Bruce Allen Kopytek Brings “Jake’s” Back to Birmingham – ‘Jacobson’s: I Miss It So!’

Jacobson's: I Miss It So!I clearly remember sunny strolls through the streets of Birmingham as a young girl. Hoping to hit my dad up for a new pair of Levi’s at Here and Now, popping into Machus for their famous savory salad, or ogling the infinite selection of Pappagallo purse covers  were often on my little shopping list of likes as we walked easy around 1980’s downtown Birmingham.

The one store that I never had to plead a visit to was Jacobson’s. If you lived in the Birmingham area, you’ll recall that Jacobson’s, in it’s day, was a fashionable destination that offered everything from wedding gowns to baby booties. Elegant sales men and women would efficiently assist as you browsed, quietly calculate your totals on small hand-written pads, and deftly tissue your purchases and send you on your way.

From it’s opening in 1950 until it’s closing in 2002, “Jake’s” was a mainstay of  Birmingham’s bustling retail district. The modest store that began in Reed City, Michigan in 1868 not only expanded across the state, but into the hearts and memories of its patrons as well.

Shelby Township author and architect Bruce Allen Kopytek has carved a unique literary niche for himself as a department store historian. Kopytek’s interest in department stores that either no longer exist or have changed beyond recognition are, in fact, the impetus behind his book Jacobson’s: I Miss It So! The Story of a Michigan Fashion Institution (The History Press).

Kopytek’s Jacobson’s: I Miss It So! takes a look at the much loved Michigan institution, the various buildings and personalities behind the upscale outfitter, and Nathan Rosenfeld, the retail genius behind it all. Kopytek’s nostalgic retail story and study Jacobson’s: I Miss It So! was also recently selected as a 2012 Michigan Notable Book.

Though Jacobson’s no longer  exists physically, Mr. Kopytek has managed to preserve it virtually. If you have the time, it is well worth a visit to Kopytek’s blog, the Department Store Museum. This online site  is a beauty designed to pay homage to “America’s great, late-lamented department stores.” Other stores featured include Gimbels, I. Magnin & Co., and Sage-Allen with fabulous pictures and intriguing information.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Ayad Akhtar’s ‘American Dervish’ – Muslim from the Midwest

American DervishAyad Akhtar’s anticipated debut novel, American Dervish, hit shelves this past Monday. Though I reviewed it for the upcoming issue at Bookbrowse.com, I will share that it is a solid, accessible work that both delights and disturbs.

Akhtar is an American-born, first-generation Pakistani-American from Milwaukee. As such, there’s an authenticity to his work that offers readers an open, innocent approach to Islam, and allows an inside look at Muslim life in America prior to 9/11.

It will come as no surprise to readers of Dervish that Akhtar is a screenwriter. Entertaining yet provoking, Dervish is a page-flipper that will leave those in the movie industry fighting for film rights.

Ayad Akhtar on American Dervish

Review Links (Beware of possible spoilers)

NPR – Growing Up Muslim and Midwestern in ’Dervish’

New York Times – Stumbling Through an American Muslim Maze

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

2012 Michigan Notable Books Announced

The much anticipated 2012 Michigan Notable Books were announced today. The Library of Michigan annually decides on 20 of the most notable books that “are reflective of Michigan’s diverse ethnic, historical, literary, and cultural experience” and feature “high-quality titles with wide public appeal.” (via)

This year’s list, which features fiction, nonfiction, picture and children’s books alike, were either penned by a Michigan resident or written about a subject related to the Great Lakes region.

“The list has been a year-end tradition since 1991 with selections made by a panel under the umbrella of the official state library, part of the Michigan Department of Education,” states the Detroit Free Press. “Authors don’t receive prize money for the award, but the prestige of appearing on what has become a high-profile list does invite greater visibility and a potential bump in sales.”

This year Night Light Revue weighs in on only three of the 20 titles, and all fiction at that. I must say that Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River is not only my favorite book of 2011, but now falls into my “best book of all time” list. Also, Ellen Airgood’s South of Superior is highly entertaining while Scott Sparling’s Wire to Wire is a dark and dirty little ride.

Sales aside, Michigan now holds some of the country’s hottest authors in its mittened hand. Regardless, our authors modestly accept their awards and graciously make themselves available to Michigan readers through library tours, appearances and literary engagements. In addition, our university presses get a big boost and a much deserved nod for their remarkable, prolific publications.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Author Alan Bradley Gives the Gift of Flavia this Christmas

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce Series #4) She’s baaacccckkkk!

If you have yet to meet cheeky wunderkind Flavia de Luce, author Alan Bradley is giving you another fabulous chance. I’m Half-Sick of Shadows is the fourth installment in Bradley’s shrewd series involving the saucy eleven-year-old super sleuth, Flavia de Luce.

No job’s too big for Flavia as long as it involves a dead body and a chance for the flourishing chemist to get her Bunson burners blazing. With her lab tucked into the far corner of the east wing of Buckshaw’s crumbling estate, the solitary Flavia puts her mind and passion for poisons to work in order to solve whatever mysteries might come her way.

One wouldn’t think the pastoral countryside of Bishop’s Lacey would offer much action for anyone, let alone a gifted little girl with ants in her pants. However, Alan Bradley has imagined the perfect setting for Flavia to toy with village authorities and tinker with the clues of Bishop Lacey’s latest homicide.

Flavia is a character to behold. Fresh and enthusiastic, she has made her way into the multi-aged hearts of her readers and settled in as one of literature’s finest female crime-solvers.

Wrapping up her first mystery in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (followed by The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag and A Red Herring Without Mustard), Flavia has blossomed right alongside Bishop Lacey’s body count. Now, Bradley gives  the gift of Flavia this Christmas as she returns for some Yuletide mystery in I’m Half-Sick of Shadows (trailer).

While Flavia enchants, Alan Bradley himself fascinates. He taught Script Writing and Television Production and was one of the founding members of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. Bradley, who is an electronic engineer, worked at numerous radio and television stations and was the Director of Television Engineering in the media center at the University of Saskatchewan before retiring to write.

Remarkably, Bradley became a first-time novelist at the age of 70 and continues to rake in honors and accolades for his Flavia de Luce series.

Whispers of movie rights are in the air, but let’s hope that Alan Bradley doesn’t relinquish control of his little lady any time soon. Characters this enjoyable are much better played in the mind than on the big screen.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Tis’ the Season for Great Gift Titles

Tis’ the season to pick titles for the lit lovers in your life. Below is this week’s shopping list for those of you looking for great reads to put under the tree. For a little gift-giving on the side, each title below is linked to one of Michigan’s fabulous indie bookstores where you can order and support our literary arts right from your merry little home.

– Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell  (award-winning Michigan author)

– The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (hot fiction – more on McLain)

– The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (Pulitzer-winning Michigan author)

– Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (more on chef Hamilton)

– Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon (award-winning Michigan author)

– The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011 Booker Prize for Fiction)

– Annabel by Kathleen Winter (shortlisted for this year’s Orange Prize)

– Sister by Rosamund Lupton (debut mystery)

– The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (debut bestseller)

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Julian Barnes’ “The Sense of an Ending” Exacts Emotional Price Worth Paying

Cover ImageAuthor Julian Barnes is no stranger to award-winning works. His past literary distinctions include the Somerset Maugham Award, The E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize among others. Now Barnes must make room on the shelf for his latest honor: the much-coveted Booker Prize for Fiction.

Barnes has been a contender for the “posh bingo” prize before with his titles Arthur and George (2005), England, England (1998) and Flaubert’s Parrot (1984), but it is his 2011 release, The Sense of an Ending, that has made the fourth time a charm.

The Sense of an Ending is quick yet complex and holds that deep, dark-paneled feel of a classic. Barnes manipulates the lens of time through the eyes of middle-aged Tony Webster as he picks through the shifting shards of his memory. A contemplation on singular existence, The Sense of an Ending is a beautiful depiction of age, regret, friendship and the fluctuant perspective of life.

To read or not to read?

The Sense of an Ending is a gorgeous work, but it is troubling. The highbrow, jovial banter of adolescent dialogue early in the book painfully gives way to thoughts and realities of adult self-inquisition and consideration of a life well led.

The Sense of an Ending demands a certain reader-boldness willing to identify with Tony as he looks back with surprise on the shadowed actions of his life and the ease with which we slip into human complacency. That said, The Sense of an Ending is an exquisite page-turner – not for the faint of heart and not to be missed.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

 Related Links

PBS: A Conversation with Julian Barnes

Guardian: Booker Prize 2011: Julian Barnes Triumphs at Last

-New York Times (potential spoilers) Julian Barnes and the Emotions of Englishmen

Wrap Yourself in Winter with ‘The Windward Shore’

Cover ImageSlowing things down in our furiously paced society is a discipline or luxury few of us can afford. Technology, economy, and mere 21st century self-preservation have together constructed a high-speed connection to a life that leaves many of us sapped and stopping to smell only the virtual roses.

If winter, which was once respected as a period of rest and quiescence, has become a bang-out battle to avoid the flu and maximize those dwindling daylight hours, then perhaps you should meet Michigan author Jerry Dennis.

Dennis has made the very ebb and flow of the Great Lakes define his life’s direction. Well known for his literary works on nature, science, outdoor sports, Michigan’s lakes, and this entire Bountiful World, Dennis has become the collective voice of integrity when considering our magnificent waterways.

His latest book, The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes, is a timely work as we silently slip from the hands of autumn into those of winter. The Windward Shore covers a season of winter solitude along Michigan’s shores in which Dennis lived in homes both posh and crude, taking in and reflecting upon our ever-evolving relationship with nature.

Dennis is a deep thinker, but he’s an accessible writer who won’t leave you behind. He takes the time to examine and brief us on our current eco-condition, and rewards with passages of introspection and great beauty.

“Wild nature is crucial to our well-being. It is our universal reservoir of hope. It is the raw material for our daydreams and night dreams. It sustains us even when our other hopes languish – hope in technology, for instance, or effective government, or wise leaders. An afterlife is the hope for many, of course, but for now, for life on earth, the only life we know, we turn to the remaining unspoiled deserts, forests, mountains, and seas, even if only in imagination and art, for relief from the turmoil of everyday life.”

Despite its depth, Dennis strikes an easy balance and offers plenty of humor as he grapples with his own bouts of boredom and unsettling ennui that so often hit us during winter’s thick-armed stretch. While some environmentalists push and preach, Dennis is a realist who doesn’t sound-off or claim to rise above. Instead, he defers to his subject matter – nature – with nothing less than sheer awe and appreciation of her power and unrelenting splendor.

The Windward Shore is a provoking work meant to accompany slow, steaming cups of coffee rather than an extra hot grande-on-the-go. It’s not  a wild page-turner that blows through to the end, but a work seasoned to mull over, enjoy, and consider long after you close the cover. “Let this be a celebration, then, and a grieving,” writes Dennis of The Windward Shore. “Both a love song and a lament. A tribute to what was and a plea for what remains.”

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

Jerry Dennis podcast discussion of his book, The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas

University of Michigan Press

Prior NLR Post on Living the Great Lakes

Childress Turns Up Southern Heat and Humor in “Georgia Bottoms”

Cover ImageLooking for scandal and a splash of sass? Then you must meet Ms. Georgia Bottoms of Six Points, Alabama. Mark Childress, author of One Mississippi and Crazy in Alabama, turns up that sultry southern heat in his latest novel featuring one larger-than-life heroine in one tiny, mixed-up town.

Having fallen a touch on hard times, Georgia Bottoms has turned to the business of “entertaining” gentlemen to keep up appearances and hold her rather unorthodox family together. Scheduling an elaborate six-night rotation with the high and mighty men of Six Points, Ms. Bottoms is a sexual whirlwind with a straighten-your-skirts practicality.

Childress does a fantastic job of playing up the eccentricities of the southern women he loves so much. Georgia is a laugh-riot as she attempts to keep her hair coiffed and her outrageous secrets in check.

“For some reason I really enjoy exploring southern women; they are the most fascinating creatures on earth,” shared Childress on NPR’s Weekend Edition. “Southern women are different than everybody else… and I love to explore that mind.”

Smart and downright hilarious, Georgia Bottoms is a great call for a quick, witty read. If you’re feeling a bit stressed or overwhelmed, slip off your heels, paint your toes, pour yourself a chilled glass of lemonade and head on down to Six Points.

* Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Some Haunting Lit for Halloween Lovers

Looking for a few scary reads this Halloween season? Below are just a few links from the many available lists online. Feel free to comment and add your personal frightening faves.

– Amazon’s Top Ten Scariest Books

Listverse Top 10 Most Disturbing Novels

10 Best Steven King Books for Halloween

listal 25 Best Horror Novels

Flavorwire 10 Utterly Terrifying Books for Your Hallowe’en Reading

Michigan Reads

Paranormal Michigan Book Series

Sprirts and Wine by Susan Newhof – University of Michigan Press

Ghost Writers: Contemporary Michigan Literature – Wayne State University Press

Haunts of Mackinac: Ghost Stories, Legends, & Tragic Tales of Mackinac Island by Todd Clements

– The Michigan Murders by EdwardKeyes

– Murder in the Thumb by Richard W. Carson

– Isadore’s Secret by Mardi Link

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Bohjalian Shoots to Thrill With ‘The Night Strangers’

Cover ImageYes, it’s October, and inevitably with it’s arrival comes the dark urban legends and tales that tingle our spines and goose-up our flesh. Publishers find readers more receptive to the bizarre, and therefore seize the month to release their edgier titles.

I’m not one for the horror genre, so I must say that Chris Bohjalian caught me completely off guard with his latest release, The Night Strangers. I’ve read enough of Bohjalian’s titles to know that when I pick one off the shelf I’m guaranteed a couple hundred pages of laid-back drama that easily entertain.

The Night Strangers, however, is a deviation from typical Chris Bohjalian book fare. Tagged as a psychological thriller, The Night Strangers calls on the supernatural to assist in the graphic retelling of pilot Chip Linton’s crash and his post-traumatic spiral into madness.

According to Bohjalian’s site, The Night Strangers “is a ghost story inspired by a door in his basement and Sully Sullenberger’s successful ditching of an Airbus in the Hudson.” The aforementioned door – and other eerie setting points – are well mapped in Night Strangers and are essential to the story’s creepy-factor. And Sullenberger? He haunts only in his competence and skill as a pilot who was able to stick an incredible landing.

Initially I had a hard time getting into the book. Picking around for strong literary passages and historical depth left me wanting, but I realized, that’s not what this story is about. Rather, it’s a let-yourself-go ghost story written to gun the imagination and scare the hell out of you.

And it does.

I’m a bit of a chicken, but I think The Night Strangers will spook even the hard-core. Once you buy into the exceedingly “super” aspect of Bohjalian’s “supernatural” plot line, you’ll find this book – spurting blood, spirits, and all – a hide-your-eyes, movie theater kind of read.

Chris Bohjalian is the author of fourteen books, most of which take place in his beloved Vermont. While he’s an enthusiastic storyteller, Bohjalian won’t rock your world from a profound literary standpoint. However, if you’re looking for escapism with sound characters and a well-laced storyline, he’s a sure bet. As for The Night Strangers? Toss it on your list for a rainy-day, but you might not want to read it at home all alone…

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

– Review: Miami Herald review of The Night Strangers