2013 Michigan Notable Books Announced!

Michigan Notable Book SealThe much anticipated 2013 Michigan Notable Books list has been announced and the titles are fantastic!

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” as well as featuring “high-quality titles with wide public appeal.” (via)

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

Michigan now holds some of the country’s hottest authors in its mittened hand. After authors are notified of their awards, they make themselves available to Michigan readers through library tours, appearances and literary engagements.

“In the spring, selected authors will visit 50 libraries across the state from the Upper Peninsula to Detroit,” states the Free Press. A keynote event known as the Night for Notables takes place in late April and honors all the selections.

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-Post by Megan Shaffer

The Lure of “Post 9/11 Literature”

Cover ImageFor obvious reasons, there’s much ado regarding 9/11 bouncing about these September days. Be it pictures, odes or song, a variety of artistic mediums are sought out and used in an attempt to lance the overwhelming emotions caught up in the dark day – that for almost a decade now – blots our calendar each year.

As an avid reader I naturally look to the language and prose of others in my attempt to sort through the chaos of history’s events. Acting as philosophical aides if you will, the angles and perspectives of differing authors ultimately give me a better grasp on how I choose to interpret something as horrific as 9/11. Simply? I turn to books.

The term “post-9/11 literature” is often tossed about and seems loosely tagged to titles. Though it seems straightforward, I personally find the term confusing so decided to turn to those in the know for some solid answers and title suggestions pertaining to the genre.

“‘Post-9/11 literature’ is a slippery fish,” shared writer/reviewer Mark Athitakis in a recent email. “While it ought to mean fiction that directly addresses the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, there actually aren’t many books that would qualify under that definition.”  Athitakis points to Don DeLillo’s “Falling Man,” Claire Messud’s “The Emperor’s Children,” and Ken Kalfus’ “A Disorder Peculiar to the Country” as titles that “attempt to depict the effect of the day’s events on individuals.”

Athitakis believes the meaning of “9/11 literature” has expanded “almost by necessity” due to its broad arch, and now bends to include “books about Muslim terrorists but not necessarily the 9/11 hijackers (Updike’s “Terrorist,” Andre Dubus III’s “The Garden of Last Days”), the effect of 9/11 on domestic life years after (Sue Miller’s “The Lake Shore Limited,” Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”), debates about media and democracy after 9/11 (Amy Waldman’s “The Submission”), American intelligence’s response (Ward Just’s “Forgetfulness”), and so on.”

Whether a book Is/Is Not 9/11, there is still a vast array of titles out there that yearn to capture the energy and angst surrounding the terrorist attacks. Earlier this week NPR wondered if Amy Waldman’s ‘Submission’ Could Be America’s Sept. 11 Novel? Guardian has compiled a list of the 20 best 9/11 books, while the New York Times notes the ongoing publishing push in the article, 9/11 Books Released Into a Sea of Others.

Regardless of one’s interest in “post 9/11 literature,” it is fascinating to bear witness to the birth of a genre – to have experienced the attacks and appreciate the attempts of others to make sense through the device of story. “I think years from now we’ll look back at this first decade’s worth of novels as a great venting of anxiety and confusion,” wraps Athitakis, “—there is no “9/11 novel,” but there clearly is a desperate effort to get one’s hands around it, to see if fiction can address its emotional and political effects.”

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes

Author Megan Abbott Brings ‘The End of Everything’ Back to the Burbs

Cover ImageMystery writer Megan Abbott is no stranger to Michigan. The award-winning author grew up in the Detroit area, attended Grosse Pointe North High School and graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English Literature. Though Abbott currently makes her home in Queens, New York, she’ll be bringing her latest novel, The End of Everything, back home this week.

Abbott is the Edgar-winning author of the novels Die a Little, The Song Is You and Queenpin. Abbott was already a favorite among fellow writers when her 2009 novel Bury Me Deep swiftly moved her into the mainstream.

The End of Everything is Abbott’s first work to take place in her hometown of Grosse Pointe, and takes place during the 1980’s of Abbott’s adolescence. The End  is a departure from Abbott’s other books, which draw more from history, film and true-crime.

“It’s definitely the world of my hometown,” Abbott shares. “It seemed like the whole summer world was conducted in backyards, sprinklers, Ernie Harwell on the radio, mosquitoes and peering through window and door screens.”

Abbott originally started writing The End of Everything back in the late 1990’s, and admits that returning to her roots for material feels a little risky.

“We are the least reliable narrators of the places we grew up,” Abbott tells Mulholland Books, “and it’s taken me nearly 20 years to write about my hometown. But now, all these years later, I can finally access Grosse Pointe in a different way. My new novel, The End of Everything, the story of a 13-year-old girl whose best friend disappears, is set in a Grosse Pointe facsimile. Writing it, I came to feel that the stillness I’d once thought of as stasis was precisely the quality that made the big moments of life, when they come, seem larger, bigger, more shocking and more moving. The more I wrote, the more I was able to telescope back, prior to my teen years of bored frustration with the suburbs, back when it was a wooded place of inscrutability and wonder.”

Abbott will be returning to the suburbs for a reading and signing of The End of Everything at Borders in Birmingham on Wednesday, July 20 at 7:00 pm. If you can’t make Abbott’s Birmingham appearance, you can link here for a full schedule of the author’s events.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Tea Obreht Wins 2011 Orange Prize for ‘The Tiger’s Wife’

Cover ImageTea Obreht, author of The Tiger’s Wife, can now add Orange Prize winner to her ever-blossoming resume. Obreht bested contenders Emma Donoghue (Room), Aminatta Forna (The Memory of Love), Emma Henderson (Grace Williams Says it Loud), Nicole Krauss (Great House), and Kathleen Winter (Annabel) for this year’s prestigious UK award.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Orange Prize, it’s the UK’s annual book award for fiction written by a woman. The award can be presented to a female author of any nationality for the best eligible full-length novel written in the English language.

At just 25, Obreht is the youngest author thus far to win the Orange Prize for Fiction. Not only will she take home an awarded “Bessie” sculpture, but also a monetary prize of about $49,000.00. Not bad at all for a debut novel.

Chair of Judges Bettany Hughes said:  “The Tiger’s Wife is an exceptional book and Tea Obreht is a truly exciting new talent. Obreht’s powers of observation and her understanding of the world are remarkable. By skillfully spinning a series of magical tales she has managed to bring the tragedy of chronic Balkan conflict thumping into our front rooms with a bittersweet vivacity.”

Tea Obreht was born in 1985 in the former Yugoslavia, and spent her childhood in Cyprus and Egypt before eventually immigrating to the United States in 1997 (via). Her writing has been published in The New Yorker and was highlighted in the highly regarded 20 Under 40 issue. Obreht has also appeared in major publications such as The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New York Times, and The Guardian and was included in the National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35.

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

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Life With Death – One Good Thing Leads to Another

Cover ImageIf you missed the NYT Book Review this past Sunday, then you missed William Giraldi’s lovely feature highlighting Michigan author Thomas Lynch. Life With Death is certainly a review worth linking to, as William Giraldi’s elegant prose rests in kind compliment to that of the mastery of Mr. Lynch himself.

I recently finished Lynch’s book The Undertaking, and each and every page brought me to my knees. Breathless, I devoured Lynch’s words and marveled at his magical ability to turn the deep, raw sentiments of death into palatable wisps of humor; that he could so artfully craft a work on the death of Death itself. Though I finished The Undertaking weeks ago, I’m still bereft of deserving words for an author I have come to so admire.

It was with great fortune, then, that I fell upon William Giraldi’s review of Apparition & Late Fictions, which not only highlights Lynch’s first work of fiction but also his unique style and life perspective. “Lynch does not recoil from the gruesome facts of his trade or the insights they have allowed him,” notes Giraldi, “but he commands the light as well as the darkness. Nihilism is nowhere in these stories, and love is everywhere embraced.”

As Giraldi praises Lynch for adding “another chapter to one of the most memorable records in American letters,” I found myself thinking much the same of Giraldi. While it’s plain, midwestern truth that I’m far from the caliber of a New York Times reviewer, I can say that crafting even a simple review is not a breezy affair. So, as I endlessly groped in the dark for the ripple of words that might convey Lynch’s spirit, I swooned at Giraldi’s easy capture and fluidity;  “…the stories and novella here are gifts of precision, narratives with the poise to depict entire lives unstrung by the end of things.”

If you fear the talk of endangered book reviews, Giraldi’s review won’t soothe your soul. For those of us who are purists to the book and its circling words, we ultimately rely on the grace of one good work leading to another. Therefore, not only in Thomas Lynch have I found a new literary hero, but I can now pursue the pleasure of seeking out the works of William Giraldi as well.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer


Busy Monsters: A Novel by William Giraldi

Solid Winter Picks from the Indies

Looking for your next book club pick? Link over to Indie Bound for the Indie Next reading groups list. The Winter ‘10/’11reading group suggestions are inspired by the input of Indie Booksellers and include such titles as Half Broke Horses, Tinkers, and Eggers’ Zeitoun, (the East Lansing One Book One Community selection this year) just to name a few.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Twesigye Jackson Kaguri Brings ‘Price of Stones’ to Liberty Street

Cover ImageI hate to be a sponge, but why reinvent the wheel? To read up on the wonders of author Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, link to the following posts –

Free Press Special Writer Christopher Walton:  Writer Builds School for AIDS Orphans

Journalist Bill Castanier’s article on blog site:  Mittenlit

The Liberty Street Borders in Ann Arbor will host author and activist Twesigye Jackson Kaguri tonight, June 15, 2010 at 7:00 pm for a discussion and signing of his book The Price of Stones:  Building a School for My Village. As always, call and confirm dates and times before heading out the door.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer

‘The Lacuna’ Snags Orange Prize for Kingsolver

Cover ImageI’ve had a rocky relationship with Barbara Kingsolver. While I loved many of her earlier books like Pigs In HeavenAnimal Dreams, The Bean Trees, and her sweeping Poisonwood Bible, I must admit that I fell off with Prodigal Summer. So bitter was the taste of that love story let down, that I haven’t been able to bounce back to her work.

For better or for worse, every author has the right to test new ground and break their own barriers, and truth be told I would much rather have a writer step outside the box than sit inside the mainstream. On her home site Ms. Kingsolver says, “What keeps me awake at the wheel is the thrill of trying something completely new with each book. I’m not a risk-taker in life, generally speaking, but as a writer I definitely choose the fast car, the impossible rock face, the free fall.” It is this attitude that has brought about high praise and award for The Lacuna and a definitive revisit to her work from me.

On Wednesday, Barbara Kingsolver won the highly regarded Orange Prize for fiction by women. A stiff competition, The Lacuna was up against Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs and Hilary Mantel’s Booker winner Wolf Hall. Chosen for its “breathtaking scale and shattering moments of poignancy,” The Lacuna apparently edged out the other contenders in what was a difficult decision for the panel.

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

Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

-Try this brief piece in The New York Times

-Quick clip at BookBrowse

Rhoda Janzen Brings her ‘Little Black Dress’ to B’ham Borders

DetailsMichigan’s very own Rhoda Janzen will be at Borders in Birmingham for a reading and signing of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress on Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 7:00 PM. The Hope College professor will present her humorous hit memoir which was recently released in paperback and has become a book club darling.

Ms. Janzen was born in North Dakota where her father was the pastor of a small Mennonite church but has made Michigan her home for years. You can catch a few “quick facts” about Ms. Janzen by clicking here. Ms. Janzen currently teaches English and creative writing and has a previously published collection of poems titled Babel’s Stair.

If you haven’t yet read Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, you can catch my NLR review Mennonites and Potheads? which I posted back in November. Rhoda Janzen’s next book is in the works and you can read more about her anticipated Backslider in my post Michigan’s Mennonite is at it Again.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Northville’s New Indie – The Next Chapter Bookstore & Bistro

At a recent reading, I overheard some chat about a new independent bookstore opening up in Northville. Could it be? An indie? In this market? Intrigued by such a noble and radiant pursuit, I decided to chase-up the rumors with a little literary field trip.

At a time when the only risk one might take in the Detroit metro area is that of the board game variety, Dan and Kathy Comaianni are living their dream. Actually, they’re living my dream. Yet, while I’ve only toyed with the idea of procuring my own bookstore, the Comaianni’s have turned their vision to reality with the opening of The Next Chapter Bookstore & Bistro located in downtown Northville.

Honestly, I did not pick the best day in May for my jaunt (think cold, very wet, and very windy), but even in the relentless rain it was hard to resist the pastoral charms of downtown Northville. Despite the downpour, cheerful storefront awnings stretched toward the narrow red brick road of Main Street. As I looked through the haze of rain coursing down my windshield I caught a brief glimpse of my destination; The Next Chapter Bookstore. With its warm bistro lights glowing through the glass front patio doors, I honestly couldn’t think of a more inviting locale.

While quaint is too olde and hip is too fly to describe this little gem, The Next Chapter strikes an easy balance of traditional and contemporary flair. The aromatic smell of Michigan’s own Great Lakes Coffee greets you at the door and immediately invites the eyes toward a tasteful display of pastries and gourmet coffees in the small bistro area of the shop. Oddly, on this particularly dreary day the cafe was hopping with locals who seemed pleased with a fresh spot for conversation, a warm cup of joe, and of course, glorious books.

Unlike the biggies, The Next Chapter is certainly not a space you’ll get lost in but rather  enjoy its tighter independent charms. Posted bestseller lists are featured within winking distance of their corresponding selections, and separate shelving efficiently positions the latest indie picks. Most titles are recognizable and are likely to ring a bell for those who follow the top titles. Considering it had only been a week since the doors opened, I suspect lesser known titles will filter in as the Comaianni’s receive neighborly feedback.

Also a boon for the neighborhood is the large meeting space in the lower level of the store. Created for study groups and book clubs, the space had in fact already been used for a test-prep by a group of local high school students. The downstairs can be reserved for a variety of literary activities upon contacting the store. Also noted is a small children’s section tucked on the main floor. Though the patio was closed due to the weather debacle, the street side deck is a dream and I vowed to return on a sunnier day to enjoy its charms.

Not one for televisions, I personally would have opted out of the large flatscreen that outfits one of the cafe walls; I simply can’t justify one in a bookstore. However, I’m aware that one must compete in a tough market and I’m sure there must have been consumer demand for it. Also on the tech side, The Next Chapter offers free Wifi with easy access for the laptop set.

After I had my little tour, enjoyed a great cup of coffee, and confirmed the rumors, my field trip sadly came to a close. If you happen to be a reader (or coffee drinker) passing through the Northville area, I highly suggest dropping in and giving The Next Chapter a peek. You can click here for store hours and location information. What did I buy, you ask? Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer