Are you starting to put together your summer reading list? Check out this list of Midwest-related books perfect for a lazy day in your hammock or at the beach!
The State Fair-John Minnis and Lauren Beaver-One of my cousins entered her collections and artwork in competitions at the Michigan State Fair for several years, and I drove her there each year and so she could check out her prize ribbons and share her successes with me. She lives in California now, but we both have fond memories of our trips to the fair, so I sent this book as gift to her late last year. Reading this volume was bittersweet, as former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm shut down one of the nation's oldest and largest State Fairs a few years ago, and Detroit's Big Stove, a long-time fairgrounds landmark, burned down after a lightning strike shortly after the book came out. Still, it was fun to recall some of the great memories I have of Michigan's State Fair.
The Boy Governor: Stevens T. Mason and the Birth of Michigan Politics by Don Faber-Named one of "Michigan Notable Books" of 2013, this is the story of Michigan's first governor. Mason was a fresh-faced teenager when his political career started in Michigan during the 1830s. Mason was a visionary in many ways, but his meteoric political rise, and equally swift fall from grace that ended in death at the age of 31, makes for a fascinating, yet tragic, look at the rough and tumble politics and history of Michigan's earliest days. History, fortunately, treated Mason far more kindly then most of Mason's contemporaries did and this book explains why. I found Farber's language a little too flowery and stilted for my taste, although I recently heard him give a great, enthusiastic talk about the book and Mason's life at a history conference.
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier-I read this book shortly after writing a story about 19th-century Quakers in central Indiana. This historical novel about a young Quaker woman 19th-century Ohio comes from the author of Girl with a Pearl Earring (a historical novel about a woman who modeled for the great Dutch painter Vermeer, which I've also read). This book's main character, Honor Bright, emigrated from England to a new Quaker community near Oberlin, Ohio with her sister in the early 1850s. Honor's sister wanted to join her fiancé and marry him, while Honor sought a new life after her own romantic disappointment back in England. An unexpected tragedy changes everything as Honor begins a new life in Ohio, becomes involved with the Underground Railroad and decides whether to follow her principles or follow her heart.
Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini-This historical novel tells a story about the events of the Civil War, President Lincoln's assassination and the aftermath of those events from the point of view of Elizabeth Keckley. The real-life Keckley was a remarkable woman, born as a slave, who worked many years to purchase freedom for herself and her son before starting a successful dressmaking business in the nation's capitol. Keckley became Mrs. Lincoln's favorite dressmaker and confidant. It's ultimately the sad story of a broken friendship and Mary Todd Lincoln's personal and financial struggles throughout her life. Author Chiaverini graduated from Indiana's Notre Dame and the University of Chicago and currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Four Blue Stars in the Window: One Family's Story of the Great Depression, The Dust Bowl, and The Duty of a Generation by Barbara Eymann Mohrman-I'm always checking out book reviews online for Midwest-related reads, and I found a review of this title on the Nebraska Outback blog. The chance discovery of a forgotten box in a basement that contained family memorabilia sparked a young girl's interest in tracing her family's history from the late 1920s. Mohrman's family survived in the face of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and numerous sacrifices during World War II. Published early this year, the book has some great reviews and sounds like one I need to include on my to-read list.
Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology edited by Richey Piiparinen and Anne Trubek-I read Amanda's review of this collection of essays book late last year on her Clue Into Cleveland blog. The book, billed as an insiders' view of the city from some people familiar to me like the always irascible and irrepressible Harvey Pekar and author and chef Michael Ruhlman who frequently guested on Anthony Bordain's television shows, and many other voices that share the unique stories of renewal, successes, disappointments, and all that is Cleveland. The electronic version of this book sounds like the one to get as it includes an additional 12 essays not in the print version.
Whiskey Island and Cleveland Creep by Les Roberts-Amanda's blog also clued me into the existence of two new mysteries in the Milan Jacovich series by Les Roberts. I've featured Roberts' books here in the past as I got Tim hooked on them after picking up the first two books in the series at a bookstore on my way home from a writers conference in Ohio. Cleveland Creep made its way under our Christmas tree last year, and I suspect Tim will get the latest book in the series, Whiskey Island, the next time we visit Ohio.
Are there any other Midwest books I should suggest to readers?
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