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2015 Michigan Notable Books Promote a Culture of Reading

January 12, 2015

LANSING – Detroit’s World War II role as the “arsenal of democracy”, fishing the Au Sable River and Kalamazoo favorite son Derek Jeter’s dream-come-true children’s book about playing shortstop for the New York Yankees are among the wide-ranging topics of the 20 titles on the Library of Michigan’s (LM) 2015 Notable Book list.

“These wonderful reads celebrate, in their own unique ways, Michigan’s people, places and events,” State Superintendent Mike Flanagan said in announcing today’s list. “The Michigan Notable Books (MNB) list is a great way to showcase each year a new crop of talented writers in a state steeped in history and natural beauty and rich in stories and characters.

“I’m encouraged by the ever-increasing popularity and influence of the Library of Michigan’s Notable Book List. Every new list seems to generate more and more interest among the media and the public, namely readers.”

Each year the MNB list features 20 books, published the previous calendar year, which are about or set in Michigan or the Great Lakes region, or are written by a Michigan author. Selections include nonfiction and fiction books that appeal to a variety of audiences and cover various topics and issues close to the hearts of Michigan residents.

MNB is a statewide program that began as part of the 1991 Michigan Week celebration, designed to pay tribute and draw attention to the many people, places and things that make Michigan life unique.

“The MNB selections clearly demonstrate the vast amount of talent found in writers focusing on Michigan and the Great Lakes region” said State Librarian Randy Riley. “The list continues to offer something for everyone. The 2015 list represents fiction, short story collections, history, children’s picture books, mysteries, poetry and memoirs.” 2

This year's MNB selection committee includes representatives from the LM; The LM Foundation, the Archives of Michigan; Grand Rapids Public Library; Genesee District Library; Howell Carnegie District Library; Lansing City Pulse; Michigan Center for the Book; Michigan Humanities Council; and Schuler Books & Music.

LM’s 2015 MNB List:

The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War – A.J. Baime (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Edsel Ford, who, when asked if Ford Motor Company could deliver 50,000 airplanes, made an outrageous claim that it would erect a plant yielding a “bomber an hour.” Ford would apply assembly-line production to the American military’s largest, fastest, most destructive bomber; it would build a plant vast in size and ambition on a plot of farmland and call it Willow Run; and it would bring in tens of thousands of workers from across the country, transforming Detroit, almost overnight, from Motor City to the “great arsenal of democracy” and eventually would play a crucial role in the Allies winning the war.

The Art of Memory: Historic Cemeteries of Grand Rapids, Michigan – Thomas R. Dilley (Wayne State University Press, Painted Turtle)

Dilley details the history of Grand Rapids' park cemeteries, finding that their development mimicked national trends and changing cultural beliefs about honoring the dead. In introducing readers to the 15 historic cemeteries, he outlines their origins, formats, and developments using more than 200 photos. The author explores the artistic and architectural forms that appear in the cemeteries, including a thorough discussion of the religious and decorative symbols used on markers, the use of sometimes florid epitaphs, and variations in the form, structure and materials of cemetery markers of the time.

Bernida: A Michigan Sailing Legend – Al Delclercq and Tom Ervin with Gloria Whelan, Illustrated by David Miles (Sleeping Bear Press)

In 1925, the sailboat “Bernida” wins the first Port Huron to Mackinac Island Race. She wins again in 1927, but when the race's rules change, she is no longer allowed to compete. Years go by while she sits dry-docked in a barn and neglected, moving from owner to owner. In 2012, after a miraculous restoration and with new owners, Bernida is once again entered in the Mackinac Race – and wins. Al Declercq, a sail maker and competitive sailor who bought the Bernida with hopes of winning the Bayview Mackinac Race, wrote this children’s book about the sailboat. “Bernida” is beautifully illustrated by David Miles.

Bird Box: A Novel- Josh Malerman (Ecco)

“Bird Box” is an incredibly original psychological suspense novel that reminds readers that with all great horror, the unseen is so much more terrifying than the seen. “Bird Box” is an edge-of-your-seat horror thriller, set in an apocalyptic near-future world. Something terrifying is out there that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to insanity and deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from, but survival in the new world is frightening and dark. 3

Bright Shards of Someplace Else – Monica McFawn (University of Georgia Press)

In 11 kaleidoscopic stories, McFawn traces the combustive, hilarious and profound effects that occur when people misread the minds of others. The characters, consisting of artists, scientists, songwriters, nannies, horse trainers and poets, often try to pin down another’s point of view, only to find that their own view of the world is far from fixed.

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family – Kathleen Flinn (Viking)

Flinn recounts stories about her grand-parents in the Depression and her own tween years in the 1970s in this family history interwoven with treasured family recipes. Flinn successfully merges a mix of food and memoir. The book speaks to the idea of food being a catalyst for storytelling and explores the very beginnings of her love affair with food and its connection to home. Flinn’s Midwestern childhood takes center stage with the delicious recipes she grew up with. By documenting her memories, she came to understand how meals can be memories, and how cooking can be a form of communication.

The Contract – Derek Jeter (Jeter Publishing)

While leading the New York Yankees to five World Series Championships and achieving myriad milestones and accomplishments on and off the field, including 13 All-Star nods and membership in baseball’s exclusive 3,000-hit club, Jeter has established a reputation of unparalleled character, credibility, dedication and excellence. When Jeter was a boy, he dreamed of becoming shortstop for the New York Yankees. Inspired by his childhood, this middle-grade story describes the agreement Jeter made with his parents requiring him to keep up his grades or no baseball, and how this “contract” helped him play his best game on and off the field.

A Detroit Anthology – Anna Clark (Rust Belt Chic Press)

Anna Clark, a Detroit journalist, has gathered an eclectic assortment of essays, poems and photographs. Detroit is a city of stories and Detroit Anthology is a collection of Detroit stories that will appeal to all readers interested in the grit, toughness and resilience of the Motor City. Over 50 essays, photographs, poetry and art are collected in this diverse anthology.

Eight Mile High – Jim Daniels (Michigan State University Press)

In these linked stories, the constants are the places. Daniels’ characters wander Detroit, a world of concrete, where even a small strip of greenery becomes a hideout for mystery and mayhem. With a survival instinct that includes a healthy dose of humor, Daniels’ characters navigate work and love, change and loss, the best they can. These stories seem to suggest that we are always coming of age, grappling with what it means to be an adult in this world and puzzling over a way to forgive ourselves for not measuring up to our own expectations of what it means to lead a successful, happy life. 4

The Fish and Not the Fish –Peter Markus (Dzanc Books)

Markus has developed a following for his unique and experimental poetic prose, reducing storytelling to its primitive core for a result that is both childish and dreamlike. “The Fish and the Not Fish” tells stories from a strange, post-industrial town where a boy decides he is a bird and Death himself is just another neighbor, among other oddities. In 2012 Markus was named a Kresge Arts in Detroit fellow in Literary Arts.

Making Callaloo in Detroit – Lolita Hernandez (Wayne State University Press)

Drawing on memories of growing up in Detroit with Caribbean roots, Hernandez reveals a hidden community that craves sun and saltwater, dances to calypso, makes callaloo, and bakes, buljol, sanchocho, and pelau in their kitchens. Hernandez’s latest work explores questions of how we assimilate and retain identity, how families evolve as generations pass, how memory guides the present, and how the spirit world stays close to the living. Creative Writing Lecturer, native Detroiter and amateur Trinidadian chef, the author tells real life stories about life in Detroit.

Michigan Agricultural College Campus Life 1900-1925: A Postcard Tour– Stephen Terry (Thunder Bay)

In this collection of historical postcards, Terry acts as a tour guide, giving readers a vibrant time-capsule documentary of the growth of the Michigan Agricultural College. The work highlights the nation's first land-grant college through postcard images. With increasing enrollment and expanding curriculum the campus in East Lansing was transformed in the early 1900s. Terry’s detailed book allows readers to step back through time and read first-hand postcard accounts of the students as they participated in athletics, class rivalries, and wartime on campus.

Midnight Plan of the Repo Man – W. Bruce Cameron (A Forge Books published by Tom Doherty Associates)

Kalkaska, Michigan’s Ruddy McCann has a problem: The voice of a murder victim has suddenly taken up residence in his head. At first, Ruddy thinks the voice is the result of the dreaded malady “Repo Madness,” the consequence of too many years repossessing automobiles and the “nerves of stupidity” required to do the job. Through all the twists and turns of the unlikely plot, Ruddy is surrounded by a vividly-drawn cast of characters, including Becky, his ultra-responsible sister, her goofy new boyfriend, Kermit, Ruddy's dimwitted pal, Jimmy and Ruddy's beloved dog, Jake, “fifty pounds of anyone’s guess.”

Old Islam in Detroit: Rediscovering the Muslim American Past – Sally Howell (Oxford University Press)

Detroit’s earliest Muslim communities are explored here. The culture wars and doctrinal debates that ensued as these populations confronted Muslim newcomers, who did not understand their manner of worship or the American identities they had created, are documented in this well-researched work. Howell provides a new interpretation of the possibilities and limits of Muslim integration into American life. She demonstrates how Islam has become American and how the anxieties many new Muslim Americans and non-Muslims feel about the place of Islam in American society today are not inevitable, but are part of a dynamic process of political and religious change that is still unfolding. 5

A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps: My Mother's Memories of Imprisonment, Immigration, and a Life Remade – Barbara Rylko-Bauer (University of Oklahoma Press)

Jadwiga Lenartowicz Rylko, known as Jadzia (Yah′-jah), was a young Polish Catholic physician in Lódz at the start of World War II. Suspected of resistance activities, she was arrested in January 1944. Over the next 15 months, she endured three Nazi concentration camps and a 42-day death march, spending part of this time working as a prisoner-doctor to Jewish slave laborers. Rylko-Bauer’s story follows Jadzia from her childhood and medical training, through her wartime experiences, to her struggles to create a new life in the postwar world in Detroit. Jadzia's daughter, anthropologist Barbara Rylko-Bauer, constructs an intimate ethnography that weaves a personal family narrative against a 20th-century historical backdrop.

Rivers of Sand: Fly Fishing Michigan and the Great Lakes Region – Josh Greenberg (Lyons Press)

Greenberg is manager of the famous Gates Au Sable Lodge, and writes a popular online fishing report that draws as many as 40,000 readers a month. He has contributed to several magazines, including Fly, Rod & Reel and Fly Fisherman. Written in a conversational style, “Rivers of Sand” is a book of stories about fishing alone, with clients or with friends. As a full-time conservationist, Greenberg, writes beautifully about what he sees and feels while wading Michigan’s best trout streams.

Songs Only You Know: A Memoir – Sean Madigan Hoen (Soho Press)

By turns heartbreaking and mordantly funny, Hoen creates a fierce, compassionate rendering of the chaos and misadventure of a young man’s life. The memoir begins in the '90s and spans a decade when the author’s family fights to hold itself together. Hoen’s crack-addicted father cycles from rehab to binge, his heartsick sister spirals into depression, and his mother works to spare what she can. Meanwhile, Hoen seeks salvation in a community of eccentrics and outsiders while making music in Detroit’s hardcore punk scene. The closer Hoen comes to realizing his musical dreams, the further he drifts from his family and himself.

Station Eleven: A Novel – Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf Doubleday Publishing)

This 2014 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction, set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region. They risk everything for art and humanity. Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, mournful novel is beautifully written. A novel of art, memory and ambition, St. John Mandel tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame and the beauty of the world. 6

Strange Love – Lisa Lenzo (Wayne State University Press)

These nine stories center on Annie Zito, a smart-but-not-always-wise divorced mother, and Marly, her strong yet vulnerable daughter, as they stumble upon an odd cast of boys and men. All the stories are linked and alternate between mother and daughter; and while each tale stands alone, together they make up a larger whole. The first story begins when Annie is 31 years old and Marly is eight, and they live in a tiny apartment overlooking a marsh near Lake Michigan. The last story ends 15 years or so later with both women on the cusp of new adventures. Ever-present is Annie’s beloved Lake Michigan.

Strings Attached – Diane DeCillas (Wayne State University Press)

Poet DeCillis takes inspiration from the story of the elephant calf with a thin rope tied to its leg. Even when it grows into a massive animal, the elephant thinks the same string still restrains it and never attempts to break free. This powerful, funny and sometimes self-deprecating collection considers all the ways that strings bind us in relationships, and explores their constant tightening and loosening.

For more information about the MNB program, call the LM at 517 373-1300, visit or email