Holiday Gift Guide 2011
Detroit — in books!
This year, another truckload of tomes about our fair city, its heritage and its people
Published: November 23, 2011
For the lover of coffee-table books comes Mary J. Wallace's Historic Photos of Detroit in the '50s, '60s and '70s ($40, Turner Publishing). From the shop floors of the booming postwar period to the urban upheaval of 1967 to the oil shocks and rock shows that followed, Wallace tells the story of the city in more than 200 pages of in lovingly reproduced historic, black-and-white photography.
Another handsome, hardbound photo book is Julia Reyes Taubman's Detroit: 138 Square Miles ($65, Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit). It comes out next week, with views of the city from air, land and water, ranging from proud cityscapes to fading ruins. The imagery is filled out with an essay by native Detroiter and pulp king Elmore Leonard.
In the memoir column we have a special treat: A contribution by a female author — bringing some gender balance to the genre locally — Mary Minock's The Way-Back Room: A Memoir of a Detroit Childhood ($18, Bottom Dog Press). A coming-of-age memoir set in 1950s Detroit, Minock chronicles growing up Catholic in a working-class neighborhood in southwest Detroit that is increasingly filling up with Southerners and Protestants, undergoing that ceaseless Detroit state of change.
Although it didn't come out this year, the memoir of civil rights leader, teacher and administrator Arthur L. Johnson is especially relevant after his recent death. The Georgia native was a classmate of Martin Luther King Jr. before he came to Detroit in 1950. He helped Detroit's NAACP grow, became one of Detroit's first black public school officials, and became a supporter of the fine arts. Despite the hard tasks and the 37 times he was arrested, he avoided cynicism and retained a graceful mein. After a life well-lived, his Race and Remembrance ($25, Wayne State) bears a second look.
Then there's this memoir, Children of the Greatest Generation ($35, fredlauck.com), by Frederick W. Lauck, a west-sider and graduate of the University of Detroit Jesuit Law School who became a prosecutor, public defender and prosperous attorney. An archetypal conservative white Detroiter of his generation, you get the expected rants against what happened to Detroit since those halcyon days when teachers could still smack you and judges threw the book at criminals, lamenting how the city is overcast with "the long, domineering shadow of thugs [and] criminals." (OK, maybe he's a little more politically complex than all that.) Ostensibly an attempt to convey a history of the west side, of those children whose parents survived the Depression and the war, it's part memoir, part lecture and part self-congratulatory nonsense, but — you know what? — I'll be damned if Lauck doesn't have some passionate rants and good stories to tell in there — notably the tale of his defense of Robert Smith, a General Motors worker who flipped out and attacked his supervisor with a shotgun. Maybe this is a stocking stuffer for the old man in the family — especially if he's from the old west side.
From the other end of the political spectrum a bit ago comes the memoir of Dr. John Telford, A Life on the Run ($25, Harmonie Park Press). From his childhood as the kid of a hard-drinking Scottish ruffian at Sixteenth and McGraw to a track star of international caliber, and finally a coach and educator, Telford's tale is a fascinating one. With a lifelong commitment to integration learned from his father, Telford spent many challenging years coaching and teaching English in inner-city Detroit schools. Trying to suit his curriculum to the needs of his students while bucking up against unsympathetic administrators, his lifelong educational journey finally took him out into suburban school districts, where he fought new battles against small-minded bigots and racists — at one point having his home sprayed with bullets by skinheads in the night. It's a no-holds-barred memoir that lays bare his sometimes rancorous family life and his long history of womanizing (he's no saint!) — all the more reason to take this tome as the honest memoir of a complex and absorbing personality. (Dr. Telford has also published What Old Men Know [$17, Harmonie Park Press], a sort of devil's dictionary imbued with his personal philosophy.)
Fans of Detroit's automotive heritage might find a few new releases under their tree. To get up to speed on the latest crisis to hit the industry, consider Bill Vlasic's Once Upon a Car ($27, William Morrow). Despite the clunky title, Vlasic's 394 page doorstopper tells how the Big Three teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in 2008, and the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that put them back on the road. Out in paperback is Lawrence R. Gustin's David Buick's Marvelous Motor Car: The Men and the Automobile That Launched General Motors ($25, Wayne State). Flint native Gustin takes us back in time to the early days of auto pioneer David Buick, weaving carefully researched historical fact into a story even auto agnostics could enjoy. Generously, another GM history comes to us in the form of Durant's Right-Hand Man ($42, FriesenPress) by Paul Arculus. It's the unsung tale of Edwin Campbell, son-in-law and partner of William C. Durant, and how, after Durant's ouster from General Motors in 1910, Campbell helped Durant's new Chevy brand prosper enough to allow Durant to control GM once more.
And, if you want to give the gift of Detroit to those who — darn it — just don't read, consider the attractive 2012 Detroit Historical Calendar ($14 postpaid, detroitroom.com) from the Detroit Room, featuring 13 archival photos of the city in its prime, with hundreds of notes marking dates of historical significance. They'll remember you, and Detroit, all year long.
See John Carlisle and Amy Elliott Bragg in person on Dec. 1, at Leopold's Books, 15 E. Kirby St. (enter on Woodward Avenue), Detroit; 313-875-4677.
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