Capital D

Nov 22, 2006 at 12:00 am

Though the city keeps shrinking, literary interest in Detroit is as robust as ever, and for the Detroitophile in your life, the gift-giving options remain as wide as Woodward at Seven Mile. Here's a peek at some recent offerings:

Perhaps no figure in Detroit history has taken a literary pounding like Henry Ford — from Upton Sinclair's piece of Depression-era agitprop The Flivver King to this decade's Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate by Neil Baldwin. Maybe it's this body of literature that prompts Steven Watts' more sympathetic portrait, The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century (Vintage, $16.95), which follows Ford from 19th century tinker to American icon. The San Francisco Chronicle said of the book, it "may change the way Henry Ford is remembered." So the question is this: Is Watts trying to rehabilitate the reputation of an anti-union bigot who thought proper diet and square dancing would return America to health? Perhaps, but it's nevertheless a readable biography.

Arcadia Press keeps cranking out its brand of appealing Detroit-related photo histories. These paperbacks can all be had for a Jackson, and a few recent releases include The Scarab Club (Christine Renner, Patricia Reed and Michael E. Crane), a history of Detroit's premiere arts club, Detroit's Polonia (Cecile Wendt Jensen), chronicling the history of Detroit's Polish community, Motor City Mafia (Scott M. Burnstein), tracking the story of local organized crime, featuring mug shots of notable figures, Weegee-worthy crime scenes and Detroit police photos, and Detroit's Masonic Temple (Alex Lundberg and Greg Kowalski), a glorious photographic record of a storied architectural treasure.

A very different photographic record of Detroit comes from Terry David Roby, whose Detroit Photographed (Author House, $19.99) features grainy shots of street life amid neglected and decaying buildings. The candid black-and-white photos get evocative color washes of sepia and blue, and most of the shots seem haunted by our familiar snow clouds, fogs and summer hazes. For more info, e-mail [email protected].

And the images of the Motor City don't stop there. A slim stocking-stuffer of a volume entitled Detroit by Cynthia Davis (University of Michigan Press, $17.95, hardcover) features hand-altered Polaroid images of the city. Anybody familiar with the technique will recognize the amount of work that goes into this type of imagery, and the little book showcases Davis' mastery of it.

For the fan of true crime stories, this year's Internal Combustion by Joyce Maynard (Wiley, $24.95) tells the story of the Seamans. The Farmington Hills family dominated headlines when Nancy Seaman was charged with murdering her husband, Bob, with a hatchet. Maynard, after 14 months of research and dozens of interviews, pieced together this tale of a seemingly secure suburban family ripped apart by homicide and the conflicting loyalties of the Seamans' children.

A very different family story comes from Dan Georgakas. His memoir, My Detroit: Growing Up Greek and American in Motor City (Pella, $17) follows Greek-Americans from the old country to the streets of a vibrant factory town and through Detroit's subsequent retrenchment. Anybody familiar with Georgakas' political and creative pedigree knows readers can expect not just portraits of Detroit's Greek community, but of the artists, working stiffs and coffeehouse radicals he met along the way.

Finally, if songs are poetry set to music, then songs stripped of music must be poetry. This idea is put to the test by Motown in Love: Lyrics from the Golden Era (Pantheon, $23), which reproduces the lyrics from the classic Motown era, featuring every love song from "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" to "You've Really Got a Hold On Me." In an era of sex-you-up songsmithing, these lyrics seem romantically quaint, and a sure bet for the WOMC set.

Michael Jackman is a writer and copy editor for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]