2011 Michigan Notable Books

The 2011 Michigan Notable Books Selection Committee included representatives from the Library of Michigan, Cooley Law School, Grand Rapids Public Library, Lansing City Pulse, contributor to the Detroit Free Press, State Historic Preservation Office, Michigan Center for the Book and Schuler Books & Music.

The 2011 Michigan Notable Books (in alphabetical order):


Apparition & Late Fictions: A Novella and Stories by Thomas Lynch (W. W. Norton & Co.)

Lynch has gained national attention for his work as a poet and essayist on death and dying. His first work of fiction is a powerful collection of stories focusing on what makes us all human. Lynch's "day job" as a funeral director allows him a certain familiarity with death that resonates in his stories. Set in Michigan's north woods, on Mackinac Island or distant cities the stories are linked by the memories and longing for divorced spouses, deceased parents and missed loved ones. Love and redemption play a central role in each of Lynch's stories.

Blues in Black and White: The Landmark Ann Arbor Blues Festivals by Michael Erlewine, Stanley Livingston (photographer) and Tom Erlewine (designer) (University of Michigan Press)

Erlewine's words and Livingston's images successfully document the early days of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival. The 1969 and 1970 Ann Arbor Blues Festivals brought together the greatest blues performers in the world and exposed them to a larger audience. The festivals sparked a national explosion in the interest in blues-based roots music and brought long lasting attention to the musicians that created the music. Performers included: John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Big Momma Thornton, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, T-Bone Walker and Mighty Joe Young. The festivals were not professionally recorded, so Livingston's photographic treasures are the best documentation of the early festivals.

Chrysler's Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Coolest Creation by Steve Lehto (Chicago Review Press)

In 1964, Chrysler built a fleet of turbine cars (automobiles with jet engines) and loaned them to members of the public to be tested. Over 1,000,000 miles were logged in the turbine cars and the designers considered the test a huge success. However, two years later, Chrysler crushed or burned most of the cars and the automobile industry's experiment with turbine engines was over. Lehto's book is a love letter to a car that explores where the program went wrong and why future development was halted. Jay Leno, avid car collector and host of the "Tonight Show" wrote the introduction.

Detroit Disassembled by Andrew Moore (Damiani/Akron Art Museum)

Photographer Andrew Moore finds beauty in what many consider Detroit's decay. With the decline of the auto industry, sections of Detroit resemble a war zone. Moore's photographs capture the earth's/nature's recapturing of spaces that were once populated with spectacular architecture and entwined in the heartbeat of a vibrant city. Former Detroiter and Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Philip Levine, provides an introductory essay championing the unshakable spirit that makes Detroit special.

The Detroit Electric Scheme: A Mystery by D.E. Johnson (Minotaur Books)

Will Anderson is drunk and heartbroken over the breakup with his fiancé and barely able to keep his job at his father's leading electric car manufacturing company in Detroit. When Will panics and leaves the scene after discovering a dead body at his father's factory the police quickly identify him a the leading suspect. Johnson's debut novel is a fast-paced ride through early 1900s Detroit involving murder, blackmail, organized crime, the development of a wonderful friendship and the history of Detroit's early electric cars.

Eden Springs: A Novella by Laura Kasischke (Wayne State University Press)

Eden Springs is set at the House of David colony in Benton Harbor in 1923. When a suspicious death is discovered at the colony, King Benjamin and his closest followers attempt to cover it up. Kasischke's historical fiction beautifully documents the decline of the colony and the dangers associated with the cult of personality. Using actual newspaper clippings, legal documents and accounts of former colonists Kasischke unravels the mystery.

Freshwater Boys: Stories by Adam Schuitema (Delphinium Books)

Michigan native Schuitema's debut collection contains 11 short stories set in and around the Great Lakes in Michigan. Michigan landscapes and lakes serve as central characters in the stories. Men and boys collide in Michigan's woods, dunes and lakesides in a struggle to understand what it means to be a man. Lake Michigan and the concept of a "third coast" figure prominently in these well-written and engaging stories.

The Hanging Tree: A Starvation Lake Mystery by Bryan Gruley (Simon & Schuster)

When the "wild girl" that left town 18 years ago is found dead of an apparent suicide after her homecoming, it sends shock waves through Starvation Lake. Reporter Gus Carpenter sets out to solve the mystery and as a result is forced to return to Detroit, the scene of his humiliating past. The second book in Gruley's Starvation Lake series is a well-written story about family and friendship, sex and violence and love's failure to fix all of life's problems.

Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon (McPherson)

Gordon's fourth novel is the 2010 National Book Award winner for fiction. She has taught writing at Western Michigan University since 1981. Lord of Misrule is set at an out of the way half-mile horseracing track in the early 70s. Gordon masterfully captures "the language" of horse racing and the romance of rooting for long shots. A failing trainer attempts to revive business by making quick money with well-trained, but unknown horses. Washed up horses and people search for redemption in Gordon's award-winning dark horse novel.

A Michigan Polar Bear Confronts the Bolsheviks: A War Memoir
by Godfrey J. Anderson, Gordon Olson (editor) (William B. Eerdman's Publishing Co.)

Set against the harsh and frigid winter of Russia, this west Michigan soldier's memoir details his experiences as a member of the 337th Field Hospital Unit during the ill-fated "Polar Bear Expedition" against the Soviet Bolsheviks in 1918-1919. Michigan soldiers comprised a large number of the total U.S. forces in Russia, and have been honored with the Polar Bear Monument at White Chapel Cemetery in Troy.

Mine Towns: Buildings for Workers in Michigan's Copper Country by Alison K. Hoagland (University of Minnesota Press)

The complex relationship between company management and immigrant labor is explored in this history of mining towns across the Upper Peninsula's Copper Country. Utilizing maps, architectural plans, historical photographs, and more, Hoagland shows that the companies' paternalistic vision dramatically shaped and impacted the architecture and physical layout of mining towns, including their churches, schools, and homes.

Picturing Hemingway's Michigan by Michael R. Federspiel (Wayne State University Press)

In this vividly illustrated look into the famous writer's time at Walloon Lake, which provided the setting and influences for his early formative writing, readers get a glimpse into Hemingway himself, his family, and summertime life in northern Michigan.

Reimagining Detroit: Opportunities for Redefining an American City by John Gallagher (Wayne State University Press)

A clear vision for a vibrant and more livable Motor City emerges from this thoughtful analysis of a Detroit faced with deindustrialization and population loss. A journalist for the Detroit Free Press, Gallagher explores the landscape of city planning, including urban agriculture, vacant lots, roundabouts, bike lanes, and entrepreneurship.

Sawdusted: Notes from a Post-boom Mill by Raymond Goodwin (University of Wisconsin Press)

Colorful personalities abound in this delightful memoir of the author's time spent working in a northern Michigan sawmill. A vivid depiction of blue-collar life and the Milltown community emerges in Goodwin's coming-of-age tale.

Sixty to Zero: An Inside Look at the Collapse of General Motors and the Detroit Auto Industry by Alex Taylor III (Yale University Press)

General Motors' bankruptcy captured headlines in 2009. Alex Taylor III's extensively researched book details how GM's problems were actually 40 years in the making. Taylor's book benefits from his more than 30 years experience as a reporter covering the auto industry. 60 to Zero provides information on the numerous mistakes GM and its competitors have made that resulted in a crisis for automobile manufacturers.

The Sweetness of Freedom: Stories of Immigrants by Stephen Ostrander and Martha Bloomfield (Michigan State University Press)

Demonstrating the ethnic diversity of the Michigan experience, this book draws on the compelling testimonies and family artifacts of Michigan immigrants from around the world, including Germany, Poland, Korea, Vietnam, and Tanzania, as they left their homeland to create better lives for their families in Michigan.

To Account for Murder by William C. Whitbeck (Permanent Press)

This debut legal, political thriller set in post-World War II, follows Charlie Cahill's tension-filled journey filled with love, corruption, and murder. Whitbeck's story is set primarily Lansing and culminates in an unforgettable ending at the Jackson State Penitentiary. Whitbeck is a Judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals, having previously served as Chief Judge from 2002-2007.

Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out the Jams edited by M.L. Liebler (Coffee House Press)

In this engaging anthology of the working class and labor, Liebler collects an impressive array of talent. Poems, essays and short stories by prominent poets, historians, rock stars and social activists praise the efforts of the "working man.". Works by Michigan luminaries including Dudley Randall, Thomas Lynch, Michael Moore, and Jack White (The White Stripes) can be found in Liebler's collection.

Wounded Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Michigan Governor John Swainson by Lawrence M. Glazer (Michigan State University Press)

Prior to being indicted in 1975 on federal charges of bribery and perjury, Swainson served as Michigan's 42nd Governor (1961-1962) and as a Michigan Supreme Court Justice (1971-1975). This political biography explores both the remarkable highs and the tragic lows of a fascinating figure in Michigan history.

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know: A True Story of Family, Face- Blindness, and Forgiveness by Heather Sellers (Riverhead)

Diagnosed with prosopagnosia, a neurological disorder that makes it difficult to reliably recognize people, Sellers delivers an inspiring story of love, forgiveness, and perspective. This powerful memoir explores how a dysfunctional childhood and life struggles became a journey of self-discovery.

See previous years' Michigan Notable Books lists.


Updated 01/03/2012