Tag Archives: Night Light Review

Leithauser Lifts With Literary Portrait of Detroit

Brad Leithauser read from and discussed his poetic novel The Art Student’s War to a full and appreciative audience at Borders in Birmingham last night. Originally from the metro area, Leithauser delighted by closing with a passage from the book that takes place in The Detroit Zoo. As the novel’s characters “rode the little zoo train”, Mr. Leithauser took many of us back to a happy, simpler time in Detroit’s history.

The main character of The Art Student’s War is Bianca (Bea) Paradiso, an attractive eighteen year-old art student who comes of age in Detroit during the heydey of the 1940’s. Assigned to draw portraits of hospitalized soldiers, Mr. Leithauser based Bianca’s character on his mother-in-law, who indeed began drawing portraits of hospitalized soldiers as a teenager during the Second World War. Though Leithauser said it would be wonderful if the book was outrageously priced and purchased for movie rights, his biggest fantasy is to have an actual portrait turn up from a reader or audience member; all he has of his mother-in-law’s portraits are “copies of copies of copies”.

Mr. Leithauser’s characters are all so poetic, I had to ask him which one he most identified with. He said Bianca, though she posed a “double obstacle” in that she was both eighteen years of age and a female; somewhat foreign material for an older man. That said, the author faced such conundrums as what Bianca should wear and what kinds of things she would do. Drawing on his experience of raising two girls now in their 20’s helped, and the author claims this work was a definite collaboration of efforts on the part of his family. Acknowledging  this wasn’t “a solitary work”, Mr. Leithauser credits his family for their efforts of multiple readings and catching mistakes.

When asked if there were places in the book that he felt particularly close to, Leithauser didn’t hesitate to say that the “DIA played a huge role” in his life. For him, the Detroit Institute of Arts was a “sign of a wider world”, a fact that is difficult to remember in these troubling times.

For me, The Art Student’s War brought home the reality that Detroit was once a thriving cosmopolitan city. Full of lush architecture, art, shops, and bustling growth, Detroit was a destination of the time and a place to be seen…

“…this feeling that was such a strong feeling within her:  this sensation she regularly experienced as she drifted through the outskirts of Detroit.  A sense of something not quaint exactly, not cute exactly, though very like quaint and cute:  this suburban conviction that fully real lives could be lived out here in Pleasant Ridge, in Royal Oak, in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills.  But how could anyone fail to register a steady diminution of spirit when traveling north up Woodward Avenue – from the heart of the city into its ancillary reaches?”

As Bianca attempts to express herself while heading out of the city, she brings about a nostalgic pleasure in a Detroit once full of strength and potential; a Detroit that is now difficult to conjure up in its current condition. However, The Art Student’s War will take you there. A colorful and poetic work, take your time with this one to fully appreciate Brad Leithauser’s “loving historical portrait of a now-vanished Detroit…”

-Post by Megan Shaffer


Filed under Authors, Book Reviews, Brad Leithauser, The Art Student's War

Sunday, Lovely Sunday

– A Weekly Post By Megan Shaffer


-I wrote a small post on the recent return of two German books taken by Robert E. Thomas, a young soldier serving in WWII.  I found more information and a short video clip at this Washington Post link.

-I received an email from Steve Luxenberg informing me that The American Booksellers Association has chosen Annie’s Ghosts for the Independent Booksellers Fall/Winter List of Recommendations for Reading Groups in the “A-List for Nonfiction” category. Please see my Annie’s Ghosts review for more on this wonderful Detroit-based story.

Of National Interest

-On Tuesday October 6th, Hilary Mantel was announced as the Man Booker Prize winner. The Washington Post reports that the author of Wolf Hall, a “tale of political intrigue set during the reign of King Henry VIII”, will take home the 50,000-pound ($80,000) prize.

-On Thursday, the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Herta Muller. For a more detailed account, read my Life is Literature for Herta Muller posting under Whimsy.

Return to the Hundred Acre Wood was released on Monday. The New York Times reports this as “the first authorized sequel to the A.A. Milne classic Winnie-the-Pooh books in more than 80 years.” An interview with David Benedictus, the writer who undertook this daunting task was heard on NPR’s Morning Edition.

-Remember the crazed sniper in D.C. back in 2002? His wife Mildred Muhammad says it was a ploy to commit and obscure her own murder.  She has written a book titled Scared Silent, in hopes of helping other victims of domestic violence.

-Letterman sidekick Paul Shaffer has released a memoir titled We’ll Be Here For the Rest of Our Lives:  A Swingin’ Showbiz Saga. Detailing his colorful career, Shaffer reveals in an NPR interview that he started his career “playing piano in a Canadian topless bar.”  You don’t hear that every day.

-Arianna Huffington has announced a new HuffPost Book Club for the Huffington Post site.  The Club will be working in tandem with the New York Review of Books. The HuffPost Club’s first pick is titled In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore.

Local Voice

-The Detroit Free Press offers a fine article on Bich Minh Nguyen and her book Stealing Buddha’s Dinner in honor of her upcoming appearances for the Great Michigan Read. Nguyen will appear at the Penn Theatre on Saturday, October 17th at 1:00p.m., hosted by the Plymouth District Library. Stealing Buddha’s Dinner can also be found on my Feature Review page.

-Wayne State poet M.L. Liebler has won a Barnes & Noble Award for 2010. “The honor is given to writers who’ve helped other writers and given back to the writing community,” according to the full article in the Detroit Free Press.

-In addition to the update, I found this Michigan Radio interview with Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie’s Ghosts, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. The segment provides personal insights by Mr. Luxenburg as he revisits the sights that provide the backbone of his book.

-Paul Vachon, author of “Forgotten Detroit” will discuss his book on Wednesday, October 14th at the Detroit Historical Museum. The Free Press reports that Mr. Vachon’s book “goes behind the headlines of history to explore some lesser-known stories about Detroit’s rise from fur-trading center to 20th-Century industiral powerhouse.”

-The new novel “In a Perfect World” by Chelsea resident Laura Kasischke made its appearance in bookstores last Tuesday. She will discuss her new novel at Borders in Birmingham on Wednesday, October 14th, at 6:00.  Ms. Kasischke, a teacher of creative writing at University of Michigan, is also the author of novels “Suspicious River” and “The Life Before her Eyes”.

-Wayne State University Press will celebrate the launch of Travelin Man: On the Road and Behind the Scenes with Bob Seger by Tom Weschler and Gary Graff at Memphis Smoke in Royal Oak.  Doors open at 7:00 for author signings and a Seger tribute band will perform.

-On Thursday, David Small will be presenting his adult graphic memoir “Stitches” at 7:00. All event information can be found at the Book Beat.

Bestseller Lists

New York Times

Publishers Weekly

Indie Bestsellers

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Life is Literature for Herta Muller

Herta Muller

Herta Muller

It was announced Thursday that Herta Muller was the winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature.  Muller, who is 56, has based most of her books on the brutal Communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. Speaking to journalists, Muller stated, “I believe that literature always goes precisely there where the damage to a person has been done…I didn’t choose this topic, it was thrust upon me.”

Last year, the Nobel committee pegged the American literary culture as being too “isolated and insular” leaving us tagged as a bit-player in the global literary picture. The insinuation claims that because of our shortsightedness,  American works don’t  translate across the great cultural divide. Last year’s winner was Frenchman Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio.

Regardless, Herta Muller will take home the 1.4 million dollar prize and join the ranks among the other 11 women who have won the prestigious literary prize, including Toni Morrison and Doris Lessing.

Herta Muller is not a household name, and truth be told I’ve never heard of her.  However, that is often the way my literary doors open; one name leads to the next creating a fresh, alternative exposure. Muller’s titles on amazon have already soared in sales since the Nobel announcement, as well as the snapping for English title rights.

*picture posted from http://www.dickinson.edu

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