By BILL CASTANIER
Early indications look like 2021 will be a very good year for reading. At the beginning of each year, I compile a list of books I want to read. The following list does not include political tomes on the recent election or the future of democracy. Those will come later.
“Let Me Tell You What I Mean,” by Joan Didion, is a collection of 12 literary nonfiction essays by one of America’s foremost authors. Didion draws on the extensive body of work published during her 50-year career.
In “Tempting All the Gods,” author Jane Karoline Vieth explores the two years (1938-1940) Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. spent as an ambassador to the United Kingdom. The book’s a handful at 950-plus pages, which is roughly a page and a half for every day he was an ambassador before he was recalled for being a defeatist.
“Pewabic Pottery: The American Arts and Crafts Movement Expressed in Clay,” by Thomas Brunk, is a comprehensive history of Detroit’s preeminent pottery studio cofounded by Margaret Chase Perry. Amazingly, this national treasure was at one time under the auspices of Michigan State University before being spun off as a nonprofit.
LaToya Ruby Frazier, a recipient of a Gordon Parks Foundation grant, will have her first collection of photography published in 2021. Among Frazier’s work is “Flint is Family,” a five-month photographic documentation of Flint families and their experience with the man-made environmental water disaster.
“The Firekeepers Daughter,” by Sault Tribe member Angeline Boulley, is one of the most anticipated young adult-thriller titles of 2021. Boulley’s debut book and its sequel sold for seven figures, with 12 of the biggest publishing houses bidding for the books. Boulley writes with informed insight in this coming-of-age story about an 18-year mixed-heritage young woman, who gets caught up in tribal politics and a number of drug-related deaths. The author took some creative license by using a fictional tribal entity but drew heavily on her own experiences living and working in Sault Ste. Marie, where the novel is set.
Two additional books by Indigenous authors also debut this coming year. In our own backyard we have Matthew L.M. Fletcher, an MSU College of Law professor and one of the foremost national experts on American Indian law, who has published his seventh book, “The Ghost Road: Anishinaabe Responses to Indian Hating.” The book is an informative look at the history of hate experienced by Native Americans, and an analysis of the surprisingly racist history of policies such as the Second Amendment, the origin of which can be traced to widespread fear of Native Americans at the time.
Devon A. Mihesuah, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, has written an intriguing cookbook of sorts featuring the history and contemporary problems of the dietary nuances facing Indigenous populations. “Recovering Our Ancestor’s Gardens: Indigenous Recipes and Guide to Diet and Fitness” is a 350-page book that can be enjoyed by all, as it explores the history of eating among Indigenous nations and how it has changed since European contact. It includes historical photography, 72 pages of recipes and makes a strong case for backyard gardens.
In the same vein, “Motor City Green,” by Joseph S. Cialdella, considers the long history of urban gardening in Detroit. The author makes the case that Detroiters turned to gardening and creating greenspaces to fight back against industrial capitalism.
Stephen Mack Jones, who hails from Lansing, graduated from MSU and pursued a successful career in advertising before retiring and writing tense thrillers set against the urban background of Detroit. Mack Jones’ newest thriller, “Dead of Winter,” is his third August Snow thriller and the action is as deadly and bloody as readers have seen in his previous books. This time, Snow comes to the rescue of a homegrown thriving Mexican business, which supplies tortillas to the region’s restaurants and grocers. Snow uses his resourcefulness to save the business from billionaire developers.
“The Great Gatsby” is back in play with a graphic novel by writer Frank Fordham and illustrator Aya Morton. There is also a prequel to look forward to. “Nick,” by Michael Farris Smith, follows one of literature’s best-known protagonist-narrators, Nick Carraway, as he goes from the trenches of World War I to Paris and New Orleans, before making his way to West Egg.
If you read one poetry book this year, read Nikki Giovanni’s 19th book of poetry from William Morrow publishing, “Make Me Rain,” a timely addition to her body of resistance poetry. This work includes poems on the Ferguson protests, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and President Donald Trump, for whom she has no kind words. Prior to Morrow, Giovanni was published by Detroit’s Broadside Press and its legendary founder, Dudley Randall. Giovanni, a graduate of Fisk University, teaches at Virginia Tech and, in addition to her collections of poetry, has numerous children’s books and spoken word recordings. An early fan of hip-hop, Giovanni showed off her newly minted Tupac Shakur tattoo to a Lansing audience in 1997 while visiting Lansing Community College.