‘Annie’s Ghosts’ is Back as the 2013 Great Michigan Read

Annie's Ghosts

The Michigan Humanities Council has announced their much-anticipated biennial title for the 2013-14 Great Michigan Read program. Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret by journalist and Detroit native Steve Luxenberg, is the selection for this impressive statewide program.

“It was quite a surprise, and certainly a pleasant one,” shared Luxenberg in a recent email. “It’s an honor for the book to be in the same category as the previous choices, and to be considered worthy and compelling enough for the selection committee to choose it.”

Annie’s Ghosts  is the thorough, moving story of Luxenberg’s mother, and a mysterious relative long hidden away at Eloise, the massive psychiatric hospital that once housed some nine thousand people from the state of Michigan. Luxenberg’s story digs into the dark corners of his family’s past, and exhumes the complicated history of his ancestors in hopes of revealing a family secret.

Michigan Humanities Program Officer Carla Ingrando said the response to Annie’s Ghosts has been tremendous. “Within three days of the announcement, more than 100 organizations have preregistered as Great Michigan Read partners.”

The Great Michigan Read is a statewide reading initiative sponsored by the Michigan Humanities Council. Reaching out to schools, libraries, religious organizations and other nonprofits, the program aims to connect readers throughout the state with titles that explore our past, present and future.

How did the program select Luxenberg’s title? “The Great Michigan Read titles are selected through a grassroots process,” explained Ingrando. “During the fall of 2012, six regional selection committees made up of librarians, teachers, and literary enthusiasts nominated titles to a statewide selection committee, which met in January 2013.”

This year, Ingrando said the tragedy of Sandy Hook played a significant role in the 2013-14 title selection. “We met in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, and the committee felt like reading and discussing Annie’s Ghosts would provide an opportunity to think deeply about mental disability, mental illness, and mental health care.”

Annie’s Ghosts is a fascinating journey of immigration, identity and Detroit history. Luxenberg’s work has other honors in the Mitten as well; Annie’s Ghosts was selected as a 2010 Michigan Notable Book. For all program and participation information, link here.

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

Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Link

– Annie’s Ghosts on NPR: A Journalist Uncovers His Family’s ‘Ghosts’  Full of Detroit’s colorful history, this true mystery was selected as

Live announcement of The Great Michigan Read –http://www.spreaker.com/embed/player/standard?episode_id=2201249

The Great Michigan Read is presented by the Michigan Humanities Council with support from Meijer and the National Endowment for the Humanities

Writers Converge at AWP Conference in Chicago

Check out this year’s fabulous list of presenters at the 2012 AWP Conference & Bookfair. The event takes place in Chicago from February 29 – March 3, 2012 and promises more than 550 presses, publishers, and “nonstop literary commotion!”

Held annually in a different region of North America by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, the conference is designed “to celebrate the outstanding authors, teachers, writing programs, literary centers, and small press publishers of that region.”

The mission of the AWP “to foster literary achievement, to advance the art of writing as essential to a good education, and to serve the makers, teachers, students, and readers of contemporary writing,” is indeed a noble one. If you aren’t going to make it to Chicago this year, you can plan ahead by visiting the list of AWP’s future conference sites.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Everyone’s Reading ‘Lethal’ by Sandra Brown

Lethal is the book that Everyone’s Reading in the metro area this year. The annual “Everyone’s Reading” program, which is sponsored by the Detroit public libraries in Oakland and Wayne counties, have chosen author Sandra Brown’s novel Lethal as their 2012 selection.

Now in its eleventh year, the Everyone’s Reading program was established to enhance the reading experience by sharing a single title throughout the community. Participating libraries are set to offer book events such as group discussions, appearances by Sandra Brown, and related topic presentations to facilitate dialogue.

According to this year’s Everyone’s Reading Reader’s Guide, best-selling author Sandra Brown has been praised by critics for her “storytelling ability” and “the way she is able to combine strong female characters with plots so complex and fast-paced that her readers are constantly challenged to figure out what might happen next.”

Anyone can get involved in the program by participating in the various  events listed by both date and library location on the Everyone’s Reading homepage. The Baldwin Public Library in Birmingham will be shelving extra copies of Lethal, stocking reader’s guides, and facilitating two librarian-led book group discussions that are open to everyone.

This year’s Everyone’s Reading program runs through March 22, 2012. Due to high demand, free tickets for Ms. Brown’s speaking appearances will be distributed by Baldwin Public Library through lottery for residents of Birmingham, Beverly Hills, Bingham Farms and Bloomfield Hillls. For more information call 248-647-1700.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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

Heather Sellers Delights at Writers Live! Event

Consider yourself one of the lucky ones if you were fortunate enough to attend Baldwin Public Library’s recent Writers Live! event. Hope College professor Heather Sellers wooed the audience with her intelligence, wit, and sincere charm while promoting her latest book You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know: A True Story of Family, Face-Blindness, and Forgiveness.

Sellers suffers from a neurological disorder termed prosopagnosia, or face blindness. The bizarre disorder causes impairment in the recognition of faces, and at its most severe can cause the lack of recognition of close friends, family, spouses or even one’s own children. Such is the case with Sellers.

Face blindness isn’t a vision problem, Sellers explained, but rather one of memory. She likens the disorder to a file cabinet where the brain stores images. When you see someone, your brain snaps a picture and slips it into your files to be called up later. However in Seller’s case, after the image gets snapped, it’s immediately and irretrievably “thrown out the window.”

So what does this really mean? Well, if you meet Sellers face to face, she won’t recognize you – even one second later. If you had a dinner date with her last night? She’ll pass you by the next morning. If you grew up next door to her or happen to be her best friend? Doesn’t matter, she’ll have no idea who you are. Brad Pitt, Barack Obama, the Mona Lisa? All the same to Sellers – the facial images just don’t process.

It’s a hard concept to wrap one’s arms around, but try to imagine the professional and social implications of such a disorder for a woman who works with hundreds of students and ever-changing colleagues year after year. Sounds crazy, right?

Crazy is pretty much how Sellers felt until her disorder was diagnosed just five years ago. As a child Sellers’ parents told her she was emotionally unstable, yet Sellers miraculously compensated by relying on context clues such as a person’s hair, voice, clothing, or particular gait. She trained herself “not to freak out” as she attempted to piece together the facial puzzles that  have dogged her since childhood.

Freaking out is apparently something that Sellers doesn’t do. Composed and collected, Sellers laughingly shared her observation that “professors are given a wide range of normal” – a fact that certainly influenced her decision to enter the academic world. She found she could hide amidst the acceptable eccentricities so inherent to campus life. Currently Sellers is part of the English department at Hope College where she teaches creative writing.

Cover ImageSince her diagnosis, Sellers has “come out” with her face blindness and You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know has been a huge part of that process. Garnering both high praise and national attention, Sellers’ memoir seems to be striking a chord in the hearts of her readers. Where so many years of angst and frustration might lead anyone else to bitterness, Sellers has found a certain peace and renewed faith in humanity, and it was precisely this compassionate, feel-good vibe that permeated the air and made for such an exceptional evening.

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

Related Links and Information

-Link here for the live video of Heather Sellers at the Baldwin Public Library’s Writers Live! program.

Oprah’s November Pick

NPR’s Living With Face Blindness: Who Are You, Again?

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Writers Live! Features author Heather Sellers

Cover ImageChances are, if you meet author Heather Sellers she won’t recognize you later – even five minutes later. This is not an act of snobbishness on behalf of the Hope College professor however, but rather the bizarre consequence of a disorder called “face blindness.”

Medically termed prosopagnosia, face blindness is a disorder that causes impairment in the recognition of faces. Prosopagnosia isn’t a vision problem, but one of memory that widely ranges in degree. Face blindness at its most severe can cause the lack of recognition of close friends, family, spouses or even one’s own children.

Until Sellers was in her 30’s, she had no idea what was wrong with her. While reading one day Sellers stumbled upon the term “face recognition.” The phrase immediately resonated with the author, and upon further research Sellers was finally able to tag a diagnosis to the blindness that had dogged her for so many years.

Sellers book, You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know: A True Story of Family, Face-Blindness, and Forgiveness, is a memoir of her experience with face blindness. While so many years of frustration might lead one to bitterness and anger, Sellers has found a certain peace and claims the disorder “has renewed my faith in humankind on a daily basis”.

If you live in or around Birmingham, Michigan, you’ll have a chance to hear Heather Sellers tell her story in person. The author and Hope College professor will be appearing at the Baldwin Public Library as part of their Writers Live! program.

According to the program site, Sellers will read excerpts from “You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know” and “talk about the process of writing a memoir and how telling our own story can help us to see others more clearly.” The Writers Live! appearance will take place at the BPL on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 7:30 pm. As always, please call first to confirm date and time.

Related Links

Oprah’s November Pick

NPR’s Living With Face Blindness: Who Are You, Again?

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone!

Friends Don't Let Friends Read Alone

Friends don’t let friends read alone, at least that’s what Baldwin Public Library’s Kathryn Bergeron believes. Bergeron is Baldwin’s systems librarian and also acts as the main facilitator of the BPL’s “Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone” book club.

The club launched late last spring as the “Young Professionals Book Club” and was originally designed to draw in the college crowd. Though the library has several programs designed to engage the community’s older and younger populations, Bergeron felt the college-aged demographic needed to be addressed.

“College students come in to study and to get books and DVD’s and we wanted a chance to reach out to them,” noted Bergeron of the original idea behind the club. “There had been a lot of talk about an evening book club… so we kind of started there but we wanted to let it evolve a little bit and see what it wanted to become. Book clubs are kind of their own entity… they have their own personality.”

By fall that personality was taking shape, and the evolving book club changed its name to “Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone.” “Most of the people who are in it are still young professionals, but it’s not limited to anyone,” shares Bergeron. “Anyone who wants to show up is more than welcome to. I think that the venue and the time lends itself more to young people, but we have other people… and I’m more than happy to see them.”

That venue is the Zuma Coffee House in Birmingham where the book club meets one Tuesday evening each month. The coffee house is a natural draw for the trendy set, but Bergeron also chose it as a show of community support. “We’ve worked with Zuma in the past and they’ve been very supportive of us… and we wanted to do something to give back to them… . We’re really grateful to Zuma for hosting us every month.”

So how does Bergeron make her title selections? “We have a collection of book club books, first of all, at the library and we pull from that… . We try to change up the books so that, yes, you might have one that is incredibly depressing but then the next one is going to be something probably more fun or more happy, so you can kind of juxtapose the books against one another.” The group just finished The Undertaking by poet Thomas Lynch  and will discuss Alexander McCall Smith’s  The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency for their February title.

Overall, Katherine Bergeron is pleased with the success and growth of the book club. “… I’m really glad that it is something that we were able to try and I think that it’s worked out very well so far and I hope that it continues to blossom.”

The “Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone” book club is open to all and will meet at Zuma Coffee House at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 to discuss The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Books are available upon request at the Baldwin Public Library.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer