Notable books with Michigan hooks to stimulate your mind or help you unwind 

click to enlarge books.jpg

Courtesy photos

For this year's Summer Guide, we thought we'd round up a few of the books we've read, seen, or can't wait to get a look at — because being out in the boonies might mean you'll need more than your phone to look at. Not exactly book reviews, these are more like notices of recently published or forthcoming books you might want to bring to the beach, the cabin, or wherever life takes you this summer.

Naturally, many people will be interested in the most recent book from that TV showman and stranger to understatement Charlie LeDuff. His latest book, Sh*t Show! The Country's Collapsing... and the Ratings are Great, was released May 22. The book reveals LeDuff's experiences while working on the TV show The Americans, which kept him running across the country, keeping company with everybody from a would-be gigolo to a Ku Klux Klansman. Ultimately, it's a book about American decay, a journalistic hayride through Trump country, where shock and volume have overwhelmed fact and nuance. (Not that Charlie would have anything to do with that troubling trend!)

Coming out this week in hardcover is Anna Clark's 320-page book about the Flint water crisis, The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy. It's a story former MT news editor Curt Guyette helped break in Metro Times, and the first complete account from start to finish of the decisions that resulted in the poisoning of an entire community in the name of emergency management. We can't wait to see how a talented journalist like Clark delves into the details of how Flint residents were dismissed by officials associated with the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder until, galvanized by injustice, and with some help from like-minded experts, they revealed the enormity of what had happened to them.

A paperback release that should appeal to fans of Detroit's subversive musical heritage is Sonic Rebellion: Music as Resistance: Detroit 1967–2017. Edited by Jens Hoffmann, with writing from music historian Marsha Music, Trinosophes co-founder Joel Peterson, and Robin K. Williams, this 140-page volume tracks Detroit's musical output against the flashes and flares of its racial and political history that continue to this day. Illustrated with art, photos, and ephemera, it should offer ample proof that music can be a powerful weapon in the battle for justice.

Something more lighthearted comes from author Karen Dybis, a tome called Secret Detroit: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure. If you think Detroit is just Motown, the Big Three, and a bunch of sports teams, dive into this 208-page book and see if you aren't surprised by what Dybis has uncovered for you. Or perhaps you have a hometown advantage and know about the city's underground salt mines; but did you know about the underground missile sites on Belle Isle? Or, heck, maybe you know it all; in that case, sit back and let Dybis tell it better than you remember it, in prose suffused with her obvious affection for the Rust Belt's weirdest city.

Throw a fistful of rice in this town and you can't help but hit a building designed by Albert Kahn. The German-Jewish architect spent decades designing Detroit's office towers, religious edifices, car factories, private homes, and more. And this year author Michael H. Hodges draws on archival sources unavailable to earlier biographers to tell Kahn's story in Building the Modern World: Albert Kahn in Detroit. The handsome, hardcover edition, punctuated with striking photographs of Kahn's work, "paints the most complete picture yet of Kahn's remarkable rise."

If you're more interested in fiction, there's still plenty of Detroit-themed work for you to peruse. Take, for instance, Michael Zadoorian's new book, Beautiful Music. Zadoorian is perhaps best known for his 2009 book The Leisure Seeker, which came out as a film starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland last year. In his new book, Zadoorian takes us back to Detroit in the 1970s, which was still throbbing from the 1967 rebellion, and was in the throes of the energy crisis and the sexual revolution. Protagonist Danny Yzemski finds that growing up in such times can be ... complicated. But with a little help from Iggy Pop, the MC5, and Led Zeppelin, he finds just the boost he needs to survive — and even grow a bit.

R. J. Fox, the writer who brought us 2016's memoir Love & Vodka, now brings us a book former MT contributing editor Herb Boyd calls "Elmore Leonard meets Donald Goines." It's called Awaiting Identification, and it opens in Detroit on Devil's Night, 1999, at a wild party at St. Andrew's Hall. Five different characters interact with one another over the next several hours, but by midnight on Halloween, they're all unidentified bodies laid out on cold slabs at the medical examiner's office. Curious? Want to see how they all get gone? There's only one way to find out.

Metro Times is no stranger to poet and activist Kim D. Hunter, and yet he's so full of surprises that he's gobsmacked even us with his new book The Official Report on Human Activity. It must be the most fanciful science-fiction title of the year, chronicling the media frenzy that follows a male factory worker giving birth to a small black elephant with a mysterious message on its hide. It's set in a dystopian future Detroit of probes, implants, holograms, and hybrid life-forms, in which media, technology, and capitalism have run amok.

Robert Downes was an alt-weekly guy up in Traverse, the editor of Northern Express for 22 years until the paper was sold in 2013. Since then he's been writing books at the rate of one every one or two years. Last year it was the historical novel Windigo Moon. This year, it's something a little more playful, a book called Bicycle Hobo. It s a sort of murder thriller set in the world of cycle touring. When a woman is run down by a homicidal RV driver, her husband, Jake, will do whatever it takes to track down the killer, which is a good thing because it takes a three-year-long, continent-spanning quest to find the motorhome that killed his woman.

Another author, Thomas C. Bailey, headed the Little Traverse Conservancy for more than 30 years. As one who paid his dues working for the state DNR and National Park Service, his perspectives on land conservation in Michigan are based on years of experience. This year, he offers a slim, 126-page memoir, A North Country Almanac: Reflections of an Old-School Conservationist in a Modern World. Bailey positions himself as something of an environmental centrist, one who has never unquestioningly accepted environmental dogma and is willing to challenge its cherished assumptions or condemn its black-and-white thinking. That said, Bailey's record shows a lifelong commitment to the idea that sacrificing priceless wilderness for short-term gain is foolhardy and dangerous.

In case you missed it in hardcover, MT contributor Drew Philp's book, A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City, is out in paperback. It's a full-length book inspired by the BuzzFeed article that broke the internet: "Why I Bought a House in Detroit For $500." What sounds like a stunt becomes a Thoreauvian experiment, a deep dive into workaday anthropology, and a conversation encompassing gentrification, race, and class. While Philp is both fiercely proud of his adopted Detroit neighborhood, he's also strongly protective: Many of the personal and street names have been changed to scramble any speculators hoping to mine the book for data.

Another paperback edition that should have wide appeal is White Boy Rick: My Years as a Teenage Drug Informant for the FBI, by Richard Wershe Jr. with Mike Young. The 320-page volume comes out in August, just in time for the peak of summer, and it's the story of Detroit's most famous white slinger and drug war double agent. Wershe and Young tell the whole tale, from his first arrest at 17 all the way through his zenith, when he rode around Detroit wearing full-length mink coats and gold rope neck chains. Naturally you'll get Wershe's take on his own downfall, which he lays at the door of the FBI.

And if you need a little something for younger readers, August will see publication of Bailey Sisoy Isgro's book Rosie, a Detroit Herstory. This 40-page book tells how, during the Second World War, military demand for able-bodied males meant that women had to fill many of the jobs formerly held only by men. Contrary to the dictates of tradition, women stepped in and did their jobs very well, thankyouverymuch, showing skill, bravery, and grit as they ran family businesses, conducted streetcars, and worked on assembly lines and in shipyards. The story is told in rhyme, and enlivened with original illustrations from Nicole Lapointe.

Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected].

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Read the Digital Print Issue

January 19, 2022

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit

© 2022 Detroit Metro Times - Contact Us

Website powered by Foundation