Many Best or Notable Books of the Year lists are made available to enthusiastic readers in December. It is always fun to find out which titles are chosen and which appear on more than one list.
One of my favorite books this year is The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne. Hanagarne writes about growing up (really up-he's 6'7'') with Tourette's and how it interfered with school, going on dates, and, well, everything. It wasn't until Hanagarne sought the guidance of a former US Air Force Tech Sergeant that he was able to manage his tics through strength-training. Hanagarne married, finished school and now works at the Salt Lake City Public Library. Hanagarne's humorous memoir is an ode to his supportive family and their Mormon faith, Stephen King, his accepting wife and young son.
Another new favorite is Charlie LeDuff's Detroit: An American Autopsy. After a twenty year absence, LeDuff, a New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, returns home to report for the Detroit News. He chronicles the abandoned homes, neighborhoods and factories of his broken city. He demonstrates the incompetence and corruption of City Hall and describes the outrageous actions of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Council Woman Monica Conyers. He follows the trail of the auto industry from manufacturing and labor leadership to bailouts and incompetent, clueless executives. LeDuff also portrays the courage and dedication of the Fire Fighters who respond to Detroit's systemic arson driving wrecks of fire trucks and wearing protective clothing so coated with chemicals they are a fire hazard themselves. Even the brass poles of the firehouses have been sold for scrap! LeDuff parallels the story of Detroit with that of his family, writing of their hard work, failures, tragedies and endurance. LeDuff's fierce passion for his city and his family give readers hope for Detroit's salvation.
Poetry in Michigan in Poetry is a beautiful new release from Western Michigan University's New Issues Poetry & Prose. Edited by William Olsen and Jack Ridl, this book anthologizes about 90 contemporary Michigan poets and 30 artists. The subjects of their poems concern Michigan's landscapes, waterways, cities, and the emotions and experiences of its people. The settings range from the U.P. to Detroit. U.P. poets include Elinor Benedict (Rapid River); Matthew Gavin Frank and Austin Hummell (NMU); Ander Monson (originally from Houghton); Ron Riekki (originally from Marquette) and Russ Thorburn, the U.P.'s Poet Laureate (Marquette). The stunning art work is worthy of its own show.
The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works, edited by Ron Riekki, was published this past spring by Wayne State University Press. The poems and stories offered here present an intimate look at life in the U.P. They capture its humor and sorrow, fear and joy, people and topography. I have sometimes wondered how pastors are able to endure so much death and grief and discovered an answer in Emily Van Kley's poem "My Father's Datebook" in which she writes, "First in are days of canoes & cranberry bogs & forest service cabins-by which he means to endure the church members dying." The poems and stories collected in this anthology help, too.
A book whose arrival I am excited about is The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes by Amy Thielen. The author grew up near the headwaters of the Mississippi, writes about food and hosts Heartland Table on the Food Network. Thielen visited restaurants, homes and food producers where she found and updated classic regional recipes for her debut book. Focusing on MN, WI and the Plains States, this nicely photographed cookbook also provides a history of Midwestern food.
Two of my favorite mystery authors published new books this year. How the Light Gets In is Louise Penny's 9th mystery featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. While Gamache returns to the village of Three Pines to investigate the murder of the last surviving member of a set of quintuplets he tries to help his deputy who has fallen back to a dependence on prescription drugs and continues to work to expose corruption in Quebec's police force. Penny's character-driven mysteries have sophisticated plots and a deep sense of place.
Alan Bradley's Speaking From Among the Bones is his 5th mystery starring eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an amateur detective and chemist. When the tomb of the local saint, Tancred, is opened on the 500th anniversary of his death, the body of the church organist is found inside. While discovering who wanted the church organist dead, the delightful and high-spirited Flavia uncovers local village secrets, some of which involve her late mother.
We hope you enjoy many new books this New Year and remember to share your own list of favorites with others.
By Cathy Sullivan Seblonka
Collection Development /Reference Librarian