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2017 Michigan Notable Books

The 2017 Michigan Notable Books (in alphabetical order):

Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss by Frances Stroh, Harper/ Harper Collins Publishers

In Beer Money: a Memoir of Privilege and Loss, Frances Stroh reveals the complexities of her childhood as a member of the Stroh’s Beer family. Once in possession of the largest private beer fortune in America, the iconic Detroit label’s decline paralleled that of the slow unraveling of the author’s family.  Ms. Stroh’s book is a recollection of a city, an industry, and a dynasty in decline, and the story of a young artist who struggles to find her way out of the ruins.

The Charm Bracelet: A Novel by Viola Shipman, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press 

The Charm Bracelet revolves around a keepsake bracelet owned by an elderly grandmother named Lolly.  Each charm is a marker for a family memory that she fears will go unknown by her daughter and granddaughter.  Shipman has written a story of love, family and the importance of connectivity, one that spans multiple generations of Michigan history and vividly evokes the sun-kissed beauty of summers in Northern Michigan.

Children of the New World: Stories by Alexander Weinstein, ?Picador

Children of the New World is a collection of stories set in a near-future world of social media implants, memory manufacturers, dangerously immersive virtual reality games, and alarming robots.  Many of the characters live in a utopian future of instant connection, while others inhabit a post-collapse primitive landscape. In his writing, Weinstein explores the potential responses to the new technologies that will shape society in an all-too-plausible future.

Detroit Resurrected: To Bankruptcy and Back by Nathan Bomey, W.W. Norton & Company

Detroit, famed for its mid-century wealth, experienced the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history in 2013. Journalist Nathan Bomey delivers the inside story of the fight to save Detroit from years of mismanagement and population loss. City administrators had to find a path out of debt that did not include losing the Detroit Institute of Arts.  Detroit Resurrected is a story of financial ruin, backroom intrigue, and political rebirth in the struggle to reinvent one of America’s iconic cities.

Feather Brained: My Bumbling Quest to Become a Birder and Find a Rare Bird on My Own by Bob Tarte, University of Michigan Press

Lured by a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, humorist Bob Tarte developed a fascination with birds.  Like many before him, he quickly became obsessed with bird spotting.   In Feather Brained, Tarte offers readers a droll look at the pleasures and pitfalls he encounters and introduces a colorful cast of fellow birders from across the country.  This overly honest account will feel familiar to any birder or to anyone who knows and loves a birder.

Great Lakes Island Escapes: Ferries and Bridges to Adventure by Maureen Dunphy, Painted Turtle/Wayne State University Press

In her book, author Maureen Dunphy explores in depth over 30 of the islands in the Great Lakes Basin.  Featuring those accessible by bridge or ferry, she introduces more than 50 additional islands in the United States and Canada.  Each chapter provides information about getting to the islands, what to expect when you get there, the island’s history, and what natural, historical, and cultural sites are available. 

Heaven Was Detroit: From Jazz to Hip-Hop and Beyond edited by M.L. Liebler, Wayne State University Press

Heaven Was Detroit captures the essence of the Detroit music scene from the early 1900s to the twenty-first century.  An anthology of essays, the book moves chronologically through the early days of jazz in Detroit, to the rock ’n’ roll of the 60s, and up to today’s electronica scene.  Writer Dave Marsh wrote the forward, and Leni Sinclair provided the photos.  The book features such well-known writers as Greil Marcus, Jaan Uhelszki, Al Young, Susan Whitall, Gary Graff, John Sinclair, and many others.

Hystopia: A Novel by David Means, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Hystopia is a debut novel that portrays an alternate history of America in which JFK did not die in Dallas.  Set in the late 1960s, Kennedy is entering his third term in office while the Vietnam War continues.  Veteran Eugene Allen writes of the ensuing destabilization of the nation in his book-within-a-book.  It is a story intended to honor those who fought in Vietnam while also capturing his own tragic history.

I Want to Be Once: Poems by M.L. Liebler, Wayne State University Press

This collection of poems offers readers a look into the author's personal life, as well as our collective history as a nation in relation to the American media.  Part autobiography, part commentary, the lines of Liebler's poems are hard-hitting, but not without moments of great tenderness and humanity.  Ordered into three sections – American Life, American War, and American Psalms – the poems span experiences from the working class ‘60s to the arts in modern day America, creating a body of work on life punctuated with humor.

Know the Mother: Stories by Desiree Cooper, Wayne State University Press

In a lyrical collection of flash fiction and short stories, the author explores the complex ideal of the mother in all of her incarnations.  Featured are women, both black and white, who find themselves wedged between their own yearnings and their roles as daughters, sisters, grandmothers, and wives across centuries of American history.  Embedded in each story is an unabashed portrait of gender and race in household life.  Cooper’s stories provide truths without sermon and invite empathy without sentimentality.

Lake Invaders: Invasive Species and the Battle for the Future of the Great Lakes by William Rapai, Wayne State University Press

There are more than 180 alien species in the Great Lakes; some are harmless so far, while others have wreaked biological and economic disruption.  William Rapai focuses on the impact of these invasive species while examining the value of the Great Lakes from a human perspectiv.  The once isolated ecosystem is now part of a world economy.  Balanced and accessible, the author examines new policies of prevention and the tradeoffs required to protect the lakes and tributaries. 

The Last Good Girl: A Novel by Allison Leotta, Touchstone 

Inspired by real-life stories, The Last Good Girl shines a light on campus rape and the powerful emotional dynamics that affect the families of the men and women on both sides.  In the novel, Emily Shapiro has gone missing. A freshman at a Michigan university, she was last seen leaving a bar near a prestigious and secretive fraternity. It is the job of prosecutor Anna Curtis to find Emily alive, but lacking physical evidence, Anna bears the scrutiny of the media and powerful people who would like the case to disappear.

Michigan Modern: Design That Shaped America by Amy Arnold and Brian Conway, Gibbs Smith

This work is a collection of essays touching on all aspects of Michigan’s architecture and design heritage.  The Great Lakes State has always been known for its contributions to twentieth-century manufacturing, but it’s only beginning to receive wide attention for its contributions to mid-century Modern design and architecture.  Conway and Arnold have curated nearly thirty essays and interviews from a number of prominent architects, academics, architectural historians, journalists, and designers.  Each chapter illuminates Michigan’s contributions to Modern design in architecture, automobiles, furniture and education.

One Hundred-Knuckled Fist: Stories by Dustin M. Hoffman, University of Nebraska Press

The lives of the working class consume this collection of short stories.  In One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist Hoffman brings to life the narratives of midwestern blue-collar workers.  Readers are invited to peek behind the curtain of the invisible, but ever-present, “working stiff” as Hoffman reveals their lives in full complexity, offering their gruff voices without censorship.  Yet many Americans will identify with the characters at the heart of these stories who work with their hands and strive to escape invisibility while never losing sight of their own human value.  

Preston Tucker and His Battle to Build the Car of Tomorrow by Steve Lehto, Chicago Review Press

Following WWII, Preston Tucker, an automotive salesman and designer, sought to build an innovative car.  Having gathered a group of brilliant automotive designers, engineers, and promoters, he created the Tucker '48.  Preston Tucker and His Battle to Build the Car of Tomorrow is the first comprehensive, authoritative account of Tucker's magnificent car and his battles to bring it to market.  Lehto relies on a huge trove of previously unseen documents to bring legitimacy to this account.

Sweetgirl: A Novel by Travis Mulhauser, Ecco/ Harper Collins Publishers

Sweetgirl is a debut novel about a fearless sixteen-year old girl, her meth addicted mother and a life or death struggle. While searching for her missing mother, Percy James discovers a baby girl in the freezing home of a minor criminal.  Taking the child forces her to confront the nature of her mother’s affliction while she finds her own fate tied to that of the child’s.  Mulhauser captures the sweeping sense of cultural and geographic isolation of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in a story of courage and sacrifice.

Terror in the City of Champions: Murder, Baseball, and the Secret Society that Shocked Depression-era Detroit by Tom Stanton, Lyons Press

In Terror in the City of Champions, Stanton weaves a tale of history, crime and sports in Depression-era Detroit.  A true story involving athletes, criminals, industrialists, a priest and two future presidents, the sweeping saga is set in a city occupied by the Black Legion, a Klan-like group.  While sports in Detroit flourished, so did the Legion, which boasted tens of thousands of members across the Midwest.  Not a story of the humble and unemployed, this is a story of sports and crime gone large.

Twelve Twenty-Five: The Life and Times of a Steam Locomotive by Kevin Keefe, Michigan State University Press

Pere Marquette 1225 was built in 1941 at the peak of steam locomotive development. This narrative traces the 1225’s regular freight service in Michigan, its unlikely salvation from the scrapyard for preservation at Michigan State University, and the subsequent work to bring it back to steam.  Milestones along the way include 1225’s retirement in 1951, its donation to MSU in 1957, its return to steam in 1988, and its starring role in the 2004 movie The Polar Express.  Currently an excursion train, the continuing career of 1225 is a triumph of railroad preservation.

Wolf’s Mouth: A Novel by John Smolens, Michigan State University Press

In 1944, Italian officer Captain Francesco Verdi is captured by Allied forces in North Africa and shipped to a POW camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where the senior POW demands that all prisoners adhere to his Nazi dictates. His life threatened, Verdi escapes from the camp and meets up with an American woman who helps him elude capture. By 1956 they have become Frank and Claire Green, a young married couple building a new life in postwar Detroit, but voices from the past won’t stay silent.  In Wolf’s Mouth, the recollections of Francesco Verdi/Frank Green give voice to a survivor of an unwanted conflict. 

Women Doing Life: Gender, Punishment and the Struggle for Identity by Lora Bex Lempert, New York University Press

One third of the world’s imprisoned women are in the United States, and Women Doing Life shines a spotlight on the experiences of 72 women serving life sentences in Michigan.  Through in-depth interviews, Lempert brings these marginalized women back into the center of the public arena, drawing attention to their complicated, contradictory, and yet compelling lives.  Documenting that most had reported traumatic childhoods, Lempert reveals that many were victims before they were offenders, and a critical analysis of her participants’ life histories illuminates broader social trends that affect all women in contemporary America.  This is a study of the ways women grow and create meaningful lives in the most restrictive of environments.


Updated 12/20/2017