2020 Michigan Notable Books announced


LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Every year, the Library of Michigan selects up to twenty of the most notable books, either written by a Michigan resident or about Michigan or the Great Lakes.

This year’s books range from the Upper Peninsula to stories about Detroit, and even cookery from the west side of Michigan.

A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father by David Maraniss is the true story of Elliot Maraniss, David’s father who was an active member in the local Communist Party in the late 1930s. The Great Depression, the rise of fascism, Naziism in Europe and racial injustice in this country fueled Elliot when he was a student at the University of Michigan. A WWII veteran who had commanded an all-black company in the Pacific, was spied on by the FBI, named as a communist by an informant, called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952, fired from his newspaper job, and blacklisted for five years. Elliot never lost faith in America and emerged on the other side with his family and optimism intact. Maraniss weaves his father’s story through the lives of his inquisitors and defenders as they struggle with the vital twentieth-century issues of race, fascism, communism, and first amendment freedoms.

All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner was written by a bestselling author who volunteers her time at her church in Grand Rapids and speaks at events across the state. All Manner of Things follows Annie Jacobson whose brother Mike enlists as a medic in the Army in 1967 then mails her a letter with the address of their long-estranged father. If anything should happen to him in Vietnam, Mike says, Annie must let their father know. In Mike’s absence, their father returns to face tragedy at home, adding an extra measure of complication to an already tense time. Annie and her family will grapple with the tension of holding both hope and grief in the same hand, even as they learn to turn to the One who binds the wounds of the brokenhearted.

Broke: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises by Jodie Adams Kirshner showcases seven Detroiters as they navigate life during and after their city’s bankruptcy. For them, financial issues are mired within the larger ramifications of poor urban policies, restorative negligence on the state and federal level and—even before the decision to declare Detroit bankrupt in 2013—the root causes of a city’s fiscal demise.


Jodie Adams Kirshner looks at the impact that Detroit’s bankruptcy has had on the city’s poor.

Camera Hunter: George Shiras III and the birth of wildlife photography by James H. McCommons discusses George Shiras III who published a series of remarkable nighttime photographs for National Geographic in 1906. Taken with crude equipment, the black-and-white photographs featured leaping whitetail deer, a beaver gnawing on a tree, and a snowy owl perched along the shore of a lake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Camera Hunter recounts Shiras’s life and craft as he traveled to wild country in North America, refined his trail-camera techniques, and advocated for the protection of wildlife. This biography serves as an important record of Shiras’s accomplishments as a visual artist, wildlife conservationist, adventurer, and legislator.

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray who was born in St. Joseph, Michigan. The stories central figure is Althea who is the eldest sister and substitute matriarch as well as a force to be reckoned with that her younger sisters have alternately appreciated and chafed at her strong will. They are as stunned as the rest of the small community when she and her husband, Proctor, are arrested, and in a heartbeat the family goes from one of the most respected in town to utter disgrace. The worst part is, not even her sisters are sure exactly what happened.

Come See About Me, Marvin by Brian G. Gilmore who currently teaches social justice law at Michigan State University. In this collection, Brian G. Gilmore seeks to invite the reader into a fantastical dialogue between himself and Marvin Gaye—two black men who were born in the nation’s capital, but who moved to the Midwest for professional ambitions. In trying to acclimate himself to a new job in a new place—a place that seemed so different from the home he had always known—Gilmore often looked to Marvin Gaye as an example for how to be. These poems were derived as a means of coping in a strange land.

Deadly Aim: The Civil War Story of Michigan’s Anishinaabe Sharpshooters by Sally M. Walker explores the extraordinary lives of Michigan’s Anishinaabe sharpshooters. These brave soldiers served with honor and heroism in the line of duty, despite enduring broken treaties, loss of tribal lands, and racism. Learn about Company K, the elite band of sharpshooters, and Daniel Mwakewenah, the chief who killed more than 32 rebels in a single battle despite being gravely wounded.

The Deer Camp: A Memoir of a Father, A Family, and the Land That Healed Them by Dean Kuipers focuses on Bruce Kuipers who was good at hunting, fishing, and working, but not at much else that makes a real father or husband. Conflicted, angry, and a serial cheater, he destroyed his relationship with his wife, Nancy, and alienated his three sons-journalist Dean, woodsman Brett, and troubled yet brilliant fisherman Joe. He distrusted people and clung to rural America as a place to hide. So when Bruce purchased a 100-acre hunting property as a way to reconnect with his sons, they resisted. What happened next was a miracle of nature.

Detroit’s Birwood Wall: Hatred & Healing in the West Eight Mile Community by Gerald Van Dusen who is an English professor at Wayne County Community College District. Dusen’s book takes place in 1941 when a real estate developer in northwest Detroit faced a dilemma. He needed federal financing for white clients purchasing lots in a new subdivision abutting a community of primarily African Americans. When the banks deemed the development too risky because of potential racial tension, the developer proposed a novel solution. He built a six-foot-tall, one-foot-thick concrete barrier extending from Eight Mile Road south for three city blocks—the infamous Birwood Wall. It changed life in West Eight Mile forever.

The Girls: An All-American Town, a Predatory Doctor, and the Untold Story of the Gymnasts Who Brought Him Down by Abigail Pesta is a profound exploration of trust, ambition, betrayal, and self-discovery. Award-winning journalist Abigail Pesta unveils this deeply reported narrative at a time when the nation is wrestling with the implications of the MeToo movement. How do the women who grew up with Nassar reconcile the monster in the news with the man they once trusted? In The Girls, we learn that their answers to that wrenching question are as rich, insightful, and varied as the human experience itself.

Guardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City by Jeff Morrison is a 332-page book with 770 original photos. It is a unique effort to explore, explain, and document Detroit’s amazing collection of architectural sculpture on a building-by-building basis. Using telephoto photography, building details that are barely visible to the naked eye are brought down from the heights and made available for up-close appreciation. In some cases, ornamental elements that have been hidden from public view for more than 100 years are now brought to light.

The Queen Next Door: Aretha Franklin, An Intimate Portrait by Linda Solomon is a book full of firsts as Solomon was invited not only to capture historical events in Aretha’s music career showcasing Detroit but to join in with the Franklin family’s most intimate and cherished moments in her beloved hometown. From performance rehearsals with James Brown to off-camera shenanigans while filming a music video with the Rolling Stones, from her first television special to her first time performing with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, to her last performance with her sisters at her father’s church and her son’s college graduation celebration.

Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables by Abra Berens who started cooking at the storied Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor. In 2009 she co-founded Bare Knuckle Farm in Northport where she farmed and cooked for 8 years. In 2017, she joined the team at Granor Farm in Three Oaks. She combined her love of farms and restaurants to create one-of-a-kind dinners on the farm celebrating the best of southwest Michigan’s diverse agriculture. This is is Abra Berens’ first cookbook and rooted in her experiences as a chef, former farmer, and everyday eater. It is a teaching cookbook that aims to help build reader’s confidence in preparing vegetables by providing easy-to-follow recipes, detailed explanation of cooking techniques, and a myriad of variations for each recipe to inspire future dishes.

Shades: Detroit Love Stories by Esperanza Cintrón is a short story collection that is distinctly Detroit. By touching on a number of romantic and sexual encounters that span the historical and temporal spaces of the city, each of these interconnected stories examines the obstacles an individual faces and the choices he or she makes in order to cope and, hopefully, survive in the changing urban landscape.

Sport: Ship Dog of the Great Lakes by Pamela Cameron, illustrated by Renée Graef is the tale of a stray dog wanders the Milwaukee docks until he realizes his calling–to be a ship dog! After being rescued from the Milwaukee River, Sport lives on the lighthouse tender ship the Hyacinth. He helps the crew as they deliver supplies to lighthouses and maintains buoys and other safety features on the lake. Through Sport’s story, young readers will learn how working on Lake Michigan during the early 20th century was both dangerous and thrilling, and about the role of the lighthouse tender in keeping the lake safe.

Teacher/Pizza Guy by Jeff Kass who teaches tenth-grade English and creative writing at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor. Teacher/Pizza Guy is a collection of autobiographical poems from the 2016–17 school year in which Jeff Kass worked as a full-time English teacher and a part-time director for a literary arts organization and still had to supplement his income by delivering pizzas a few nights a week. In the collection, Kass is unapologetically political without distracting from the poems themselves but rather adds layers and nuances to the fight for the middle class and for educators as a profession.

We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels who grew up in the Bay City area of Michigan. We Hope for Better Things is a journey that begins when journalist Elizabeth Balsam is asked to deliver a box of old photos to a relative she didn’t know she had, the strange request seems like it isn’t worth her time. But as she explores her great-aunt’s farmhouse with its locked doors and hidden graves, she soon discovers just how dramatically some of the most newsworthy events of the previous two centuries shaped her own family. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding.

Where Today Meets Tomorrow: Eero Saarinen and the General Motors Technical Center by Susan Skarsgard is a detailed insider’s account of the early days of General Motors from longtime GM designer Susan Skarsgard. It weaves the initiation of the technical center project under Eliel Saarinen, its design and construction under Eero Saarinen, and the enthusiastic acclaim the campus received upon its opening. Many leading lights of midcentury modernism were involved in the project as design consultants or artists, including Harry Bertoia, Alexander Girard, Florence Knoll, and Alexander Calder. This lavishly illustrated account is a unique document of a landmark project, presented in photographs and architectural drawings, interviews, documents, and ephemera, many never before seen.

The Women of Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell opens in July 1913 when twenty-five-year-old Annie Clements had seen enough of the world to know that it was unfair. She’s spent her whole life in the copper-mining town of Calumet, Michigan where men risk their lives for meager salaries—and had barely enough to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. The women labor in the houses of the elite and send their husbands and sons deep underground each day, dreading the fateful call of the company man telling them their loved ones aren’t coming home. When Annie decides to stand up for herself, and the entire town of Calumet, nearly everyone believes she may have taken on more than she is prepared to handle.

The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers by Bridgett M. Davis is a story of survival. In 1958, the very same year that an unknown songwriter named Berry Gordy borrowed $800 to found Motown Records, a pretty young mother from Nashville, Tennessee borrowed $100 from her brother to run a Numbers racket out of her home. That woman was Fannie Davis, Bridgett M. Davis’ mother. Part bookie, part banker, mother, wife, granddaughter of slaves, Fannie ran her numbers business for 34 years, doing what it took to survive in a legitimate business that just happened to be illegal.

Each selected title speaks to our state’s rich cultural, historical, and literary heritage and proves without a doubt that some of the greatest stories are found in the Great Lakes State.

Michigan Notable Books is an annual program with roots stretching back to Michigan Week 1991.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Michigan Headlines

More Michigan

StormTracker 6 Radar