June 1, 2022 Post #79

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Quote for the Day: "Up my way [the Upper Peninsula] old township politicians never die; they merely look that way. Instead they become justices of the peace. It is a special Valhalla that townships reserve for their political cripples and has the invariable rules of admission: The justice of the peace must be over seventy; he must be deaf; he must be entirely ignorant of any law but never admit it, and, during the course of each trial, he must chew -- and violently expel the juice of at least one (1) full package of Peerless tobacco." John Voelker. Trout Madness. 1960.

Due to continued loss of readership and some minor health problems the July issue of Michigan in Books will mark the end of this blog. The last issue may not make the July 1st deadline, but it will be posted sometime within the month. I sincerely appreciate the many regular readers of Michigan in Books and am indebted to all the independent authors who took a flyer and sent me a review copy. And a big thank you to all the publishers who sent review copies. My takeaway from three years of producing this blog is a whole new appreciation for the number and quality of Michigan authors who toil in near obscurity and deserve both wider recognition and a contract with a major commercial publisher. A final thanks to my proofreader who saved me from many embarrassing typos, miss spellings, and poorly composed sentences. This issue was proofed by yours truly who invariably reads the final draft as he thought he wrote it, instead of what actually ended up on the page.              


True Tales: the Forgotten History of Michigan's Upper Peninsula by Mikel B. Classen.

Even Michigan natives who know just a little about the Upper Peninsula are aware of how unique it is geographically and historically. It is a beautiful, wild, rugged, sparsely populated peninsula full of unforgettable scenic wonders that is equaled by its unique and often strange history. This work by Mikel B. Classen is a great introduction to the often remarkable and memorable history connected to the U.P. that in all honesty weren't forgotten by the general public. They are historical stories they never even knew about.

Among my favorites is the account of the last stagecoach robbery east of the Mississippi which took place in the U.P. The robber called himself Black Bart and killed one passenger and wounded another. Then there's the Great Lake pirate who operated all over Lake Michigan from his base in Escanaba.  I thought I knew all the relevant facts about the Ontonagon Boulder. I didn't. It was a mass of pure copper the Native Americans worshipped, but the Hell with their beliefs. The boulder was transported to Washington where it was misplaced and lost for years. The boulder was the spark that lit the Copper Boom in the U.P. The author also writes of the prominent settlers to the U.P., throws in the odd shipwreck, and relates the story of a couple of castaways on Isle Royale. The two survived a winter on the island by eating bark, roots, and berries. The husband went crazy from hunger and his wife feared she was next on his menu.

Those who consider history boring need to read this book before doubling down on their misplaced judgement. The book is jam-packed full of interesting and arresting true stories tied to U.P. history.  All I can say is, another volume please.

True Tales: The Forgotten History of Michigan's Upper Peninsula by Mikel B. Classen. Modern History Press, ISBN 978-61599-636-0, 2022, $18.95.

I Killed Sam: A Novel Based on the 1957 Groundbreaking Trial of a Battered Woman by Robert A. Steadman.

It is hard to believe that in the 1950s a Michigan law declared the only illegal brutalization of a wife by her husband was murder. By law a wife could be compelled by force to perform her wifely duties in the bedroom. In 1957 a wife in Flint, Michigan who had been battered, tortured, and repeatedly raped by her psychotic husband killed him after he threatened to kill her and throw their 3-year-old into a lit furnace. They had watched horrified when the man, a few days earlier, threw a live kitten into the furnace. On the morning of their promised death the wife walked into the bedroom to beg for their lives. Before she woke her husband she reached under the bed where he kept his shotgun and picked it up in fear he would beat her with it or simply shoot her. While holding the gun it went off and killed the man. The Genesee County prosecuting attorney charged her with murder in what he considered would be a slam dunk guilty verdict.

The author is the lawyer who defended the woman. It is obvious he changed the names of some of the characters and the name of the small town near Flint where he lived. He also adds an element of romance between the lawyer and client that never existed. In an afterword the author states  the, "book is based on the actual trial.... ." Steadman's narrative style remined me of the way Robert Traver wrote "Anatomy of a Murder." Without impeding the fast-paced, engrossing narrative both authors managed to explain important aspects of Michigan law and courtroom tactics used in defense of the accused. 

Steadman has written an utterly compelling courtroom drama. I was totally shocked by the general acceptance of a Michigan law that allowed a husband to literally rape his wife and beat her into submission. I was further horrified to learn in the afterword the infamous law wasn't taken off the books until 1989 and in a letter accompanying the review copy Mr. Steadman states close to 200 battered women are still in Michigan prisons serving long terms "for defending themselves and their families!" I can't recommend this book highly enough. It is an absolutely riveting reading experience that grabs you from page one and transports you to a Flint courtroom in 1957. 

I Killed Sam: A Novel Based on the 1957 Groundbreaking Trial of a Battered Woman by Robert A. Steadman. Mission Point Press, ISBN 9781954786523, 2022, $16.95

Honor the Earth: Indigenous Response to Environmental Degradation in the Great Lakes edited by Phil Bellfy.

This book of updated essays grew out of an environmental conference at MSU on Earth Day, 2007. The essays, as the subtitle suggests, are responses by Native Americans to the miserable record of pollution, over consumption of natural resources, and the all too evident triumph of  greed over maintaining a livable environment in the Great Lakes and the world. Readers should not be put off by what appears, at first glance, to be a book intended for a scholarly audience. Yes the format, extended bibliographies, and chapter headings such as, "Grassroots Indigenous Epistemologies: Native, Non-Governmental Organizations, and the Environment," are a little off-putting. Don't be.

At the heart of most of the essays is the difference between Indigenous Peoples' attitude to the earth and environment which is best summarized by living in balance with nature as opposed to modern society's exploitation of the environment.  The essays address a wide range of environmental concerns and the writing is often sharp, critical and outraged. One essay I found especially interesting and biting was on over population and how Japan is so over populated many of her people are "literally tumbling into the sea." Yet they are worried that their declining birthrate means in the future they will have fewer workers to "produce,' and thus 'consume' whatever it is that's produced." The author then goes on to say, "Think about it. I suggest that this attitude signifies nothing so much as stark, staring madness. It is insane: suicidally, homicidally, ecocidally, homocidally insane." 

The book is a deep dive into indigenous culture, beliefs, and their close relationship to nature and the environment. It is provocative, disturbing, and to the point. And the point is that humanity is "killing the natural world, and thus itself. It's no more complicated than that."

Honor the Earth: Indigenous Response to Environmental Degradation in the Great Lakes edited by Phil Bellfy. Ziibi Press, ISBN 978-1-61599-625-4, $24.95.

U.P. Reader: Bringing Upper Michigan Literature to the World Volume 6 Edited by Deborah K. Frontiera and Mikel B. Classen.

It's always a good day when this annual compendium of poems, short stories, memoirs, history, sparkling essays, and humorous pieces turns up in my mailbox.  The U.P.'s rugged landscape, semi-isolation, long winters, stunning beauty, and the always beckoning adventures makes it a breeding ground for authors. Based on a complete lack of hard facts and the absence of any research I believe there are more authors per capita in the U.P. than any other geographical region in the nation. The peninsula simply calls forth the urge of those living above the bridge to write, record, memorialize, and describe the unique culture and characters spawned by that extraordinary peninsula.

Among my favorite pieces in this anthology is a story of a pair of Yoopers hired by the FBI to put a halt to the smuggling of pasties into the U.P. and another about a group of locals and travelers holed up in the out-of-the-way Dead Wolf Bar during a Christmas Eve snowstorm. Dog lovers will not want to miss Richard Hill's tribute to his cocker spaniel Maxwell who was his constant companion for 16 years. And I was especially impressed with a poem titled "Novel" by Tamara Lauder the subject of which was our last two years of masks and virtual house arrest. One stanza reads:
"Novel    not the kind your read,
     but a virus that you breathe
corona,    without the lime
     invisible, divisible, unjust for all.

This is a great survey and sampling of the literature generated north of the Straits. By turns, thoughtful, entertaining, or just plain funny there is something here for everyone. And over the last six editions it has earned a reputation as an anthology with high literary standards that offers readers a unique step inside the customs and character of the Upper Peninsula. 

U. P. Reader: Bringing Upper Michigan Literature to the World edited by Deborah K. Fontiera and Mikel B. Classen. UPPA, 2022, ISBN 978-1-61599-660-5, $19.95.

Maize & Glory: The Epic Story of Michigan's 2021 return to the Top of the Big Ten edited by Gene Myers.

This is a book for U of M football fans who want a remembrance, tribute, or souvenir of the Wolverines 2021 season in which they won the Big Ten Championship and made the CFP final four. The beautiful and lavishly designed book is the product of the Detroit Free Press and is packed with great photographs taken by Free Press photographers and print coverage of the season by eleven Free Press writers.

A detailed chapter is devoted to each game of the season. The significance of the game, offense and defense strategy is often noted, and standout players highlighted before the game is described quarter by quarter. Various Free Press Sports Writers and USA Today reporters add their observations and impressions of the game, all of which in complimented by attention grabbing photographs. Essays on the team and season are spread throughout the book as are brief compelling portraits of the major impact players and the coaching staff.

If you're a Wolverine fan who wants a detailed and informative review of U of M football's 43rd Big Ten Championship season and/or a keepsake of the season this is a must buy.

Maize & Glory: The Epic Story of Michigan's 2021 Return to the Top of the Big Ten by Detroit Free Press. Pediment Publishing, 2022, ISBN 978-1-64846-008-4, $45.

No comments

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Powered by Blogger.