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2008 Michigan Notable Books

This year's Michigan Notable Books selection committee included Nancy Robertson (chair), Kim Laird, Randy Riley, and Kris Rzepczynski from the Library of Michigan. Others included Dean Anderson, Office of the State Archaeologist, Robert Beasecker, Grand Valley State University, Elizabeth Buzzelli, Traverse City Record-Eagle, M. Christine Byron, Michigan Center for the Book, Bill Castanier, City Pulse, Lansing, Rod Gauvin, ProQuest Information & Learning, Jennifer Knode, Borders Inc., Cheryl Lyons, Capital Area District Library, Roger Mendel, Mideastern Library Cooperative, Duane Strojny, Cooley Law School, Denise Taylor, Schuler Books & Music, and George Weeks, Detroit News, retired.

Alden B. Dow: Midwestern Modern, by Diane Maddex (Alden B. Dow Home & Studio, distributed by W.W. Norton & Company) - This tribute to Midland native and nationally renowned architect Alden B. Dow (1904-1983) celebrates his creative and innovative designs for homes, churches, schools and government buildings, as well as his life philosophies of honesty, humility and enthusiasm. In his half-century career, Dow designed more than 600 structures, more than 100 of which were built in Midland, making the town a monument to his talent. Filled with vivid photos and design elements that reflect Dow's own style, the book also provides a detailed tour of the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio in Midland.

Connecting the Dots: Tyree Guyton's Heidelberg Project (Wayne State University Press) - A remarkable story of an artist's quest to transform his urban neighborhood, Connecting the Dots explores both the beginning of Tyree Guyton's journey as an artist and his impact on his Heidelberg Street neighborhood in Detroit. The book covers the controversies surrounding the project, the hopes of the artist, and a glimpse at the plans for the future.

Elijah of Buxton, by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic) - Few writers blend history, humor, and insights into human behavior better than Curtis, winner of the 2005 Michigan Author Award. In this young adult story set in Buxton, Ontario, Curtis explores the growth and travails of Elijah, a young African-American boy born free in Buxton, who travels into Detroit in search of a thief. Much more happens to him than he expects, and Elijah is forever changed by his encounters with the dark reality of slavery. The book is both heartbreaking and inspiring as Elijah grows into a deeper understanding of his history and legacy.

The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam, by Tom Bissell (Pantheon Books) - In this touching account of a son's struggle to understand his father's experiences in Vietnam, Bissell documents his travels with his father back to Vietnam, and offers a fresh perspective on the war there and the impact it made on the children of Vietnam veterans. A native of Escanaba, Bissell successfully illustrates that wars never really end for soldiers or their children.

Fork in the Road with Eric Villegas, by Eric Villegas (Huron River Press) - Based on chef and restaurateur Eric Villegas's award-winning PBS cooking show, Fork in the Road features recipes rich in Michigan's best local ingredients. Organized by regions of the state (The Fruit Belt, Middle of the Mitt), these recipes affirm the diverse food heritage of the Great Lakes region. All the while, Villegas' energetic and lively personality comes through in conversational sidebars discussing Michigan's agriculture and history. Mouth-watering photos showcase most of the dishes, and additional photos, from waterfalls to roadside food stands, evoke the spirit of Michigan.

From the Vine: Exploring Michigan Wineries, by Sharon Kegerreis and Lorri Hathaway (Ann Arbor Media Group) - Michigan's eclectic vineyards are showcased in this gorgeous introduction to Michigan's wines and the special people behind them. Experience Michigan's welcoming wine culture behind the scenes with Kegerreis and Hathaway, and discover the stories, the legends of wine making, and the marvels of the grape.

Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed, by Paul Trynka (Broadway Books) - Nicknamed "The Godfather of Punk," Iggy Pop rose out of Ann Arbor to front The Stooges, one of America's most influential rock 'n' roll bands; the musical genres of punk, glam and New Wave were all heavily influenced by Iggy's performances. Trynka's work is the first full biography of Iggy Pop (James Osterberg Jr.), yet is more than just a story of his life. It also illustrates the enormous role Ann Arbor and Detroit played in the development of the alternative music scene and provides a tragic depiction of the death of the hippie dream.

Mackinac Bridge: A 50-Year Chronicle, 1957- 2007, by Mike Fornes (Cheboygan Tribune Printing Co.) - Filled with details of day-to-day life on the Big Mac, Mackinac Bridge honors the history of the bridge that united Michigan's two peninsulas and became a symbol of the Great Lakes State. Combining exhaustive research and interviews, Fornes recounts tales of the routine (toll collections), the celebratory (the 100 millionth vehicle across the bridge) and the grim (traffic fatalities), while the extensive use of photos and memorabilia complement these stories and provide a unique visual perspective.

"My Brave Mechanics:" The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War, by Mark Hoffman (Wayne State University Press) - Letters, diaries, regimental records, and local newspapers enrich this compelling history of the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics. The state's only such Civil War unit, the regiment was largely composed of skilled craftsmen and artisans. After training at Camp Owen in Marshall in 1861, the unit moved south and fought to maintain and support the Union supply lines in the Civil War's Western Theater, building and repairing bridges, railroads, and telegraph lines.

One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II, by Lita Judge (Hyperion Books for Children) - The very special and lovingly illustrated story of Judge's mother and grandmother, set during World War II in Pinckney. During the war, Judge's grandmother received an appeal from German friends who were starving and cold, and from this one simple request, a refugee assistance effort began, supported by ornithologists across the United States and Pinckney residents. By sending hope and kindness in the care packages, these people began healing the wounds of war.

Paper Tiger: One Athlete's Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football, by Ted A. Kluck (Lyons Press) - Combining the behind-the-scenes journalism of Paper Lion with the sports humor of Bull Durham, Kluck details his season as a long snapper with the Battle Creek Crunch of the Great Lakes Indoor Football League. In this near-bottom rung of professional football, teams struggle to make ends meet and players refuse to abandon their love of the game in their fight for one last shot at gridiron glory.

A Primer on Parallel Lives, by Dan Gerber (Copper Canyon Press) - Gerber's seventh book of poetry explores his fears and doubts as a youth growing up in western Michigan and reveals the landscape of his current home on California's central coast. Nature and observations of the world around him are central to Gerber's poems. His poetry explores everyday experiences and images, successfully converting them into something unique and magical. Gerber won the 1992 Michigan Author Award and is a past recipient of the Mark Twain Award.

The Red Parts: A Memoir, by Maggie Nelson (Free Press) - Originally considered one of the famous "Michigan Murders" that occurred in Ann Arbor in the 1960's, Jane Mixer was brutally murdered in 1969. Just as Nelson - Mixer's niece - was publishing a collection of poetry in 2005 reflecting on the family tragedy, new DNA evidence surfaced, implicating a new suspect, a retired nurse from Gobles. This memoir, a deeply personal search for closure, moves seamlessly between the author's recollections of her father's death, her sister's rebelliousness, and the new trial.

Returning to Earth, by Jim Harrison (Grove Press) - Northern Michigan plays a pivotal role in Harrison's ninth novel. Determined to chronicle his family's history before he dies, Donald Burkett is a 45-year-old Chippewa-Finnish man afflicted with Lou Gehrig's disease. This tender novel explores life, death, and finding redemption in unlikely places, as Donald's struggle with his disease encourages his loved ones to conquer their troubled past by letting it go.

Sailing Grace, by John Otterbacher (Samadhi Press) - Former Michigan legislator Otterbacher of Grand Rapids shares this inspiring tale of his personal triumph over open-heart surgery. In his sailboat named Grace, Otterbacher, together with his wife and two daughters, sails across the Atlantic Ocean to Ireland, overcoming both Mother Nature and his medical struggles.

The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, edited by Robert Dale Parker (University of Pennsylvania Press) - Parker recovers and revives the life story and literature of largely unknown Ojibwe poet and writer Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (1800-1842). Born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie by her Ojibwe mother and Irish-born father, Schoolcraft is the first known American Indian literary writer. Although Schoolcraft did not publish her work, Parker's thorough research led him to her poems and traditional stories, as well as her translations of Ojibwe songs and other texts into English. Publishing them in most cases for the first time, Parker also provides insights into and interpretations of her life and work.

Stealing Buddha's Dinner: A Memoir, by Bich Minh Nguyen (Viking) - As a Vietnamese immigrant coming of age in Grand Rapids in the 1980s, Bich Minh Nguyen longed to fit in with her blond-haired, blue-eyed peers. Nguyen blends stories of struggles and anxieties at home and school with her hunger for American snack foods, music and television, both as an exotic treat and as a symbol of American identity. With a frank and powerful voice, Nguyen writes of building her own identity amid often conflicting cultures.

Sweety Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations, with Pie, by Patty Pinner (Taunton Press) - Saginaw native Pinner filled this beautiful memoir with stories of family and friends, and their beloved recipes. Stirred together with recommendations on living life fully and making the most delicious pies imaginable, this book is a treasure and a delectable delight.

Up in Honey's Room, by Elmore Leonard (William Morrow) - Leonard, the 1996 Michigan Author Award winner, sets his latest novel in 1945 Detroit. U.S. Marshal Carl Webster hopes to use the free-spirited Honey Deal to track down a pair of escaped German POW's hiding out with Honey's ex-husband, Walter. Complete with German spies, a transvestite killer, and Nazi look-alikes, Leonard's dialogue is fast-paced and clever, leading up to the final wild sequence of events "up in Honey's room."

Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations With Gerald R. Ford, by Thomas M. DeFrank (G.P. Putnam's Sons) - Including years of private conversations with President Gerald R. Ford, DeFrank's book offers great insight into Ford's personality, as well as revealing a little-known and profoundly different side of President Ford. The Newsweek correspondent illustrates many of Ford's thoughts on today's political landscape and contains a unique glimpse into the private person behind the public figure.  


Updated 07/01/2010