|By Bill Castanier|
Spend the summer with Michigan authors
What better way to spend a Michigan summer than by reading Michigan authors? This list covers everything from tender coming-of-age novels to short stories that can easily be read while waiting for coffee at a local diner.
Harry Dolan put some killer magic in Ann Arbor last year with “Bad Things Happen,” which is set in the city. The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award finalist is the story of a classic outsider confronting a literary crowd in Ann Arbor.
If you think summer is about baseball, there’s Lansing-area writer and base ball historian Peter Morris’ “A Game of Inches,” a study of baseball innovations and oddities. It is now out in paperback.
And as you linger over a cold glass filled with amber liquid, read “Last Call,” the history of Prohibition in this country. The author, Dan Okrent, is a University of Michigan grad and has assembled an interesting history of one of America’s most famous failed attempts at controlling society’s evils. It contains many references to Michigan’s key role in providing “demon rum” to the rest of the country.
Former Michiganian Bryan Gruley draws upon his love of hockey and his days as a newspaper reporter in Michigan to write riveting stories about small-town politics, corruption, hockey and, of course, murder. His “Starvation Lake” has been nominated for several top mystery awards; his newest book, “The Hanging Tree,” is out in August.
A summer without Joe Heywood’s “woods cop” is like a summer without lemonade, and his newest, “Shadow of the Wolf Tree,” only adds to his reputation as a Michigan writer with his heart in the woods and his fishing pole in the water.
“The Horse Soldiers,” Traverse City author Doug Stanton’s one-of-a-kind look at America’s Special Forces in Afghanistan, is out in paperback.
Don Chaon isn’t from Michigan, but you wouldn’t know it from the opening of his dark thriller “Await Your Reply,” which draws you deep into the Michigan woods. Chaon is a short story writer who has moved into longer fiction, and “Await Your Reply” was a finalist for a National Book Award.
Northern Michigan writer Ann Marie Oomen will make you wistful for simpler times in her collection of essays, “An American Map,” from Wayne State University Press.
Bonnie Jo Campbell, a National Book Award finalist this year, will jack you up with “American Salvage,” her collection of short stories. These are not for the timid: Campbell draws from her experiences in southwest Michigan and her active imagination.
Former State Supreme Court member John Voelker — using the nom de plume Robert Traver — wrote “Anatomy of a Murder” more than 50 years ago. But what a tale — and one that is permeated with Upper Peninsula lore. It will make you want to take a tour of Marquette and the nearby Big Bay sites where the book is set.
Speaking of the U.P., pick up Jim Harrison’s new book, “The Farmer’s Daughter,” if only to read the “Brown Dog” installment. Word is that a collection of Harrison’s Brown Dog stories will be offered in the next few years. Brown Dog is an irascible, no-holds-barred, mixedblood Chippewa who — in addition to being a womanizer and drinker — is a loyal and determined stepfather.
Loren Estleman and Elmore Leonard books need to be in any beach bag. Read any of Estleman’s detective novels featuring Detroit private investigator Amos Walker and look for Leonard’s Detroitbased novels, such as “City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit.” They will make you yearn for the perfect Coney.
Northern Michigan University writing Professor John Smolens, who was recently named author of the year by the Michigan Library Association, has a historic thriller titled “The Anarchist,” based on the assassination of President McKinley. It’s reminiscent of Erik Larson’s “Devil in the White City.”
Michael Zandoorian will take you to a Detroit that exists only on the fringes of your memory with his collection of short stories, “The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit,” and his novel, “The Leisure Seekers," is an American road trip book that will leave you in tears.
On the other end of the spectrum National Book Award finalist Tom Lynch — the undertaker/author — has one of the most touching short stories you will ever read in his new collection, “Apparition & Late Fictions.” Naturally, his books are about death and loss, but the story about visiting the infamous Windsor Ballet is a hoot. Lynch makes his home in Milford.
What’s a summer without a comingof-age story? Here are two: “The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott” by debut novelist Kelly McNees O’Connor, and “The Art Student’s War” by former Detroiter Brad Leithauser. Both are historical fiction and both are stunning reads. O’Connor, originally from Lansing, tells what might have happened to Alcott the summer she dropped out of sight before reemerging to become a famed novelist; Leithauser takes us to the home front to follow a young woman growing up in Detroit during World War II.