Holiday Gift Guide 2012
This year, a million books to give about our fair city
Published: November 21, 2012
Longtime readers know that, with every Metro Times gift guide, we make an effort to review as many of the books about Detroit as we can that came out during the last year. Each year, the list has grown, and now, it seems, everybody wants to write about Detroit. There's no way we can review them all. Some of them have come out so close to the holiday season that we could barely scan them, or couldn't obtain them at all. (And, frankly, a few of them were so execrable we didn't want to review them — we're looking at you, Daniel Greenup!) But, doing our darndest to help readers fill that literary stocking with Detroitica, we here try to include as many as we can.
First off, lots of appealing photographic books this year. Among the most impressive is Detroit's Historic Places of Worship, compiled and edited by Marla O. Collum, Barbara E. Krueger and Dorothy Kostuch, with photographs by the talented Dirk Bakker and a foreword by a man who knows a thing or two about architecture in Detroit, John Gallagher. The slightly oversize volume, featuring scores of full-color photographs along with histories of the churches and parishes, delivers on its promise beautifully. Some of the images are so impressive, you can almost hear the pipe organist striking a chord. Another similarly large (11 inches by 8.5 inches to be exact) photographic record is Michael H. Hodges' Michigan's Historic Railroad Stations. From functional depots to monuments to rail travel, Hodges offers excellent photographs of the stations, sets their context in history, shows how some have been repurposed, and, of course, shows how a few have become iconic ruins, including our own beloved Michigan Central Station in Detroit. For the Michigan railfan on your list, you need read no further.
Then come the smaller-format photo histories of the Images of America series, which usually sell for around $22 and tell the tale of some particular niche in the history of a given place. We received two of them this year, one of which was Detroit's Historic Water Works Park by Michael Daisy, a fascinating look at how Water Works Park went from one of the city's most popular recreation areas, with gaudy views, ambitious landscaping, stunning floral displays and first-rate architecture, to a place completely closed to the public. The other book, Detroit's Cass Corridor, is an interesting look back on that parcel of land between Cass and Third, from Michigan Avenue north, and the many lives it has led, from home of the gentry to home for Southern transplants to bastion of redevelopment under the "Midtown" banner. Unfortunately, some rookie errors (Allen Schaerges is the Mayor of Cass Corridor, not the Dally, and the owners of City Bird are the Linns, not the Lims) cast doubt upon the book's general accuracy. That said, the pictures of, say, Third Avenue in the 1960s, with all the buildings occupied and business signs blazing, will lift your eyebrows off your forehead.
Rich with photos, but only to accent the history, is The Enduring Legacy of the Detroit Athletic Club: Driving the Motor City, by Ken Voyles and Mary Rodrique. Starting at the beginning, with the club opening in 1888 just north of what is now the Whitney restaurant, following it through to the "new" incarnation downtown (opened 1915) all the way to its renovation and preparations for the building's 100th anniversary, it's a thorough examination of the club, its auto baron membership, and the way the institution's history has been intertwined with the development — and dilemmas — of the city.
For the woman who appreciates art, you might consider Great Female Artists of Detroit by Suzanne Bilek. Maybe it's a stretch to include Frida Kahlo, who spent about a year here in town while her husband Diego painted the Detroit Industry murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts, but few will complain about it. Other artists of note include Niagara and Gilda Snowden, as well as many others readers may be unfamiliar with. The small, 150-odd page book does have many full-color reproductions and stories of women in art going back to the 1800s.
Normally, each year we find a bevy of books about the more musical dudes from Detroit, guys with guitars or the powerful men behind the sounds of Motown and beyond. And so it's a refreshing change that the books about music we found this year are books about musical women.
Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown's First Superstar by Peter Benjaminson is based on deathbed interviews with Wells, and delves into the grit behind the scenes — the sex, drugs and violence — including a stormy affair with Jackie Wilson. And, co-written with David Ritz, we have Bettye LaVette's A Woman Like Me, the tell-all autobiography offers some eye-opening looks at the record biz going back to the 1960s; although she wasn't signed to Motown, she was very much a part of the Motown dramas and culture. Lavette and Ritz then recount her descent into poverty and despair after she failed to become a star. The ending, thankfully, is more upbeat, after her rediscovery, which vaulted her back into the spotlight.
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