(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)