2007 Michigan Notable Books
This year's Michigan Notable Books selection committee included Kim Laird, Randy Riley, and Kris Rzepczynski from the Library of Michigan, Ray Walsh of Archives/Curious Book Shop in East Lansing, Bill Castanier of Lansing City Pulse, Cheryl Lyons of Capital Area District Library, Duane Strojny of Cooley Law School, retired columnist, George Weeks of the Detroit News, Susan Thoms of the Grand Rapids Press, Chris Byron of Michigan Center for the Book, Dean Anderson of Michigan Historical Center, Michael Rodriguez of Michigan State University Libraries, Jennifer Dean of Northland Library Cooperative, Suzanne DeBell of ProQuest Information and Learning, and Denise Taylor of Schuler Books & Music.
1. Burning Rainbow Farm: How a Stoner Utopia Went Up in Smoke, by Dean Kuipers. Bloomsbury.
This detailed and readable account describes the 2001 tragedy on Tom Crosslin and Rollie Rohm's farm in Vandalia, a rural Cass County town. Crosslin founded Rainbow Farm in 1993 as a shelter for marijuana smokers, libertarians, disconnected gays and lovers of live music. Local authorities charged Crosslin and Rohm with growing marijuana, used social services to remove Rohm's son from the farm, and began taking the necessary steps to confiscate the property. Kuipers provides an account of the incident and argues that maximum force is not always morally justified when dealing with the emotional issues surrounding the War on Drugs.
2. Death's Door: The Truth Behind Michigan's Largest Mass Murder, by Steve Lehto. Momentum Books.
This book explores the enduring mystery and drama surrounding the 1913 Christmas Eve tragedy at Italian Hall in Calumet. After a still-unidentified man falsely cried, "Fire," more than 70 people, many of them children, were crushed to death in the stairwell amidst the panicked crush to flee the building. The author expertly analyzes the objectivity of the local newspaper coverage, the coroner's inquest, and the mystery surrounding the doors (did they open inward or outward?), and reaches several thought-provoking, startling, and controversial conclusions.
3. Donutheart, by Sue Stauffacher. Alfred A. Knopf.
In this young adult sequel to Donuthead set in fictional central and west Michigan, Franklin is still obsessive but begins to gain a heart for others. His good friend Sarah needs help, but will not tell Franklin what is going on. Will Franklin take action and help Sarah? An enthralling tale of two youngsters who each learn to make their own decisions and deal in very individual ways with a puzzling grownup world. The story is a beautiful mixture of funny and original characters, intermingled with the frustrating issues of growing up.
4. Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes, edited by Alison Swan. Michigan State University Press.
The lilting, poetic language of these essays brings to life the sights, smells and sounds of Michigan's best-known resource. As they reveal stories of childhood and family, of nature and history, these distinguished writers provide insight into everyday Michigan, and both the gifts and perils along Michigan's shores and in their own lives.
5. Guilty at the Rapture, by Keith Taylor. Hanging Loose Press.
Heart-touching poetry and prose, filled with clear insight and humor, combine to tell stories of the human condition. The Ann Arbor poet draws from memories of a life well lived, rich in sensory details and filled with vivid emotion.
6. The History of Michigan Law, edited by Paul Finkelman and Martin J. Hershock. Ohio University Press.
This collection of essays by members of the legal community and academia traces the evolution of Michigan law, exploring the state's leadership in developing civil rights law, the impact of industrialization, and the history of labor law. In addition to analyzing Michigan law, the highly readable and engaging book serves as an introduction to the history of Michigan politics.
7. House of Fields: Memories of a Rural Education, by Anne-Marie Oomen. Wayne State University Press.
Drawing on ordinary moments from her childhood, with settings such as her family's farmhouse and the local schoolyard, the author employs a gentle touch and poetic details to tell a compelling coming-of-age story in rural Oceana County.
8. Keewaydinoquay: Stories from My Youth, by Keewaydinoquay Peschel. Edited by Lee Boisvert. University of Michigan Press.
Told in first-person, these stories of a Michigan woman with both Native American and white heritage shed light on the experiences of growing up in an Ojibway community in northern Michigan during the early 1900s. Peschel's stories span several generations, recounting her education in public schools and highlighting the role Christianity played in Native American culture during her youth, and emphasize the importance of maintaining traditional customs while living and functioning in a "white" world.
9. Landscaping With Native Plants of Michigan, by Lynn M. Steiner. Voyageur Press.
This beautifully illustrated guide to gardening in Michigan describes the state's native plants, explains how to grow them successfully, and gives tips and advice on solving common gardening issues.
10. Mackinac Bridge: The Story of the Five-Mile Poem, by Gloria Whelan. Illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen. Sleeping Bear Press.
Set in the 1950s, while the "Mighty Mac" was being built, the story introduces a young boy whose father will likely lose his business when the bridge is completed, and covers the changes that progress brings and how people cope with those changes. Beautifully illustrated and well researched, this timely story coincides with the 50th anniversary of the official opening of the bridge in 2007.
11. The Muskegon: The Majesty and Tragedy of Michigan's Rarest River, by Jeff Alexander. Michigan State University Press.
Take a journey down the Muskegon River in this well-written scholarly study that explores the waterway's environmental history and possible future. Detailing and exploring the responsibilities every Michigan citizen has for taking care of the Muskegon River watershed and the Great Lakes, readers are challenged to be better custodians of our cherished waters.
12. Nicotine Kiss: An Amos Walker Novel, by Loren D. Estleman. Forge.
In this 18th novel of the award-wining series featuring hard-boiled Detroit PI Amos Walker, Walker's old friend and longtime cigarette smuggler has turned up missing. Walker's loyalty to his friend pulls him into an exciting case that involves an evangelical religious group and counterfeiters with links to international terrorism. The 1997 Michigan Author Award winner, Estleman successfully weaves a 9/11 plot line into Walker's Detroit and takes readers on a wild ride.
13. Saving Daylight, by Jim Harrison. Copper Canyon Press.
Northern Michigan, as well as the mountains and forests of the American West, play a central role in Jim Harrison's 10th book of poetry. Contrasting the complexity and absurdity of our current sociopolitical world with the lessons offered in rivers, thickets, the moon, birds, and the companionship of dogs, Harrison's poetry relishes the art of living and explores life's mysteries that hold us up and keep us going.
14. So Cold a Sky: Upper Michigan Weather Stories, by Karl Bohnak. Cold Sky Publishing.
From the first European explorers to pioneer settlers to modern-day Michiganians, the Upper Peninsula's inhabitants have faced weather's most devastating challenges: extreme snowstorms, heat waves, floods, fires and more. Combing historical accounts from as early as the 1600s with personal tales from U.P. residents, this narrative peppered with weather maps, nature photos and snapshots offers an in-depth look at the region's most severe weather.
15. A Stronger Kinship: One Town's Extraordinary Story of Hope and Faith, by Anna-Lisa Cox. Little, Brown, and Company.
In this powerful story of 19th century Covert, blacks and whites lived peacefully and equally with shared political power, integrated schools, and interracial marriage. Despite national trends toward segregation and violence, this remarkable southwest Michigan community became and remains racially integrated. The author draws remarkable detail and drama from local newspapers, personal diaries, and reminiscences in this inspirational story of hope that still resonates today.
16. Summer of the War, by Gloria Whelan. HarperCollins.
In this beautifully written young adult novel set on an island in Lake Huron during World War II, Belle and her two siblings take their annual summer trip to their grandparents island home, where they are surprised by an unknown cousin who fled Paris to escape the war. The sophisticated Parisian clashes with the simple island lifestyle, as Belle starts to have new perspectives on her family and going through growing-up pains.
17. Taking Care of Cleo: A Novel, by Bill Broder. Handsel Books.
Set in Prohibition-era Charlevoix, and complete with booze, bootleggers, and the Purple Gang, this engaging novel with a strong historical sense of place details the lives of the Bearwalds, the only Jewish family in this small Lake Michigan resort community. Rebecca dreams of attending the University of Michigan to escape "taking care of Cleo," her autistic older sister. After Cleo stumbles across a beached yacht full of contraband liquor, she renovates the boat and recruits Rebecca to help sell the booze, leading to a case of mistaken identity and run-ins with Detroit gangsters.
18. An Unquiet Grave, by P.J. Parrish. Pinnacle Books.
In this suspenseful thriller, Florida PI Louis Kincaid, a native of Detroit, is called back to Michigan by his foster father, who needs help with a personal situation. As events unfold at a notorious sanitarium, modeled after Eloise, Kincaid learns of a dark conspiracy and troubling revelations, not just about his foster father's situation, but also about himself.
19. The Widower: A Novel, by Liesel Litzenburger. Shaye Areheart Books.
Memorable characters and a strong sense of place dominate Litzenburger's novel. Swan Robey struggles to carry on after an automobile accident takes his wife's life and leaves him physically damaged and wracked with guilt. He is gradually brought back to life when hired hand and ex-con Joseph Geewa discovers an abandoned baby in Swan's northern Michigan apple orchard. The ensuing road trip to
find the baby's mother shows readers the healing and redemption that takes place with the two wounded and shattered men.
20. William G. Milliken: Michigan's Passionate Moderate, by Dave Dempsey. University of Michigan Press.
This political biography explores the life and career of William G. Milliken, Michigan's 44th and longest-serving governor (1969-1982). Milliken's Republican tenure reflected his belief in civility, decency, and support for the environment, while also revealing his strength in building effective coalitions, such as with Detroit Mayor Coleman Young. Milliken's moderate views are frequently at odds with today's political landscape, making this accessible biography more relevant and inspiring.