A History of Mystery: Aunt Agatha's says goodbye after 26 years

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

October 5, 1992: Jamie, right, and Robin Agnew (shown with their daughter, Margaret) soon after they opened Aunt Agatha's bookstore.

Whodunit? They Did It: Jamie, right, and Robin Agnew (shown with their daughter, Margaret) soon after they opened Aunt Agatha's bookstore. Photo by Benjamin Rusnak for a story in the October 5, 1992, edition of The Ann Arbor News.

The world wide web can do many things: find the recipe for that cookie you had at camp that one summer, identify the weird rash you have on your arm, and tell you the name of the band that sang "Life in a Northern Town."

But there are many things that an algorithm simply cannot provide and many of those things can be found in bookstores like Ann Arbor's Aunt Agatha’s, home of new and used mysteries, detection, and true-crime tomes: the smells of old books that have been opened, read, and reread by many loving hands; stacks of dog-eared novels waiting to find their reader; sounds of pages turning, people murmuring over what they are reading. 

I love this author! I’ve read all of her books -- isn’t she great? She is so underrated.

Since 1992, Robin and Jamie Agnew's Aunt Agatha’s is the place that finds the authors you haven’t heard of before and makes you a lifelong fan, a store where writers who are at the beginning of their career blossom into major forces.

And it all ends this August.

Accessing the Future: Petra Kuppers' "Ice Bar" explores disability culture via speculative fiction

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Petra Kuppers' Ice Bar

Themes of women, water, and power intertwine in delightful ways in Petra Kuppers’ latest book, Ice Bar, which features post-apocalyptic science fiction and psychedelic fantasy short stories where many of the characters are disabled in some way or another.

"They might use a wheelchair or have family members in psych wards or they themselves have been institutionalized," said Kuppers, a University of Michigan professor. "Normally in [these genres], disability is either erased or the person is made the bad guy. I wondered what would happen if I used a disability perspective to write my own stories in which [disability] is neither horrific nor celebratory but rather part of human life.” 

Scott W. Stern on Sex, Surveillance, and Suppression in "The Trials of Nina McCall"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Scott Stern, The Trials of Nina McCall

You've probably never heard of the American Plan. It isn't something that is talked about in most college history classes or in high schools’ curricula. The name sounds benign at first glance -- maybe it was a plan to help Americans overcome some obstacle or temporary setback in life?

Except it wasn't.

The American Plan allowed local municipalities, law enforcement, and health agencies to round up women suspected of having sexually transmitted infections (STIs), assumed to be prostitutes, or just considered “promiscuous” and throw them in jail to "treat" them. The women rarely received the benefit of due process and were often imprisoned for years, exploited and subject to abuse.

Rescue 'Net: Common Language Bookstore might have been saved by a web post

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Common Language bookstore co-owner Keith Orr with store pup Duke

Common Language Bookstore co-owner Keith Orr hanging out with the store's pup, Duke. Photo by Kevin Sharp.

The internet shows us the good, the bad, and the horrific of human nature.

You can find every kind of hate group imaginable, people telling other people to kill themselves, tweets that destroy your soul. It can be easy to forget that most people are good; it sometimes makes you want to throw your computer into the Huron River, rip the router out of the cabinet, and live under a tinfoil hat. 

But every now and then something phenomenal happens. 

Something like the thing that happened to Ann Arbor's Common Language Bookstore this past month.

Story of a Lifetime: Irene Butter shares her tale so people will never forget

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Irene Butter and her book Shores Beyond Shores

Dr. Irene Butter’s entire life has been dedicated to caring for others -- as a professor, a humanitarian, a storyteller. While serving as a professor of public health at the University of Michigan, Butter spent 30 years visiting schoolchildren to tell them her tale.

"I found out that the way students relate to me is that they have experiences in their own lives when they lost a parent or grandparent or their parents divorced or suffered illnesses … they really identify with my stories and that is what is rewarding to me."

And what a story it is, now in print: Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope, My True Story. (Butter will be at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch on May 8.)

Catch-"13": A2 author Michael A. Ferro's new book is a satire & character study of Midwest Americans

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Author Michael A. Ferro

Some authors would give their right arm for a book deal. Others would give a kidney or two.

Author Michael A. Ferro gave an eye.

“It started when I noticed that I couldn’t see out of my left eye,” Ferro says. After a visit to the emergency room (following a quick stop to Google the symptoms), the Ann Arbor-based Ferro learned he had Central Serous Chorioretinopathy. This disease largely strikes men between the ages of 30-50, and while its exact cause is unknown, it's believed that stress plays a major part -- for instance, the enormous stress and hard work associated with publishing a book.

On the positive side, that stress and hard work produced a spectacular debut novel called Title 13.

Below the Borscht Belt: U-M's Eileen Pollack & her "Bible of Dirty Jokes"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Eileen Pollack by Michele McDonald

U-M professor Eileen Pollack grew up in the Borscht Belt, which is where her new novel takes place. Photo by Michele McDonald

A cousin who runs a Vegas strip club? A beloved brother who goes missing while in Vegas? A late husband who wrote dirty jokes for a living? A heroine with a failed stand up career who must save the day?

These colorful characters make up the new book The Bible of Dirty Jokes by U-M professor Eileen Pollack, but the roots of the novel come from a different era.

“I grew up in a hotel in the Borscht Belt," Pollack says. "It's really where stand up comedy got its start. Famous comedians would perform there, creating this sort of culture, and that’s what I knew.”

Art & Performance: Joseph Keckler returns to Ann Arbor as a multifaceted star

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Joseph Keckler

Joseph Keckler in Alyssa Taylor Wendt's feature film/video installation HAINT.

Joseph Keckler is a writer, artist, actor, musician, and singer with a three-octave range, and he often blends all those talents while creating his art. Because of his multidimensional skills, Keckler is frequently called a performance artist, which is fine by him.

“I didn’t intend to be one," the Michigan native said, "but it’s a good umbrella term for me and people like me who don’t fit into a particular discipline. ... So while I’m still not sure I am (a performance artist), the label has given me a great deal of permission to create my own way of working and to pursue certain traditions outside the traditional realm.”

Keckler graduated from the University of Michigan and he makes his triumphant return to Ann Arbor on Wednesday, Feb. 7 as part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series where he'll read from his recently published book of essays, Dragon at the Edge of a Flat World: Portraits and Revelation.

Ann Arbor's Jane Austen jones is sated with many bicentennial events

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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice: The first edition in this form was printed in October 1894; reprinted March 1895. The Austen drawing is from her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh's A Memoir of Jane Austen, 1886, sixth edition. Both images are from the University of Michigan Library collection.

Jane Austen once said, “There is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.”

But Ann Arbor-area fans of Ms. Austen have no reason to stay home these days as local booksellers and libraries are honoring the bicentennial of the author’s death with book readings, workshops, and events celebrating the beloved author and her work. 

Architect of Suspense: Tom Grace presents "Undeniable" at Nicola's

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Author Tom Grace and his book "Undeniable"

He's a thriller: Michigan native and U-M grad Tom Grace brings his latest Nolan Kilkenny novel to Nicola's Books on Sunday, Jan. 21.

The inspiration for his hero’s name comes from his nephew and ancestral home. His love for thrillers comes from his father and brothers. And being an architect leads to a unique and intriguing writing style. These influences all lead to the successful Nolan Kilkenny series by bestselling author Tom Grace.

The first Kilkenny book, Spyder Web, is a thriller that launched the former NAVY seal protagonist into a pursuit of modern day pirates who stole intelligence programs from the CIA -- the titular SPYDER program. Book six of the Kilkenny saga, Undeniable, finds the hero involved in a race against time to find a cure for a young boy suffering from a genetic disease. Genetic testing shows that the boy, adopted in a “blind” adoption, and Kilkenny have the same biological father. This revelation thrusts Kilkenny into the world of reproductive technology of clones, stem cells, DNA -- and blackmail.