Holiday Gift Guide 2012
This year, a million books to give about our fair city
Published: November 21, 2012
Another book that came in a bit late for us to really read through it was Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis by Mark Binelli. Binelli seems like a nice enough guy, originally from metro Detroit, now a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and living out in New York City. He came to live in Detroit for a while and spent time with a good number of people at Metro Times know well, including Detroitblogger John, Mark Covington, Grace Lee Boggs, Tyree Guyton and many more. He hits places known mostly to insiders, such as the Carpet House, Catherine Ferguson Academy, or the wasteland that is the I-94 "Industrial Park." Following his guides, paying attention to a murder trial, chronicling the efforts Detroit Works, and speaking to firemen and police, the book is a good read. But on our quick perusal, the book seemed to be a bit too focused on the ruins, the urban ills, the designs of small-time do-gooders and the well-meaning efforts of large players. Binelli seems to offer a few glances at the elephant in the room: dysfunctional metropolitan politics in which suburban leaders have poached off the city for decades and now largely sit in smug, self-satisfied comfort in bigfoot houses and refuse to invest in the urban core — and often don't believe one is necessary. You can focus all you want on the troubled city, but without acknowledging the overt racism and self-congratulatory invective heaped on the city by those with the most subsidies, how do you come to understand what happened here? Then again, we speed-read it as fast as we could before deadline. If we're wrong, our apologies go to Binelli. And, despite these perceived faults, it is engaging; you may well buy it yourself and make your own call.
One book that does take it all in is Detroit: A Biography by Scott Martelle. A third-generation journalist, Scott Martelle lived and worked in Detroit for years, participating in the Detroit newspaper strike in 1995. Having been embedded in Detroit, and with a deep understanding of working-class America (Martelle also authored Blood Passion, an account of the Ludlow Massacre, a particularly bloody chapter in labor history), Martelle tells the story of the city from its inception to its zenith to today, finding every problematic throughline, exposing every myth, diagnosing every overstatement. For readers who were intimidated by academic histories such as Thomas Sugrue's Origins of the Urban Crisis, Martelle's book may be a better way to dodge the mythology behind Detroit's decline and examine the underlying causes. What's more, Martelle's take on the calamity that is Detroit is not just true but also fair. While acknowledging the forces behind our city's decay, he doesn't excuse the destructive decisions that were made, nor does he feel that pointing fingers will find a way forward. Perhaps once we, as a metropolitan region, are able to see our own history as clearly as Martelle has summarized it, we may be in a position to avoid the easy answers and find the tough path to reclaiming our greatness.
A book release party for Dan Austin's Forgotten Landmarks of Detroit will take place at 4-7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, at City Bird, 460 W. Canfield St., Detroit.
Michael Jackman is senior editor of Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.
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