Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Quick Visit to Grand Rapids

Downtown Market
Despite being born and raised in the Detroit area, I somehow never visited Grand Rapids before. I didn't have anything against Grand Rapids. Instead, I found it too easy to keep visiting the places in Michigan that I already knew.

I have been wanting to visit for some time, and my work luckily took me to Grand Rapids on Monday. Since I had a meeting at 1 p.m. downtown, I left my home early enough so I could have two meals and see as much of the city as possible during my visit.

Argos Book Shop
Besides tasting a new city's food and beer, I always try to visit its independent bookstores, so my first stop was Argos Book Shop in the Eastown neighborhood. Argos specializes in used books, and it has a comic book section that looked impressive to this non-collector. The store has two rooms full of used books covering many genres. I could have spent more than an hour searching the shelves, but I had to eat lunch before my meeting.

The bar at the Green Well
For lunch, I chose The Green Well Gastropub in the East Hills neighborhood. The neighborhood was quiet because it was 11 on Monday morning, but I'm guessing it is bustling later in the day since it features several shops and restaurants, and one of Grand Rapids' many breweries, Brewery Vivant.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

2017 Michigan Summer Reading List

A good book plus a lake equals Michigan summer
Summertime in Michigan should include relaxing with a good book on the beach, in the backyard hammock, or in the park. Last year, I shared a list of Five Michigan Books for Summer. This year, the list is longer, with a more diverse group of writers, genres, and forms of literature. Each work has a relationship with Michigan: Either the writer is a Michigander or the work is set in Michigan. It was a pleasure to read each of these works, and I hope others find something valuable through reading them.

The Many Faces of Motherhood

Former Detroit Free Press writer Desiree Cooper’s Know the Mother is a powerful collection of 31 very short stories (most are 750 words or less). The stories examine themes of womanhood, motherhood, and race. I cannot name a favorite story because each one emits emotions that put me squarely into the main characters' shoes. 

Know the Mother’s stories embody loneliness, fear, hope, love, shame, and sorrow. Cooper creates complex and real characters with few words because her writing is splendid, moving, and true. 

Finding a New Universe on Earth

In Detroit author Jack Cheng’s novel See in You in the Cosmos, Alex Petroski is an eleven-year-old boy infatuated with space exploration. The story is told through Alex’s recordings on his golden iPod, which he dreams of launching into space for intelligent alien life to discover. Alex leaves his troubled mom at home to attend a rocket-launching festival in New Mexico. Along the way, he discovers a complicated, but beautiful, new universe right here on earth. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Relaxing Weekend in Traverse City

A view of Grand Traverse Bay from the Shores
My family and I spent Memorial Day weekend in Traverse City because I had the crazy idea to run the Bayshore Marathon. We rented a great condo at the Shores condominiums in Acme, on the east side of East Grand Traverse Bay. The Shores's beach has a beautiful view of the bay and Old Mission Peninsula.

We stayed in on Friday night, since I had to wake up early for the marathon. On Saturday afternoon, after a few hours of post-marathon recovery, we drove up the eastern shore of the Old Mission Peninsula, so I could show my wife and kids the views I saw while running.

Driving the Old Mission Peninsula
The drive was so relaxing that we ended up driving to the northern tip of the peninsula and visited the Mission Point Lighthouse and beach. The tip of the Old Mission Peninsula is on the 45th parallel, meaning we were standing halfway between the equator and the North Pole. We would have explored the lighthouse and beach more, but there were a lot of bugs out, and my four-year-old daughter was not happy that bugs kept landing on her. I also was exhausted and wanted to eat, so we just took a few photos of the lighthouse and the beach. 

Mission Point Lighthouse
We drove back down the western shore of the peninsula toward downtown Traverse City. We went to Apache Trout Grill for dinner because several people recommended it. There was supposed to be an hour wait, but fortune intervened and a table in the bar area opened up after only about 5 minutes.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Snapshot of Traverse City's Bayshore Marathon

A view of East Grand Traverse Bay from the marathon course
Yesterday, I ran my fourth marathon, the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City. I have run two Marine Corps Marathons in DC and the Capital City River Run in Lansing. The Bayshore is by far my favorite, and not just because I set a PR (more on that later).

From the volunteers to the spectators to the Moomers ice cream at the finish, everything was well run. But the highlight is the course itself. For almost the entire 26.2 miles, the course follows the roads along the eastern shore of the Old Mission Peninsula. The route gives runners sweeping views of the blue waters of East Grand Traverse Bay.

Cherry blossoms along the course
My description of the views cannot do them justice. My family and I drove along the course several hours after the race so I could show them what I saw, and so I could take a few photos.

If you have to run 26.2 miles, might as well enjoy the view.
The course is mostly flat, but there were a few small hills here and there (the only ones I really noticed were in the last 5 miles, when I was struggling to keep my legs moving). Many of the residents along the route sat in their front yards and cheered the runners on, and some even offered water (or beer. . . I passed on the beer). Olympic marathoner Desi Linden, one of the fastest women in the world, even stood on the sidelines encouraging people who run the marathon hours slower than her.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Five of Michigan's Great Independent Bookstores

Pages Bookshop in Detroit
My favorite indie bookstore from childhood died more than 20 years ago at the hands of Barnes & Noble (which moved in across the street), but that same Barnes & Noble perished recently, most likely because it couldn't keep up with Amazon. It's been a common trend over the last 30 years. Big bookseller moves into the neighborhood, forcing an independent store to close, and then the big guy shutters its store when it can't compete with online shopping.

Luckily for those who love independent bookstores, some indies have survived the decades-long assault from big booksellers and the internet, while others have recently opened up shop. Whether they opened in the last few years or more than a few decades ago, good independent bookstores realize that they are much more than stores that sell books. It doesn't matter whether they sell coffee and other merchandise or just books. The special ones are gathering places for readers and writers. They offer recommendations, spur conversation, preserve and promote knowledge, and elevate communities.

Although they may not be as common as they once were, Michigan still has many independent bookstores. Here are a few of my favorites:

Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore

Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore
Munising is a city of just more than 2,000 people on the western edge of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Most visitors know it as the place to hop on one of the Pictured Rocks cruises, but Munising also has a top-notch bookstore in Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore. The cafe serves custom-roasted coffee, breakfast, and sandwiches.

The bookstore has more than 30,000 new and used books, as well as locally made jewelry, pottery, and gifts. I was impressed by their section dedicated to local writers and found a couple of great books set in the U.P., South of Superior and Here. With its wide-open floor plan and numerous tables, Falling Rock is a great place to warm up with a good book and cup of coffee on a cold U.P. day.