Holiday Gift Guide 2012
This year, a million books to give about our fair city
Published: November 21, 2012
This year also saw publication of The Broken Table: The Detroit Newspaper Strike and the State of American Labor by Chris Rhomberg. Rhomberg's book chronicles the strike, including the shameful way the newspapers paid off suburban police departments and hired private guards in riot gear, clearly escalating violence against the strikers. It's an unsettling look at what became a pivotal labor battle, and Rhomberg shows what happens when management doesn't simply try to bargain over the negotiation table, but seeks to take that table away entirely via unconditional offers. Tying in the events of 20 years ago with the state of labor today, it's a chilling story, not overly academic in its telling, one that could appeal to the fan of labor on your holiday gift list, or even the younger reader with a blossoming social conscience who may not remember the events of those days.
Speaking of labor-oriented titles about Detroit, it has been at least five years since the publication of a new edition of the classic Black Detroit and the Rise of the UAW, and now we have Beth Tompkins Bates' The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford. We've only thumbed through it, but it seems like engrossing material, as Ford's relationship with black workers was a special one, apparently liberal but paternalistic in practice, a complicated relationship based on undermining labor in the workplaces and enforcing segregation outside the workplace. This niche study should appeal to anybody interested in what really went down before the final unionization of Ford in 1941.
For the despairing hockey fan weeping his way through this year's NHL nonseason, perhaps you can offer as a palliative Hockeytown Doc: A Half-Century of Red Wings Stories from Howe to Yzerman, by Dr. John Finley. As team physician for the Red Wings, Finley cared for the team from the glory days of the "production line" 1950s to the late 1990s. Now these tales are told in Finley's new book, as well as some of his views as a doctor on concussions, eye injuries and skate cuts. Hearing about Finley sewing Kevin Miller's gums back together after a fractured maxilla, or giving Terry Sawchuck a "surprise nose job" after the bottom of it was lifted away from his face by a wild puck, you realize a guy like Finley has to be as quick repairing a Red Wing as a pit crew does a racecar. All in all, this book could help cure this year's Red Wing blues.
On the architectural tip, this year also saw publication of a thorough overview of the towers and townhouses of Lafayette Park, Thanks for the View, Mr. Mies: Lafayette Park, Detroit by Danielle Aubert, Lana Cavar and Natasha Chandani. Lovers of modernism will find much here to enjoy, particularly the lovingly photographed portraits of residents, and the ways they've taken identical spaces and turned them into expressions of their individuality. Of course, many new urbanists have taken a mixed view of the projects, which swept away a densely populated African-American neighborhood and replaced it with a low-density, upper-income largely white development. That subject, thankfully, is tastefully addressed here, though not lingered over long. Perhaps it should have been, as the "success" of Lafayette Park is founded on a deeper cautionary tale of "urban renewal" in American inner cities. But for those who love mid-century design and architecture, especially as it is expressed in this monumental project, this book will be a joy to thumb through.
Also betokening renewed interest in Detroit and its architectural heritage is this year's reissue of the 1968 classic The Buildings of Detroit: A History by Hawkins Ferry and W. Hawkins Ferry, a 500-page behemoth many readers considered exhaustive and excellent. But, honestly, the one we're waiting for should be out by the time this is published. It's Forgotten Landmarks of Detroit, by Dan Austin. See, Detroit has always had a strange relationship with its past; maybe its because we burned to the ground a few centuries ago. Or maybe it's the result of being the Motor City; given the "model year" mentality, we may regard that which is old as inherently obsolete and be all too ready to sweep it away for something newer. In his books and on his website, historicdetroit.org, Austin has been sharing his histories on what we've sacrificed, and his painstakingly researched histories are sometimes as close as you can get to the real-gone real thing. Weighing in at more than 260 pages, with plenty of lovely archival photos, Austin's book will tell the story behind 15 landmarks that are now gone forever, and it looks like a doozy. See below for details on his book release party.
A couple books this year centered on odd identity struggles in inner-city Detroit. We wished somebody would have sent us a copy of Runnin' With the Devil: Growing Up Black and Metal in Detroit Rock City by Scott T. Sterling; although it sounds like it's mostly one long love letter to Van Halen, we wonder what insights Sterling has to offer on African-Americans enthralled by metal. But no Detroit tale that touched on the racial divide in Detroit this year was more personal or compelling than Tears for My City: An Autobiography of a Detroit White Boy by Dean Dimitrieski. In 1973, Dimitrieski's family left Macedonia and came to the United States, moving into a house on Detroit's east side. In his book, he tells how he, his parents and his sister weathered what became an increasingly rough neighborhood. Now, Dimitrieski is no professional storyteller, and his style is not literary. This is a simple, vernacular history of one family's struggle to adapt to one of the harshest environments in urban America. He tells it all: the beat-downs, the shootings, the killings, the "drop zones" where bodies were discarded. He makes friends with some of the main drug dealers of the day, barely disguised with such names as "Ferrari Jones" and "White Boy Tom." Some of the tales, such as that of drug couriers landing small jets on McDougall, strain the reader's credulity, but most of the narrative is all too believable. The careful photos of the author sitting on his old stoop at the end, and one photo showing the rumored location of the buried millions of "White Boy Tom" demonstrate a sincere longing on Dimitrieski's part for the old days. Over and over again, Dimitrieski, whose family moved to the suburbs when he was 20, asks the reader why he looks back with such nostalgia to a time that he admits was full of fear and horrors. It gives the book a tension that's not soon forgotten.
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