the culture of rural small towns in the Dakotas. Her essay “Gatsby on the Plains” is especially enlightening. It’s sad in a way but also intriguing: her observations about resistance to change and newcomers who have their own ideas and specialties, what can eventually be the pushing out of new professionals such as pastors and teachers. Her musings about the prairie also are worth reading, how the treeless plains don’t inspire everyone, and even make some visitors wary of the vast horizon."
The Farmer's Lawyer by Sarah Vogel
Recommended by Michele Z. in Bismarck, ND

"This book will resonate with a large portion of North Dakotans as many are farmers and if they are not then their grandparents most likely were. This book is a good example of the way North Dakotans help their neighbors and persevere through hard times.

It is written by Sarah Vogel who was a young lawyer during the farm crisis of the early 1980s. The Farmer's Home Administration was foreclosing on farmers without providing due process of the law. It was through her efforts that her farmer clients were able to eventually bring a national class action lawsuit against the federal government. They won."
Nothing To Do But Stay by Carrie Young
Recommended by Kelli S. in Minto, ND

"About an immigrant settling in ND - twist is she’s a woman whose own mother staked her claim, and is a story of farm life as well as the life of her daughter, a young teacher, on the prairie. Shows what life was like, yet also gives exact details on the struggles and choices one made once they settled in ND."
Message On the Wind by Clay Jenkinson
Recommended by Lillian C. in Bismarck, ND

"Deeply personal story about the Sacred Corridor of the writer's world, and the people who shaped his worldview."
Beyond the Bedroom Wall by Larry Woiwode
Recommended by Connie H. in Fargo, ND

"Fictional account of rural town inspired by my mother's hometown of Sykeston, ND. Mr. Woiwode's father taught and tutored her through highschool when she was ill. She recognized some of the characters in the book. Award winning and nationally acclaimed book by a ND son."
History of North Dakota by Elwyn B. Robinson
Recommended by Bruce E. in Wahpeton, ND

"A great book covering all of North Dakota History, starting from pre-historic times. The book is known as the Bible of North Dakota History. It is the book used for teaching North Dakota history in colleges across the state."
Boys and Oil by Taylor Brorby
Recommended by Todd F. in Mandan, ND

"It's an enthralling coming of age memoir about a young gay man in a land of fracking. It's a whole new, much needed perspective on the state and its state of being."
Peace Like A River by Leif Enger
Recommended by Ann H. in Mandan, ND; and Joan B. in North Dakota.

"Although parts of the book are set in Minnesota, the bulk of the story takes place in western North Dakota. The description of the state is so accurate." -Ann H.

"Coming from Detroit, the book showed me a quiet beauty in this relatively plain setting, with a narrative of light and darkness, and the power of a father's love. There's something of the spiritual, the mystical that infuses this novel and enriches it." -Joan B.
P is for Peace Garden: a North Dakota alphabet by Roxane Beauclair Salonen
Recommended by Melissa H. in North Dakota

"Even though it's a children's book I feel like it captures the heart of ND and everything that makes this state beautiful and unique."
Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris
Recommended by Lisa D. in North Dakota

"She talks a lot about the prairie and how it influenced her spirituality. She lived in SD but was an oblate at a monastery in ND."
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Recommended by Ellen B. in Tagus, ND; and Ruby G. in Grand Forks, ND

"Set on the Turtle Mountain reservation and highlights the issue of rape of indigenous women on the reservation." -Ellen B.

"Portrayals of the Indigenous People are dignified and sensitive. Their lives, past and present, are connected to how North Dakotans live their lives. The feelings and emotions they experience are the same as anyone would have." -Ruby G.
Running with the Antelope by Melanie Carvell
Recommended by Mary S. in Mott, ND

"Story of a woman’s journey from adolescence to maturity. It has lots of true stories of small town life."
Coyote Warrior: One Man, Three Tribes, and the Trial that Forged a Nation by Paul VanDevelder
Recommended by Mariah R. D. in Bismarck, ND

"It is a very interesting North Dakota history about the Three affiliated tribes, the Missouri River, and the future of water and mineral rights in the United States."
The Good Hand by Michael Patrick F. Smith
Recommended by Dustin M. in Fargo, ND

"I learned new things about ND while reading this book."
Bones of Plenty by Lois Phillips Hudson
Recommended by Peggy H. in Cando, ND

"A compelling picture of farmlife in ND during the Depression."
Big Wheat by Richard Thompson
Recommended by Stephanie M. in Dickinson, ND

"Big Wheat by Richard Thompson is well written and tells the story of the beginning of the large wheat farms that appeared on the North Dakota prairie after WWI. Readers see the beginning of farm machinery to make farmer's jobs 'easier' and the arrival of large Threshing crews (in modern days they would be called combine crews). The story offers readers a mix of sociology, historical fiction, and mystery."
The Language of Cottonwoods: Essays on the Future of North Dakota by Clay Jenkinson
Recommended by Clara B. in Bismarck, ND

"It captures the people and history of North Dakota beautifully, and is very well written."
The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild In the Middle of Nowhere by Debra Marquart
Recommended by Katie H. in Bismarck, ND

"I like memoirs and I think this is a great coming of age story. Although I didn't grow up in ND I could relate to much of what she wrote. Rural life is very similar in much of the US. It's clear she's connected to the land. And, after 35+ years of living here I believe I can claim a similar connection to the ND land as well."
Prairie Silence by Melanie Hoffert
Recommended by Kathryn in Grand Forks

"Stirring memoir, lovingly exposes some of the contentious issues in the state. All the people and places in the book are painted with empathy, and the topic is timely."

Bonus: This author recommends their own book.

Ninety Years a Pilgrim by Claire Eide
Recommended by the author in Williston, ND

"Now, I must admit, my answer is biased, I wrote the book. But I grew up sitting around the kitchen table listening to old folks telling tales. In time I decided to write down these stories so they wouldn't be lost ... The story covers the history of the confluence of the Missouri/Yellowstone area from 1804-1958 as my fictitious character and his family goes from real story to real story."

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