Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Post #1

This is the first post for "Michigan in Books." Depending on your interest and my stamina it will be the first of many. If you enjoy it, let me know. If you have suggestions for making it better, I'd like to hear them. I'm also counting on readers, authors, and publishers to let me know of any forthcoming books on the state and the Great Lakes.  Tom Powers

Quote of the Day: "...the whole state is an economic garage sale with everyone buying each others used mitre boxes, chain saw, and hunting boots, Robert Hall sportcoats, plastic dinnerware and legless dolls." Jim Harrison. Just Before Dark. 1980.


The Goat Fish and the Lover's Knot
By Jack Driscoll

It is a humbling experience for a writer to read Jack Driscoll. He constructs sentences like a stonemason builds a mortarless stone fence. In a dry stonewall or fence, the mason has to find the right stone that fits perfectly within its space if the wall is to run true and remain standing for generations. And although man made, there is an inherent natural beauty about the wall that leaves one with the feeling it not only belongs there but is simply another piece of the landscape. This may be the first time a stonewall has been used to compliment someone's prose but for me that's the precise, solid, economy (there is not a wasted word), and beauty of Driscoll's writing.

Most of the stories in this collection are set in the northern lower peninsula or the U.P. but you will not find Shanty Creek, Bay View, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Interlochen, or any million dollar homes strung along some of the most expensive real estate in Michigan here. This is an Up North tourists don't see or want to. Here is one of Driscoll's characters describing his hometown. "Population just under 1,400, a boomtown that never did, as my old man like to say, and where even the richest among us was at least another half-dozen lifetimes away from banking that first million, and the next actual town with bowling alley and movie theaters and without its name painted across a water tower was almost sixty miles distant."

Broken homes, hard luck folks, dysfunctional families, and troubled teenagers with little guidance and even less future people these stories. These may be hard lives Driscoll authentically and compassionately portrays but no one quits trying, turns their back on hope, or gives up on love. And some even get lucky. For most of us, Michigan's rural poor are out of sight and out of mind. Driscoll brings them in out of the shadows in this fast, short, totally absorbing, and memorable literary feat. The book was named to the list of 2017 Michigan Notable Books.

Driscoll, Jack.The Goat Fish and the Lover's Knot. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2017. $18.99

Things I Do in Detroit:  A Guidebook to the Coolest Places 
By Nain Rouge

For the uninitiated, Nain Rouge is a legendary red dwarf who supposedly has resided in and haunted Detroit since Cadillac founded it. The imp has long been the city's scapegoat and been blamed for nearly every bad thing that ever befell the motor city. Photographer and writer Dave Krieger, whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone and Harper's Bazaar among other publications, aims to resurrect Nain Rouge's reputation and turn him into the town's #1 citizen and promoter.

With Dave Krieger's help and his colorful, eye-catching, sometimes stunning, and often amusing  photographs, Nain Rouge leads the curious and those looking to experience  an under appreciated city to and through its many wonders. The red imp has an astonishingly eclectic taste in everything from food and art, to architecture, sport and music; whether high brow, low brow, or no brow. The essence of each attraction is captured in Krieger's vibrant photographs and a half-dozen or less sentences that give the history and importance of the event or site. Nain Rouge's own singular comments follow Krieger's in which the gnome tells the attractions unique qualities, the feel of the place, and his view of why the site is "cool" and contributes to Detroit's history and culture. And one must add, as is evident throughout the book, Nain Rouge seems to have an irrepressible need to be in almost every photograph or to photo bomb every shutter click.

The book is a wonderful mixture of  the sublime, the curious, and one-of-a-kind attractions.  Elmwood Cemetery, the Masonic Temple, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, the Michigan Opera Theater, and dozens of other high profile attractions are covered, but it is the unexpected that delights and knocks you back on your heels like including the Rouge River among the "cool" things in Detroit.

Hamtramck Disneyland is a bursting-at-its-seams folk art installation begun by Dmytro Szlak, a GM line worker, in 1992. Sprawling through two garages, across a backyard, and down an alley, Szlak's exuberant and playful sculptures are made from industrial scrap, weird junk, signs, plastic horses, whirligigs, and only heaven knows what else. Szlak's little, out-of-the-way corner of Hamtramck became a folk art sensation. After Mr. Szlak's death a local arts collective has taken on the job of preserving both the collection and grounds.

John K. King Used & Rare Books' main building is four stories tall and houses a million books, give or take a few hundred, in its bizarre  maze of shelving. It's been called "one of the strangest collections of [books] in North America." Nain Rouge suggests book lovers set-a-side a half day for browsing, and the rare books room is not to be missed.

A Vietnam vet purchased the Old Miami Bar on Cass so vets would have a place to gather. Over the years Vietnam vets have left so much military service memorabilia at the bar it fills every niche in the place and turned the Old Miami into an impromptu, and one-of-a-kind Vietnam memorial created over the years by those who served there. Nain Rouge calls it, "... a true Detroit bar: kinda dirty, kinda rough, in the heart of the Cass Corridor, and populated with a bunch of eccentric regulars."

Raven Lodge is one of the city's last legendary Blues bars. Barry Gordy used to sell Polaroids to the clientele and the likes of Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, and Martha Reeves all performed here. Local blues men continue to rock the house every weekend.

And it would be a crime not to mention a sport unique to Detroit - Fowling. Several years ago a group of Detroiters tailgating at the Indianapolis 500 set up a mini bowling alley while waiting for the 500 to begin.  They then lost interest and began tossing a football around. A  poorly thrown pass knocked over a bunch of pins and a new sport was born. Fowling is a combination of bowling pins set up in the usual  manner and instead of a bowling ball a football is thrown to knock them down. The tailgaters really liked the new game and the game's popularity spread as the creators began holding increasingly well-attended tournaments. In 2014 an old warehouse at 3901 Christopher St. was turned into the first and only Fowling Club. As Nain Rouge observes, Detroiters are, "driven to compete in almost anything."

Although this wonderfully strange, amusing, and fascinating book hardly fits the criteria of a normal guide book it is an ever fascinating guide to the famous and not so famous sights, sounds, and attractions of Detroit. It can not fail to pique your interest.

Krieger, Dave. Things I Do in Detroit: A Guidebook to the Coolest Places by Nain Rouge, New York: KMW Studio, 2017. $39.95.

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February 1, 2020 Post #51

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