RIP Bill Holm

I learned today that Minnesota poet, essayist, and book lover Bill Holm had died. He died last week (2/25/09) coming home from one of his many travels. This got me thinking about his books and the times I saw lucky enough to see him in person at book signings, hearing him play the piano (at a book signing), and at one of his Christmas specials. Yes, I was a fan. I loved how he wrote about books, travel, music and Minnesota. I always wanted to go to his writers retreat in Iceland, but sadly that will not happen.

My favorite title of one of his books (a cute little thing, maybe two inches by two inches at most) is called “Chocolate chip cookies for your enemies,” but I liked his book ‘Eccentric Islands: Travels Real and Imaginary’ and ‘Playing the Black Piano’ the best.

He wrote this great article for the Utne Reader (I think it was originally published in ‘A View From the Loft’, but whatever) years ago (actually right before I was an intern in the Utne Library), which was called “Confessions of a Bibliophile: A Love Story in Which Our Protagonist Runs out of Shelf Space Again.”

The best line in the article is “…a man needs a motto for his life to sew it together with some sense of direction. Here’s mine: He ran out of shelf space, again…”

He goes on to write, “I love books in two ways. First, I read them like an addict. A day, even an hour or two, without print makes me edgy and hungry. I hide books in my car, both trunk and cubbyhole, in my office drawers, in side pockets of duffel bags. I buy small books to carry in my shirt pocket, just in case…” (I like that ‘just in case’).

And finally “More shelf space, says the Universe, more shelf space!” (as one who has no shelf space left I love that line).

For the whole article go to

Garrison Keillor posted this nice tribute on his blogs:

“Bill Holm was a great man and unlike most great men he really looked like one. Six-foot-eight, big frame, and a big white beard and a shock of white hair, a booming voice, so he loomed over you like a prophet and a preacher, which is what he was. He was an only child, adored by his mother, and she protected him from bullies, and he grew up free to follow his own bent and become the sage of Minneota, a colleague of Whitman though born a hundred years too late, a champion of Mozart and Bach, playing his harpsichord on summer nights, telling stories about the Icelanders, and thundering about how the young have lost their way and abandoned learning and culture in favor of grease and noise.

He thundered with the best of them though he had a gentle heart. He was an English prof who really loved literature, and he could buttonhole you and tell you he’d just finished reading Dickens again and how wonderful it was. He got himself into print pretty well, and anyone picking up his “Windows of Brimnes” or “The Music of Failure” or “The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere On Earth” will get the real Holm.

He hated Minnesota winters and maybe that’s what killed him, flying back from beautiful Patagonia to the windswept tundra and thinking about having to shovel out his house in Minneota.

I’m glad he got to see Barack elected, which restored some of his faith in his countrymen. I wish I’d been there to catch him as he fell. I hope his Icelandic ancestors are waiting to welcome him to their rocky corner of heaven. I hope his piano goes to someone who will love it as much as he did. I hope that people all across Minnesota will pick up one of his books and see what the man had to say.–G.K.”

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