Santaâ€™s pack is heavy this season with books that should be on everyoneâ€™s reading list. These books are recommended by Mittenlit.com, a source for everything literary about Michigan.
#1 â€œAwait Your Replyâ€ by Don Chaon is a mystery road trip with three separate tales cleverly woven into one. How authors keep you guessing until the last page is also a mystery, but this book, the first by Chaon, keeps the outcome well hidden until the final page. The scenes in Michigan’s foreboding Michigan north woods will make you think twice the next time you take a back road. This is Stephen King without the paranormal. Is it a horror novel or a mystery? You decide.
#2 â€œIn Search of Small Godsâ€ by Jim Harrison is the fifth-best selling poetry book in the country according to Poetry Magazine. At a fall reading in Grand Rapids, Harrison said many of his poems stem from wandering around the north woods of Michigan looking for “small gods.” (It is up to the reader to figure out how a small god differs from a big one.) Even though the poems deal with death, dying and aging, they are not grim. Harrison the gourmet would greet the reaper with a menu plan.
#3 â€œStitchesâ€ by David Small is a book that you literally cannot put down. Nor should you. Small has put together an exquisite memoir of his childhood in a graphic novel format.Â The disturbing nature of the memoir, which has been nominated for a National Book Award, seems to be even highlighted more by his choice of delivery. Not for kids.
#4 â€œThe Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroitâ€ by Michael Zadoorian is a collection of glorious short stories about Detroit’s quirky characters, told with Zadoorian’s pitch-perfect renditions of the unique sounds of Detroit. The collection is a great companion piece to his novel â€œLeisure Seeker,â€ which will have you cackling and crying with an elderly married couple as they take one last trip. Some of the sight gags that Zadoorian pulls off will have you re-reading passages from both books time and time again.
#5 â€œAmerican Salvageâ€ by Bonnie Jo Campbell is a gritty, heart-wrenching collection of short stories that examine an America our leaders donâ€™t want us to see. You will want to turn your head as her stories unfold, but you know you will peek. Like Cormac McCarthy, Campbell reminds us that life isnâ€™t always pretty for our neighbors, friends and relatives. These stories will bore deeply into your psyche, but they also speak of redemption and hope for us all.
#6 â€œThe Book That Eats Peopleâ€ by John Perry is a great answer to the plea: Read me a book, Daddy. ThisÂ Ann Arbor author’s book for children is unlike any other. Itâ€™s all in fun, with fantastic illustrations. And only in a Stephen King story could a book truly eat people.
#7 â€œThe Art Studentâ€™s Warâ€ by Brad Leithhauser portrays a 1940s Detroit that never looked better in this coming-of-age novel. Both the young art student and the city will lose touch with their glorious pasts soon enough. On the home front, a cosmopolitan teenager with a talent for drawing becomes entangled in the aftermath of war as she sketches wounded soldiers. In addition to complex relationships and young love, the book also offers us a love affair with a city that has stumbled.
#8 â€œPandoraâ€™s Locksâ€ by Jeff Alexander is a must-read for anyone who loves our lakes, not just Great Lakes. A displaced Booth Newspaper reporter, Alexander has written a powerful and thoughtful story about what can go wrong when commerce trumps our concern for our natural resources. He details the impact that the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway had on the environment and on the quality of life in the Great Lakes states. When ocean-going ships came into the lakes and flushed their ballast, they unleashed hundreds of invasive species such as zebra mussels, and many of them may soon overtake the lakes completely. After you read this book, you will question how we could have let this happen.
Books #9 & #10 – The two books that fill out the list have a Michigan connection rather than a direct link. Brad Gooch has written a new biography, â€œFlannery: A Life of Flannery Oâ€™Connor.” The connection with Michigan is that Oâ€™Connor once spent four days in Lansing, to deliver a landmark speech called “The Freak in Modern Fiction,” on the style of writing called Southern grotesque. Her exceptional contribution to the art of short-story writing is often overlooked because of her short lifespan and Southern domicile.
“Raymond Carver: A Writerâ€™s Lifeâ€ by Carol Sklenicka explores the life of one of the finest short-story writers ever, though his star is fading and few today know his name. Carverâ€™s lean prose will take you down a primrose path that will shock you, and MSU-schooled writers Tom McGuane and Richard Ford both point to Carver as a major influence.