Literati – Reason to Celebrate

If you haven’t had the pleasure of entering Literati Bookstore in the heart of Ann Arbor, I suggest you make the trip. Recently recognized as PW Bookstore of the Year, the little bookstore that could continues to thrive. Opening shortly after the demise of Borders, Literati has firmly settled into the Ann Arbor community winning the hearts of readers, writers, and upstairs coffee drinkers alike. Though the space is small, the love and knowledge of literature is large. Link to Literati Bookstore for events and information. To hear Literati’s story, see the video below.

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

– Post by Megan Shaffer

The Mind-bending Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The 7.5 Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleTucked amidst the charming shops lining Northville’s downtown Main Street, sits My Little Paris Cafe & Bookstore. I’ve been out of the literary loop for a bit, so I decided to drop in and check out the space that formerly housed The Next Chapter. A toasty tour of the shop led me to a display of the store’s January Community Book Club pick, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. There’s been quite a bit of conversation surrounding Turton’s unique novel, so I thought it a solid club selection. Quotes of dazzling, triumphant, mind-blowing twisty– and this look up – pure-silk Möbius strip of a story, cover the back jacket and urge the reader to jump in and enjoy the ride. Since I never leave an indie without buying a book, Evelyn Hardcastle made the cut for my latest review.

What I want to tell you is that I loved the book. Unfortunately, I only just liked it. Turton’s work has been called bewildering and complex, and in that I can agree. While reading different reviews regarding this book, I noticed that the descriptors in one mimicked those of another, as if no one really knows what to say about The Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. It’s that kind of book. Is it genius? Chaos? One thing that most do seem to agree on (including me), is that it’s totally original and worth the reading experience.

Main character Aidan Bishop has eight days and eight witnesses in which to work with to solve a murder, name a killer, and escape the sinister Estate of Blackheath. Each day repeats (think Groundhog Day), with Bishop inhabiting the bodies of each witness and compiling clues garnered from his time spent in each person. At times the character switch is utterly confusing, but Turton is exceptional at character portrayal and giving the reader a full-feel of what it is like to take on the physical, mental and emotional characteristics of another human being. Here’s a brief glimpse of Aidan’s time in the obese form of Lord Ravencourt:

     We walk slowly, but my mind is fixed on the ponderousness of this body I’m dragging forward. It’s as though some fiend has remade the house overnight, stretching the rooms and thickening the air. Wading into the sudden brightness of the entrance hall, I’m surprised to discover how steep the staircase now appears… It would take a pulley, two strong men, and a day’s pay to hoist me into Bell’s room.

Each character is seen from the inside-out through Aidan’s eyes as he slowly absorbs the perspective of the character in which he resides. Trippy? Yes. Confusing? Quite, but for those who persevere it does work itself out in the end.

The setting is a wealth of intrigue. Based on the “old chap” language and the decaying country mansion, perception dictates the timeframe to be around the 1920’s. Sprawling grounds, murky lake, looming graveyard, hidden webby rooms, and flickering gas lamps shadowed throughout the surrounding forest, all combine to provide an undertone of serious creep throughout the story. Recurring characters such as the skin-prickling Plague doctor and the ominous footman are integral to the story, and up the clever factor as clues click and slide into place.

Overall, this thriller is stacked a bit too high for me. Turton is apparently a fan of time travel, Agatha Christie mysteries, and video games, all of which take me beyond the bounds of my reading comfort zone. No plot spoilers here, but I need to add that the ending didn’t work for me – it was just too far out of my grasp. This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t recommend The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.

Turton’s writing is crisp and engaging, reminding me a bit of Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility. In the back of the book Turton reveals just how important the connectedness and precision of the events and characters in the book had to be for his concept to hold. The intricacy of the plot is a head-spinner. Therefore, if you are strong in the logic department and enjoy a good puzzle, then give it a go. If you tend to drift a bit while you read and prefer linear fiction, this isn’t the one for you.

My Little Paris Cafe & Bookstore

I haven’t covered our local independent bookstores in a while, but it is refreshing to know that they are alive and well in the Detroit metro area. My Little Paris Café & Bookstore’s Community Book Club meets the fourth Tuesday of the month. The next title is Curtis Sittenfeld’s, You Think It, I’ll Say It and will meet on February 26, 2019 from 6:00-7:00. Don’t forget to buy your book from an indie!

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

Why a Title Changes – The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

– Post by Megan Shaffer

‘Paris in the Present Tense’ is a Stunner

Paris in the Present TenseAvid readers know that when time for leisure reading is limited, solid book choice is crucial. Imagine then how pleased I was to have selected Paris in the Present Tense from the shelves of my local public library. I’m drawn to books about Paris, though many end up being too weak or sappy to push through. I can assure you, however, that this is certainly not the case with author Mark Helprin’s latest work.

Paris in the Present Tense revolves around Jules Lacour, a seventy-four-year-old cellist who has seen much in his lifetime. War, love, and loss have left Lacour with a pragmatic view of his remaining years, yet determined to provide his daughter and her family with choices of freedom that he never had. Paris is their home, but as acts of racial violence escalate Jules is sharply reminded of his war-torn childhood and the carnage left in the wake of the Nazi occupation. Jules’ perceived responsibility to right the wrongs of racial hatred lead him to a moment of violence that changes the trajectory of his quiet, disciplined life in ways unimagined.

Paris in the Present Tense is a deep and beautifully written novel. Whether it was author Mark Helprin’s intention or not, the movement of this story is propelled by the character of Lacour’s cello itself. Jules’ music plays an almost mystifying role in Paris in the Present Tense, and gently carries the story through to its final crescendo. The harmonies and dissonance of Lacour’s relationships – work, love, family, and life – seem to lift from the pages, creating a mystical presence that permeates each passage regardless of setting.

And then there’s Paris. Helprin must have an intimate relationship with this magnificent city because he is able to lay it down so well. Jules takes us with him as he daily navigates the Sorbonne, the Seine, les petits cafés, and his routes through the city’s majestic gardens. “In spring the trees of Paris bloom so lightly they seem to float on the breeze,” Lacour regards. “In summer, its deep green gardens often shade into black and an orange sun revolves in the air like a crucible risen from a foundry. In winter, white silence in the long, treed allées and not a breath of wind. And in the fall bright colors and deep blue sky roll in on cool north winds.”

I loved this book. All of it. Paris in the Present Tense has a lot to offer, but as a recommendation I do feel it demands a certain age of its reader. Jules’ reflections on the passage of time and his unyielding – if not bizarre – ambitions to preserve his remaining family show a desperation that perhaps only a parent (or survivor) might understand. The book is truly beautiful, but some passages might strain the less patient reader. Where some might savor Jules’ deep thoughts on the various stages of life and love, others might get muddled down in his challenging, thicker thoughts. That said, this book definitely worked for me. I’m new to Helprin’s literary style and it hit the right note. While some passages took extra effort (and a dictionary), there is a quick, underlying pulse that keeps you engaged to the very last page.

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

Other Strong Parisian Reads – remember to buy from your local independent:

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

The Greater Journey by David Mccullough

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle – French series if you’re looking for something lighter

 

 

Pessl’s ‘Night Film’ is Deliciously Scary!

CT  CT nightfilm.jpgOkay, I loved Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics and couldn’t wait for her next book to come out. Her recent, horrifying release Night Film has me so scared I’m not even sure I can continue reading it. I am a fraidy-cat to be sure and I know it’s just a book, however, I am torn between wanting to know what happens and sending it straight back to the library! I’m halfway through and not sure my heart can take it. Delicious….

 

 

 

Looking for a few more scary reads this Halloween season? Check out a few of the lists below. Feel free to comment and add your personal 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

– University of Michigan Press – Sprirts and Wine by Susan Newhof

– Wayne State University Press – Ghost Writers: Contemporary Michigan Literature

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

Finding Robert Coles ‘In the Garden of Beasts’

In the Garden of BeastsAuthor Erik Larson’s nonfiction work, In the Garden of Beasts, has been sitting in my “to read” pile since its pub date back in 2011. For the love of summer, I was able to turn the final page last night and can’t quite stop thinking about it.

Larson, also the bestselling author of The Devil in the White City, shifts his focus in Beasts to 1930’s Berlin, where the unlikely American ambassador William E. Dodd has taken his post during Hitler’s chilling rise to power. As Dodd navigates the complexities of his political post, the reader is introduced to an incredible cast of characters both demonic and heroic.

ColesCompFinal.inddIt is a wonderful intersect when what we read gives way to contemplation, and more so, empathy for humankind. It is of note here that I have also been reading Secular Days, Sacred Moments:  The America Columns of Robert Coles, recently published by Michigan State University Press.

Coles is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Medical Humanities at Harvard University and “is unparalleled in his astute understanding and respect for the relationship between secular life and sacredness… .” (via)

In the thirty-one essays of Secular Days, Sacred Moments, which are drawn from Coles’s monthly column in the Catholic publication America, how odd that the one I happened to read today pertains to the German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer, who lived “a singular, voluntary opposition to tyranny that culminated in his execution in a concentration camp only weeks before the end of Hitler’s regime,” is hailed by Coles. Bonhoeffer’s brave resistance to the Nazis outweighed his concern for self-preservation, and he left the safety of the United States to return and stand by his fellow Germans.

There is both a Christian and psychological angle to Cole’s essay, and having just read In the Garden of Beasts, it’s poignancy can’t be missed. The question, “What would you do under such circumstances?” is posed in Cole’s work, and hums behind each line of Larson’s.

In the Garden of Beasts offers a close, personal look at a pivotal era in history. The “what-ifs” are boundless, and the outcomes staggering. It is an important book in terms of moral self-examination and offers endless ethical scenarios for consideration. Though my reading of Cole’s Bonhoeffer essay is a coincidence, his full body of work in Secular Days, Sacred Moments offers much in the way we reflect and interpret our everyday exchanges and the world that surrounds us.

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

– Post by Megan Shaffer

 Links

Michigan State University Press

Announcing Our Jolly Good Fellows!

Image courtesy of Detroit Free Press
Image courtesy of Detroit Free Press

Oh, how I wish it were me! Congratulations to the 2013 Kresge Artist Fellows in the Literary and Visual Arts. With your combined talents and the generosity of the Kresge Foundation, may we keep the arts alive and well in Detroit and beyond.

“Announced Tuesday by the Troy-based Kresge Foundation, the no-strings-attached $25,000 grants are among the country’s most generous for individual artists,” states the Detroit Free Press. “This year, the recipients included nine in the literary arts and nine in the visual arts. Two independent panels of five professionals judged more than 700 applicants.” Lucky buggers.

For those of us who didn’t make the cut this year, there’s always next fall. Chin up and keep on writing…

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

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Vande Zande’s ‘American Poet’ Gives Notable Nod to Poet Roethke

perf5.500x8.500.inddDenver Hoptner walks at night. The recent University of Michigan grad, jobless and without prospects, has returned home to live with his father while he regroups and considers his future.

Instead of opening doors, Denver’s fresh MFA in Poetry has left him open only to his father’s scrutiny, and worse, at a devastating loss for the words he longs to put down. Seeking solace, Denver routinely takes to the bleak Saginaw streets searching for a sign.

In Jeff Vande Zande’s  tight, coming-of-age novel American Poet (Bottom Dog Press $18.00), Denver’s sign comes in the form of late poet Theodore Roethke’s boyhood home. The prize-winning poet’s house, found smoke-damaged and in disrepair, gives Denver angry encouragement and fuels his commitment to both his craft and the preservation of a bygone poet’s brilliance.

“It was one of the few things that I didn’t hate about the town,” Denver says. “When I was in high school and thinking that maybe I wanted to write, I used to walk out to the Roethke House at least once a month, just to look at it. He was a pretty big poet in his day. Pultizer Prize for one thing, and it meant something that a guy like that could come from a place like Saginaw. He was a guide. A lodestar.”

Poet Theodore Roethke drew his words from the well of his Saginaw surroundings. Through Denver’s eyes, author Vande Zande also offers bright discovery in the gray and grit of this roughed-up city. Ultimately, it’s in Denver’s struggle to reconcile his future ideal with his present reality that his true poetry begins to emerge.

Jeff Vande Zande teaches English at Delta College and writes poetry, fiction, and screenplays. He was selected as the recipient of the 2012 Stuart and Venice Gross Award for Excellence in Writing by a Michigan Author for American Poet; his novel that was also selected as a 2013 Michigan Notable Book.

– This review can be found in the January, 2013 issue of Hour Detroit. For Hour subscription information, link here.

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

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Balthazar Korab Fans Invited to BPL Event With Author Comazzi

Korab Photo 2Baldwin Public Library is pleased to announce that John Comazzi – author of Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography – will pay a special visit to Baldwin at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 28, for a book talk and question-and-answer period.  Books will be available for purchase and signing at the event courtesy of Book Beat.

Mr. Comazzi is visiting the Baldwin Public Library as part of the Library of Michigan’s 2013 Michigan Notable Authors Tour. The authors whose engaging works were chosen as Michigan Notable Books selections will visit nearly 50 libraries throughout the state.

“It’s a treat to have Mr. Comazzi in our community, sharing his captivating work in such an open, accessible way.  Given the strong local interest in the work of Balthazar Korab, we are delighted to host Mr. Comazzi on the Michigan Notable Authors Tour,” said Doug Koschik, Library Director.

“This year’s Michigan Notable Books delve into wonderfully diverse topics and offer something of interest for just about everyone,” said State Librarian Nancy R. Robertson.

Mr. Comazzi is an Associate Professor of Architecture in the College of Design at the University of Minnesota.  He received a B.S. in Architecture from the University of Virginia and both a M.Arch and M.S. in Architecture History and Theory from the University of Michigan.  He teaches at the University of Minnesota as an Assistant Professor.

The Baldwin Public Library is located at 300 W. Merrill St. in downtown Birmingham.  For details about this author event, call 248-554-4650 or visit the Web at www.baldwinlib.org.

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

– Posted by Megan Shaffer, courtesy of Baldwin Public Library

Words of Wisdom Rest in ‘Rules of Civility’

Rules of Civility“Uncompromising purpose and the search for eternal truth have an unquestionable sex appeal for the young and high-minded; but when a person loses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane – in the cigarette on the stoop or the gingersnap in the bath – she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger. What my father was trying to tell me, as he neared the conclusion of his own course, was that this risk should not be treated lightly:  One must be prepared to fight for one’s simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements.”

Looking for a literary pleasure trip? Try Rules of Civility by author Amor Towles. While you’re there, take a dip in the appendix to hone your social skills with The Young George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.

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

Post by Megan Shaffer

‘Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography’

Balthazar Korab Architect of PhotographyAs part of the Michigan Notable Book committee, I am so very pleased that John Comazzi’s latest work made the 2013 list. Michigan’s preeminent architectural photographer Balthazar Korab died this week at the age of 86, yet his work will carry on in Comazzi’s stunning illustrated biography, Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography.

According to Crain’s Detroit Business, Korab was born in Budapest, Hungary, and lived there until 1949, when he fled the country and its Communist government for Paris. Korab eventually moved to the United States and was hired as a designer for Finnish architect Eero Saarinen at the Cranbrook Institute of Science.

Commazzi’s book “… tells the story of Balthazar Korab, one of the mid-twentieth century’s most celebrated architecture photographers,” posts Archinect. “It’s the first book dedicated solely to Korab’s life and career, with a portfolio of more than two hundred images from Korab’s professionally commissioned architecture photography… .”

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer