Sunday, April 15, 2018

Post # 18

Quote of the Day; "Legend has it that when Monroe's favorite son, General Custer, left town on his way to the disaster at the Little Big Horn, he had admonished the citizens not to do anything until he got back. Some more dour residents today claim that these instructions have been followed to the letter." John G. Fuller. We Almost Lost Detroit. 1975.


by Cindy Hunter Morgan

Like the countless motor vessels and sailing ships that have floundered in Great Lakes storms over the past two centuries, I was blown away by this book of poetry. Except for a half-dozen poems that share the title "Deckhand," the departure points for rest of the poems in the book are historic Great Lakes shipwrecks or disasters. The name of the ship, the date of its demise, and the body of water in which the ship met its end make up the poem's title. From that point onward each of Morgan's poems amalgamates legend, history, the supposed, the unknown, and her boundless inventiveness to create a reimagining of the tragedy from stunningly unique perspectives.    

One poem recounts the floundering of a ship by listing its cargo as it descended to the lake bed.  Another tells how the flotsam that came ashore from a wreck was used by a woman who collected it and how: "Sometimes, she wondered why bales floated and men didn't, and what buoyancy meant for her own life, dry as it was." And then there's probably my favorite sentence in the entire book. It is the last sentence of a poem describing the 1871 destruction of the J. Barber by fire. The sloop carried a hold full of peaches. "Peaches sizzled and split as the ship burned, as fire consumed what was made of sugar and what was made of wood, as masts toppled like limbs pruned from fruit trees, as men rolled across the deck like windfalls, bruised and scraped, and everything was reduced to carbon and loss." It seems almost every page of this slim book contains striking visual images captured in words. An appendix at the back of the book gives the facts surrounding the demise of the ships that inspired the poems. Each account is a single paragraph in length. 

Don't check this book out from a library, buy it. Once read, you are going to be drawn back again and again to these poems because you will want to re-experience the magic of an alchemist of words who can meld fact, imagination, history, and language into pure gold.
Harborless by Cindy Hunter Morgan. Wayne State University Press, 2017, $16.99, pb.

Brotherhood of Iron
by Frank P. Slaughter

This is the second installment of a projected trilogy that when completed will be one family’s generational story set against an authentic and richly detailed history of Michigan from the Civil War to the present. The first novel followed Will Castor from the Battle of Chickamauga, where he was wounded in body and mind, to the white pine rich wilds of northern Michigan. In the north woods, he worked his way up from a lumber camp roustabout to a timber cruiser. In his wanderings, Will made a small fortune by investing in remote tracks of white pine then selling the timber when narrow gauge railroads came to northern Michigan. There he also met and married a widowed school teacher with a young son named Robert.

The second book in the trilogy finds Robert as the patriarch of a large, important family in the UP mining town of Ishpeming during World War I.  Robert is superintendent of several iron mines in the area. Bill, his oldest son, has had a mysterious falling out with someone in the family and is working as a deckhand on a Great Lake freighter and knows intimately every sleazy, port-of-call saloon on the Lakes. Sons, Matt and Jake joined the Marines and face uncertain futures as the Fifth Marines rise from their trenches and attack Belleau Woods. Neither will emerge from the battle whole in body and mind. Jacob, the second oldest of the boys, is an accountant for the mines. Rosemarie is a young woman who was taken in by the family as a child when her father was killed in a mine accident and she was abandoned by her alcoholic mother.  Ruling the family abode with a near-iron fist is Robert's wife Elizabeth who’s constantly at war with herself trying to balance an inbred snobbishness and her loving, giving and forgiving side. She is outraged when she learns Rosemarie and Jacob are in love and plan to marry. And then there’s the young woman one of the sons meets in France.

The author has great command of his subject whether creating a dynamic family drama or writing of the Michigan experience. The characters are both complex, finely drawn, convincingly real, and the reader grows to care for them very much. When it comes to describing the life of a deckhand on a Great Lakes ore carrier, the horror, madness, and death Marines met and conquered in Belleau Woods, descending into an Ishpeming iron mine, or life in the UP iron range just past the turn of the century, it is conveyed with a you-are-there accuracy and immediacy.

Frank P. Slaughter does not rank with Hemingway, Faulkner, or Steinbeck, but he is an undiscovered Michigan treasure. His deeply involving, vividly written novels that follow the Castor clan as they live Michigan history are sterling examples of  Michigan historical fiction at its best.
Brotherhood of Iron by Frank P. Slaughter. Mission Point Press, 2016, $18.95

The Great Water: A Documentary History of Michigan
by Matthew R. Thick, the editor

Unlike most historical document compilations, this book’s editor didn’t limit or confine inclusions to government documents, court decisions, and official papers.  You will not find Michigan’s constitution, in any of its forms, nor a copy of the Northwest Ordinance here. For that matter, you will not even find an index.

Rather, this is a documentary history of the state collected from a wide and diverse cross-section of its inhabitants, from the pre-colonial period to the Flint Water Crisis. And if there is no index, the documents are arranged by subject matter into chapters. The extensive table of contents reveals chapters on Unions & Unionization, The Depression, Lumbering, Mining, the Civil Rights Movement, the Pioneer era, and many other subjects.

What makes this book special is the everyday experiences the editor has collected on these pages by those who’ve lived Michigan’s history. Of equal interest are the writings and recollections of famous luminaries of the state, I for one, can’t ever remember having read before. The book contains transcripts of the notes made by Father Marquette on his preparation to search for the great river said to lie west of the Great Lakes. Then there’s the eloquence of Sojourner Truth on women’s rights when she spoke on the subject in 1851. She said: “I have heard the bible and learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well, if women upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again.”

The range of people and subjects recorded in this book is remarkable. A grocer from Flint tells of delivering food to the UAW Sit-Down Strikers, a woman remembers life in a lumber camp as a cook, Henry Ford explains why he instituted the $5-a-day wage, and a there’s a description of a 1930s Civilian Conservation Camp near Petoskey. Other documents recount the moment on September 18, 1844, when iron was discovered in the U.P., a mine inspector reports in 1906 on the causes of five mine fatalities, and there’s Clarence Darrow’s memorable closing argument in defense of a Black Detroiter who bought a home in a white neighborhood, and killed a white man when a mob attacked the Black family's new home.

This book is like a giant, artistic, installation of colorful mosaic tiles. Up close, the individual tiles tell brief stories of lawyers, miners, suffragettes, lumberjacks, autoworkers, and the farmers who had to kill their dairy herds in 1975 when fire retardant was accidentally added to their cows’ feed. But take a few steps back. From a distance, the tiles coalesce into a striking and illuminating diorama, in words, of Michigan’s history.
Great water: A Documentary History of Michigan edited by Matthew R. Thick. MSU Press, 2018, $26.95, pb.

The Lake Michigan Cottage Cookbook
by Amelia Levin

I began writing this review while the 1st batch of Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies, from a recipe the author adapted from the Town Hall Bakery in Jacksonport, Wisconsin, was in the oven. Oddly enough, the recipe omitted when to add the oatmeal to the batter. I think I figured it out and will tell you how the cookies turned out at the end of this review.

The recipes compiled in this attractive book, filled with mouth-watering photographs, are taken or adapted from wineries, eateries, orchards, dairies, and bakeries from around Lake Michigan. The recipes lean heavily on regional food traditions and locally sourced ingredients. It’s no surprise the book contains an abundance of cherry recipes because both Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula and the Traverse City area are major cherry producers. There’s Cherry Streusel Muffins, Creamy Cherry Chicken Salad, Door County Cherry Pie, Cherry Barbecue Sauce, Old Mission Peninsula Waldorf Salad, and Smoked Whitefish Pate with Tart Cherry Jam just to name a few.

And speaking of whitefish, one of the best meals I’ve ever had was a boiled whitefish dinner. Chunks of whitefish, onion, potatoes and sometimes corn are all dumped into huge pots of boiling water at precise intervals. This takes place outside, before spectators who are about to become diners, with the pots set on a wood fire. Just before serving, kerosene is thrown on the fire and the pot boils over, taking any fish oil and fat with it. The boiled dinners are popular attractions in both the Door and Leelanau peninsulas, and obviously not something you can replicate in your own kitchen, until now. The author has reworked the fish boil into a recipe you can do at home. 

There are also two versions of UP pasties, and instead of the ubiquitous Mackinac Island Fudge, there’s a near fool-proof recipe for Mackinac Island Peanut Brittle. The author also includes thumbnail sketches, with photos, of the various eateries, farms, wineries, etc. from which the recipes have been drawn.  

This book is for everyone who wants to take home a part of their Lake Michigan vacation or travel experience, whether it’s Up North in Wisconsin or Michigan, or one of the charming little towns lining the great lake’s southern shore. It’s even for those who want to experience Lake Michigan’s regional food traditions and unique eateries from their own kitchens without leaving home. And by the way, the two Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies I consumed during the writing of this review were delicious.
The Lake Michigan Cottage Cookbook by Amelia Levin. Storey Publications, 2018, $19.95

As always, if you would like to purchase one of the reviewed books or any book, clicking on the cover of an above book will take you to Amazon where you can purchase the book below list price.

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February 1, 2020 Post #51

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