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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Books You Don’t Want to Miss

These organic cherries were hand-picked!
When people visiting my bookstore ask what I recommend, I try to get an idea what kind of books they usually enjoy. That said, today will be a very short list of some of the books generally high on my list for 2012, along with a few of the reasons why I love them and links to other posts where I’ve discussed them at greater length.

GRAND TRAVERSE: THE CIVIL WAR ERA, by John Mitchell, was my #1 best-seller of 2011, still going strong—and deservedly so. Whether you’re a “history buff,” a professional historian, or just a general reader looking for good stories about how real people lived in the past, you will not be disappointed. Mitchell’s research is married to a very readable style: I haven’t had a single negative response on this book. It sets the bar for self-published work, too, having won a Michigan history award and a nation-wide Independent Publisher nonfiction award. Those on vacation wanting to learn more about the area will find many prize nuggets (and familiar local names) in these pages. 

SOUTH OF SUPERIOR, by Ellen Airgood, is in paperback this summer, poised to reach a whole new audience. NPR listeners as well as my Northport bookstore audience loved Ellen’s fictional take on Up North life, based on her many years of personal experience. Here’s what I love about this book: the style is simple and unpretentious, reminding me of Betty Smith’s novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but, like Smith’s, Airgood’s characters are anything but simplistic. There is no "Us vs. Them" in her story. You won’t find here Noble Locals besieged by Demanding Newcomers and Insensitive Tourists. Neither are the locals pictured as bumbling yokels that sophisticated vacationers must suffer. These are real people. Their lives are ordinary, their challenges are real, and you can tell the author is sympathetic to each and every one. 

ONCE UPON A RIVER, by Bonnie Jo Campbell, is another novel from 2011 now available in paperback. I think the Leelanau Township Library has chosen it for one of their book discussion group meetings in the coming season. Campbell’s characters, like Airgood’s, are real, though they may not be as familiar to general readers. Here you will see Michigan rural life from a whole new perspective. Margo Crane lives life way out on the edge, and her adventures are not those of the average American teenager. (Be forewarned, too, that this is an adult novel, despite the age of the protagonist.) But Margo’s determination and Campbell’s lyrical prose will keep you glued to the pages of this exciting and beautiful novel. 

DUST TO DUST: A MEMOIR, by Benjamin Busch, was featured in a guest review by Tim Bazzett. Ben was here in March for the Up North launch of his book and is now (or was on July 4) on the 100th bookstore visit of his national book tour. A Vassar graduate (studio art major) who went on to become a Marine and serve two tours in Iraq is an unusual person. Busch is also an actor, filmmaker, and gifted photographer. Given all that, his memoir will probably surprise you. There is a lot of solitude recounted in his story—child and young man, he always loved spending time alone in the woods. There is a lot about his parents, also, both deceased and greatly missed. Like Proust (I hope Ben won’t object to this comparison), the wonderful gift he discovered in writing this memoir was having his childhood again and getting his parents back. Beautifully written! 

TO EMBROIDER THE GROUND WITH PRAYER, by Teresa J. Scollon, is a new book of poetry by a Michigan native and recent recipient of an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her poems draw inspiration and sustenance from her farm family background and also transcend it utterly. Each poem in this collection is so powerful that after reading it you close the book to recover before going on to the next. Scollon will be at the Leelanau Township Library on Tuesday evening, July 24, at 7:30 p.m. I haven't written a review yet because I'm savoring this book poem by poem.

THE THIRD SIDE: HOW WE FIGHT AND HOW WE CAN STOP, by Wiliam Ury, originally appeared in 1999, but I only discovered it recently and am raving it right and left, not only to my friends in the peace movement but to all my friends, because Ury’s observations, experiences, and practical advice span the range of human conflict from the interpersonal to the international. Yes, practical. That’s what’s so great about this book. Do not miss it!!! 

Finally, rounding out the nonfiction side of things with a how-to title, I’ll mention KEEPING A NATURE JOURNAL, by Clare Walker Leslie & Charles E. Roth. You can simply leaf through this book and enjoy the inspiring illustrations, or you can treat yourself to Leslie’s encouraging text. She takes the fear out of drawing. In your own journal, there’s no such thing as failure. Like Frederick Franck’s The Zen of Seeing, Leslie’s approach opens up for amateur sketchers the whole, wide world of nature in all its splendor. 

So there you are. I could have come up with a longer list, and naturally there are many classics, many other worthy Michigan offerings (fiction and nonfiction) and a wealth of out-of-print treasures in my bookstore, but this is a starter list of recommendations, and these books should have wide appeal to discerning book-lovers.

Lose yourself in nature, lose yourself in a book—summer is the time for both.

Every single one is delicious!

5 comments:

Kathy said...

I shall return to your list next time we're bookstore-bound. thank you! Need some new titles to peruse this summer.

P. J. Grath said...

This is a very short list, too, Kathy. More recommendations to come next month, if not sooner. And I'm enjoying your photographs from the U.P. woods.

Dawn said...

Cherries! Glad you have some at least! One of my favorite fruit to pick. I just finished Once Upon A River last night. I've been thinking about her all day.

P. J. Grath said...

The ones at the top were Cavaliers from a friend's organic orchard, hand-picked by his brother. The single cherry on the tree was a tart in the orchard near us. I bought sweets at the farm market on Friday--mixed dark red and yellow. Yes, there are a few. Five dollars a quart, but worth it.

dmarks said...

And so many good posts to catch up on too.