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Top 20 Michigan notable books

- December 21st, 2009
Top 20: Michigan Notable Books
Each year, the Library of Michigan compiles its list of 20 Notable Books highlighting Michigan people, places, and events.
Short stories of people living on the rough side of life in Detroit; a biography of the state’s first geologist; and a children’s book that tells the story of a slave family’s flight to freedom are among this year’s most notable Michigan books.
“This year’s Michigan Notable Books bring to life the Michigan experience through vivid storytelling that creates portraits of the people and places that make Michigan great,” said State Librarian Nancy Robertson. “These books celebrate Michigan as a place and a people that even in the most trying of times find transformation.”
Michigan Notable Books is a statewide program that began as part of the 1991 Michigan Week celebration, geared to pay tribute and draw attention to the people, places and things that make Michigan life unique.
The 2009 Michigan Notable Books are:

American Salvage: Stories by Bonnie Jo Campbell. Wayne State University Press.
In these stories about cold, lonely, working-class Michigan life, Campbell creates a world where salvation counterbalances loss and despair.

Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family’s Secret by Steve Luxenberg. Hyperion.
The fear of mental illness infuses this book of research into family genealogy, personal history and long held secrets. It all started when Detroit native Steve Luxenberg began to discover discrepancies in his mother’s stories about her family as she neared the end of her life.

The Art Student’s War: A Novel by Brad Leithauser. Alfred A. Knopf.
The vividly depicted city of Detroit takes a lead role in this historical coming-of-age novel set in World War II when art student Bianca Paradiso volunteers to draw portraits of wounded soldiers at a local hospital.

Bath Massacre: America’s First School Bombing by Arnie Bernstein. University of Michigan Press.
On May 18, 1927, an explosion rocked the small town of Bath, in Clinton County, when dynamite planted by Andrew Kehoe detonated in the basement of the local school. Bernstein offers a dramatic history of the tragedy and its aftermath.

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin. Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt.
The remarkable story of Henry Ford’s failed attempt to transform the rugged Brazilian Amazon rainforest into both a factory and a model American-style town.

Have a Little Faith: A True Story of a Last Request by Mitch Albom. Hyperion.
Mitch Albom offers a story about his eight-year journey between two worlds, two men and two faiths.

Isadore’s Secret: Sin, Murder and Confession in a Northern Michigan Town by Mardi Link. University of Michigan Press.
An astonishing story of a nun who was murdered in the Leelanau County village of Isadore nearly 100 years ago.

January’s Sparrow by Patricia Polacco. Philomel.
In January 1874 in Marshall, slave takers came to take the black Crosswhite family back to Kentucky. This is the story of how the Crosswhites came to Marshall and what happened on the day that the town rose up to save them.

The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit: Stories by Michael Zadoorian. Wayne State University Press.
An engaging collection of short stories set in and around Detroit, with tales of hardship, racial tension and hope.

Michigan’s Columbus: The Life of Douglass Houghton by Steve Lehto. Momentum Books.
The story of the state’s first geologist, from 1837 until his death at age 36 in 1845, including his discovery of rich copper deposits found in the Keweenaw Peninsula and the creation of Michigan’s mining industry.

Nothing But a Smile: A Novel by Steve Amick. Pantheon Books.
A portrait of postwar America. When Wink Dutton is discharged from the army in 1944, he has little to his name besides his Purple Heart. His prospects change unexpectedly, however, when he meets the beautiful Sal Chesterton.

Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer by Paul Taylor. Kent State University Press.
A comprehensive biography of General Sherman’s right-hand man, Orlando M. Poe, who commanded the 2nd Michigan Infantry and led brigades at Second Bull Run and Fredericksburg. He went on to design numerous Great Lakes lighthouses and then designed and constructed the largest shipping lock in the world at Sault Ste. Marie.

Our People, Our Journey: The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians by James M. McClurken. Michigan State University Press.
A well-researched history of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians traces the tribe’s migration into Michigan’s Grand River Valley, its settlement on reservations in Mason, Muskegon and Oceana counties, the difficult relationship between the tribe and the U.S. government, and efforts to maintain the tribe’s cultural identity.

Pandora’s Locks: The Opening of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway by Jeff Alexander. Michigan State University Press.
A powerfully and thoughtfully written story of the impact the opening of the Great Lakes has had on the environment, water conditions and quality of life in the Great Lakes states.

Roses and Revolutions: The Selected Writings of Dudley Randall edited by Melba Joyce Boyd. Wayne State University Press.
Long-time Detroit resident Randall was the founder of Broadside Press, which published many well-known black poets. The poems and the short stories show the changes in civil rights and historical events during his 80 years of life, and depict a man who had a deep love for people.

Season of Water and Ice by Donald Lystra, Switch Grass Books/Northern Illinois University.
Donald Lystra creates a touching coming-of-age story set in rural Northern Michigan in 1957. Bookish loner Danny DeWitt befriends Amber Dwyer, a pregnant teenager who has been abandoned by her boyfriend and rejected by her family and community.

Stitches: A Memoir by David Small. W. W. Norton.
David Small’s heartbreaking story brings to light a troubled family and its impact on him as a child.

Travelin’ Man: On the Road and Behind the Scenes with Bob Seger by Tom Weschler. Wayne State University Press.
With an emphasis on period photos, this book follows Bob Seger’s career from the late 1960s through his 2004 induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Up the Rouge!: Paddling Detroit’s Hidden River by Joel Thurtell. Photographs by Patricia Beck. Wayne State University Press.
A beautifully photographed story of a journey up Detroit’s Rouge River to investigate whether cleanup efforts are paying off. Two Detroit Free Press journalists take a five-day trip up the river to find the detritus of civilization.

When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball by Seth Davis. Times Books.
Seth Davis’ well-written book explores college basketball of 30 years ago, including the careers of Earvin “Magic” Johnson and JLarry Bird, the 1979 NCAA tournament, and the impact the players had on the game.

For more information on Michigan’s Notable Books visit

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