For the inevitable procrastinators among us, at this point in the holiday buying season, books are one of the last options for timely gift-giving. And there are many books of local interest that will please just about anybody on your list.
The clock is ticking, and the overburdened elves at the online book retailers might struggle to get your book to you or your giftee in time for Christmas, but many of the book suggestions below are available for immediate, in-person purchase at Metro Detroit brick-and-mortar retailers. See each listing for details.
"Four Novels of the 1970s: Fifty-Two Pickup, Swag, Unknown Man No. 89 and The Switch" by Elmore Leonard (The Library of America, $24). How quintessentially Detroit a present this would be, collecting in one volume the four gritty Detroit novels that were responsible for Leonard's reputation as the premier crime novelist of modern times. "Fifty-Two Pickup" (1974) is like time traveling back to Detroit's seedy early '70s, with an adulterous, suburban auto supplier lured into an underworld of topless bars and snuff films. "Swag" (1976) follows two amiable crooks as they pull off various heists; "Unknown Man" (1977) has process server Jack Ryan maneuvering his way through various cons, while "The Switch" (1978) has Bloomfield Hills housewife Mickey Dawson outfoxing her kidnappers and getting even with her husband. Available at Barnes & Noble and most independent bookstores.
"Let Me Be Frank With You" by Richard Ford (Harper Collins, $27.99). Ford is a native Mississippian who's lived up and down the East Coast for most of his adult life, but he spent four crucial years at Michigan State University as an English major, so we'll claim him. The 70-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner has revisited the character that helped him earn the prize — sportswriter-turned-realtor Frank Bascome, who has aged along with Ford (and us). The new book, which has won Ford critical raves, is set up in the form of several novellas centering on Bascome interacting with several interesting characters on the Jersey shore, some from his past, some not, in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. It's altogether a joy to read, with Ford leavening the melancholy of loss (from age, and from the devastation of nature) with an ever-present humor. Available at Barnes & Noble and most independent bookstores.
"Ragtime Cowboys" by Loren D. Estleman. (Forge Books, $24.99). The Old West and early Hollywood are on a collision course in this historical mystery by Estleman, a local treasure. The year is 1921, and Charlie Siringo, an ex-Pinkerton agent, is asked by Wyatt Earp to track down his missing horse. Joined by another former Pinkerton detective, Dashiell Hammett, Siringo finds himself in the middle of a tangled plot masterminded by Hollywood mogul Joseph P. Kennedy.
"Bending Water and Stories Nearby" by Peter Wurdock. Wurdock writes about things that matter in life, in spare, plain prose. His fourth book, a new collection of short stories, set in the rough and often isolated terrain of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, is no exception. Reminiscent of the pioneering narratives of Hemingway's Nick Adams stories, "Bending Water" is an anthology of the human condition set against a beautiful and sometimes unforgiving land. Wurdock was born and raised in Royal Oak, where he now resides with his two adopted Greyhounds. Studying music at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston, Wurdock spent time as a professional musician with various bands in Metro Detroit and became a record promoter for some of the biggest stars in country music when he resided in Nashville. He's currently at work on a book about the choir director in his high school who brought rock and roll into the classroom for 39 years. It is slated for release in March. Available at Blueboundarybooks.com and some local independent bookstores.
Marney Rich Keenan
"Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You?: A Memoir" by George Clinton (Atria Books, $27). We figured the guy who came up with the visionary funk lyrics and song titles George Clinton did (and produced at Detroit's United Sound) would produce a pretty vivid book, and Clinton didn't disappoint. Be aware that he writes mostly about his music, in exhaustive detail, and career (and about the drug-fueled shenanigans while producing that music — see "Sly Stone"), but there isn't a lot of detail about his family life. Still, how many music memoirs contain the factoid that the author bought counterfeit money and successfully used it to pay musicians, and for studio time? (Statute of limitations = no problem). Available at indie bookstores such as The Book Beat in Oak Park, and the major chain bookstores.
"Canvas Detroit" by Julie Pincus and Nichole Christian (Painted Turtle/Wayne State University Press, $26) will clear up any doubts you might have about Detroit's status as an emerging art capital. Pincus, a native Detroiter with a graphic arts business in New York City, has produced a lavishly illustrated guide to public art in Detroit, whether of the guerrilla or established variety. With 450 full-color photographs, this handsome volume will leave you dazzled at the magnitude of Detroit's recent creative flowering. Pincus' tour ranges from the madcap wall posters from the Hygienic Dress League to the somber ziggurat Detroit artist Scott Hocking built with 6,000 wooden bricks in an old automobile factory. With profiles of each artist written by native Detroiter Nichole Christian, this is the book for the art-lovers and Detroit-lovers on your holiday gift list.
Michael H. Hodges
"Music is Forever: Dizzy Gillespie, the Jazz Legend, and Me" by Dave Usher (Red Anchor Productions, $16). Unless you're a music scholar, you probably don't know the name Dave Usher. That's a shame, because the jazz promoter/producer/record company man did more to help set the stage for Detroit music to explode out of the 1950s than few others. Usher produced the first records by two major Detroit talents, Jackie Wilson (as "Sonny Wilson") and Little Willie John. In this book, he describes how a jazz-crazy kid from Detroit's Central High became good friends with jazz trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie, running his record company DG (a subsidiary of which recorded Wilson and John) and traveling the world with him. It's a unique look at a lost era in Detroit and in jazz. Available via Amazon.com.
"The Work Box: A Commemorative Collection from the Detroit Artists' Workshop" (Detroit Artists' Workshop/MOCAD, $95). This amazing box, a must-have for anyone interested in the intersection of 1960s Detroit art and music, consists of book reprints, interviews, postcards and other artifacts from the Detroit Artists' Workshop, the pioneering avant-garde collective that was founded here in 1964. Some of the writers included who came out of the DAW are John Sinclair, George Tysh, James Semark, Diane Di Prima and Charles Moore, and includes "The Fugs Songbook," first published by Ed Sanders in 1965. There are also Gary Grimshaw postcards, Alternative Press bumper stickers, and recordings, of the Lyman Woodard Ensemble, Charles Moore, the Workshop Ensemble and more. There is a limited edition of 125 copies of the Work Box, available only at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), 4454 Woodward, Detroit, or at The Book Beat, 26010 Greenfield, Oak Park.
"Fun with Flowers" (J. Schwanke, $22.95). J. Schwanke, a Grand Rapids-based flower expert and author, likes to say his floral career blossomed at his family's greenhouse business in Nebraska. "I grew up in a family of professional florists … so my parents started me early along the flower path," writes Schwanke in his new book, "Fun with Flowers." Twenty years ago, Schwanke moved to the west side of Michigan, where he now runs his business uBloom.com, an online community for professional and amateur flower lovers. Schwanke's book, published this year and available via online retailers, is a how-to guide for working with everything from tulip tree blossoms and calla lilies to tree peonies and succulents. It lists what flowers and foliage are needed for each arrangements, along with helpful tips. "It's the 'fun' of translating my inspiration, feelings and emotion with flowers. It's as simple as that," he writes. The book includes free links to selected projects on ubloom.com and is available at Schuler Books locations.
"Under the Radar Michigan: The First 50" by Tom Daldin, Jim Edelman & Eric Tremonti (Scribe Publishing, $19.99). If you're a fan of Tom Daldin's quirky "Under the Radar" Michigan travel program, which airs weekly on PBS stations throughout Michigan (locally on Detroit Public Television), this 300-page book is a good reference to many of the places he and his crew visited over three seasons. (Season 5 premiered in October). The book is organized by show segments, so if you read the chapter dealing with Ypsilanti and Leland (the program showcases more than one location each week), you'll find a description of their visit to Haab's Restaurant and the Tap Room in Ypsi, as well as the Baabaazuzu apparel store, Fishtown, etc. in Leland. The "Story behind the name" briefs are amusing backstory details. Available at Barnes & Noble stores in Michigan, as well as online retailers.
"Black Fatherhood: Reclaiming Our Legacy" by Dr. Curtis L. Ivery and Marcus Ivery (Beaufort, $19.95). The elder Ivery is chancellor of Wayne County Community College; he and his son, Marcus, have written a book about black fatherhood that includes social history, down-to-earth advice for fathers, about discipline, bonding, authority; how to maintain a connection after divorce, and many other topics. Interspersed between the chapters are many inspirational photographs, as well as poems by Ivery about various aspects of fatherhood. The book is available at Barnes & Noble bookstores and online retailers.
Not exactly books, but available in a bookstore:
The brick-and-mortar bookstores have plenty of nonbook gifts available: toys, games, pop cultural collectibles, coffee and tea and even music. For the fan of Detroit music from the '70s who seemingly has everything, The Book Beat in Oak Park is carrying the "Destroy All Monsters" boxed set on vinyl and CD (Munster Records).
Note: Prices listed for books are retail and are often discounted at both local bookstores and online retailers.