Thursday, March 15, 2018

Post # 16

Quote of the Day: "Ann Arbor was at the extreme west end of the habitable world, beyond which the sun went down into a boundless, bottomless morass, where the frightful sound of yelling indians, howling wolves, croaking frogs, rattling massaugers, and buzzing mosquitoes added to the awful horror of the dismal place." Henry Little, an early pioneer recalling the settling of Michigan in the 1830s. 


Yooper Talk: Dialect as Identity in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
by Kathryn A. Remlinger

Remlinger's book is undeniably a significant contribution to the study of a unique aspect of Michigan history and culture. It is also very interesting and equally frustrating.

First, the good news.  The book is the first comprehensive study of what has become known as the UP's Yooper dialect and how the dialect has become inseparable from identity and place. Anyone interested in the Yooper phenomenon will find plenty to mentally chew on here, as well as some fascinating insights into how dialects develop, language works, and different languages intermingle in remote areas giving birth to a new dialect that becomes a defining aspect of the culture and the region. 

The author gives a short history of the UP and the wide variety of ethnic groups that settled there in the 1800s. The mixing of the languages and the inclusion of both slang and proper foreign words from Canada, Cornwall, Finland, Native America, and Slovenia into English formed a regional dialect. Surprisingly, the new distinct dialect went unrecognized as such until after World War II, when tourism to the Upper Peninsula increased and downstaters came into contact with it.

It wasn't until 1978 that the word Yoop found its way into the Detroit Free Press and became the first known printing of the word. Magazine articles, tourist guides, and professional linguistic journals were soon writing about Yoopanese and Yooper country. By 1980 Yooperism had become a tourist marketing tool. The UP was sold as scenic, wild, and identified as Yooper country.  Coffee mugs, t-shirts, buttons, refrigerator magnets, and hats featuring Yooper words became souvenirs and marketing tools. The "Say yah to da UP, eh!" bumper sticker was first sold in 1985 and has since become ubiquitous. A popular Yooper magnet reads, " It's Not Pay-Stree.., It's Not Pay-stees, It's Pass-tees!!!, Yooper Food of Da Gods!' Even billboards and homemade signs spouting Yooper dialect now dot the landscape north of the Big Mac.  

The author also addresses the pride people take in the dialect, which includes the belief that the more Yoopanese a person uses the more authentic a Yooper it makes them. Many believe the Yooper dialect possess positive cultural values. But there are more than a few who are embarrassed by use of the dialect in their conversation. The author also reveals how the dialect differs depending on whether the speaker is from the Soo, Marquette, or Escanaba. The book is a fascinating glimpse into a unique piece of Michigan culture and the language that helps make it so unique.

That said the reader almost has to take a weed-wacker to the book's often overgrown and convoluted sentences and professional jargon. The book is rife with words this fairly well-read reviewer has never previously encountered such as, "commodification, indexicality, and metadiscursive." Then there is the following sentence, and others like it, that are strewn throughout the book. "Another example of shifting indexical values is presented in the syntax, or grammatical structures, specifically illative phrases, which are prepositional phrases that show movement to or toward a place and yet do not contain prepositions, and noun phrases that lack determiners." I accept on blind faith that the aforementioned quote succeeds, at some level, in explaining the Yooper sentence or phrase, "Let's go post office." 

For those who are fascinated by language or Yooper culture and dialect, there is gold to be mined in this book. But be forewarned, at times, the book makes for hard digging. I would have also very much appreciated an appendix of Yooper words.

Yooper Talk: Dialect as Identity in Michigan's Upper Peninsula by Kathryn A.Remlinger. University of Wisconsin Press, 2017, $24.95. 

The Buried Book
by D. M. Pulley

This refreshingly original novel is part mystery, part novel of suspense, and an entirely satisfying novel of family and farm life as seen through the eyes of a bewildered and frightened nine-year-old boy. Jasper Leary lives in Detroit in 1952. His mom, Althea, is unpredictable. She has tasted the seamy side of life, and on several occasions in the past, has inexplicably disappeared for days at a time. Jasper's dad is a WW I veteran, considerably older than Althea, and early in the book one gets the feeling Jasper’s father may have been throwing Althea a life ring, instead of a diamond ring when he proposed to her.

As the book opens Jasper is awakened by his mother in the middle of the night and told to pack a suitcase because they have to get out of town fast. Jasper’s mom takes him to his uncle’s hardscrabble farm north of Port Huron where she drops him off. She tells Jasper she’ll be back in a few days, but the days stretch to weeks, then months, and a year.

Uncle Leo’s farm is hardly more than a three-room shack with no running water and an outhouse a few steps away. It turns out the family home was set afire by Jasper’s mom years ago and although partially standing is uninhabitable.  As the days stretch into months Jasper overhears odd bits of conversation with locals about his wayward mother, the police come looking for her, and the mystery deepens as to where she is and why she has disappeared.  Jasper begins to worry about her safety and wonders if she’s even still alive. Exploring the burned hulk of the family house Jasper discovers a diary his mother kept as a child and reads it for clues.

Jasper’s determination to discover where his mother is and why leads the young boy into situations and places no child should ever find themselves. Jasper faces increasing danger as he continues to poke his nose into his mother’s childhood and the unsavory life she seems to have led. The boy is knocked unconscious when exploring the ruins of the old family home and doesn’t or can’t remember whether it was the result of a fall or someone attacked him. As the story unfolds Pulley slowly and expertly amps up the suspense to the nail-biting conclusion.

What makes this book something special is the authentic and seldom depicted life on a poor family farm in the early 1950s. Uncle Leo, his wife, and their son Wayne work sunup ‘til sundown scratching a living out of 40 acres. The insecure, timid, and frightened Jasper is expected to do his part around the farm. He had no idea the work could be so hard, endless, and at times dangerous. He and his cousin walk a couple of miles each way to attend a one-room school and then return home after school to do the evening chores. Between natural and man-made disasters the young boy is badly burned, suffers a life-threatening infection, and other grievous injuries. Yet the farm work goes on as Jasper finds some comfort in the rhythms of farm life to offset the growing concern and danger associated with his mother’s disappearance.

The author did considerable research into rural life in Michigan in the 1950s and it shows on nearly every page. The life on a Michigan farm in post-WW II Michigan is seldom depicted in novels. The author has done a remarkable job of melding life on a Michigan farm with a novel of suspense in which a young woman slips into a life on the wrong side of the law and how her attempt at redemption affects her entire family. This is a novel that deserved inclusion in the Michigan Notable Books list for 2017.
The Buried Book by D. M. Pulley. Lake Union Publishing, 2016, $14.95

Wildlife 911: On Patrol
by John Borkovich

To hear John Borkovich tell it, and reading this book is like listening to the author tell stories over a cup of coffee, being a Michigan Conservation Officer is a great job. And to prove it, the author invites the reader on a virtual ride-along as he recounts some of the more dangerous, strange, perplexing, humorous, and challenging enforcement cases he’s dealt with in his 27-year career.

Like all law enforcement work, it can be dangerous but it’s almost a given that when Conservation Officers approach an illegal hunter or poacher the officer is confronting an armed lawbreaker and in some cases a drunken, armed lawbreaker. Not infrequently the officer is walking alone into a group of armed men, and these confrontations occur out in the country without backup or any witnesses.  Borkovich has the ability to figuratively disarm these potentially dangerous situations by being polite, gregarious, fair-minded, and in many cases making the perpetrators feel so guilty they confess.

The book left this reader with the troubling impression that a large number of hunters simply flaunt hunting laws and regulations. Borkovich recounts numerous cases of hunters who hunt out of season, shine deer from moving vehicles at night, hunt without a license, shoot more than the legal limit. In one case that took Borkovich months to solve, a small group of thrill killers shot dozens of deer and then left them rotting in the field.

Over the years Borkovich has had more than his share of wild car chases, the tackling and takedown of armed poachers fleeing through the woods on foot, and excuses that range from the ridiculous to the laughable. One hunter said he thought the deer he just shot was a squirrel, another deer hunter said he couldn’t afford a deer license as he stood in front of a mountain of carrots he had purchased to lure deer into his killing field and his $40,000 truck was parked a few feet away. One man caught killing dozens of robins said he did it because they made good eating. And a pair of walleye fishermen on Lake St. Clair was shocked when Borovich discovered an out of season, five-foot sturgeon tucked under their boat’s seats. They claimed the sturgeon must have, “hid itself in the boat.”

Among the author’s most unusual cases are the poachers who trapped salmon on a stream by stretching a tennis net across the creek. The group that illegally killed wildlife to serve as symbols in a weird religious ceremony, the man who used potato chips to lure geese to their doom, and months spent by Borkovich looking for the culprit who stole newspaper vending machines, pried open the change box, and dumped the empty vending machines in rivers and streams. By the time the author caught the man and charged him with littering he had thrown 54 newspaper boxes into St. Clair County waterways.

The author is very proud of his work in protecting wildlife and serving the public. It shows on every page of this fascinating book. You don’t have to be a hunter or fisherman to read and enjoy this eye-opening glimpse into the extraordinary workday of a Michigan Conservation Officer. If the book is ordered from the following website the author will sign and add a personal note -

Wildlife 911: On Patrol by John Borkovich, Arbutus Press, 2017.  $19.95

As before, you can order any of the above books, if you so choose, by simply clicking on the cover which will take you to Amazon.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Post # 15

Post # 15

Quote for the day: "The Lord probably could have built a better river for rum running [than the Detroit River]. But the Lord probably never did."  Roy Haunes, Michigan Prohibition Commissioner. 1920.


Sustaining Lake Superior: An Extraordinary Lake in a Changing World
By Nancy Langston

To gaze out over the vast expanse of Lake Superior from the Porkies, Pictured Rocks, Keweenaw Peninsula, or dozens of other sites, one can’t help but feel a sense of reverence for the greatest of the Great Lakes. Which, at times, makes Nancy Langston’s critically important book painful reading. The professor of environmental history at Michigan Tech has written, what is essentially, a history of mankind’s pollution of Lake Superior and how global warming will affect the world’s largest freshwater lake. It is scholarly but very readable, and filled with startling information.

Langston’s detailed account of the degradation of Superior is a litany of woe. It started with the fur trade. The trapping to near extinction of beaver resulted in the destruction of their dams which controlled floods and provided wetland homes for a variety of wildlife. Furthermore, the silt and sludge released from beaver ponds destroyed fish spawning grounds. The clear-cutting of the great forests around the lake increased the flooding, destroyed more spawning grounds, and huge amounts of sawdust were dumped in the lake. The increased sunlight resulting from the clear-cuting of forests heated up the streams and drove away cold water fish. The huge forest fires that burned through the slashing left by lumbering caused more flooding and deposited untold tons of ash into Superior. When paper made from wood pulp became a big industry around the lake a single mill could use 20 million gallons of water a day which was returned to the lake along with vast amounts of the harmful chemicals that were used to break down the wood fibers. 

The author’s narrative of ignorance, misunderstanding, greed, and simple unconcern by early conservationists and the mining industry is simply staggering. By 1882 copper mines in Michigan had dumped 500,000 tons of toxically contaminated sand in the lake that filled harbors and bays. Early mining of iron-rich deposits was also harmful but nothing like the post-WWII mining of deposits of low yielding iron ore that went through a heavy manufacturing process that resulted in taconite pellets. The production of taconite necessitated huge amounts of water, chemicals, and left tons of toxic tailings.

The Silver Bay Taconite plant, 50 miles north of Duluth, was approved by a Minnesota state review board even though it would use half-a-million gallons of water a minute. The water, now loaded with toxins, including mercury, would be discharged back into the lake. The plant would also dump 67,000 pounds of tailings into the lake on a daily basis. The head conservationist in the state approved the plan because he thought if the plant proved to be dangerous to humans the permit could be withdrawn. When it was discovered the plant was also discharging asbestos into the lake and had contaminated Duluth’s public drinking water it took ten years of lawsuits to halt the damage.

By 1960 the author writes that the lake was at a tipping point and that state and national governments joined together to save the lake. The process was slow but the lake has come a long way toward recovery. The book also covers the damage caused by invasive species, the heavy use of pesticides, early conservation theories, the effect of climate change on the lake, and the revelation that a large percentage of the toxins deposited in Superior are airborne and come from as far away as mercury emitting factories in China.

The book is filled with surprising if not jaw-dropping facts. Such as the fact that in the past arsenic was dumped in the lake in large quantities to destroy the bacteria in human waste being discharged into Superior. Or that when it was discovered that mercury exceeded the EPA allowable levels in humans the water was made safe by decree. The level of allowable parts per million of mercury in humans was simply raised by a government agency. Today it has been found that 10% of newborns in the Lake Superior watershed have mercury levels in excess of EPA standards. And lastly, that a glass of water poured into the lake takes 191 years to finally exit the lake at its only outlet – the St. Mary’s River.

Langston’s book will become an instant classic on Lake Superior. It is endlessly interesting, surprising, disturbing, informative, and ground-breaking.

Sustaining Lake Superior: An Extraordinary Lake in a Changing World by Nancy Langston. Yale University Press. 2017. $35.

Lake Effect
by Erin McCahan

Briggs Henry is eighteen, just graduated high school, has a full-ride academic scholarship to U of M, and intends to be a millionaire by the age of 30.  Yeap, Briggs, still a teenager, has carefully, thoroughly, and thoughtfully laid out plans for his life, and they are all going to turn toes up during a summer spent on the Lake Michigan beach in Erin McCahan's hugely entertaining coming of age novel.  

The indefatigable Briggs has a motto that pretty much sums up his attitude toward life, "I've got this." In his senior year, he did volunteer work at a senior center where he developed ten, what Briggs calls "Old Person Smiles," which he is sure can be employed to handle virtually any situation life throws at him. One of which he calls, "No, Nixon Is Not the Current President Smile." The volunteer work leads to a summer job in South Haven cleaning, painting, and repairing a Victorian house owned by an 84-year-old widow. Lake Michigan is only steps away from the Victorian's front door and Briggs looks upon the next two months as a vacation before his life's plan and lots of hard work starts him toward his first million.    

In Briggs' short life, the Henry family has gone from riches to rags.  Dad had an Oldsmobile dealership. When GM dropped the car Mr. Henry took a buy out and invested all his money in property. This was in 2008 when the economy crashed and property values left the Henry's penniless. The family went from a mansion to what his mom calls a "shoebox." The 28-foot yacht was sold, and they even had to give away their dog. So being a success and making money is very important to Briggs.

The book is filled with memorable characters but Briggs' Grandma Ruth and Mrs. Bozic who hires Briggs for the summer steal every scene in which they appear. Mrs. Bosic is Serbian and has an accent that twists English into knots. The first time Briggs and Mrs. Bozic meet and the lady tries to teach Briggs to correctly pronounce her name is nearly as funny as the Abbott and Costello "Who's on First" bit. Briggs also acts as the lady's chauffeur and finds himself driving Mrs. Bozic to countless, what she calls, "her funerals."

Grandma Ruth is also in her 80s. She is stern, tight-lipped, often gruff, and demanding. She also can't stand sarcasm which Briggs spouts with the regularity of Old Faithful. Grandma Ruth's graduation present to her grandson is a ficus plant which she dares him to kill. Briggs knows there's, "No saying no to Grandma Ruth. Not even no, thank you. She was a kind of a fascist, and my parents were not a part of  the resistance movement." Grandma also liked to arrive without warning and leave without goodbyes. Or as Briggs says, "Coming or going, she was like the wind. The wind or diarrhea."

Then there is Abigail, the intriguing and rather mysterious girl living next door to Mrs. Bozic. Briggs finds himself attracted to Abigail even though she seems somewhat eccentric, doesn't like to talk about herself, has a tongue sharper than a filleting knife, and is addicted to Oreo cookies.

Briggs is in for quite a summer, one that will challenge his belief in his master plan or even trying to make a plan. The book is billed as a YA novel but this on-the-cusp-of-senility reviewer enjoyed the book immensely. Maybe because like everyone else my age, we know carefully laid plans are as changeable as Michigan weather. Any adult will enjoy this smart, funny, and wise book and will be sorry to turn the last page because they'll want to spend more time with the characters. 

The Lake Effect by Erin McCahan. Dial Books. 2017. $17.99

Robert Wangard

This is the first mystery I have stumbled across by Robert Wangard, a retired Chicago lawyer who summers in northern Michigan. It appears I have some catching up to do if this mystery novel is as good as the six previous mysteries featuring Pete Thorsen, a Frankfort, Michigan lawyer. 

Attorney Pete Thorsen has had trouble in the past keeping his nose out of official police business. The Benzie County Sheriff has developed a pronounced dislike for the attorney because Thorsen has embarrassed him in past investigations and shown up the sheriff for being obstinate, narrow-minded, and a poor investigator. When Bud Stephanopoulis, a semi-retired investment banker and a semi-friend of Thorsen’s is shot by a sniper while jet skiing on Crystal Lake it looks like Thorsen is once again going to be drawn into the sheriff’s orbit.

No one knows if the victim was just unlucky enough to be a random target of a thrill killer, or if Stephanopoulis was the target of a hit man. The killing strikes close to home for Thorsen because his teenage daughter was also riding a jet ski at the time and only ten feet from the banker when he was killed. A tip sends the sheriff after a veteran just returned from Afghanistan who suffers from PTSD and has anger issues. The sheriff thinks the suspect is faking PTSD, and the case against the soldier tightens when the gun used to shoot Stephanopoulis is found in a memorial the veteran built to honor his buddies who never made it home.

The banker was supposedly retired, but Thorsen discovers the dead man was pitching an unethical, if not illegal investment scheme. Worst still, Thorsen finds a letter in the dead man's  possession recommending the shaky investment portfolio written on Thorsen's stolen letterhead and bearing his forged signature. Pete is forced into conducting his own investigation into Stephanopoulis’ life and death in order to clear his good name as an attorney.

Thorsen’s daughter is spending the summer with him before heading east to college and is eager to join the investigation as her father’s Dr. Watson. The father/daughter relationship is finely drawn, the minor characters are more than paper cutouts, and even the victim comes across as both interesting and someone who wouldn’t be easy to warm up to.

Wangard has constructed a believable and tightly plotted mystery that keeps the reader guessing to the end and then slips in a surprising twist. The author does a fine job of capturing the feel and ambiance of the heavily visited Sleeping Bear Dunes and Traverse City tourist mecca. My only beef with the book’s portrayal of the area is the lack of any mention of the terrible traffic in the region during the summer months. But that seems like nitpicking this fine mystery.

Let’s just say if you’re going north to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park/Traverse City area this coming summer just stick a copy of Wangard’s book in the glove box in case you get caught in a Traverse City area traffic jam. If traffic has stopped moving, the book won’t.

  Victim by Robert Wangard. Amp&ersand, Inc. 2017, $17.95

April 1, 2020 Post # 53

Quote for the day: "...[Lake Superior is] beautiful, empty, glittering, cold and brooding, gull-swept and impersonal; always there, alw...