Monday, June 20, 2016

Five Michigan Books for Summer


Summer is here. Even the upper reaches of the U.P. are seeing temperatures in the 70s and 80s.

It's time to take advantage of the glorious outdoors that Michigan blesses us with. Whether you are packing up beach towels and umbrellas or camping and fishing gear, don't forget a book.

Michigan has produced amazing writers, and it is the setting for many fantastic works of literature. The following books are set in Michigan and written by people who called Michigan home. They are perfect companions for you while you sip morning coffee on a cold morning overlooking a still lake, unwind during quiet evenings in the woods, or relax on a hot, sandy beach.

South of Superior

Ellen Airgood's debut novel tells the story of Madeline Stone, a woman who leaves a safe, yet unsatisfactory, life in Chicago for McAllaster, a small Upper Peninsula town on the shores of Lake Superior. Madeline struggles to adjust to life in the small town and its inhabitants. As an outsider in a new locale, her good intentions often backfire, but she ultimately adapts and learns to love the simple things in life. Airgood's writing captures the feel of the Grand Marais area, where she lives. Her description of the road leading to Lake Superior and Madeline's first view of the lake captured how I felt as I drove over that last hill on M-77 leading to Grand Marais.

The Feast of Love

Charles Baxter spent many years of his life in Southeast Michigan. He taught at Wayne State University and the University of Michigan, though he now lives in his home state of Minnesota, where he teaches at the University of Minnesota. Several of his works are set in Michigan, including The Feast of Love. This novel takes place in Ann Arbor and follows several characters' interconnected tales of love. Baxter's writing superbly examines love in all of its forms. Love is not simple, and neither is The Feast of Love. It is a story full of anguish, yearning, ecstasy, and sweetness.

True North

Confession: I never read a single book by Jim Harrison until this past month. I was turned off by the film Legends of the Fall, and Brad Pitt's Hollywood pretty boy looks on the film's movie posters. The film, which I have not seen, is based on a Jim Harrison story.

When Jim Harrison died in March, I read so many beautiful tributes to his poetry and literature that I decided to cast aside my ridiculous prejudice and read one of his works. I chose True North. I read it quickly, thoroughly, and passionately. The novel follows David Burkett, a descendant of Upper Peninsula logging barons, from his teenage years in the 1960s to the 1980s. David struggles to understand his place in the world in light of his family's destruction of the U.P.'s forests and his own father's wicked crimes. Harrison's writing exposes the beauty of the U.P. and the pain and emptiness in David's heart.

Returning to Earth

After finishing True North, I wanted more Jim Harrison, so I immediately purchased True North's sequel, Returning to Earth. Returning to Earth is set several years after True North, and it follows the lives of David Burkett's family members. Several family members, including David, take turns as narrator of the novel, and it is interesting to see their different perspectives on their family, especially when his half-Chippewa brother-in-law Donald or his sister Cynthia narrates.

Like True North, much of the action in the novel occurs in the woods of the U.P. as the family tries to understand and cope with the death of one of their own. It is clear through Harrison's writing that he loved the woods and lakes of the Upper Peninsula, and it is the land perhaps more than anything that ties the family together.

Here: Women Writing on Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Here is a collection of poems and short stories by women about the Upper Peninsula. This collection begins with the poem Here in My Native Inland Sea by Bame-wa-wa-ge-zhik-aquay (a.k.a. Jane Johnston Schoolcraft), and each subsequent story and poem weaves together a larger tapestry that brings the U.P. to life. In addition to Here in My Native Inland Sea, my favorite stories and poems in the anthology are North Country by Roxane Gay, Imprinting by Janeen Russell, Censors by Stellanova Osborn, Incomer by Gloria Whelan, and Mad Dog Queen by Sharon Dilworth.

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