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The Great Book Round Up

Robert Downes - September 22nd, 2008
Summer produced a slew of new books by Northern Michigan authors. In particular, local writers were absorbed with local history this season. Here’s a look at what you’ll find on area bookshelves:
Old Mission kids enjoying a trip by goat cart -- circa 1900, from A Century of Service.

A Century of Service -- The People and Places on Old Mission Peninsula
Edited by Jack and Vi Solomonson Photo editor Mary Jo Lance

Largely a picture book, you’ll find over 300 photos in A Century of Service, many of which are from the family albums of the residents of Old Mission Peninsula and have never been seen by the public.
Many of the photos date back to the early 1900s, with glimpses of farm life at a time when horses were still used to plow the fields and pull buggies to market.
Here too are photos of the “bustling port” of Old Mission Harbor, with steamships docking at the town. There are histories of prominent families as well as the Indian residents and humble postmen.
The reader will also find tales of how memorable sites on the peninsula came to be. Did you know, for instance, that Marion Island -- once a gathering spot for Indians -- was acquired by the Chicago Yacht Club and was later sold to Henry Ford for $100,000?
Published by the Peninsula Telephone Company, this book is full of such nuggets and is a must-have for any resident of the Old Mission Peninsula.
The Unraveling Thread
By Priscilla Cogan

This is the fifth novel from Priscilla Cogan, a specialist in Native American themes and bestselling author of the Winona Series.
Cogan divides her time between Leelanau County and rural
Massachusetts. A clinical psychologist of Irish-American descent, she is married to Cherokee story-teller Duncan Sings-Alone. Her other novels include Winona’s Web, Compass of the Heart, Crack at Dusk: Crook of Dawn and Double Time.
Her latest book is about a family in crisis, in part the result of a genetic problem known as Velo-Cardio-Facial-Syndrome (VCFS). With an estimated prevalence of 1 in 4,000, it is the second most common genetic syndrome after Down Syndrome.
“This is the first novel to ever describe VCFS, so there is much excitement about its publication among parents of VCFS kids,” Cogan says in her press kit.
In The Unraveling Thread, a divorced career woman, Harriet McWhinnie, finds her life falling apart: her elderly mother is slipping into dementia; her 15-year-old twins fight constantly; her five-year-old son dreams of reuniting his parents; and even Digger the pet dog has separation anxiety.
Desperate, Harriet hires a Native American woman with paranormal powers to help turn her life around, and therein lies a tale...
Excess Baggage -- Poems & Other Writings • By Ken Gum

Traverse City ophthalmologist Ken Gum, M.D., unveils his soul in this 88-page book which was released early this summer. Excess Baggage includes dozens of poems as well as a number of thought-provoking essays.
Gum has a love of the sporting life, as evidenced by the fishing gear depicted on the cover. His thoughts on the wild and fly fishing are expressed in works such as “Hex-A-Gone” and “Nuf’s Nuf,” which take us into the heart of the quintessential Northern Michigan experience.
But he also has an interest in philosophy, the issues of the day, and what it means to be a man at the crossroads of midlife. Also, a sense of humor and humility: he states in his preface that his book is “dedicated to Plato and blamed on Emmanuel Kant. It is for my friends... past, present, and future, many of whom have a collection of their own writings...”
It’s not many men who find their sense of self-expression in poetry at midlife. Ken Gum is to be commended for taking the dare.

Reflections at the Water’s Edge -- An Illustrated History of the Alden Area
By Priscilla Miller

Alden-based Priscilla Miller has a local bestseller on her hands, selling several hundred copies of her book within weeks of its publication.
And no wonder, because this comprehensive history of Alden is packed with 300 photos, chronicling the rise of a lumber boom town which was a stop for as many as three trains per day in the early 1900s.
Especially interesting are photos of Alden’s earliest days, with scenes of lumberjacks working at the camp on Spencer Creek which was established in 1854.
We also learn the history of the town’s namesake, William Alden Smith, an attorney who was an expert in railroad law. Smith brought the railway to the town of Spencer Creek, which was renamed Alden in his honor. He went on to become a U.S. Congressman and Senator and chaired the committee which investigated the sinking of the Titanic.
Miller does an excellent job of capturing the spirit and mood of the past in her book, tying the photos to stories of frontier hardship. “The nearest place for settlers to get supplies was eighteen miles away in Elk Rapids,” she writes. “The long and hazardous trip was made on foot along old Indian trails, through underbrush and ground hemlock, to the mouth of the Torch River where they waded across on the shoals to the opposite shore. In order to keep their clothing dry for the remainder of the journey they had to undress, tie the clothes in a bundle and carry the bundle on top of their heads.”
Miller is a former resident of Howell who moved to Alden five years ago and began writing for local newspapers, including recent articles in the Express. It’s a fine testament to her book that as a newcomer, she was able to quickly grasp the history and spirit of Alden.

Where All Our Journeys End -- Searching for the Beloved in Everyday Life
By C. Lynn Anderson, D. Min., ACSW

This meditation on spirituality may be of special interest to those seekers interested in the “new thought” and new age movements.
C. Lynn Anderson says she began her spiritual awakening in her early 30s as a member of the Unity Church in Traverse City. Today, she teaches social work courses at the university level, works as a clinical social worker, and owns a business, Sarah’s Circle, which delves into spiritual issues as they relate to a variety of problems.
Speaking of which, her book notes that the quest for a sense of the “Divine” in our lives can be useful in resolving issues relating to mental health, substance abuse, depression and sexual orientation. There are thoughts here on the nature of evil, the power of prayer, nature, creation, sexuality, joy, sorrow, solitude, alternative health systems and God, among others. It’s a thinking person’s book on the transformative power of spirituality.

A Deckhand’s Journey on the Great Lakes Freighters • By Richard Hill

Here’s a slice of life from a sweetwater sailor which goes back to the glory days of freighting on the Great Lakes.
Hailing from Sault Ste. Marie, Richard Hill sailed on four different U.S. Steel freighters as a deckhand in the early 1970s. At the time, the company was operating more than 50 vessels on the Great Lakes.
As a young man sailing out of Duluth and Two Harbors, Minnesota, along with Gary, Indiana and Chicago, Hill kept extensive journals which were used as the basis for his book. Here are portraits of seagoing characters on the giant ore carriers, life in port, and the hazards of plying the Great Lakes in the days before GPS and other technological improvements.
Images of America -- Grand Traverse Lighthouse

This book of photos and captions depicts the history of the lighthouse established at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula in 1852.
Arcadia Publishing purports to be “the leading local history publisher in the United States” with more than 3,000 titles in print. But there seems to be no pride of ownership in the firm’s book, since no author or editor is listed. Only in the book’s press kit is it revealed that this is a collaboration of the Lighthouse Museum’s staff.
Also, photo captions do little to weave a spell. We learn, for instance, that an early lighthouse keeper defended his turf against “night marauders sailing from an island to the north” in 1855. Who were the marauders? Was there a battle? Without the details, these squibs seem more irritating than illuminating.

Glimpses of Grand Traverse Past
By Richard Fidler

“I am not a historian,” Richard Fidler writes in his introduction. “My training lies in biology -- I have been a ninth grade biology teacher for 31 years.”
But it seems safe to say that this member of the Grand Traverse Pioneer and Historical Society has passed the test with his 118-page book, which offers fascinating insights into the growth of Traverse City and some of its prominent institutions.
Here, for instance, you’ll find the story behind the Ku Klux Klan bombing downtown on Aug. 9, 1924, and how professional baseball came and went with the Traverse City Resorters, whose heyday was around 1910.
Why do people living in Northern Michigan tend to vote Republican? Fidler tells us its because many settlers were veterans of the Civil War, “remembering Lincoln’s leadership and voted Republican in his memory.” Democrats of the day, by contrast, tended to hail from the slave-owning states of the South and were largely Catholic -- a disparaged minority in the 1800s -- while Republicans “belonged to the party of Protestantism.”
Here too you’ll find the Oval Wood Dish strike of 1912; the story of daily newspapers in Traverse City; the great typhoid scare of 1906 that resulted in the town cleaning up its waterfront, and much else of interest.
Unlike the other books mentioned here, Fidler doesn’t rely primarily on photos to tell his story. He weaves fascinating tales of the past and the people who made our town great. That makes this book the best of the bunch.
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