Take note

By Bill Castanier

National Book finalists, Times Best-Seller among Michigan’s best for 2009

Meth addicts, a mass murderer, Henry Ford, Bob Seger, Tiki Palaces, the Civil War, Zebra Mussels and other interesting characters are among those covered in the books selected as 2010 Michigan Notable Books.

The 2010 list, announced last week, definitely lives up to its “notable” moniker. It includes three National Book Award finalists (“American Salvage,” “Stitches” and “Fordlandia”) and a New York Times Best Seller (“Have A Little Faith”).

Bobbie Jo Campbell, author of the gritty short story collection “American Salvage,” said the awards offer a strong message about the value of Michigan’s writers. “These awards give us the opportunity to convince readers to look within our own shores for people who will best tell our states stories,” Campbell said. “And most important, they give Michigan a voice in the conversation about contemporary American literature.”

Several books have direct ties to environmental issues and Michigan’s natural resources. “Pandora’s Locks,” “Michigan’s Columbus,” “Up the Rouge” and the young adult novel, “Season of Water and Ice,” take different perspectives on the state’s diverse ecosystem.

A number of books are set in Detroit, including “Annie’s Ghost,” “The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit,” “Roses and Revolution,” “Have a Little Faith” and “The Art Student’s War.” Two books, Arnie Bernstein’s “Bath Massacre” and Mardi Link’s “Isadore’s Secret,” plumb the minds of desperate murderers.

Two children’s book authors on the list, Patricia Polacco and David Small, have each taken their skills to new levels. Small’s graphic novel “Stitches,” a disturbing memoir and National Book Award finalist, is the first graphic novel ever selected as a Notable Book, and Polacco’s monumental children’s picture book, “January’s Sparrow,” explores the landmark Crosswhite Affair in Civil War-era Marshall, during which residents confronted bounty hunters seeking fugitive slaves.

There are also in-depth looks at the popular culture of rock ‘n’ roll and college basketball. Sports announcer and writer Seth Davis follows Larry Bird and Magic Johnson as they transform NCAA basketball in his book, “When March Went Mad.” Writer Gary Graff and photographer Tom Weschler give a behind-the-scenes look at Bob Seger’s ascent to the top of Mt. Rock in “Travelin’ Man.” Weschler, who often lets his photos do the talking, could only say “Holy smokes ... my first author award!” when he learned of making the list.

Four books cover unique aspects of Michigan’s history, including the history and culture of the Little River Band of Odawa Indians (“Our People, Our Journey,” by James M. McClurken); the extraordinary life of the Commander of Michigan’s 2nd Infantry; Henry Ford’s Amazonian experiment (“Fordlandia,” by Greg Grandin); and the life of explorer Douglass Houghton (“Michigan’s Columbus,” by Steve Lehto.)

Two books plumb the World War II home front, one through the eyes of a young woman in Detroit (“The Art Student’s War,” by Brad Leithauser) and the other through weaving the history of pinup photos into a clever romance (“Nothing but a Smile,” by Steve Amick).

“Season of Water and Ice,” by Donald Lystra is a coming-of-age story set in late 1950s Northern Michigan.

Two-time Notable author and Michigan State University journalism graduate Jim Alexander takes readers inside the 50-year history of the St. Lawrence Seaway in “Pandora’s Locks,” as he makes an irrefutable case against the environmental disaster the locks unleashed on the Great Lakes and our inland waterways. Author and photographer Joel Thurell and Patricia Beck paddled the Rouge River and described their findings in “Up the Rouge!,” which is as unusual of a canoeing book as you will find.

The non-fiction “Annie’s Ghosts," by Steve Luxenberg, is a mystery of sorts about a family member who discovers an aunt the family had hidden away in a state mental institution. “Roses and Revolution,” edited by Melba Joyce Boyd, introduces the amazing poet and publisher Dudley Randall, of Detroit, whose genius brought us Broadside Press, publishers of an amazing array of black poets.

Rhoda Wolff, a Notable Books committee member and manager of Schuler Books in the Eastwood Towne Center, called this year’s list of winners especially exceptional. “I think it is an outstanding list, mostly because of the really strong literary fiction.“Stitches,” “American Salvage” and “Lost Tiki Palaces” are among the best books of the year nationwide, not just in Michigan.”

To be considered for this year’s Notable list, a book had to be published in 2009 and either be written by an author who has an association with Michigan or substantially lives here. The books are chosen by a selection committee including representatives from libraries, universities, booksellers and the media. (Bill Castanier represents City Pulse on this committee.)

For example, Mitch Albom’s “Have a Little Faith” meets both criteria. A substantial portion of the New York Times Best Seller by the Detroit Free Press Columnist is about an inner-city Detroit minister and a Trumbull Street church. Another longtime Detroiter, Michael Zadoorian, was recognized for his short-story collection, “The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit,” which explores themes common to Michigan.

Authors will be feted at an event in April at the Library of Michigan, and they will tour the state, visiting libraries and schools to promote literature.

Campbell said recognizing regional writing and showcasing writers who are not on the coasts, where the publishing industry is centered, is important. “We are a nation of regions, a nation of populations that vary wildly, and Michigan is like no other place with our own culture, defined by our history and landscape,” she said. “An awful lot of the readers are from the middle of the country.”