Literature vs Traffic – October 23, 2018

A few weeks ago, I saw this event pop up on my Facebook page.

10,000 books to fill a block in Ann Arbor?

Presented by the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities and Luzinterruptus, the block-long display would be held on October 23, 2018 from 5-11PM.

When books and Ann Arbor are players in an event, my curiosity is piqued.

At Luzinterruptus‘ website I learned that they are an anonymous group of artists who intervene in urban public spaces, illuminating their installations with light.  The temporary exhibit provides light that people take home with them.

This project is a commentary on the celebration of the written word, community, and…well, this young woman explains it best:

I wondered what ten-thousand books spread out on a city block would look like and its meaning.  The camera and I made the trip.

I arrived around four o’clock.  I was a little disturbed, at first.  It seemed like a blasphemous treatment of books.  I walked around it, snapping photos of whatever caught my attention in the mass of pages.

Standing there in the late afternoon, a breeze whipped down the street, fluttering the pages. A ripple of waves on a paper sea, whispering the words and ideas of their authors.

A pond, ten-thousand
worlds deep, deeper than a sea.

As the afternoon waned, the blocked street attracted more foot traffic.

As the ink of nightfall dribbled across the sky, their lights emerged.


Night falls, the books cast their glow.

I did not stay when the book-taking began.  However, as I prepared to leave, I noticed something that I needed to capture.  In the background of this pond of pages is the building that once held the flagship location of Borders Book Store.

The installation held a contemplative atmosphere.  I thought about how libraries and book stores shelve books together by category, for convenience, yet in the street, the lines are blurred and intertwined.  A mystery novel could lay next to a math text book; a contemporary social science study next to a nautical history from a century ago.  Beacons of community.  At night’s end, all will have found a home.



Finding Michigan Independent Book Stores With a Tote as a Map.

(The statement above adorns the outside of Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI.  It’s one of hundreds of messages left on the community typewriter in the lower level of the store, since its opening in the spring of 2013.)

Find The Book Stores – The Call to Adventure

On October 3, 2017, I was to visit a couple of clients in the Kalamazoo County Jail.  I arrived at the jail during lunch break, so to kill time I sought out an independent book store I discovered during the summer when I attended a Detroit City FC match.

A title caught my eye, so I approached the bookseller to purchase it.  As we talked, the topic came up that I was in town on business, that my job had recently increased my travel around the state, and that I liked visiting the independent book stores in the area if I had time.  She put her finger up, asked me to wait, then stepped out from behind the counter and walked to a display.  She returned with a book bag.  “You may need one of these.”

The “Greetings from Michigan Booksellers” tote displays a map of Michigan on one side, with dots identifying the location of the independent book stores listed on the back.  Each store has a box next to it.  All I needed to do was visit and make a purchase at a book store listed on the bag to receive a 10% discount and a check-mark in the box next to the store’s name.

The book-tote idea was presented to members of the Great Lakes Independent Book Sellers Association (GLIBSA) by Sue Boucher, owner of Cottage Book Shop in Glen Arbor.  Fourteen book stores joined this promotion and the totes were available for sale in the fall of 2017.

Spending $15.95 for a book bag was not usually my thing.  I told her I’d think about it, as I was going to have lunch at a pub in the plaza.  During lunch, I did the math, and were I to spend around $12 a book store, it would pay for itself.  But my concern was whether I would cover this much ground in the state, especially to the stores in the Upper Peninsula and on Mackinac Island where I have never ventured to before.

Oh, what the heck.  Between the courts and prisons and Detroit City FC travel, I was bound to hit most, if not all of them.

I went back into Book Bug, purchased the tote and the book, and the adventure began.

On the Road

There were four easy targets on the bag – book stores nearby that I frequent.  Six days later, a visit to one of them – Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor – landed me my second check-mark.

On October 27th, I had to visit a client at a prison in Ionia.  With Lansing being on the drive back, I stopped at Schuler Books.

In presenting the bag with my purchase, the bookseller told me that if I took the bag to the Grand Rapids store, I could get another 10%-off purchase, and the other half of the X in the box.

As October closed, three of the fourteen boxes had been marked.

During the first two weeks of November, six more boxes were marked.

On November 2nd, I had to file a motion with the Kalamazoo County Circuit Court and visit my client in the jail.  Roughly 30 miles south is Three Rivers, where Lowry’s Books is located.  I wished I had had more time there, because it had thousands of used and new books to browse.  Then, on the trip back home on I-94 West, I exited at Jackson Road to stop at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor.  The bookseller at Nicola’s placed a smile in their box.

Four days later, I was scheduled for a hearing in the Crawford County Circuit Court in Grayling.  I checked into my hotel on the 5th, but not before traveling up to Gaylord to visit Saturn Books, then Petoskey, to visit McLean & Eakin.

The hearing went well for my client, as the judge ruled in favor of our Motion for Resentencing.

On November 12th, I spent time in Detroit’s Cass Park where twice a month a group of people have been bringing food and clothes to the forgotten workers.  Then, it was a short drive up Cass to Source Booksellers.

Two days later, on my birthday, I had to visit a client in the Kent County Jail in Grand Rapids.  This provided me the opportunity to have lunch with a high school friend at Schuler Books, and of course, earn another checkmark.

When I presented the tote and said that the bookseller in Lansing said that I could earn another slash here, the bookseller not only affirmed, but she admired how many I had already visited, and told me that I could earn a third line in the box if I went to their Okemos store.  Really?  You’re going to tell me I can visit another bookstore and get 10% off?  Happy Birthday to me!

On my birthday, it had been a month-and-a-half since I purchased the tote, and I was already past the halfway point of completing the adventure.  For the shoppers out there, I had also earned a savings $25.77, the tote more than paying for itself.

But then, things got a little tougher.  Winter in Michigan and the miles to travel became an impediment.

Delayed by Distance

On December 7th, I found my way to another Detroit book store – Pages Bookshop.  The next day, I had to file a motion again at Kalamazoo County Circuit Court.  Fifty miles west of Kalamazoo is the city of St. Joseph, on the banks of Lake Michigan.  I took the opportunity to stop at Forever Books.

Three long, cold months passed before I was able to continue the journey.  The remaining locations were on the fringes of Michigan (with the exception of the Schuler Books store in the palm of the mitten in Okemos), and nowhere along my travel lines.

Finally, I was scheduled for a hearing in Wexford County Circuit Court on March 12th.  Located in Cadillac, a city in northwestern Michigan, I had to stay overnight.  I drove up on Sunday, but veered further northwest for a stop at Cottage Book Shop in Glen Arbor.

Winter faded into sping, then summer emerged before the next check-mark was earned.  It took some thinking outside of the box.

One of Detroit City FC’s opponents in 2018 was the Milwaukee Torrent.  In the previous season, the road match in Milwaukee was on a Sunday afternoon, and the Northern Guard Supporters chartered a bus to get our supporters there.  In 2018, our match in Milwaukee was on a Friday night.  Not an easy trip for supporters.

The standard route from Detroit to Milwaukee would be west to Chicago, then north to Milwaukee.  But there is another route, a much longer route, but one that would give me the opportunity to hit two of the book stores on the book tote – Snowbound Books in Marquette and Island Bookstore.  The latter had two locations; one on Mackinac Island, and the other in Mackinaw City.  To get to the Island, you have to take a ferry over.  But Mackinaw City is still in the Lower Peninsula.  The plan was to drive north from Detroit to Mackinaw City, stop at Island Bookstore, then cross the Mackinac Bridge to the Upper Peninsula and drive west to Marquette to shop at Snowbound Books.  I’d stay the night in Marquette, then drive south into Wisconsin and on to Milwaukee.



It was a great plan.  But a couple weeks before the trip I learned that the Island Bookstore in Mackinaw City had closed in April.  To earn that check-mark, I would have to go out to the Island, and there wasn’t time for that in the itinerary.

The Michigan Black Bear book was not purchased at Snowbound, but at Oswald’s Bear Ranch.  Had to do a little touristy thing while in the U.P.

On June 29th, Detroit City FC played in Grand Rapids.  It had been a rugged summer and I was fighting some sort of flu or heat exhaustion.  But I wasn’t going to miss this crucial match.  I checked into a hotel (that lacked WiFi, which sucked) and went to game.

Forty miles west of Grand Rapids is Grand Haven.  The next morning, I checked out of the hotel, pointed the car west, and stopped at The Bookman.

Then, it was time to turn the car around, point it east, and take me back home.  But halfway along the three-hour trip home was Okemos.  There, I took the almost complete bag into the store, found a book, then went to check out.  When I inquired about the third 10% discount, the bookseller took my tote to the store’s manager, then returned, confirming my discount.  She also asked if she could take a photo of it because they had never seen one this complete.  I naturally obliged.

And so, the Schuler Books box has three lines; one for each store.  I was fortunate to have stopped at the Lansing store before it had to close in the spring of 2018 to gain all three.

The Final Leg

Friday, July 27, 2018.  After spending the night in a cheap motel in Gaylord, I drove the hour north to Mackinaw City to catch the ferry to Mackinac Island.

The Mackinac Bridge opened on November 1, 1957 to traffic between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas.  It spans 26,372 feet, separating Lake Michigan on its west and Lake Huron to its east.

The Grand Hotel was built in 1887, and has been the filming location for two movies; “This Time For Keeps” (1947) which starred Esther Williams and Jimmy Durante and “Somewhere in Time” (1979) starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.

In 1898, automobiles were banned from the island, making travel by horse-drawn carriage, bicycle, and foot the means of transportation.

It was for none of those tourist reasons that I ventured out to Mackinac Island for the first time in my life.  My purpose was to shop at a bookstore.

Not far from the port where the ferry had docked was my destination.

After browsing the shelves, it was time to check out.


(photo by Mary Jane Barnwell)

It took 299 days to complete this mission, and an abundance of miles logged during this journey.  Each independent bookstore has its own personality and charm, which is refreshing in this age of corporate franchises.

So what’s next?  Buy another tote and do it again?  That’s something worth considering, but having completed this journey, if a new tote was released with some new locations, I’d definitely be in for that adventure.

I think the more difficult quest is to read all the books accumulated during this experience.  I’m sure that will take a lot longer than ten months as there is so much on my to-read list.  Below is a list of the books purchased and the current read/unread status.  I will keep this updated as I learn and experience from these books.  To quote Christopher Morley from his novella, Parnassus on Wheels, “When you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life.”

READ (in order of having read)

The Tao of Bill Murray by Gavin Edwards
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Renni Eddo-Lodge
All That Man Is by David Szalay

TO READ (in order of purchase)

The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits by Tiya Myles.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Illustrated by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay.
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein.
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami.
Not a Crime to be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America by Peter Edelman.
The Detroit Neighborhood Guidebook by Aaron Foley.
Prison Industrial Complex for Beginners by James Braxton Peterson.
Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies.
The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas.
They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery.
The Book: An Homage by Burkhard Spinnen
Us Against You by Fredrik Backman.
The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel.
Men in Blazers Present Encyclopedia Blazertannica by Roger Bennett and Michael Davies.
What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Mona Hanna-Attisha.
Masters of Empire: Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America by Michael A. McDonnell.
Poison on Tap (A Bridge Magazine Analysis): How Government Failed Flint and the Heroes Who Fought Back by the staff of Bridge Magazine.

(the purchases pre-Mackinac Island)





Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa (Literati Cultura)

Once upon a time, I had a favorite book store.  It was Borders.  From its Novi store opening in the mid-1980’s to its closing in 2011, I spent a lot of time (and money) in that second home.


Since its departure, I’ve explored the indies, and discovered many excellent book stores, each with their unique character.  Literati Bookstore is one such treasure.


Located in downtown Ann Arbor, Literati opened in 2013.  Fiction on the main floor, nonfiction on lower, the books are displayed on shelves from the old Borders stores.  Typewriters shine in the front counter display case, with a manual Olympia on the lower level for patrons to type their thoughts.  On the upper floor is a cafe, which was opened recently, where U of M students sit with their laptops and lattes, and author talks and book signings take place.


Samples of typed comments adorn the side of Literati Bookstore.

In September, 2015, the bookstore started a on-going, signed, first edition, subscription book club called Literati Cultura.   Through this, readers enhance their own reading and exploration of new writing.  It also allows bibliophiles to grow their libraries with signed first editions, creating a potential collectability element.

Each month, a Literati Cultura subscriber receives a hard cover, first edition book, signed by the author, as selected by owner Hilary Gustafson.  Included is a typewritten letter from Ms. Gustafson, detailing why the book was selected, and a limited edition print by Wolverine Press.  All this for cost of the hardcover book.  If you live a distance from the store – like I do – they will ship it to you for the additional shipping cost.  The selections thus far have been:

  • The Fates and The Furies by Lauren Groff. (Sept. 2015)
  • Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell (Oct. 2015)
  • Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape by Lauret Savoy (Nov. 2015)
  • Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman (Dec. 2015)
  • My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (Jan. 2016)
  • Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa (Feb. 2016)
  • The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan (Mar. 2016)
  • Desert Boys by Chris McCormick (Apr. 2016)
  • Heat & Light by Jennifer Haigh (May, 2016)
  • The Girls by Emma Cline (June, 2016)
  • Miss Jane by Brad Watson (July, 2016)

This month, I’ll be receiving the twelfth book of the subscription – Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, completing the first year of the club. I figured it was about time I start getting into these books, as they always seemed to arrive beneath the higher priority books I was reading.  Of the eleven titles received thus far, I have only read one.  After last night, I can now say I’ve read two.

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Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman (Dec. 2012 selection) was an easy first book to read.  Illustrator, author, and designer, Kalman tells the story of the her life with her husband and the sadness of losing him, and the how the love of a dog – an animal she feared throughout her life – opened her to a new joy for living.  It was a quick read as the story is told with words and illustrations, and was approved by my beloved dog, Zen.  I gave it the Goodreads rating of a 3 – I liked it.


Of the ten remaining books, the one that jumped out at me first was the February, 2016 selection, Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. 

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It’s November 30, 1999, as nineteen-year-old Victor emerges from under the bridge of the Seattle freeway he slept beneath, into the organized chaos of ‘N30′ – the first day of the protests against the WTO Ministerial Conference.  His step-father, Bishop, is the Chief of Police, and has not seen Victor since the boy left three years earlier to bare witness to the world.  The story is told through these two characters, as well as King, a young woman activist with a not-so nonviolent past; King’s lover, John Henry, an older activist from the Vietnam-era; police officers Park and Julia who become engaged with the protestors; and Dr. Charles Wickramsinghe, the diplomat from Sri Lanka seeking to have his country become a member of the WTO.

The novel puts these characters not only into conflict with each other, but within themselves as they confront nonviolent protest, police brutality, and globalization.  Yapa does this skillfully, not in a sententious way.  The only feeling of stepping out of the novel and into the political came in the way the final chapters were written – from Chapter 40 on.   It didn’t bother me as a reader, as it takes its shot at the media and the way such events are covered, but others may have a different opinion of whether it pulled too much away from the characters’ stories.

On the Goodreads scale, I give this book five stars – it was awesome.  Some people like to read novels set during periods of war.  I enjoy those that are set during occasions of protest.















Visiting the Indies Chapter Six: Paperback Writer Books in Mount Clemens, MI

Back in Chapter Three, I participated in Small Business Saturday by supporting independent book seller Used on New Books & More in Mount Clemens.  In 2013, author Sherman Alexie encouraged writers to go out and support the independent book sellers.  Used on New Books & More was my closest, hometown book store, a block over from my law office.

This year, I spent a couple of hours at Paperback Writer Books in Mount Clemens.  The owner, Lisa Taylor, and her husband Davey with his partner business, Weirdsville Records, outgrew the little space on New Street and in August moved a block over to the larger 61 Macomb Street storefront in downtown Mount Clemens.  The move also places the store on the same block as my law office.  Too convenient for this book addict.
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It was another enjoyable afternoon, which sounds redundant because time in a book store is synonymous with enjoyment.

(The guy below had my back the entire time)

A couple of book events coming up in Macomb County


I’ll be signing books at Paperback Writer Books in Mount Clemens on Small Business Saturday – November 29, 2014 – from Noon to 2PM.  Come on out and support small business!

Paperback Writer is located at:
61 Macomb
Mount Clemens, MI  48043

Then, on Thursday, December 4th, I’ll be at the Chesterfield Library for the Local History Book Sale, from 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM.


The Chesterfield Library is located at:
50560 Patricia Ave.
Chesterfield, MI  48047

Borders Memorial Library and “The Y in Life” as art

I’ve recently written about my favorite book stores – those that carry the latest titles as well as used, rare and old book stores.  But one book store was missing from that lot, because it has been missing from the bookish landscape since 2011 – Borders.


With its demise, I’ve discovered all these wonderful book stores I might not have otherwise.  Borders was my oasis.  My bookish paradise.  Since the early 1990’s, when the Novi store opened, before it became a massive franchise that was big but not too big to fail, it was the place that fostered my reading and writing hungers.

When they closed, I took advantage of it.  If there would be no Borders for me to retreat to any more, to peruse and feel at home in, then I was going to create the space in my home.  I picked up Borders shelves, Borders signs, Borders accessories.  And I was going to turn a room in my house into my Borders Memorial Library.

First, I needed the walls painted the right Borders color.  This red did the trick.


I thought I was set, but upon learning about a treasure trove of old Borders store and office fixtures, I completed the room – or at least as it is now.


Upon entry is the noticeable Borders rug, with a Borders shopping basket.  The shelves – all from Borders’ stores – holding my library.  Straight ahead on the tall shelf is my collection of Borders Classics.  Leather bound editions, hard cover editions, and soft cover, all published by Borders’ State Street Press in Ann Arbor.


The shelf with the glass doors holds my collection of works by writer W. Somerset Maugham and the writings of A. Edward Newton, a legendary book collector from the early part of the 20th Century.

And yes, the framed poster is the promotion for the release of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows at Borders.

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The tall shelf in the corner of the above photo now houses my signed editions.

The chair, from the cafe area of the Novi store.

This is my Borders escape.  My retreat.  And with the electric typewriter there, a place to bang out some thoughts when I have them.


Borders, the business, the book store, may be gone.  But its memory and essence remains a part of my existence.


At the Ann Arbor Art Fair this summer, I came upon the booth of Sarah Bean.  Her artistic talent was in book carving.  She would take your favorite book and turn it into a piece of art.

I know.  At first, a part of me cringed.  How could one take a knife to a book and carve it?  But looking at the display of her work, I was intrigued.  I went back to Ann Arbor the next day, a copy of “The Y in Life” in hand.  I turned it over for her to perform her magic.

Today in the mail the carving arrived.  Framed and beautifully done, it now hangs on the wall outside my office, where I can see it constantly.  “The Y in Life” is now both a literary work of art, and a graphic work of art.

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You can see more of Sarah’s work at her website, “The Art And Poems Of Sarah Bean.”