By the time you read this, I'll be gone.
I know that sounds dramatic, but it's true. After 15 years as books editor, I'm handing off this gigantic, big-hearted beat to someone else. I've been working for newspapers since I was a teenager, and in 47 years this job is the best I've ever had. The best I could imagine.
For 15 years, my job has been to choose the books to be reviewed as well as the critics to review them. I also edit, report, write and read, all in a part of the country that's rich in authors, readers, book festivals, bookstores and libraries — a place that cares deeply about books.
Perhaps the most fun has been sitting with authors and discussing their work. I particularly enjoyed talking with James McBride in 2017 in advance of his talk at the University of Minnesota. It was a freewheeling conversation, and we kept returning to humor. "If you don't have humor, you're not going to make it," he said. "You're going to be one of those people who walks around with your head about to explode."
Louise Erdrich also mentioned humor in one of our many conversations. Humor is hard to write, she said, but it's essential. "I just don't feel like I've got a book unless there's something funny in it."
Over the years, much has changed in the world of books — or maybe I just became more aware, over time. I watched the rise of books by writers of color and LGBT writers — a rise in numbers but also in attention and awards, long overdue.
Genres have pushed at boundaries and morphed in fascinating ways. Memoir changed from dire stories about trauma to stories of ordinary lives to something else — sometimes a fabulous blend of fiction, reportage, illustrations and poetry, but always with that core of remembrance.
I've seen backlash against writers who write outside their lane — such as with "American Dirt," a 2018 novel about Mexican immigrants written by a woman who is neither Mexican nor immigrant.
That discussion has simmered for years, amplified in 2016 by Lionel Shriver donning a sombrero at a writing conference. "That's what we're paid to do, isn't it?" she said. "Step into other people's shoes, and try on their hats." Objections were fierce from people deeply concerned about cultural appropriation.
I've observed the rise of Amazon and the decline of bookstores; I've also observed bookstores rebound — such as the new Black Garnet Books in St. Paul and rising-from-the-ashes Uncle Edgar's and Uncle Hugo's in Minneapolis.
And social media! My gosh, how important have Twitter, Facebook and TikTok become in spreading the word about books. But there are downsides to social media as well: the loud vilification of librarians, the clamor for book banning and censorship.
Through it all, you have been stalwart. You write and tell me things I didn't know; you write and make me laugh. You are loyal and smart and well read and we are lucky to have such wonderful readers.
I'm retiring from the Star Tribune, but I'll be around, watching as the world of books continues to grow and change. Some of the change will be good — I believe that most of the change will be good.
Goodbye, and thank you for 15 miraculous, happy years.
Laurie Hertzel is at email@example.com.