Here are a few of the books I've recently read that are by Midwestern authors or about Midwestern related subjects:
A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott-I've read several of Alcott's historical novels in the past, but this is the first historical novel I've seen of hers that involves subjects portrayed as natives of the Midwest. Carole Lombard, a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, rose to fame as a movie star during Hollywood's "Golden Age" of the 1930s and 1940s. Lombard married movie star (and Ohio native) Clark Gable as he enjoyed an apex of his fame while filming the movie, "Gone With the Wind". Julie, the main character in Alcott's novel, comes to Hollywood with dreams of becoming a screenwriter and works as an assistant to Lombard. Julie and Carole enjoy a friendship strengthened by the fact that they both grew up in Fort Wayne, while Julie finds many challenges to her sheltered Midwestern upbringing as she embarks on her screenwriter career and a new relationship with a producer's assistant, Andy, who happens to be Jewish. It's 1939 and Gable is starring in one of the lead roles in GWTW as the fictional characters encounter swiftly changing attitudes regarding anti-Semitism, racism and career women.
Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini-This is one of several books from Madison Wisconsin author Chiaverini (other books based on the lives of real women in history include Mrs. Lincoln's Rival and The Spymistress). This story revolves around Julia Dent Grant, the wife of President Ulysses S. Grant, and Jule, a slave who fled to freedom in the wake the Emancipation Proclamation. Cast as a love story between Julia and Ulysses focusing on the very difficult years of the Civil War and the close, and eventually fractured, relationship between the Missouri-born Julia and the young Jule as they grew up together. Julia stayed with Grant until his lingering death from tongue cancer, while Jule found to business success with her own hairdressing and cosmetic company.
Terror in the City of Champions: Murder, Baseball, and the Secret Society that Shocked Depression-era Detroit by Tom Stanton-The 1930s saw a lot of pain and terror in Detroit even as 1935 saw Detroit Celebrate being the City of Champions with all three sports teams (baseball's Tigers, hockey's Red Wings and, believe it or not, football's Lions) win their respective world championship titles. Detroit's Joe Louis also became the world champion heavyweight boxer at the same time! Detroit author Tom Stanton details how Detroit celebrated the sports achievements and an improvement in the Great Depression-era economy even as the city struggled under the oppressive influence of The Black Legion, a secretive racist and xenophobic group responsible for multiple beatings and, in many cases, killings. Folks sometimes cheerfully would cop to being involved with groups like the KKK, but a strict code of silence among members and fear made it very difficult to break or prosecute the Black Legion. The book reminded Tim of Erik Larson's Devil in the White City with a cast of true-life characters that included the bigoted priest Charles Coughlin and other bit players like Henry Ford, J. Edgar Hoover, presidents Ford and Reagan and sports greats from Detroit.
Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard by John Branch. Boogaard grew up in Saskatoon and moved through youth, Junior and minor hockey leagues to advance to the NHL as one of hockey's fiercest and feared enforcers. I've never been a big fan of fighting in hockey, although many see it as a necessary outlet to help avert further violence in the game. Attitudes slowly changed over the most recent years when guys like Boogaard suffered because of the damage caused by repeated concussions and trauma to the brain caused by blows and on-ice collisions. Boogaard died at the age of 28 in 2011, an event that made headline news in North America and elsewhere. Often wearing the number 24 in homage to his hero Bob Probert, a much-loved hockey enforcer who spent much of his hockey career in Detroit and Chicago, Boogaard's struggled with injuries and illnesses (chronic pain, substance abuse) that mirrored Probert's. Boogaard's family, like Probert's before him, donated his brain after his death to researchers seeking to better understand the problems. The book covers Boogaard's early career in Western Canada as well as his time with the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers in the NHL. Debate about sports-related concussions continues in the NHL and NFL, and there seems to be more awareness and action to alleviate the conditions and provide better protection for those in sports in the wake of stories like the one about Boogaard.
The Val James Story: Black Ice by Valmore James and John Gallagher-Val James was a rarity in hockey during the 1970s and 1980s as a U.S. born hockey player...and as an African-American who become the first U.S. born black hockey player to make it to the NHL. Val James' road to hockey success was rocky at the time as he struggled with the open racism of the time. You'd like to think that things are better for such players these days, but it is still instructive and important to understand the insults and hardships visited upon players like Val. Val's interest and proficiency in hockey began as his family moved from his native Florida to upstate New York in search of a better life and his father became the manager of an arena in Rochester, New York. While Val spent much of his professional life in New York State, Quebec and Erie, Pennsylvania, he did manage to play at least a handful of games in Buffalo, New York, Toronto in Canada and Detroit, Michigan.
Check these books out and learn something new about the Midwest and Midwestern culture today!