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Celebrate National Reading Month with These Notable Books

by Lisa Diggs

As an adult it seems like every New Year’s Day I make a plan to read more, and then life gets in the way. Fortunately, I seem to get a jumpstart when March rolls around because it’s National Reading Month. Inevitably new books cross my radar screen, especially those written by Michigan authors, and I sit back with a cup of tea on a crisp March morning and dive in. I invite you to join me in celebrating works by Michigan authors this month. Post your favorites on social media using #MIbooks to help others discover them.

This list will get you started. All of these are written and/or compiled by local authors, and as an added bonus, are among the recipients of 2019 Michigan Notable Book honors.

Abbott by Saladin Ahmed 
Set in the Detroit of the 1970s, this fantastical piece of fiction follows journalist Elena Abbott who is looking into police brutality and corruption. Having suffered through the loss of her husband, Abbott investigates a series of grisly unsolved crimes, searching for the truth of what destroyed her family. She uncovers supernatural forces being controlled by a secret society comprised of the city’s elite. Determined to destroy them, her journey takes readers on an exploration of the systemic societal constructs that haunt our country to this day.

Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian 
Also set in 1970s Detroit, this is the story of one young man’s adolescent transformation through music. Danny is living in a community that is still reeling from the violent summer of 1967. He faces personal challenges, growing up in a dysfunctional home. The pop radio–loving loner tries to balance all of those external factors with the harsh realities of facing freshman year at a high school that has been marked by racial turbulence. Beautiful Music is a poignant tale about the power of music.

Building the Modern World: Albert Kahn in Detroit by Michael H. Hodges
Few people have had a stronger influence on the aesthetics of an American city, than Albert Kahn has had in Detroit. This biography focuses on the story of how the German-Jewish immigrant rose from poverty to become one of the most influential architects of the twentieth century. Kahn’s history extends well beyond the city of Detroit. His willingness to design factories for the Soviets and munition facilities for the U.S government placed the Allied Powers on stronger footing at the outbreak of WWII. His life story is fascinating, as is his aesthetic influence on the world around us.

Elemental: A Collection of Michigan Creative Nonfiction by Anne-Marie Oomen, Editor
If reading in small doses is more your style, then this is the choice for you. It’s also an opportunity to discover the talents of multiple local writers, as it contains contributions from twenty-three of Michigan’s best-known essayists. A celebration of the elements, this collection includes works from: Jerry Dennis, Jessica Mesman, Toi Dericotte, Mardi Jo Link and Keith Taylor and many more of Michigan’s finest writers.

The Faygo Book by Joe Grimm  
If you swoon nostalgically at the mere mention of comic books and rubber bands, then this read is for you. It explores the enduring legacy of Ben and Perry Feigenson, who took cake frosting recipes and turned them into some of Michigan’s favorite pop flavors. Out of the more than forty bottlers that once existed in Detroit’s "pop alley," Faygo is the last one standing. The Faygo Book provides the history of a beloved local company that lasted for more than a century. 

Lake Michigan Mermaid: A Tale in Poems by Linda Nemec Foster and Anne-Marie Oomen
This is Anne-Marie Oomen’s second appearance on the list. She also compiled the essay collection, Elemental. She teams with Linda Nemec Foster for this effort about a young girl and a mermaid, who telepathically communicate. Accompanied by powerful illustrations, The Lake Michigan Mermaid offers a tender tale of friendship, redemption, and the life-giving power of water.

Manoomin: The Story of Wild Rice in Michigan by Barbara J. Barton
Have you ever heard of rice growing wild in Michigan? Why not? Was it ever here? If so, where did it go, and can it return? Manoomin: The Story of Wild Rice in Michigan focuses on the history, culture, biology, and economics surrounding the wild rice plant from the days before European expansion, through the logging and industrialization eras, to efforts to restore and protect the plant today.

Notes from a Public Typewriter by Michael Gustafson, Editor and Oliver Uberti, Designer
Michael Gustafson and his wife, Hillary opened a bookstore in Ann Arbor in 2013. They decided to place a typewriter out for anyone to use, and people did. The experiment led to Notes from A Public Typewriter. Gustafson worked with designer Oliver Uberti to combine their favorite notes from the typewriter with essays and photos. The result is a truly unique piece created by a Michigan community.

The Page Fence Giants: A History of Black Baseball's Pioneering Champions by Mitch Lutzke
Author Mitch Lutzke was doing research for a history book he was writing when he stumbled across a brief mention of the Page Fence Giants, an all-star black baseball team based in Adrian, Michigan. His curiosity was piqued, but he found minimal additional information about the squad that played from 1895-98. Undeterred, he continued to research and discovered that in 1896 the Giants won the Black Baseball Championship series, and their roster included one member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It is an unknown story waiting to be told.

The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anna Clark 
The Flint water crisis may be widely known now, but when it first started happening, no one was listening. It took eighteen months of activism by city residents and caring outsiders to force the state to admit that the water was poisonous. Journalist Anna Clark's The Poisoned City provides meticulous detail of the crisis, and the events leading up to it. Infrastructure problems continue to plague that city, the state, and the nation. There are lessons to be learned on all levels from what happened in Flint.

The Russian Five: A Story of Espionage, Defection, Bribery and Courage, by Keith Gave
Once upon a time the Detroit Red Wings used to give away a car at games in an effort to increase attendance, and then there was a Russian invasion, and an end to a 42-year Stanley Cup drought. If you ever wondered how and why the team came to have so many players from the Soviet Union, then you will enjoy this read. It tells the players’ story from the day Detroit drafted its first two Soviets in 1989 until they raised the Stanley Cup in 1997, then took it to Moscow for a victory lap.

Sister Pie: The Recipes & Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit  by Lisa Ludwinski
Lisa Ludwinski’s Detroit pie shop is one of the least kept, tantalizing secrets of the city’s food renaissance. The granddaughter of two Detroit natives created a little corner pie shop in a former beauty salon on the city’s east side where no one leaves empty-handed.  Those who don’t have money in their pockets can simply cash in a prepaid slice from the “pie it forward” clothesline strung across the window. Love is baked into the business plan, and every pie. Complete with 75 recipes, the Sister Pie cookbook pays homage to Motor City ingenuity and all-American spirit.  

So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth's Long Walk Toward Freedom by Gary D. Schmidt
One of the most remarkable women to ever call Michigan home, was Sojourner Truth. She was born into slavery and was sold several times during the course of her life. Despite those circumstances and a world desperate to keep her down, she continuously rose up to be a voice for her people and her gender. Written by a Calvin College professor, So Tall Within traces her life from her painful childhood through her remarkable emancipation to her incredible leadership in the movement for human equality.  

What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Mona Hanna-Attisha 
We can’t know too much about the Flint water tragedy. Whereas The Poisoned City chronicles the events through the eyes of a seasoned journalist, this work shares the perspective of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who, along with her colleagues, is credited with discovering the medical crisis. The elevated lead levels in the children she served as patients, led to the need to uncover a common cause. Flint was a struggling city that came together to fight for justice, self-determination, and the right to build a better world for their children…a fight that is not yet over.

To discover past winners or learn about how to nominate a book for consideration as a Michigan Notable Book, visit the Library of Michigan. Don’t forget to share your love for local books on social media with #MIbooks to help Michigan authors grow their fan base. 


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