Blog: Gene Alloway, Robin Agnew, & Bill Castanier

"The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ain't read," -Thomas Jefferson.
Add the organizers of Kerrytown's Bookfest to this week's list of recommended reads. Gene Alloway, Robin Agnew, and Bill Castanier will survey Ann Arbor's literary and book arts community and the city's book shop culture.

Bill Castanier - Book City, Ann Arbor

I sometimes wonder why Ann Arbor doesn't sink under the sheer weight of the books and unpublished manuscripts that are in city and university libraries and bookstores, let alone private libraries.

Ann Arbor is truly a book community, from the hundreds of authors scrambling to get a book published to acclaimed New York Times Best Selling authors and renowned publishers such as Edwards Printing and Thompson-Shore to small upstarts like Found Magazine and Zingerman's Press and Huron River Press (check out its book on the Del Rio Bar).

This past weekend's Kerrytown BookFest was a great example of this unusual confluence. You couldn't walk two feet without running into an author or someone employed in Ann Arbor's vast book industry. It probably helped that more than 30 authors were on hand for packed events and nearly one-half of them had ties to either Ann Arbor or the University of Michigan. Couple this with the nearly 100 book and art vendors and it was book heaven.

At one point during the BookFest I was walking up toward 4th Avenue in the Farmers' Market and ran into authors Steve Amick and Sharon Pomerantz; next were children's authors Debbie Diesen and Nancy Shaw. Then while chatting with Ken Wachsberger of Azenphony Press (Ken has a history on the underground press coming out in January) I was able to introduce him to author Kristina Riggles and the Detroit Free Press Book Reviewer Chris Walton. And this was happening all day.

On any night in Ann Arbor you're likely to be able to catch a major author reading at a local bookstore (David Baldacci on September 29 at Borders Downtown) or a book club meeting to discuss vintage cooking books. Ann Arbor is also graced with a library system which provides quality programming for the community and venues for young authors. The library is also a major sponsor of a community-wide reading program, "Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Reads".

By any measure, the University of Michigan provides a rich academic medium for authors and researchers.  Laura Kasischke, Sharon Pomerantz, Michael Byers, Peter Ho Davies, Nicholas Delbanco, Eileen Pollack, and Keith Taylor are just a few of the authors who work and write at the "U".

The U's writing programs both at the undergraduate level and graduate level are nationally recognized and are challenging experiences for writers. Just ask Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian.

The annual Hopwood Award for writers at the University of Michigan is recognized as one of the most prestigious university awards across the globe. Mystery writer Steve Hamilton and historical fiction writer Sharon Pomerantz, who were at the Kerrytown BookFest this past weekend, hold Hopwood awards.

As you walk the halls of Angell you can almost feel the presence of poets W. H. Auden, Theodore Roethke, and Robert Frost along with playwright Arthur Miller. Stop into the Ann Arbor District Library downtown and read Frost's letter to a friend about why he left the University of Michigan. Frost was in residence at U-M for several years in the 1920s.

The letter is a photocopy, but the original is in the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, one of the University's world class libraries. It includes the vast holdings of the Bentley Historical Library and the William C. Clements Library. And did you know that the Labadie Collection  holds the world's premier collections of anarchism and radical writing?

Hundreds of researchers and authors of all stripes visit the libraries each year while researching books and articles. U-M graduate and author Daniel Okrent used the library to research the prohibition era for his book, The Last Call.

Collectors from across Michigan and neighboring states often visit Ann Arbor's numerous used book stores or attend one of the city's legendary used book sales. Thousands of collectors (myself included) and bargain hunters wandered the aisles of the annual Ann Arbor AAUW Book Sale last week. And if there are any doubts about how many visitors the used book market draws, check out the line waiting to get into the Friends of the Ann Arbor Library this Friday evening.

In its third decade is Jay Platt's annual Antiquarian Book Fair at the Michigan Union. Ann Arborites like to think of Hollander's in Kerrytown as a hidden gem, but the store which sells decorative paper and hand book binding supplies also holds scores of workshops on the book arts and book preservation, attracting students and teachers from across the United States.

The University of Michigan Press is considered one of the premier university presses in the country and in addition to publishing scholarly books of national and international importance it mines the local community for book publishing ideas.

Take, for example, the recent publication of the photographic history of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, Blues in Black and White, with an essay by Michael Erlewine and photos by Stanley Livingston or the reprint of the genre-bending Michigan Murders which has been out of print for decades.

These are just some of the examples of why Ann Arbor deserves the title "Book City". But one of the most telling signs of the importance of books in the Ann Arbor community came in the form of graffiti sprayed on a building wall just off Packard a couple years ago: In pure graffiti style it read: "Read a book".