Potent notables

By Bill Castanier

Annual event celebrates Michigan-based literature

The 11-year-old program Michigan Notable Books, which is coordinated by the Library of Michigan, highlights local authors and stories and promotes reading. To be selected, books must be published in the previous calendar year and must be about Michigan (or the Great Lakes region) or written by an author with Michigan ties. The list includes both nonfiction and fiction books.

Noted novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford — whose book “Canada” is on the list — told me he is still “astonished that anyone reads my books at all. To think that readers in Michigan both read and even like my book is stirring to me.”

Ford, who received his undergraduate degree from Michigan State University in the mid-‘60s, said that Michigan’s influence on him was important as a writer.

“I’d always thought the real America was someplace north of (Mississippi), where I was born,” he said. “(Michigan) was the first place that persuaded me of its authenticity as American.”

“Canada” relates the story of what happens to15-year-old Dell Parsons after his parents rob a bank and his sense of normalcy is forever altered. Ford tells the story with a richness of language and suspenseful dialogue that has you leaning forward in your reading chair. It is a haunting tale that reminds us that one misstep can forever change our lives.

In “American Poet,” another intense coming-of-age story on the list, Midland’s Jeff Vande Zande tells the story of a young poet who orchestrates a plan to save the Theodore Roethke House, the real childhood home of Roethke, a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning poet.

Vande Zande said that his book has brought huge attention to the building and said he is “excited to see fiction having real-world implications.” (He donates a portion of the sale of each book to the restoration project.)

The rest of the list consists of:

“The Amphibians and Reptiles of Michigan,” by J. Alan Holman (Wayne State University Press). All of Michigan’s 54 species of amphibians and reptiles are covered in this illustrated volume.

“Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography,” by John Comazzi (Princeton Architectural Press). The life and career of one of Michigan’s most eminent photographers, including several hundred of his images.

“Bear Has a Story to Tell,” by Phillip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (Roaring Brook Press). The Ann Arbor creators of the Caldecott-winning “A Sick Day for Amos McGee” offer another charming story about the nature of friendship.

“The Boy Governor: Stevens T. Mason and the Birth of Michigan Politics,” by Don Faber (University of Michigan Press).The first-ever book on Michigan’s first governor — he was 23 when elected — and dominant political figure in the state’s early development

“Death Dance of a Butterfly,” by Melba Joyce Boyd (Past Tents Press). Boyd´s poetry examines relationships with family, friends and colleagues and the complexities, joys and sadness of life.

“Detroit City Is the Place to Be,” by Mark Binelli (Metropolitan Books). Binelli, a Rolling Stone writer who grew up in the Detroit area, explores the pride, grit and hope of Detroiters who fight to revitalize their city.

“Detroit’s Historic Places of Worship,” compiled and edited by Marla O. Collum, Barbara E. Krueger and Dorothy Kostuch (Wayne State University Press). Detroit’s 37 architecturally and historically significant places of worship are documented.

“Dust to Dust: A Memoir,” by Benjamin Busch (Ecco). In his debut book, Busch offers an extraordinary memoir about life and death, peace and war, and the innocent adventures of childhood.

“Fishtown: Leland, Michigan’s Historic Fishery,” by Laurie Sommers (Arbutus Press). Okemos resident Sommers tells the story of this northern Michigan city’s past and present through the remembrances of commercial fishermen and ferry captains.

“Imperfect,” by Jim Abbott/Tim Brown (Ballantine Books). Raised in Flint, Abbott reveals the challenges he faced in becoming an elite pitcher (he was born without a right hand) and the insecurities he dealt with both before and after baseball.

“Ink Trails,” by Jack Dempsey and Dave Dempsey (Michigan State University Press). Michigan comes alive in this book that explores the secrets, legends and myths surrounding some of the state’s literary luminaries.

“Kirtland’s Warbler,” by William Rapai (University of Michigan Press). An exploration of the relationships between the warbler, its environment and state and federal policies.

“Michigan’s Historic Railroad Stations,” by Michael Hodges (Wayne State University Press). The writer-photographer presents depots ranging from functioning Amtrak stops to converted office buildings and spectacular abandoned wrecks. REO Town’s iconic Grand Trunk Western Rail Station is included.

“Mighty Miss Malone,” by Christopher Paul Curtis (Wendy Lamb Books). Curtis crafts a story about a young girl growing up in the Depression-era Flint.

“Skeleton Box,” by Bryan Gruley (Touchstone Books). Gruley brings us his third imaginative mystery set in the fictional Starvation Lake in northern Michigan.

“Summer of ’68,” by Tim Wendel (Da Capo Press). Baseball is seen against the backdrop of one of the most turbulent years in American history.

“Woman Like Me,” by Bettye LaVette (Blue Rider Press). LaVette chronicles her decades-long career as singer on the fringes of the Motown music scene, and dishes about the stars she met on her way.

“World of A Few Minutes Ago,” by Jack Driscol (Wayne State University Press). The award-winning author writes short stories from the point of view of characters, aged 14 to 77, set against the northern Michigan landscape.