Notable Detroiters enjoy good books while sheltering-in-place

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Now that we have all this time at home -- and entertainment options have dwindled down to a precious few -- The Detroit News asked a range of notable Detroiters in the cultural community what they're reading now, and what they would recommend.

Because really -- wouldn't right now be a great time to lose yourself in a good book?

Leonard Slatkin, music director laureate at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, writes to say he's presently reading two books.

The first is "Last Man Standing: Mort Sahl and the Birth of Modern Comedy" by James Curtis. "After Will Rogers," said Slatkin, "Mort Sahl is the best comedian to deal with the issues of the times."

The DSO's Leonard Slatkin is reading a couple books, including "Last Man Standing," a biography of comedian Mort Sahl.

He's also partway through "The Great Movies" by the late critic Roger Ebert. "I knew Roger well," Slatkin said, "and he was certainly the best film critic of my time. I read his summaries, then watch one of the films in the evening."

Scarab Club Executive Director MaryAnn Wilkinson says she's always got "a bunch of books that I should have read long ago," and the present lockdown is giving her a chance to remedy that.

She recommends "Tell Them I Said No" by Martin Herbert, "about artists who 'dropped out' of the art world and went their own way," she said. "As we reevaluate what we value in art during these difficult times, that sense of independence becomes more and more important."

Wilkinson's also halfway through "Fifth Business," the first book of "The Deptford Trilogy" by Robertson Davies, whom she summarized as "an elegant writer and teller of tales."

Bonus points: She also suggests Charles Dickens' "Our Mutual Friend," which she notes was his last book, and always one of her favorites.

Now that he's no longer at the Detroit Institute of Arts 10 hours a day, Director Salvador Salort-Pons has turned to philosophy, reading "Being Nobody, Going Nowhere: Meditations on the Buddhist Path" by Ayya Khema.

"This book," which he described as a guiding light for meditators, "is becoming a very useful companion during these hard times."

Salort-Pons also endorsed a "beautifully written biography" about a famous Renaissance thinker, "How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer."

He noted Montaigne could be called one of history's first bloggers, "who wrote about his personal life from a humble and down to earth point of view."

DSO President and CEO Anne Parsons says her daughter Cara bought her Richard Powers' "Orfeo" when she was out shopping for a friend who had to self-isolate after returning from Europe.

Parsons notes Powers comes with impressive credentials -- a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur "genius" award -- but adds that her daughter bought it mostly because she liked the musical theme connected to great writing.

She's also reading "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens, a long-running New York Times bestseller. Parsons said "We bought this book as family reading back in November, and it's finally my turn" to tackle this coming-of-age story complicated by a possible murder.

Detroit's Music Hall may be dark for the interim, but President and Artistic Director Vince Paul is putting the unexpected free time to good use, pushing through his stack of unread Vanity Fairs. "I do believe it took a mandatory quarantine to get me to start," he said.

As for specific titles, Paul suggested, "Seems like a good moment to revisit the Fitzgeralds, F. Scott or Zelda. The sudden, quick economic crash parallels the end of their party in poignant ways."

Elana Rugh, president and CEO of the Detroit Historical Society, is reading "John Adams" by David McCullough, a remarkable account of a president, she added, "who showed such humanity."

And to keep her mental balance while homeschooling "two spirited nine and 11-year-old boys," Rugh is diving back into Shawn Achor's "The Happiness Advantage."

The book, she said, is a reminder that "in these times we need to force ourselves to seek moments of happiness, the silver lining and gratitude."

Finally, Detroit graphic artist and art professor Ryan Standfest, on lockdown at home with his cat Moon Pie, said he's got "a stack of six books currently on the 'reading-in-progress' table."

Ones that seem particularly well suited to this moment include Werner Herzog's "Of Walking in Ice," about the hike the German filmmaker and author took over three weeks from Munich to Paris in late 1974. It would be, Standfest said, "a marvelous read to satisfy the need to wander off on that walk outdoors."

Equally intriguing is J.G. Ballard's "High-Rise," a dystopian novel about the collapse of civilization within a 40-story luxury apartment tower in London. "Consider it," he said, "a 'Lord of the Flies' for the luxury-condo ruling class."

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy