Stories indexed with the term ‘Domenica Trevor’

Column: Good News for Book Artists

A group of people in this city care so much about the art of making books that they’ve launched a center dedicated to it, one that will pass down an artistic tradition while incorporating cutting-edge technologies to widen its boundaries.

Jim Horton, boundedition, bookmaking, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Printmaker Jim Horton at the boundedition studio on May 16 with his Chandler & Price letterpress, made in Cleveland in the 1930s.

Its founders call boundedition a “member-based community resource for the preservation, practice and expansion of the book and paper arts.” They call themselves its managing members: bookseller Gene Alloway, book artist Barbara Brown, graphic designer Laura Earle, printmaker Jim Horton, and product designer Tom Veling, a retired Ford Motor Co. engineer.

They were moved to act when Tom and Cindy Hollander announced last summer that Hollander’s School of Book and Paper Arts would close its doors after the spring 2013 session. The school operated on the lower level of the Hollander’s Kerrytown store for more than 10 years.

Brown, a longtime teacher of bookbinding classes at Hollander’s, reached out to fellow teacher Horton as well as Earle, Veling and others who met weekly at the open studio there. Serious discussions began in February, Horton says, when “we decided that what we’d done at Hollander’s was too good to give up.”

Earle, whose family has been involved with Ann Arbor’s Maker Works, was instrumental in finding a home for boundedition inside the member-based workshop at 3765 Plaza Drive. Maker Works’ managers were receptive to letting boundedition rent some space, and Brown says Earle, her husband and her son “pretty much built the office singlehandedly” – including a set of modular work tables that can be arranged according to the requirements of individual classes.

Brown credits Earle’s energy and determination for the speed with which boundedition took shape. “It would have happened,” she said, “but Laura made it happen now instead of later.”

Ann Arbor’s community of book artists and book lovers got a chance to look around at a May 16 curtain raiser. Tom and Cindy Hollander were in attendance; Horton reports that they’ve given boundedition “a thumbs up” and Brown says “Tom has really been very supportive.”

An open house is coming up on Sunday, June 2, from 1-6 p.m. “The whole community is invited to come out to see the space,” Horton says, “to sign up for classes, to let us know if they’re interested in teaching classes.” [Full Story]

Column: Literati’s “Moment on the Page”

In the depths, it is tough to have faith that all things must pass.

I have been cobbling together a living since July 2009, when New York-based Advance Publications shut down Ann Arbor’s daily newspaper. It was a trauma, pure and simple, for me and for many of my colleagues. After almost 20 years at The News and 30 years as a newspaperwoman, my “career” was dead and the newspaper industry eventually would be, too – at least as we knew it. Some really bleak months followed for all of us.

Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor business, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A crowd showed up for Literati’s first event on Friday evening, April 5. The new downtown bookstore is located at Washington and Fourth Avenue.

One of the ways I pay the mortgage now is with earnings from my freelance editing business. One of my clients was the Michigan Theater, which in 2011 hired me to edit a history of the theater. The manuscript’s author, Henry Aldridge, recently retired from the faculty of Eastern Michigan University; in the 1970s he rallied the community to rescue the Michigan from the wrecking ball and for decades has been one of the theater’s organists.

Over a number of months Henry and I would meet at Biggby Coffee on East Liberty Street and, chapter by chapter, shape his story of how a movie palace built for silent films in the 1920s weathered dramatic shifts in the film industry and the damage done to downtown America by postwar suburban sprawl, to ultimately stand firm as an Ann Arbor cultural landmark. It is an inspiring tale.

After one of our sessions we stood together outside Biggby and glumly beheld the dead sidewalk in front of the newly vacated Borders flagship store – a community institution that the community could not save. The ironies did not escape us.

The loss was especially personal for Henry; the bankruptcy had thrown a young friend of his out of a job she adored. Shannon Alden was a 14-year veteran of Borders with a passion for children’s literature. Henry was prodding her to find another way to use her gifts for connecting with people and sharing her delight in books. He urged me to contact her if only to offer some moral support; both of us had taken a hard blow to our sense of purpose because of a revolution in the economics of reading. Newspapers, bookstores – the Internet was killing them both.

So it is not a little ironic that months of blogging and Facebooking kept us up to date on the city’s much-anticipated new downtown bookstore before Literati officially opened its doors at 124 E. Washington St. on Easter Sunday. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

A conversation with Ann Pearlman, who gave readers around the world “The Christmas Cookie Club,” seemed appropriate for a December books column. But, it turns out her 2009 novel isn’t about Christmas. It’s about commitment.

Ann Pearlman, book reviews, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Pearlman, in a photo taken earlier this month at Great Lakes Chocolate & Coffee on Jackson Road, where she chatted with columnist Domenica Trevor about her work: “I’m just doing things that are fun.”

Which, coming from the Jewish author of a memoir entitled “Infidelity,” makes considerable sense.

The fictional cookie club is hosted by narrator Marnie, whose day begins with preparations for a dozen friends who will be arriving at her Ann Arbor home that evening with food, wine and a story to accompany the ritual exchange of imaginatively presented cookies – with frequent dance breaks. But she’s also anticipating important news that evening from her older daughter and her husband in San Diego and, in a month, a grandchild from her 18-year-old, whose boyfriend is “a black ex-convict and aspiring rap star.”

Pearlman belongs to a real Christmas cookie club here in Ann Arbor, and reading her bestseller had me fantasizing about how lovely it would be put something like that together with friends whose company I treasure all year round and don’t see as often as I’d like. But then I thought again about the generally sluggish crowd I hang with and how the kinder ones would simply laugh at me. Righto. What say we just meet for pink drinks in January, hmm?

Such a lame crew, I suspect, would mystify Pearlman. Among her commitments: She’s a writer (seven published books). She’s an artist. She’s an adventuresome cook (her latest effort extends to homemade liqueurs). By her own account, the boundary between her family and her friendships is often indistinct.  She has maintained a psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor even as her writing career became firmly established. And the day we spoke, this mother of three and grandmother of four was looking forward to dancing the night away at the Necto’s Townie Party, despite a lingering cough from a bout of illness that put her off the cookies at this year’s meeting of the club. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

Natalie Jacobs was 35 when she died, suddenly, in January 2008.

Cover of "When Your Song Breaks the Silence"

Cover of "When Your Song Breaks the Silence."

She left behind a novel. And her parents, Stan and Judith Jacobs of Ann Arbor, have published it, in ebook form, as a memorial to her.

“When Your Song Breaks the Silence” is an elegantly imagined life of Austrian composer Franz Schubert, distinguished by an articulate sensitivity and meticulous research. The completed novel’s existence was a surprise to her parents – its subject was not.

When her daughter was 11 years old, Judith Jacobs writes on the website she created for the book, “she wrote a story about the composer as a young child trying myopically – Natalie was also very near-sighted – to interact with his family and surroundings.” A graduate of Community High School, Natalie majored in English literature at the University of Michigan and was still working with the Schubert theme in the mid-1990s; when Stan and Judith traveled to Vienna in 1995 they made a point to visit the house where he died (in 1828, at age 31).

“A lilac bush was in full bloom in front of the building,” Jacobs says. They took a photograph. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

Laurence Thomas isn’t the world’s best salesman. Really – trying to get this guy to talk about Third Wednesday, the literary journal he edits, was like pulling teeth. You’d think he was a poet or something.

Third Wednesday

Cover of the Winter 2012 edition of Third Wednesday, a literary journal edited by Laurence Thomas of Ypsilanti.

As it turns out, all you need to know about this well-kept secret can be found in its pages.

Thomas – who is a poet, as well as an essayist and a writer of fiction – was born in Ypsilanti 85 years ago. A Hopwood Award winner for essay and poetry at the University of Michigan in the early 1950s, he had a teaching career that took him as far as Uganda, Saudi Arabia and Costa Rica before he returned to his hometown, where he lives today. Third Wednesday was an outgrowth of a monthly poetry group and of his friendship with the late Dearborn Heights attorney and magistrate Michael J. Barney, who was also a published poet and founder of Gravity Presses (lest we all float away) Inc.

Barney, “a regular attendant” of the group, Thomas says, had begun publishing through Gravity Presses a local literary magazine called Now Here Nowhere. Only a handful of issues came out of the project before Barney became ill (he died of cancer in 2006). Third Wednesday picked up where Now Here Nowhere left off, Thomas says, and is in great part an homage to Barney’s memory.

From his home office, Thomas corrals the input of associate editors both local and far-flung (one of them lives in Tajikistan!) who review submissions of poetry, fiction and visual art to produce a quarterly collection. Third Wednesday casts a wider net than did its predecessor and draws submissions – “two or three a day,” Thomas says – from around the country as well as Michigan. The current issue – Winter 2012 – publishes poets from Ann Arbor to Sofia, Bulgaria. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

The upcoming trifecta of other-worldly holidays – Halloween, All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day – are the perfect frame to showcase a pair of new literary treats from local authors. (A neat trick, no?)

Cover of "Ghost Writers"

Cover of "Ghost Writers"

“The Sin-Eater: A Breviary,” Thomas Lynch’s latest collection of poems from Paraclete Press, presents this world and the next according to Argyle, an insurance policy incarnate for unabsolved offenses and, Lynch writes, “the mouthpiece for my mixed religious feelings.”

“Ghost Writers: Us Haunting Them,” part of the Made in Michigan Writers Series from Wayne State University Press, serves up a dozen ghost stories – some fiction, some true in their own way – from some of the state’s finest writers, many of them from the Ann Arbor area. Laura Kasischke (“Space, In Chains” and “The Raising”) and Keith Taylor, whose next poetry collection, “Marginalia for a Natural History,” comes out next month, are the editors as well as contributors.

Taylor, who teaches English at the University of Michigan, and “Ghost Writers” contributor Elizabeth Kostova (“The Historian,” “The Swan Thieves”) will read from the collection at Zingerman’s Roadhouse on Wednesday, Oct. 26, at the sixth annual Vampires’ Ball, a benefit for Food Gatherers. (Hunger. In Washtenaw County. In America. Sin? Horror story? This theme is definitely hanging together here.) [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

So after Borders, now what?

What will it take for another bookseller to open shop in the Borders/Shaman Drum neighborhood at State and Liberty, and operate a browseable place with content deep and wide? We’re talking about a books-and-mortar store a stone’s throw from the University of Michigan campus. A spot where you arrange to meet up with your husband after the two of you go your separate ways for an hour. Where you hang out until the movie starts at the Michigan Theater. Where you actually buy a book now and then – sometimes a title other than the one that got you in the real, live door.

The No. 1 Borders bookstore at Liberty & Maynard in Ann Arbor.

The No. 1 Borders bookstore at Liberty & Maynard in Ann Arbor.

Keith Taylor, the poet, UM creative writing teacher and veteran local bookseller, says “it will take idealism, a lot of 80-hour work weeks, a willingness to be constantly present.”

Check, check and check. This is Ann Arbor, after all.

And then there’s Taylor’s fourth condition: “A landlord willing to rent space for less than the going rate.”

“Rents in central Ann Arbor right now will not allow for an independent bookstore, or an independent anything,” he says, “until the business owner owns the building the store is in.”

Karl Pohrt concurs – and the owner of the former Shaman Drum Bookshop, but not the building that housed it, should know: “It’s essential to own the building. If they don’t, they’ll be vulnerable.”

“Rent,” replies Nicola Rooney flatly when the proprietor of Nicola’s Books is asked why she won’t consider a move from Westgate Shopping Center to the State Street area.

We knew that, really. This is downtown Ann Arbor, after all. The market apparently won’t bear an independent bookstore in that neighborhood – Shaman Drum, which was located on South State just around the corner from Borders, closed in 2009 after nearly 30 years in business. Its former storefront is now a burger joint.

So the real question is this: If the market won’t bear a full-blown downtown bookstore, how will the community respond? [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

It hasn’t been easy for people devoted to books in this community to keep the annual Ann Arbor Book Festival and Writer’s Conference going.

Inner courtyard at North Quad

The inner courtyard at the University of Michigan's North Quad. This year's Ann Arbor Book Festival and Writer's Conference, which takes place on June 25, will be held at North Quad, located at State and Huron.

The publishing industry as we knew it is all but gone, as is the bookselling industry. (A visit to the almost ghostly downtown Borders store on a recent Friday night grimly reminded us of this.) The Great Recession all but dried up sponsorship and grant money for the arts in general and the literary arts in particular.

So how did organizers manage to bring back the book festival for another year?

Like most of us, by deciding what expenses weren’t essential, by figuring out how to stretch a buck and by some simple community cooperation.

Check out the schedule and you’ll see that this year’s festival – set for Saturday, June 25 – is being presented essentially in conjunction with the Neutral Zone’s Volume Summer Institute and the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.

Jeff Kass, Neutral Zone’s creative arts director who is heading up the book festival this year, says organizers were faced with “trying to move forward with the book festival under difficult economic circumstances, and we really didn’t have the resources to go it alone anymore.” [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

A chief function of the book review “industry” is to give new books a sales push – the “latest” is the point. But today, let’s hear it for the backlist – otherwise known as those books you took note of months (or years) ago and intended to read, or brought home, placed on the shelf and have noted with good intentions ever since.

Book cover for "The Ugliest House in the World"

Book cover for "The Ugliest House in the World" by Peter Ho Davies.

Two works of fiction by University of Michigan creative writing teacher Peter Ho Davies spent way too much time on my “gotta get to” list. And “The Welsh Girl” (2007) and “The Ugliest House in the World” (1997) were fine company when I finally claimed for them a couple of snowy weeks in February.

“The Ugliest House in the World” (Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin) is a collection of deftly composed short stories that are tragic, comic and often a dead-on blend of the two. They take us from colonial southern Africa to anti-colonial Kuala Lumpur, from Wales to – hilariously – Welsh-speaking Patagonia. (“Butch should have known it would come to this when the Kid started shooting ostriches again.”) And while we know things won’t end well for the British in Natal, the officers’ dining-table tales of heroism in the face of Zulu savagery are a ripping good time. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

Where’s a medieval village when you need one?

You know – that place where everyone knows where everyone else lives and everybody knows everybody else’s business and, no matter how insipid or irrelevant, has an idiotic opinion on it all, one generally borne of grinding frustration, depthless boredom and a general, yawning poverty of the spirit …

Frances and Joseph Gies

A photo of Frances and Joseph Gies, from their book "Life in a Medieval Village."

No. I do not need to get on Facebook.

But maybe somebody out there who is plugged into this dynamic global engine of online communal solidarity-ishness can take a break from investigating what your fifth-grade gym teacher had for breakfast and help us out here.

The mystery opens a few days after Christmas, when my husband and brother-in-law drop me at the Borders in Peoria, Ill., on the way to relive their childhood at a matinee screening of “Tron: Legacy.” Browsing the history section, I come across a paperback edition of “Life in a Medieval Village,” by Frances and Joseph Gies, and settle into an armchair.

And there I learn, from the back cover, that the Gieses “live on a lake near Ann Arbor, Michigan.” And there’s this dear photo of an elderly pair who appear to be Grandma and Grandpa circa 1948, but they’re also two scholars who’ve spent their lives together researching and writing almost two dozen books about life in the Middle Ages. How cool is that? [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

Tis the season to spend money. And I say, buy books.

Book inscription

Inscription from the author's grandmother on the book

Real books, made of paper and ink. From real stores, made of bricks and mortar: Nicola’s Books. Common Language. Crazy Wisdom. Falling Water. There are real treasures at Dawn Treader, Motte & Bailey, West Side Book Shop and the other used bookstores in our area. Yes, yes, Amazon is easy and “cheaper.” But at the local Barnes and Noble or Borders stores, you might find a neighbor behind the sales desk, or in the aisles.

Among the great bargains to be found at used bookstores are the deals you get when you reach for an interesting title and discover an inscription on the flyleaf. Two stories in one!

Dawn Treader Book Shop is great for this kind of hunt – especially its children’s section, which has a wonderful collection of old books hidden here and there amid the piles of multicolored, ‘80s-era paperback dross. Age adds charm and mystery to many of the inscriptions, which are more often than not written in fountain pen with the elegant sweep of fine and intent penmanship. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

“Walking Papers,” a collection of poetry by Thomas Lynch, arrived in the mail a few weeks ago.

Cover of Thomas Lynch's "Walking Papers"

Lucky me. Lucky us.

Lynch is a writer who chooses to call things by their proper names. Death is death. An ass is an ass. Love is bliss, except when it is something else entirely.

And when he puts his intelligence and honesty and lurking wit to observations of human-scale profundities, he finds solace in even the harshest truths.

“Oh Say Grim Death” muses on the most inexplicable of blows: A child is killed. We learn of it – he died in a fire, on a Thursday morning – from what is cut into a 18th-century headstone, and follow the search in that New Hampshire town as certain as it would be anywhere, for a reason to have “faith / In God’s vast purposes. As if the boy / Long buried here was killed to show how God / Makes all things work together toward some good.” [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

My book group reconstituted itself a few months ago after a hiatus prompted by serious illness, family problems, the acute burdens of employment and unemployment and a number of other upheavals among us. When we reunited it was with some new members, and our first meeting was largely spent getting to know one another and catching up. Essential to that, of course, was what each of us had been reading lately.

Stack of books

These books are not being considered as picks for the author's book club. But no doubt they've been read by someone, somewhere.

“Olive Kitteridge,” Anne mentioned. “It was just wonderful.” Eilisha’s eyes lit up: “Oh, yes!” Linda had adored it, too. And they were off – celebrating a shared delight at Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of connected short stories and at the gratifications of shared delight, newly discovered.

One of the purposes of this column, which is approaching its first anniversary, is to re-create some of that pleasure – with the emphasis on sharing. NPR has a feature called “You Must Read This,” which these days has sounded a bit too pushy to my neurotic ear: No, I mustn’t. And get off my case. Lately I’ve tended to get a little uptight even when the most dear and trusted friend insists on lending me a book she’s just finished because she just knows I’ll just love it. Chances are I will. But I’m already in the middle of two other books and that’s yet another one joining the mountain of reading I don’t have time to get to and you wouldn’t believe all the crap I have to do today let alone this week and this month and for how many years can I keep this unread book before you start to hate me?

So, no pressure! But I’d like to share some of the reading that kept The Chronicle’s Book Fare columnist sane and fundamentally optimistic during a tough stretch. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

Arthur Nusbaum raised the curtain on his second act – Third Mind Books – in January. With an inventory of more than 500 items, the online bookstore devoted to the work and legacy of the Beat Generation shares office space with Nusbaum’s once-primary gig: he’s president of Ann Arbor’s Steppingstone Properties Ltd.

Arthur Nusbaum

William S. Burroughs looms large for Arthur Nusbaum – in this case, literally. The portrait of this Beat Generation iconoclast hangs in the lobby of Nusbaum's Third Mind Books and Steppingstone Properties.

A real estate guy with a thing for William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and the rest of that reckless crew? Incongruous, on the face of it. But a closer look reveals a certain ironic harmony.

“I used to be an activist,” says Nusbaum. No surprise there – this is a fellow whose dazzling energy will find an outlet.

Born in Detroit, he grew up in the suburbs, attended the University of Michigan and returned to Ann Arbor for good in the early 1990s as the concept of New Urbanism was gathering steam in Ann Arbor and across the country. Those principles resonated with him, and as he made the connection between his own business and the intensifying local efforts to rein in suburban sprawl, Nusbaum says, “real estate became more meaningful for me. And that’s reflected in buildings like this.”

He’s speaking from his second-floor suite of offices in Ashley Square, at 123 N. Ashley St. The building – Nusbaum believes it was an auto showroom in its original incarnation – was rehabbed in the 1980s and purchased in the late 1990s by Nusbaum, who relocated Steppingstone there in 2000.

“To make a long story short, that’s the direction I took for the last decade and a half in my business,’’ he says. [Full Story]

Book Fare: “Builder’s Apprentice”

Book cover for "Builder's Apprentice," published by Huron River Press.

It is both a luxury and a curse of modern life to be doing “all the right things” while fearing you’ve missed something vital along that road not taken. Andy Hoffman, a University of Michigan professor and author of “Builder’s Apprentice,” confronted that suspicion in the mid-1980s while mulling grad school offers from Harvard and Berkeley.

As he prepared to graduate with a bachelor’s degree (“grades thirteen, fourteen, fifteen and sixteen”) in chemical engineering, Hoffman writes, he “fumbled” through interviews with prospective employers: “I had assumed that recruiters would tell me what I was supposed to do for them. … I would be guided on to the next step in life.” He took a job with the Environmental Protection Agency, “generating paperwork” for two years, and assumed that the next step – and the cure for his aimlessness – would be graduate school in public policy.

But what he really wanted to do was build houses. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

The Ann Arbor Book Festival returns May 14-15 with its chief draw, a daylong Writer’s Conference, as the centerpiece of an event that has been streamlined to conform to some – you guessed it – sobering financial realities.

Ann Arbor Book Festival board

An Ann Arbor Book Festival board meeting at the offices of the Ann Arbor State Bank (from left): Peter Schork, Kathy Robenalt, Jeff Kass, Evans Young, Bill Gosling, John Knott.

The starkest of those is the absence of Shaman Drum Bookshop, which closed its doors last summer. The bookstore had been a key sponsor since its owner, Karl Pohrt, took a key role in launching the festival in 2003. The void, for the festival as well as the community, has been deeply felt.

Pohrt’s staff “was extremely helpful in attracting some of our main guest authors,” said festival executive director Kathy Robenalt, “so that was a loss we had to work with.” And the woes of the wider industry have hit home, too: publisher-paid author tours are far from routine anymore, meaning fewer authors who might be able to appear at the festival on, say, HarperCollins’ dime.

Pohrt remains on the 18-member festival board, along with Bill Zirinsky, who owns returning sponsor Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room with his wife, Ruth Schekter. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

Book cover "Wearing Nothing But a Smile"

Book cover of Steve Amick's "Nothing But a Smile."

Score another Michigan literary honor for Ann Arbor dirty-book writer Steve Amick.

Two novels. Two appearances on the annual listing of Michigan Notable Books. And two small-town Michigan libraries that canceled an appearance by Amick when somebody had a chance to actually take a look at the book.

“Nothing But a Smile,” which came out in paperback (Anchor, $15) last month, was chosen by the Michigan Public Library of Michigan as a 2010 notable book. It’s a charming 1940s story about Sal, the owner of a struggling Detroit Chicago photography shop, who comes up with idea of staging – and posing for – girlie pictures to pay the bills until her husband comes home from the war. While it is, in a sense, about soft-core porn and its, ah, uses, “Nothing But a Smile” comes off “decent and true” – which is also how Amick’s hero, Wink, describes his war buddy’s wife.

“It’s an old-fashioned, sweet book,” says the author, “but … yeah, people have sex. That’s how we got here.”

“Smile” also features an Ann Arbor-related plot twist – one that turned out to have an ironic, real-life parallel. [Full Story]

Book Fare: My Dirty Little Secret

“There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy.” – J.D. Salinger

Book cover of "Wild Bells, Wild Sky"

Book cover of "Wild Bells to the Wild Sky" – not written by J.D. Salinger or the author of this column.

He can say that again.

Or not, because he died last month. But Jerome (whom, I should make clear, I never met) and I do have that in common. We both spared ourselves the haunting, humiliating spectacle of publication, although he had to learn the hard way and produce an American classic first.

I, on the other hand, wrote a romance novel so bad as to be unfit for print.

Let’s understand one thing. Everybody loves some kind of trash sometime. Tabloid gossip is, of course, the biggie. In a class I’m taking on probate law at Eastern Michigan University, the professor brought up Michael Jackson’s kids to illustrate how the rights of the surviving parent to custody are ironclad unless those rights have been terminated by a court. “The minute he died,” we were told, “she could have pulled up to Neverland and grabbed those kids. She – heck, I don’t even remember that woman’s na–”

“Debbie Rowe!!” volunteered way too many of my classmates.

Trash, trash, irresistible trash. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

Cover for Margaret Fuchs Singer's memoir.

When a member of my book group recommended Margaret Fuchs Singer’s recently published “Legacy of a False Promise: A Daughter’s Reckoning,” I assumed the longtime Ann Arbor resident’s contribution to the literature of America’s red-diaper babies would be another account of growing up with a parent who joined the Communist Party in the 1930s, became disillusioned but still refused to inform on former comrades – and suffered for it.

I got it wrong.

Singer’s father, Herbert Fuchs, cooperated with the House Un-American Activities Committee. He informed. He named names. He told the whole truth – about a profound commitment and a profound mistake – and suffered for it.

His family, of course, suffered for it, too. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

The author's well-worn copy of "The Happy Prince" by Oscar Wilde.

The author's well-worn, 1965 edition of "The Happy Prince" by Oscar Wilde.

Christmas is over. Was everyone properly grateful?

You know who we’re talking about here, even though there are certainly none of them in your family. We’re talking about that little sugar plum who works up a sweat ripping open loot and caps the frenzy with, “Is this all?” Or the tot, her golden curls still sleep-tousled, who tears enough paper off each present to see if it’s worthy of further attention and, if it disappoints, chucks it aside for the next one.

A woman I know recalls the Christmas her brother visited with his family; the little darlings plowed through the booty in the twinkling of an eye, allowed themselves a few minutes to fight with each other and then demanded to go back to the hotel pool because they were bored. Visions of stuffing them in a coal sack and dumping them into the deep end danced in Auntie’s head.

This time of year always gets me thinking about Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince,” a fairy tale guaranteed to bludgeon a sense of empathy into the most irredeemable of brats. [Full Story]

Column: Dead Duck for Thanksgiving

At Thanksgiving, a flesh eater’s fancy turns heavily to thoughts of a dead bird. What better time of year, then, for cartoonist Jay Fosgitt to serve up a pair of them?


Panel from Jay Fosgitt's "Dead Duck." (Image links to higher resolution file)

Meet Dead Duck, the title character of Fosgitt’s debut graphic novel, and his sidekick, Zombie Chick. They work for the Grim Reaper (aka J. P. Yorick); their task is to haul the reluctant chosen over to the other side (aka Rigormortitropolis) by any means necessary.

Happily for us all, bringing in the dead has always been a rich lode for historical references, literary allusions and rude humor.

“Dead Duck” takes off on all three, with riffs on the Salem witch trials, Beatlemania, the Canadian health care system, the Crusades, Punch and Judy, the “Vagina Monologues,” Chaucer, SCTV’s Doug and Bob McKenzie (Fosgitt has great affection for the Great White North), Nazi porn and blaxpliotation flicks, just to skim the colorful surface.

“Dead Duck,” Fosgitt freely advises, is “not profane, but it’s certainly not for little kids.”

The book, published by Ape Entertainment, is due out next month – though Fosgitt is expecting a FedEx delivery of 200 copies to his home today, according to his blog. The weekly comic also has been appearing since February at That’s where you’ll find Fosgitt’s commentary on his inspirations for that week’s strip and the technical aspects of cartooning, as well as other observations. And you’ll find Fosgitt at Ann Arbor’s Vault of Midnight on Main Street from 5-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 2, where he’ll talk about “Dead Duck” and sign copies of his book. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

Domenica Trevor

Domenica Trevor

Start with some quick history: Josef Stalin’s campaign in the late 1930s to consolidate his control of the Communist Party spun into a terror that counted both old Bolsheviks and a new generation of party faithful among its victims. The leadership of the Red Army was decimated. Intellectuals were seized and interrogated and, like so many others under torture, falsely denounced others.

Inevitably, the masses caught on to the madness; pointing the finger at a neighbor could suddenly open up that three-room apartment next door. By the time the rampage was reined in, some 1.5 million people had been arrested and imprisoned; half again as many were executed or perished in the gulag.

Fast forward to the present: You’re a 29-year-old with an MFA, in Moscow to do research for your first novel. Lev Mendelevich Gurvich, himself caught up in the purges, has welcomed you into his apartment and has agreed to tell you his story. Gurvich, in his 90s but still with a sharp mind, had in the 1930s been editor of the literary magazine of the Komsomol, the Communist youth movement of the U.S.S.R. He was arrested, interrogated, sent to a labor camp.

You tell him about your novel, the story of a disgraced teacher of literature who now works as an “archivist” at Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka prison. Pavel Dubrov’s guilt and sorrow threaten to deaden him into numbness until a brief, official encounter with the prisoner Isaac Babel stirs him to rescue the condemned writer’s last manuscript from the prison’s furnace. Pavel smuggles it out of Lubyanka under his coat.

I met Babel, this survivor of the gulag tells you. I was at Stalin’s rallies; yes, I heard Stalin speak. But at one point the old man stops to ask, pointedly if not unkindly: Who are you to write this book?

“I wasn’t insulted,” Travis Holland says. “It was a question I asked myself.”

A more than fair question. But Holland’s answer, “The Archivist’s Story,” proved that his audacity was matched by his gifts. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

Domenica Trevor

Domenica Trevor

Once upon a time there lived a pretty lady named Jiselle who was always a bridesmaid and never a bride. But one night she is swept off her feet by a handsome pilot with green eyes and a tragic past. He proposes! She says yes!

But the “happily ever after” part snags on a few complications. Her new husband spends way more time in flight than he does at home. He has three motherless kids, one of them a middle-schooler with the mother of all attitudes. Jiselle’s own mother has an attitude of her own, marked by a particular contempt for unreliable charmers and her own daughter’s pathetic naïveté.

Oh – and a deadly plague is sweeping the land.

“In A Perfect World” is a dystopian fairy tale by Chelsea novelist and poet Laura Kasischke, set in an America whose citizens have become global pariahs – shunned, quarantined and loathed as potential carriers of the gruesomely fatal Phoenix flu. A distant war drags on vaguely. The power grid fails for hours and then days, and then for good. The mysterious plague kills the rich and famous along with everybody else. [Full Story]