A post in the Local in Ann Arbor blog reflects on the importance of historic buildings in creating a city’s sense of place. It includes a review of “Historic Ann Arbor,” a new book by local authors Susan Wineberg and Patrick McCauley: ”This book should be on the bookshelf of everyone who lives in Ann Arbor and values any sense of our history and architectural diversity. As Grace Shackman says in her introduction to the book, ‘Susan and Patrick’s love of Ann Arbor shines through every page.’” [Source]
The Wall Street Journal has published an excerpt of “Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football,” a new book by Ann Arbor author and sports columnist John U. Bacon. The online version includes a video of WSJ’s Rachel Bachman interviewing Bacon about his experience following four college football teams: Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State and Northwestern. [Source]
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.
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.
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?)
“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.)
[Editor's Note: HD, a.k.a. Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle, is also publisher of an online series of interviews on a teeter totter. Introductions to new Teeter Talks also appear on The Chronicle's website.]
Last week, Robb Johnston rode the AATA bus from Ypsilanti into Ann Arbor and walked from downtown to my front porch take his turn on the teeter totter. [Robb Johnston's Talk]
Johnston has written and illustrated a self-published children’s book called “The Woodcutter and The Most Beautiful Tree.” And whenever anyone pitches me Chronicle coverage of a project they’re proud of, my first thought is: “Can I get a teeter totter ride out of this?”
Before Johnston’s ride, I test-read his children’s book the best way I could think of, given that my wife Mary and I do not have children: I read the book aloud to her, and did my best to pretend that she was four years old. It was my own first read through the book, so I was satisfied when I did not stumble too badly over the part of the woodcutter’s refrain that goes, “Thwickety THWAK, Thwickety THWAK.”
Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince” notwithstanding, I think it’s fair to expect that a children’s book with a title like “The Woodcutter and The Most Beautiful Tree” will end well and leave everyone with smiles all around. And it does. So it’s not like I was truly surprised when I turned that one page near the end that reveals exactly how the final encounter between The Most Beautiful Tree and the Woodcutter ends.
But the book’s text and its illustrations pull the reader along to that point, and suggest so unmistakably a dark and dreadful ending, that when I did turn that page, I gulped a genuine breath of relief that she did not wind up getting milled into lumber at the end. [The tree in Johnston's book is female.] Well, yes, you might conclude that I am just that dopey. Or more generously, you might try sometime reading aloud a book you’ve never seen before.
But speaking of things we’ve seen before, some Chronicle readers might be thinking: Haven’t we seen this guy Robb Johnston before? Why yes, you have.
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.
“There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy.” – J.D. Salinger
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.
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.
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.
There’s nothing worse than facing a room of 25 college kids – and boring them, says University of Michigan French instructor Jenni Gordon.
In Paris years ago, the Ann Arbor resident discovered the power of storytelling in the classroom. Recently, in an attempt to help her UM students grasp the difficult concept of imparfait (imperfect past tense), Gordon wrote and illustrated a bilingual children’s story to share with them.
The story of a little girl named Mathilde stirred within the students so many memories of childhood. “Suddenly, lots of people had a story to tell in the past tense!” said Gordon.
Now Press Lorentz/littleBeast Books in Ann Arbor has published Gordon’s story of Mathilde, a little girl with mixed feelings about her new baby brother. It’s titled both “Les Problemes de Mathilde” and – on the flip side – “One day, I had enough!”
The story is already a hit with the 20-ish crowd.
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.
Don’ t avoid the obvious: there is a half-naked woman on the cover of Steve Amick’s new book – wearing “nothing but a smile,” which appropriately is the title of the book (wink-wink). She made quite the impression on you when you walked into Nicola’s Books, where Amick was doing a book signing Tuesday night.
How she got there is quite an innocent story. The book, “Wearing Nothing But a Smile,” deftly balances the innocence of WWII pin-up girls with the harsh realities of the war back home.
Amick admits to stumbling on the idea of a book with the pin-up industry central to the plot.