Dec. 28 2016 12:20 AM

From sneakers to spies, 2016 produced good reads

Like a lot of readers, I’m seduced by pretty pictures in books. So it should be no surprise that three of my favorite books this year were absolutely crammed with photographs of architectural wonders and musicians.

“Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America” is a striking look at the post-World War II trend of Modernism, which had us leaning toward a futuristic look in everything from architecture to consumer products. As you page through the book, you’ll find spectacular photos of sleek automobiles, geometric housing and commercial structures and space-age looking chairs. But this 352- page book is more than just a collection of photographs. It showcases, through in-depth essays, Michigan’s critical role in shaping the worldwide Modernism trend. Another book released this year, “Mid-Michigan Modern: From Frank Lloyd Wright to Googie,” examines the architectural diversity in homes and commercial structures in Mid-Michigan. The book shares the stories behind Modernist buildings you might drive by every day. (Or in my case, the Modernist home I can see from my kitchen window.)

Another of my absolute favorite books from 2016 is “Motown: The Sound of Young America.” You will “ooh” and “aah” over the hundreds of photographs of Motown acts, including the local act Rare Earth, which had the huge hit “Get Ready” for Motown Records. And while the photos alone are worth the price tag, this book is no slacker when it comes to content. (For more on this book, grab a copy of next week’s paper.)

I am also a sucker for guidebooks, and Maureen Dunphy’s “Great Lakes Island Escapes” can help you make plans for vacations or day trips to Michigan’s hundreds of islands. This book was written from years of personal, on-site experience, not from a quick Google search or Wikipedia entry, like so many modern travel guides. Another guidebook worth checking out is “Darius B. Moon: The History of a Michigan Architect 1880- 1910,” by Capital Area District Librarian James MacLean. Moon, who designed and/or built more than a 100 structures in the Lansing area, is one of the most prominent Mid-Michigan architects. The Rogers-Carrier House on the campus of Lansing Community College is a great example of his work.

Another book that jumped out at me this year was “Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture” by Elizabeth Semmelhack. The book, which is filled with photographs of classic shoes, will make sneaker heads jump out of their Jordans.

“Out of the Box,” by Elizabeth Semmelhack, made City Pulse book critic Bill Castanier’s list of top books of 2016. The fascinating book explores the rise of sneaker collecting.
Courtesy Photo

One of the best “best of ” collections this year is the New Yorker’s “The 60s: The Story of a Decade.” The anthology features fascinating articles on everything from pop culture reviews to politics.

And be sure to check out Jim Harrison’s last book, the slim but powerful book of poetry, “Dead Man’s Float.” Published in January, the book foreshadowed the author’s death in March.

Two must-read mysteries from relative newcomers are “IQ,” by Joe Ide, and Viet Than Nguyen’s “The Sympathizer.” “IQ” features a street smart kid who helps solve urban mysteries. With “The Sympathizer,” Nguyen did something no other author has ever accomplished, winning both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the Edgar Award for best mystery in 2016. The book provides an insider’s look at the Vietnam War through the eyes of a spy for the other side. Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American” comes to mind.

In the final installment of his three-part graphic novel series, Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) — with the help of trusty aide Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, an artist with local ties — has not disappointed. The autobiographical “March: Book Three” continues the story of one of the most important leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. The book was honored this year as a National Book Award winner in young adult literature, the first graphic novel so honored.

For writers — or those who like to read about writers — Richard Cohen’s “How to Write Like Tolstoy: A Journey into the Minds of Our Greatest Writers” is a gem that explores what makes good writing. Cohen explores why Lolita was chosen as the name for a coquettish young girl in the novel of the same name and why Kerouac agreed to revise “On the Road.” Cohen, a longtime publisher and editor, provides a demanding structure for evaluating great writing.