The best books about Michigan

25 authors have picked their favorite books about Michigan and why they recommend each book.

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Song of Solomon

By Toni Morrison,

Book cover of Song of Solomon

You don’t have to choose what you like most about reading when you read Morrison because she has it all. Stirring plots, elegant language, realistic and gorgeously full characters. Song of Solomon, set in a fictional Michigan town, begins with a death but tells the story of the life of Macon Dead III, from the 1930s to the 1960s. It’s been called “The Great American Novel” and it is. It’s hard sometimes for a writer or an avid reader to get the feeling of getting lost in a book because, being so familiar with the structure of a novel and some of the tropes, there’s so much that can take you "out of it." But I got lost in Song of Solomon. I just dove right in and didn’t come up for air until I was finished and I’m so grateful for that feeling.


Who am I?

As a lifetime Midwesterner, I've found that, just as the richness and beauty of our beloved "flyover states" can be overlooked by the rest of the country, there is a powerful collection of Midwestern novels that don't get the attention they deserve. I once read a passage by a New York writer that described a character as being from “some non-descript Midwestern town.” The Midwest is only non-descript if you’re too lazy to describe it. I kind of like that I can keep the Midwest like a secret. But I’ll share these novels with you. Best enjoyed on the coast of a freshwater lake or in your favorite worn-out easy chair.


I wrote...

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks

By Annie Spence,

Book cover of Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks

What is my book about?

In Dear Fahrenheit 451, librarian Annie Spence has crafted love letters and breakup notes to the iconic and eclectic books she has encountered over the years. From breaking up with The Giving Tree (a dysfunctional relationship book if ever there was one) to her love letter to The Time Traveler’s Wife (a novel less about time travel and more about the life of a marriage, with all of its ups and downs), Spence will make you think of old favorites in a new way. Filled with suggested reading lists, Spence’s take on classic and contemporary books is very much like the best of literature―sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes surprisingly poignant, and filled with universal truths.

Detroit's Cold War

By Colleen Doody,

Book cover of Detroit's Cold War: The Origins of Postwar Conservatism

I like this book because it forces us to rethink what the Cold War really was. The book identifies key figures in anti-communist crusades in post-World War II Detroit: workers, white homeowners, city officials, Catholics, and manufacturing executives, and argues that the core elements of their “anticommunism” were not fears of Soviet incursion, but sociocultural tensions at home that derived from drastic changes in wartime and postwar Detroit, which observed a sudden influx of African Americans, Southern whites, and immigrants. 

Thus, the book argues that Cold War Detroit’s “anticommunism” was not a new development in the postwar era, but a continuation of what had previously been labeled anti-unionism, white-supremacism, anti-secular Catholicism, and anti-New deal sentiments, all of which can be characterized as expressions of ongoing “anti-modernist” tensions within American society. Such a reexamination of Cold War anti-communism is significant because it could open up new territory for rethinking what anticommunism…


Who am I?

Masuda Hajimu (family name Masuda) is a historian at the National University of Singapore. He specializes in the modern history of East Asia, the history of American foreign relations, and the social and global history of the Cold War, with particular attention toward ordinary people and their violence, as well as the recurrent rise of grassroots conservatism in the modern world. His most recent publications include: The Early Cold War: Studies of Cold War America in the 21st Century in A Companion to U.S. Foreign Relations; “The Social Experience of War and Occupation” in The Cambridge History of Japan (coming in 2022), among others. He has served as a residential fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2017-18); Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge (2020); and Visiting Scholar at Waseda University (2020).


I wrote...

Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World

By Hajimu Masuda,

Book cover of Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World

What is my book about?

Masuda Hajimu’s Cold War Crucible is an inquiry into the peculiar nature of the Cold War. It examines not only centers of policymaking but seeming aftereffects of Cold War politics during the Korean War: Suppression of counterrevolutionaries in China, the White Terror in Taiwan, the Red Purge in Japan, and McCarthyism in the United States. Such purges were not merely end results of the Cold War, Masuda argues, but forces that brought the Cold War into being, as ordinary people throughout the world strove to silence disagreements and restore social order in the chaotic post-WWII era under the mantle of an imagined global confrontation. Revealing social functions and popular participation, Cold War Crucible highlights ordinary people’s roles in making and maintaining the “reality” of the Cold War, raising the question of what the Cold War really was.

The Virgin Suicides

By Jeffrey Eugenides,

Book cover of The Virgin Suicides

Before Jeffrey Eugenides won the Pulitzer Prize for his sophomore effort, he debuted on the literary scene with one of my very favorite books, The Virgin Suicides, a dark and haunting novel about a group of five repressed teenage sisters who each commit suicide over the course of a year. In Eugenides’ subversive coming-of-age tale, he explores themes of religion, isolation, and mental illness through the collective narrative voice of the neighborhood boys who obsessed over the sisters and want to understand why they killed themselves.


Who am I?

I love most all genre fiction, but I’m a sucker for dark fiction—and I have a particular fondness for dark fiction that explores the hidden shadows of men and women as they make dubious choices that lead to consequences rife with fear, despair, and unflinching terror. Whether it’s young men meeting in a basement to engage in a secret barbaric club or a world gone mad following the literal death of God, my favorite dark fiction is woven with sly satire and subversive social commentary.


I wrote...

Inside the Outside

By Martin Lastrapes,

Book cover of Inside the Outside

What is my book about?

15-year-old cannibal Timber Marlow has lived her entire life within a murderous cult called the Divinity of Feminine Reproach, but she’s always suspected there was more to life than the strange and twisted lessons she’s been indoctrinated to believe. After risking her life to escape into the Outside, Timber bears witness to some dark and unsettling truths about the world around her…and the integral role she unwittingly plays in it.

Black Detroit

By Herb Boyd,

Book cover of Black Detroit: A People's History of Self-Determination

An Alabama native who moved to Detroit as a young child, renowned Black press reporter Herb Boyd paints a lively, knowing portrait of the world that his fellow Southern migrants and their offspring made in his hometown. The sweeping study examines the role that Blacks played in shaping the American car industry and autoworkers union, and fleshes out the backstories of legends who were raised or came of age in Detroit and went on to transform our national culture, from Malcolm X and Aretha Franklin to record mogul Barry Gordy and the young local musicians who became the superstars of Motown Records.

Who am I?

For more than thirty years, I worked as journalist covering the biggest news stories of the day—at Newsweek magazine (where I became the publication’s first African-American top editor), then as a news executive at NBC News and CNN. Now, I keep a hand in that world as a judge of several prestigious journalism awards while taking a longer view in my own work as a contributor for CBS Sunday Morning, Washington Post book reviewer, and author of narrative non-fiction books with a focus on key personalities and turning points in Black History.


I wrote...

Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance

By Mark Whitaker,

Book cover of Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance

What is my book about?

The grandson of Black Pittsburgh undertakers, veteran journalist Mark Whitaker documents the remarkable impact on mid-20th Century American culture and politics made by the city’s small but vibrant Black community. Pittsburgh produced the most widely read Black newspaper of the era (The Pittsburgh Courier), fielded the two best Negro League teams of the 1930s (the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays), nurtured scores of groundbreaking jazz musicians (from Billy Strayhorn and Billy Eckstine to Mary Lou Williams, Ray Brown, Art Blakey and Erroll Garner) and served as the canvas for August Wilson, America’ greatest Black playwright.

Described by Kirkus Review as “an expansive, prodigiously researched, and masterfully told history,” Smoketown recounts the stories of the Southern migrant families that produced these pioneers and explores the confluence of social factors that, like Pittsburgh’s three rivers, met to create what Whitaker calls “this glittering saga.”

Detroit

By Charlie LeDuff,

Book cover of Detroit: An American Autopsy

Love him or hate him, it’s undeniable that LeDuff is a tremendously charismatic writer. A Pulitzer Prize winner, a breathtaking reporter, and a denizen of Detroit for decades, this is one of the most compellingly written books on Detroit ever.

This book has a Mustang eight-cylinder engine on it, and I hoovered this up over just a couple of hours. If you want a barn-burning page-turner of a tale, showcasing Detroit as its most broken and beautiful, this is the one for you.


Who am I?

I’ve lived in Detroit for nearly 15 years, where I built my house with my own two hands out of the shell of one I purchased for $500. A longtime journalist, I grew up in a small town in the countryside of Michigan. When I moved to Detroit after college people told me I was throwing my life away, but I looked at it as a moral decision, as “staying home” when it seemed like most other people were leaving. I’m glad I did—it offered me a look into a world more strange and beautiful than I could have imagined, potentially even a vision into a brave new future. I hope this world comes across in A $500 House in Detroit, and I hope we can make it last. 


I wrote...

A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City

By Drew Philp,

Book cover of A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City

What is my book about?

A $500 House in Detroit is a raw and earnest account of rebuilding everything but the frame of an abandoned house, nail by nail and room by room. But it’s also a tale of a young man finding his footing in the city, the country, and his own generation. We witness his concept of Detroit shift, expand, and evolve as his plan to save the city gives way to a life forged from political meaning, personal connection, and collective purpose. As he assimilates into the community of Detroiters around him, Philp guides readers through the city’s vibrant history and engages in urgent conversations about gentrification, racial tensions, and class warfare. “Philp is a great storyteller.” (Booklist)

Detroit

By Dan Georgakas, Marvin Surkin,

Book cover of Detroit: I Do Mind Dying: A Study in Urban Revolution

The name “Detroit” too often conjures images of poverty-porn: gorgeously crumbling buildings, post-apocalyptic urban decay, lost souls wandering cracked streets. Detroit: I Do Mind Dying shatters this image with unfettered energy. It chronicles the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in the auto plants of the 1960s-1970s, a refreshing reminder of the power of intersectional labor organizing; a raw look at the racism of the mainstream labor movement; and a very human chronicle of the struggles and flaws of courageous everyday workers at this critical time and place in history.

Who am I?

Fresh out of journalism school I stumbled on a strike at a machine shop in Pilsen, a neighborhood once home to Chicago’s most famous labor struggles, by then becoming a hip gentrified enclave. Drinking steaming atole with Polish, Mexican, and Puerto Rican workers in a frigid Chicago winter, I was captivated by the solidarity and determination to fight for their jobs and rights, in what appeared to be a losing battle. After covering labor struggles by Puerto Rican teachers, Mexican miners, Colombian bottlers, Chicago warehouse workers, and many others, my enthusiasm for such stories is constantly reignited -- by the workers fighting against all odds and the writers telling their stories, including those featured here.


I wrote...

Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover and What It Says About the Economic Crisis

By Kari Lydersen,

Book cover of Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover and What It Says About the Economic Crisis

What is my book about?

Workers were suspicious; machinery had been strangely disappearing from the window factory on an island in the Chicago River. Then right before Christmas in 2008, the factory closed and they lost their jobs, their health insurance, and all their vacation time and benefits. The sudden closure violated labor law, and the owner was secretly moving the equipment in a criminal scheme that would later send him to prison. The workers refused to take it.

They occupied the factory and captured the public’s imagination at a period of anxiety and resurgent class consciousness in the early days of the economic crisis. The mostly immigrant and Black workers were the new face of the nation’s labor movement, and their scrappy independent UE union was willing to fight in ways mainstream labor unions no longer are. 

The Red Parts

By Maggie Nelson,

Book cover of The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial

The first time I read this book, I had the whole-body sensation of having my mind simultaneously read and fed. Nelson put words to fantasies and fears I’d never thought to vocalize, while also functioning as an educator, leaving me with an entirely new understanding of true crime as a media sensation. This is a memoir about the process of writing her book of poems, Jane. Jane chronicles the story of her aunt, who was murdered as a young college student, while The Red Parts goes into Nelson's personal process and how the investigation of a murdered family member can become all-consuming. I highly recommend reading both in succession because the dialogue between them is astounding.


Who am I?

I’ve been writing poetry for most of my life and only recently began a real crash course in fiction with my first novel. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but not for the reasons I thought. In poetry, you learn to locate meaning, but you don’t learn narrative structure. Who knew being an existential genius was easier than finishing a sentence? Once I started studying literature that I felt embodied both, I was able to visualize how my poetic voice wasn’t just applicable, but useful, in the world of fiction.


I wrote...

Life of the Party: Poems

By Olivia Gatwood,

Book cover of Life of the Party: Poems

What is my book about?

Lauded for the power of her writing and having attracted an online fan base of millions for her extraordinary spoken-word performances, Olivia Gatwood now weaves together her own coming-of-age with an investigation into our culture’s romanticization of violence against women. At times blistering and riotous, at times soulful and exuberant, Life of the Party explores the boundary between what is real and what is imagined in a life saturated with fear.

Gatwood asks, How does a girl grow into a woman in a world racked by violence? Where is the line between perpetrator and victim? In precise, searing language, she illustrates how what happens to our bodies can make us who we are.

Firekeeper's Daughter

By Angeline Boulley,

Book cover of Firekeeper's Daughter

Angeline Boulley, Ojibwe, is the current rock star of young adult crime writers. Her book, Firekeeper's Daughter, is setting the literary world on fire. She is a hit not just in indian country but across the country. I met Angeline at the Kweli Writer’s Conference; a gathering to ‘nurture emerging writers of color and create opportunities for their voices to be recognized and valued.’ At the time I had one novel published and a handful of children’s non-fiction. She was working on developing and finding an agent/publisher for the Firekeeper's Daughter. All the right pieces fell into the right places when she was mentored through the We Need Diverse Books program. A YA thriller with murder, drugs, mystery, and some romance thrown in, is set on a Native reservation. A ‘gotta read’ book.

Who am I?

As an Anishinaabe writer, my award-winning/nominated books, Murder on the Red River and Girl Gone Missing, feature Cash Blackbear; a young, Native woman, who solves crimes for the county sheriff. Oprah Magazine 2020 listed me as a Native American Author to read. I received Minnesota's 2020 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award. My script, Say Their Names, had a staged reading with Out of Hand Theater, Atlanta, 2021. Vazquez and I received the Loft’s 2017 Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship for work with incarcerated women. I have been a friend, colleague, and peer with the authors recommended. We might currently be a small crew writing but we are a mighty, award-winning crew.


I wrote...

Girl Gone Missing

By Marcie R. Rendon,

Book cover of Girl Gone Missing

What is my book about?

Bored by her freshman classes at Moorhead State College, Renee “Cash” Blackbear just wants to play pool, learn judo, chain-smoke, and be left alone. But after one of Cash’s classmates vanishes without a trace, Cash, whose dreams have revealed dangerous realities in the past, can’t stop envisioning terrified girls begging for help. Things become even more intense when an unexpected houseguest appears: a brother she didn’t even know was alive, from whom she was separated when they were taken from the Ojibwe White Earth Reservation as children and forced into foster care.

When Sheriff Wheaton, her guardian and friend, asks for Cash’s help with the case of the missing girl, she must override her apprehension about leaving her hometown in order to discover the truth about the girl’s whereabouts.

Zombie

By Joyce Carol Oates,

Book cover of Zombie

Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates is a disturbing look into the mind of a serial killer. Loosely based on serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer's notorious life and murders, Quentin P. is a young man struggling to come to terms with his disintegrating mental state as he succumbs to his urges and a psychopathic blood-lust. I recommend this book not because it is one of Oates's best books, but because it is one of her most interesting in the way it manages to capture such a realistic portrayal of the workings of a psychopathic mind. Unique, disturbing and thought-provoking, and well worth a read if you like SK novels.


Who am I?

As a writer of Psychological Horror who specializes in stories about serial killers, the first-person serial killer narrative stands out as a fascinating vehicle to explore the psyche of real human ‘monsters.’ Which is precisely what I did, using books from this list as subject material for my Master’s thesis. The research also informed Blood Related, my debut novel, a first-person serial killer narrative and the most controversial book I’ve written so far. Perhaps, gaining insight from fictional serial killers would be a failed enterprise if life didn’t imitate art, but the fact is that these types of narratives are mostly informed by their real-life counterparts. Be warned – read at your own discretion.


I wrote...

Blood Related

By William Cook,

Book cover of Blood Related

What is my book about?

Tough-as-nails Detective Ray Truman battles his demons, as he tracks a family of prolific serial killers in this nail-biting psychological thriller. For over two decades, Truman has been searching for the killer or killers who have terrorized Portvale. The remains of young female prostitutes have been the killer’s victims of choice, but now other districts are reporting similar gruesome discoveries. 

This disturbing tale of a family tree of evil will embed itself in the mind of the reader, long after the last page has been turned. If you’re looking for a truly haunting ride into the primal depths of the psychopathic mind, Blood Related is for you. Be sure to leave the lights on.

Jewel

By Beverly Jenkins,

Book cover of Jewel

This was my first Jenkins Historical Romance and it was by no means the last. I confess I picked up the book because I was tickled that the title was my last name, but the story. Wow. It gripped me hard from the start. The historical setting is the American West of the 1870s and involves a couple who pretend to be married, for just one evening. The pretense ends in scandal and a real marriage to save their reputations, and the hero’s journey to love is deeply emotional. Some of Jenkins’s contemporary-set romances have been made into movies and I keep my fingers crossed that one day they’ll choose some of her historicals.


Who am I?

I’ve been reading historical romance since I was a teen and writing it since I published my first historical romance in 1987. Since then I’ve written over forty romance novels, short stories, and novellas, many of which are historical romances. I adore history and research is never a chore for me. Graduate school and a project on Eleanore Sleath, an English author of Horrid Novels from the early 19th century, honed the research skills that I bring to my historical novels. There are times when readers need the certainty of the happy ending that Romance promises, and I love delivering on that promise in all my books. I hope everyone finds a new author to love from this list!


I wrote...

Scandal: A Regency Historical Romance

By Carolyn Jewel,

Book cover of Scandal: A Regency Historical Romance

What is my book about?

Most women fall at the feet of the scandalous Earl of Banallt, but not Sophie. The young wife of a fellow libertine is unconventional, brilliant, and uninterested in the earl’s advances. Sophie refuses to be seduced, and soon Banallt wants her more than ever. Years later, unrequited love has changed Banallt and the widowed Sophie is free of her scoundrel of a husband. When he makes a declaration of love, the heartbroken Sophie can’t help but deny him. As her life begins to fall apart, only Banallt stands by her. Can she keep herself from giving into a passionate affair with a rake who can’t be trusted?

“WOW. Simply, wow. That is the only word I can use to describe this masterpiece.” (Romance Novel TV) 


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