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.

DSC04591DSC04594 DSC04596

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. 

DSC05497 DSC05498

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.















Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing


On April 4, 2011, I attended the reading and celebration for the book, I’ve Somehow Swallowed the Night: An Anthology of Creative Writing by Michigan Prisoners (2011).  It was the third annual volume of creative writing published by the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) who “make possible the spaces in which the voices and visions of the incarcerated can be expressed.”  Though the readings consisted of poetry, the anthology included short prose as well.  I purchased it and the previous two volumes:  On Words: Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing (2009) and The Bridges from Which I have Jumped: The Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing (2010).

Flashing forward to March of this year, I attended the Voices of the Middle West festival.  The one-day event was created by Midwestern Gothic literary magazine and partnered with the University of Michigan’s Residential College, to celebrate writers, professors, university and independent presses of the midwest.  At the first festival, in 2014, PCAP had a table, and I was almost able to catch up on the collection, picking up And Still You Expect Greatness: The Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing Volume 5 (2013) and The Sky is On Fire, After All: The Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing Volume 6 (2014).  (It is my understanding there was an issue with the fourth volume, On the Corner of Nihilism and Hope (2012), making it no longer available.  If you come across a copy somewhere, please let me know).  Last year, PCAP attended the festival again, adding Build Your Catacomb Anywhere But Here: The Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing Volume 7 (2015).

Adding the most recent volume to the collection from this year’s festival – Origami Handcuff Keys: The Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing, Volume 8 (2016) – I finally worked the first volume to the top of my reading list.

Wow.  The prose in On Words was breathtaking.

  • “A Wake and a Reckoning” by Jason Lee Metras is a tale of street revenge.
  • “The Muddy Uniform” by Marc Janness is a metaphor for how incarceration makes it difficult to assimilate back into society.
  • “His Trip to the City” by Joseph C. Yoder is about a recently released convict adjusting to relating with women (this is a very sweet story).
  • “Letters” by Shaka is about an inmate convicted of murder and the letters he exchanged with his son.
  • “Slow Walk Home” by Daniel Meyers is about the author’s three-mile walk home from picking cotton with his family when he was six-years-old, and applying it to his much older self.
  • “Zooey Deschanel” by Seven Scott is about the dumb things we fight about.
  • “Royalty Deferred” by Antoniese Gant Bey reveals a gripping view of an abused woman who shows her love by calling the police.
  • “Autumn Rain” by Chris Sarr is a family Thanksgiving story.
  • “Crowded Isolation” by T. X. Rasoul is about healing from the life of incarceration by riding public transportation.
  • “Tell Me Something I Can Believe” by Eve Poole is about a fourteen-year-old girl thrown out of her house and subsequently meeting with her mother as to the reason why.

These short pieces were deep, revealing works of fiction and memoir that pulled back another layer of understanding on some of the clients I represent as a criminal defense lawyer.  And the writing itself was better than some of the things I’ve seen published in other anthologies.

Yes, I am not one for poetry (though the discovery of Frogpond, the literary journal of the Haiku Society of America at the festival has tickled my interest), so I confess to skipping over what might be some very good poems.

In September, 2015, while on the Wayne State University Literary Walk, I heard Jim Reese read from his poetry collection; Really Happy (NYQ Books, 2014).  Reese, an Associate Professor at Mount Marty College in Yankton, South Dakota,  also spoke about a project he worked on as the Writer-in-Residence at the Federal Prison Camp in Yankton, South Dakota.  Afterwards, I spoke with him about it, about my day-job, and he gave me a copy of their recent anthology – 4 P.M Count: A Journal From Federal Prison Camp Yankton (2014).



Through art, we explore our shared humanity.  The power of these works do not come from the stereotypical images we have of prisoners and prisons, but rather, humanize the experience of the writers and people behind bars.  Through their writing a human soul is revealed.  Such a publication is subversive to a society hell-bent on considering and treating incarcerated people as “caged animals.”

As I work the rest of these anthologies into my reading list, I’ll share my thoughts on them here.  But by all means, jump ahead of me.  The Voices of the Middle West festival may be over, but you can order copies from PCAP.

The Bernie Sanders Reader

The Bernie Sanders Reader

-Outsider in the House
-The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class
-Bernie Sanders In His Own Words
-The Essential Bernie Sanders and his Vision for America
-Outsider in the White House


They say that one should not discuss sex, politics, and religion in polite company.  Well, I already broke the rule by reviewing Buddhist books and books by Buddhist writers earlier.  So, yes, I’m going to occasionally review books of a political nature, starting with this Bernie Sanders collection.

The videos and photos were taken at a Bernie Sanders presidential campaign rally at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, MI on February 15, 2016, and at the Macomb County Community College in Warren, MI on March 5, 2016.   The EMU Convocation Center seats 9,000, and Bernie spoke to a capacity 9,394 crowd on this Monday afternoon, and between 3,000-4,000 (by my estimates) in Warren.

And, in full disclosure, I am supporting Bernie Sanders’ campaign for United States President.  All that said, on to the books.

Starting with Ted Rall’s book, Bernie (Seven Stories Press, 2016) because it is the most recent book I’ve read.  Rall not only reveals Bernie’s personal story, but how the Democratic Party moved to the right since the 1972 landslide victory of Richard Nixon over George McGovern.  This move away from the progressives, coupled with Reagan’s trickle-down economics, resulted in policies which grew the military industrial complex, shipped manufacturing jobs overseas, depressed middle class wages, increased incarceration and prison-building, and removed restrictions on Wall Street and banks.  The Democrats kept progressives at bay, providing a lesser-of-two-evils choice for their vote.  Then Rall gets into Sanders’ personal history, wrapping up with how Sanders offers the progressive wing of the party a legitimate voice during this year’s campaign.  This well-researched and reasoned book comes in a condensed form at a time when many who may not know about Bernie Sanders can quickly understand his origins and how so many, like myself, have come to rally for the Independent Senator from Vermont to create a country for We, the People, instead of for the corporations and wealthy.

The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class (Nation Books, 2011) is the verbatim, eight-and-a-half hour, 255-page speech Senator Bernie Sanders delivered on the floor of the US Senate on December 10, 2010, to filibuster a tax bill that President Obama and Republicans agreed to which would cut taxes for the rich, once more.  It was an epic moment, with President Obama calling a press conference to draw attention away from the marathon recitation by Senator Sanders.  This is not a filibuster in which the Senator read the phone book or other time-killing trivial matters, but a full-on rant on how these tax breaks would widen the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us, on corporate greed, and money in politics, and how it all has had a negative impact on the citizens of this country.

Bernie Sanders : In His Own Words (Skyhorse Publishing, 2015) is a collection of Bernie Sanders quotes on a variety of topics such as the Economy, Jobs and Wealth Distribution, the Environment, Equality, Health Care, Criminal Justice, and more, compiled by Chamois Holschuh, with illustrations by Walker Bragman.

For something a little deeper into the political platform and philosophy of governance, then The Essential Bernie Sanders and his Vision for America (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015) by Jonathan Tasini is what you’re looking for.  Again, each chapter is broken down topically based on the issues.  Tasini explains, in the Preface that…

(t)he goal of this book is to present to the country, in a succinct way, Bernie’s authenticity and his accomplishments, a vision that he believes is a winning agenda because it exactly reflects, whatever labels one sticks on the messenger, the desires and beliefs of a majority of people.

On the shelves of your local bookstore you should be able to find Outsider in the White House (Verso, 2015) by Bernie Sanders with Huck Gutman.  It is an updated edition of the 1997 Verso autobiography of Sanders, Outsider in the House.   Here, the Independent Senator from Vermont tells his life story.  The new material is an afterword written by John Nichols, Outsider in the Presidential Race.

Avoiding books on religion, politics, and sex is shunning a multitude of thoughts and ideas that inspire and guide us in the practice of life.  Choosing to ignore the discussion of them does a disservice to the exchange of ideas.  I’m sure there will be more future books on religion and politics on this site.  And maybe some sex, too.  Why not hit the trifecta, eh?

DSC05214 DSC05216

DSC05570 DSC05587

More book reviews

Rock ‘n’ Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League by Ian Plenderleith


Rock n Roll Soccer:
The Short Life and Fast Times of the
North American Soccer League
Ian Plenderleith

It was April, 1978, when the Detroit Free Press introduced me to Detroit’s new pro team, the Detroit Express of the North American Soccer League (NASL).


I was a hockey fan growing up.  But hockey ran from October to May, which then left the summer sport-less.  I never got into baseball; the only cool thing about baseball was baseball cards.  So, I was intrigued.

WJR-AM covered eighteen of the Express’ games, while WXON-TV 20 broadcast six road games, including the team’s first two matches in Tulsa (2-1 win) and Fort Lauderdale (2-1 OT win).  I followed the team via radio, and caught some of the league’s games on ABC.  Then, this guy named Trevor Francis came over from the English National Team and the English League’s Birmingham City, and raised the level of excitement.  So much so, I finally talked my parents into taking me to the final home game of the season; a 4-2 victory over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, with Francis scoring two and assisting on another.


It was such a good time we went back nine days later when the Express eliminated the Philadelphia Fury 1-0 in the first round of the playoffs, on a goal by Trevor Francis (who else?)


Ian Plenderleith’s book is not a detailed history of the league, but rather an analysis of its rise and fall, its innovations and dumb ideas, its players and management, and its effect on the game.  In today’s game, there are elements that were first introduced in the NASL.

For example, in order to encourage higher scoring, the league awarded the winning team six points, the losing team zero points, but both teams would receive a point for each goal they scored up to three.  A winning team could walk away, at most, with nine points, and the losing team could earn up to three.  If the match ended in a tie, a fifteen-minute sudden death overtime would be played.  If still tied, then a shoot-out would resolve the match.  Like the use of penalty kicks today in playoffs or tournaments to resolve a tie, five players on each side would face-off against the keeper in a shoot out.  The ball would be placed on the thirty-five yard line.  The keeper had no movement restrictions and the shooter had five seconds to move in and shoot on the net.  FIFA was using a two-point system for a win, one-point for a draw, with no bonuses for goals scored.  Eventually, FIFA moved to a system that awarded three-points for a win, with goal differential deciding ties in the standings.

Other innovations included the thirty-five yard line (then maligned by FIFA who eventually forced NASL to abolish it) to combat the offside rule; three substitutes were allowed in the NASL when the norm was two, which FIFA later adopted; names and numbers on jerseys was only found in the NASL, but is now universal; and targeting women as potential fans was a NASL innovation.  The NASL talked about eliminating the time-wasting tactic of the back pass to the goalkeeper, but FIFA wouldn’t consider it until the 1990’s, long after the league’s demise.

Of course, it was the people  – players and executives – that made the league memorable.  I found the section on Jimmy Hill, a general partner of the Express who was responsible for the arrival of Trevor Francis to Detroit, especially interesting.  Stories about Rodney Marsh and George Best, two players who knew how to entertain as well as play the beautiful game; about franchises in Hawaii and Las Vegas which brought interesting challenges; and about the league’s origin being a controversy between two rival leagues in 1967, demonstrated how the NASL planted professional soccer into the American landscape.

An analysis of the NASL would be incomplete without a comparison with America’s current professional league – Major League Soccer (MLS).  Even from its outset in 1996 when MLS proclaimed its adamant distinction from the NASL, Plenderlieth draws the similarities and distinction between the two North American leagues.

I found this an enjoyable read broadening what little I had known about the league while following the Detroit Express from 1978 to 1980.

9-5-2009_041 9-5-2009_0429-5-2009_0459-5-2009_0439-5-2009_099

Book Review: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh


In July, 2014, I visited New York City for the first time.  One day we spent book store shopping, during which we discovered Three Lives and Company in Greenwich Village.  The small, well-stocked book store had a table upon which back issues of literary magazines were for sale for a couple bucks a piece.  I picked up a copy of the Fall, 2012 edition of The Paris Review.  This was my first exposure to the legendary literary journal founded in 1953 by a group of American writers including George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen, Harold L. Humes, Thomas Guinzburg, and Donald Hall.

One of the stories within the 202’nd edition was Disgust by Ottessa Moshfegh.  It opened with a 134-word paragraph which was a single sentence.  I thought that was rather unconventional.  No speakers or instructors at the writers conferences and workshops I’ve attended ever suggested that starting a short story with a 134-word sentence was a sure-fire way to get published.  I suppose you can get away with being unconventional if your writing is strong, which Ms. Moshfegh’s certainly is.  The protagonist in Disgust is the quirky, socially awkward Mr. Wu who has a crush on the woman who worked at the video game arcade, and his introverted schemes to make contact with her.

Upon returning home, I picked up the newest issue of The Paris Review, which was the 210’th edition – Fall, 2014.  I’ve been hooked ever since.

The Winter, 2014, 211’th edition included another story by Ottessa Moshfegh.  Slumming featured another quirky character, a high school English teacher who owned a summer home in Alna, a small town away from the city.  She tells of her interaction with the residents, like Clark who she paid to maintain and watch the house during the school year, the zombies (vagrant townsfolk) who sold meth and heroin at the bus station, and the very pregnant girl who Clark paid to clean the narrator’s house.  Again, the unusual characters drew me into the story.

In the September, 2015 Indie Next List flyer, Moshfegh’s debut novel, Eileen was promoted.  I purchased it at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, but I didn’t get a chance to read it until recently.  In the interim, The Paris Review‘s 214’th, Fall, 2015 edition contained Moshfegh’s short story, Dancing in the Moonlight.  The narrator, Nick, a Yale grad, falls for a woman selling her refurbished furniture in a pop-up market on the Lower East Side of New York, named Britt Wendt.  “That’s not a name, that’s the beginning of a sentence,” his oldest friend, Mark Lasky said when he told him.  Again, it was a well-crafted story involving unusual and engaging characters.

So here we are.  My name was Eileen Dunlop.  Now you know me.  I was twenty-four years old and had a job that paid fifty-seven dollars a week as a kind of secretary at a private juvenile correctional facility for teenage boys.  I think of it now as what it really was for all intents and purposes – a prison for children.  I will call it Moorehead.  Delvin Moorehead was a terrible landlord I had years later, and so to use his name for such a place feels appropriate.

In a week, I would run away from home and never go back.  This is the story of how I disappeared.

Eileen is a novel-length exploration inside the head of yet another unusual character, in a reflection of the event fifty years prior, in 1964, that caused her to run away from home.  As a result of her disappearance, Moshfegh’s narrator changed her identity , and masks the details of the New England town in which she was born, raised, and fled from.

Darkly funny and sad, Eileen lives with her father – a retired police officer – whose reputation keeps him from finding himself in jail from his drunken antics when he wanders from home.  Her mother had recently died, and her older sister, Joanie, lived with another man a few towns over, leaving Eileen to care for her unappreciative, intoxicated father.

Eileen was a social outcast, and the inner workings of her mind are creepily realistic.  The reader is placed in a position of feeling both uncomfortable and pity for the girl.  She thinks about leaving, about how her father, her sister, her co-workers, might feel if she were suddenly gone, but nothing moves her.  Until the correctional facility hired a new counselor – Rebecca St. John.

Rebecca is an educated, classier woman who is new to town and becomes friendly with Eileen.  This sparks a glimmer of hope for the narrator, a companion and friend.  Rebecca becomes the catalyst for Eileen’s disappearance.

Throughout the novel, the reader knows that something is going to happen to cause Eileen to leave town.  The ‘why’ she leaves, well, I did not see coming.

Like her three previously published short stories, Ottessa Moshfegh pulled me into the company of an unusual character, the kind of character I prefer to read about, and weaved a satisfying story within a gloomy environment in Eileen.

On Goodreads, I rated this novel a 4 out of 5.  I really liked it.