Dr. Janet Gilsdorf's novel "Fever" charts a mysterious illness and a researcher's race to discover the bacteria causing it
On a getaway with a colleague to visit family in Brazil, Dr. Sidonie Royal instead finds herself in a race to save children falling ill with a mysterious disease—and she experiences grief when they do not make it. Janet Gilsdorf's novel Fever tracks Sid’s subsequent research attempts back in Michigan to find out what is causing the deaths.
As a professor emerita of epidemiology and pediatrics at the University of Michigan, Gilsdorf is the right person to write a novel on this topic. Her work involves studying pathogenic factors, molecular genetics, and the epidemiology of Haemophilus influenzae, a bacterium that causes invasive and respiratory infections in children and adults. It is this bacterium that Sid, the character in her novel, is trying to understand.
Many hurdles appear along the way for Sid. One problem consists of her belligerent lab mate, Eliot, who always seems ready with criticism. At one point, he informs Sid:
Shannon McLeod’s Short Story Collection “Nature Trail Stories” Provides Natural Spaces for People to Reflect and Integrate Their Past and Present Selves
Via sharp observations and attempts at connection, the characters in Shannon McLeod’s Nature Trail Stories offer insights on their surroundings and the people around them. As one woman reflects, “Any place can be scenic, depending upon the scenes in your head.” This mindset could be expanded to all the short stories in the collection, as they reveal the world through the characters’ varied outlooks, from an art gallery employee awaiting the next person to walk in to a woman coping with heartbreak.
In the same story from which the above quote originated, titled “Human Song,” the narrator and their boyfriend receive advice to go see the snails and sing to them to lure them out of their shells. At the beach:
I sing George Michael, then Spice Girls, then the Beatles.
“If they’re not coming out for Ringo, there’s nothing that’ll do it,” says Caleb. I’ve begun to feel this way about him, too. That nothing I can possibly do will bring him back to me.
Maybe the snails are more accessible than fellow humans. Nature becomes an antidote to the failings of relationships and to the desire for a bond.
The loneliness and longing that envelop these characters even as they engage with other people—friends, strangers, coworkers, family members, and significant others—thread throughout the collection and are almost inextricable from the dialogue and settings. The story, “After Leaving,” dives into the grim, though in this case necessary, moments following a breakup in which memories flash through the narrator’s mind wherever she goes. While seeking something for dinner, she observes that:
Downtown, the trees lining the streets are turning orange. There’s a sweet scent of decay in the air. I’ve always liked autumn best. He used to say it’s because I’m a melancholy woman. The same reason I find sad songs the most beautiful.
BACKYARD BRAINS' GREG GAGE AND TIM MARZULLO HELP PEOPLE EXPLORE NEUROSCIENCE IN THEIR NEW BOOK, "How Your Brain Works"
Have you ever wondered how sleep can improve memory? Or considered how your eyes perceive color? It turns out that you do not have to be a degreed scientist or even work in a lab to find out!
These questions all pertain to neuroscience, and it is possible to research them yourself by conducting the experiments in neuroscientists Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo’s new book, How Your Brain Works. Gage and Marzullo, the founders of Backyard Brains in Ann Arbor, make neuroscience available to everyone via more than 45 at-home tests outlined in their manual. The chapters keep the reader on the edge of their seat with the questions that the authors ask and the methods through which they answer them. As the two neuroscientists write, “Scientific discoveries can happen anywhere.” Plus, it is not only science – Gage and Marzullo offer humor alongside the science via illustrative drawings.
Neuroscience has long been an expensive endeavor, but tools that appeared in the early 2000s changed the landscape and brought neuroscience out of institutions and into anyone’s hands, Gage and Marzullo write. The premise of How Your Brain Works hinges on these technologies:
Stephanie Heit's New Hybrid Memoir Poem "Psych Murders" Examines Shock Treatment, The Aftermath, and How Time and Memory Move in Unexpected Ways
What do you do when the brain “acts more colander than container?”
Poet Stephanie Heit tests out an answer: “Strengthen your faith in electricity.” Her hybrid memoir poem, Psych Murders, reports on the decision to experience and recover from electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) as a treatment for bipolar disorder. Psych Murders contains a number of sections, often titled with questions such as “What brings you pleasure?” and “Are you safe?”
This journey with shock therapy and other attempted remedies takes the poet to a point where:
How to swim.
Lose any sense
This path also later reaches a place where, “Hope became a location.” The poet expresses some bitterness that, “I thought they’d figure out the code. No lack of rigor. But my body didn’t respond the way the data predicted.” Still, the side effects like memory loss and frustrations do not fully define the process for Heit. Instead, Heit concludes with the poem, “Testament,” which consists of a series of “I am” statements that embrace all parts of her identity.
Shortly after the start of the book, the Murderer appears, often described in third person, but always menacing and forming his own character, as the poet observes, “…I’m not alone. I have Murderer stalking my every move.” In a distressful twist in the poem, “The Murderer: Primetime,” he gets a chance to speak and shares his goal to reach her because he states of the poet that, “She haunts me—the one who slow danced in my grip. I’ll wait.” Despite his persistence, the Murderer’s interest in suicide nevertheless does not come to fruition, a victory for the poet and us readers.
Instead, Heit describes learning to live with the circumstances. The poem, “Chronic,” shows a begrudging acceptance that:
Chronic sounds like forever. Persistent forever. With a twang to the way the “ic” sticks in the throat. Almost guttural. Starts out ok. Chron, like chronological, that domino effect, out of control falling because gravity exists. But the ending turns. I am stuck with Chronic the rest of my life. Better than Terminal unless it refers to airports. Though at least with Terminal there is beginning, middle, end. Chronic is middle with no way out.
The poet shows us how, on the one hand, Chronic comes with its downsides, but on the other hand, Chronic means being alive.
Heit is a queer disabled poet, dancer, teacher, and codirector of Turtle Disco, a somatic writing space, based in Ypsilanti. We spoke to Heit about her writing, teaching, latest book, and next project.
Courtney Faye Taylor explores racial injustices and the killing of Latasha Harlins in her debut poetry collection
Poetry becomes both memorial and voice in Courtney Faye Taylor's first book, Concentrate, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. The University of Michigan alum's poems honor, research, bristle, and circle back to the life and killing of Latasha Harlins, a Black girl gunned down by a Korean store owner, Soon Ja Du, in Los Angeles.
“In any black sentence, you’d love nothing more than to had made no mistake.” The opening prose poem that ends with this sentence mourns and fortifies Black womanhood. As Aunt Notrie says in the next poem, “The Talk,” it “Ain’t about trying, it’s about doing.” These lines do not let injustices lie but instead, “The poet wades into an uneasy ocean of interrogations that do not permit her any distance from what she has witnessed her entire life,” writes Rachel Eliza Griffiths in the introduction.
Some of the poems revisit history, like March 16, 1991, when Harlins lost her life. The poet starts another prose poem to outline how:
A timeline details a seriousness of events. As a diagram of occurrence, a timeline’s chief objective is to show how passed happenings caution and contaminate our contemporary sense of momentum. A professor may author timelines to teach what precedes and what follows genocide. On the overhead, Rwanda is a centipede with its head in Belgium and tail on stage of the ’05 Oscars.
The past remains with us as warning and blemish, and Taylor writes, “So I’m drawing a line.”
Other poems fashioned like Yelp reviews make stark the differences in treatment and standards among people. One of them gives two stars for “BLACK OWNED BUT HOURS WRONG ONLINE.” Such an offense garners a bolded complaint and strong consequence that “I will find a Korean store.” The loss of business for incorrect hours reinforces inequity and harshness.
Eventually, the poet goes to Los Angeles and visits the site of Harlin’s murder, “But there are no signs of murder, memorial, or resistance when I arrive. The ground is like any ground. Normalcy devastates. Stillness lies to me about history.” Taylor’s poems teach us that what is not visible is still present.
Early on, Aunt Notrie defines the word "concentrate" as “A strong, hard focus.” Taylor takes on that focus to scrutinize history through the poems. Later, Concentrate is a call to action, as in “Concentrate. We have decisions to make. Fire is that decision to make.” The word “we” leaves no one out. It is all of us who have responsibility.
Taylor is a writer and visual artist who earned her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Prize in Poetry. We spoke about Taylor's time in Ann Arbor, her poetry, and Concentrate.
U-M Professor Kiley Reid’s Novel “Such a Fun Age” Is the 2023 Washtenaw Read Book
The 2023 Washtenaw Read is Such a Fun Age by University of Michigan professor Kiley Reid, whose plot-driven novel details what happens and how people feel amidst misunderstandings and omissions around a recent run-in and past hurts.
Reid is having a talk, reading, and Q&A session at the Downtown Library February 5 at 4 pm.
The lives of characters Emira Tucker and Alix Chamberlain very quickly intertwine in ways beyond their relationship as babysitter and mother of a toddler, respectively. From the description on the book jacket, readers know going into the book that Emira, who is a Black woman, is confronted for having Alix’s white child, Briar, at a food market late in the evening. This unexpected and unfair confrontation leads to connections, coincidences, and consequences that unfold throughout the rest of the book. The ensuing events are best experienced page by page as one reads.
Reid develops each of the main characters with their own flaws. The characters’ actions raise dilemmas based on how much they know and what their position is in each situation. Perhaps one lesson is that one’s intentions do not always make things right. Mrs. Chamberlain illustrates this in an overbearing statement to Emira:
“You might be too young to understand this right now, but we have always had your best interests at heart. Emira, we, we love you.” Mrs. Chamberlain threw her hands up in surrender as she said this, as if loving Emira was despite her family’s other best interests.
Poet and EMU Lecturer Andre F. Peltier Imagines New Contexts for Pop Culture Icons in Recent Chapbook, “Poplandia”
Part tribute, part humor, and part elegy, the new chapbook Poplandia by Andre F. Peltier centers on epic moments, including epic scenes in movies like the "Yub Nub" Ewok celebration to epic memories like recalling the purchase of a new record when it was released. The poet lives partially in this world and partially in others by reviving late 20th century childhood longings, such as to live in the Star Wars galaxy, among others.
One such dream deals directly with poetry itself:
Intro to Poetry anthology.
Dial up a poem on
Go to open mic poetry nights
or listen to slams in coffee houses.
Find a poem
that won’t be improved by adding
It can’t be done.
In Peltier’s perspective, life, literature, films, shows, and music should be interchangeable and allow humans and characters to cross boundaries between worlds or break through the fourth wall.
Aaron Burch's perspective-shifting “Year of the Buffalo” tells the tale of a road trip to reconciliation
Aaron Burch captures the spirit of a road trip in his novel, Year of the Buffalo. The long drive sets the stage for bonding, observations, and memories shared between brothers Ernie and Scott as they travel from Washington state toward Detroit.
In this third-person novel, the focus shifts from character to character. On the road, Ernie reflects:
They were doing it. He’d agreed to the trip not because of any desire to return to Michigan but just because. Because he had no reason not to, because it seemed like Scott wanted him to go, because why not? But wasn’t this what roadtrips were supposed to be? Revelatory and epiphanic and life-changing and life-answering and everything else about life that he was searching for, everything he thought the farm might be able to be and now believing a cross country roadtrip was definitely going to be. There was a simplicity to the moment—two guys driving, taking their time, without consequence.
Travel by car—or SUV for Ernie and Scott—may be all those things, but the journey also emphasizes the tension and strong need for reconciliation between the two siblings.
The road trip takes on a life if its own as the two men discover secrets about each other. Scott, once a professional wrestler, grapples with the distinction between his persona and self, as does Ernie. The wrestling persona of Mr. Bison must come to life again since the brothers are on their way to promote Scott’s new video game. One of their many interactions reveals the pressure that comes from its reappearance:
Author and Former Literati Bookseller Mairead Small Staid Narrates Travels in Italy and the Search for Happiness in Her Book of Essays, “The Traces”
Happiness may be elusive, but the quest is part of the experience.
“Happiness is the endpoint and the race itself, the finished vessel and its firing,” writes Mairead Small Staid, an author, librarian, a University of Michigan alum, and former Literati bookseller.
Her new nonfiction book, The Traces: An Essay, recounts the author’s time in Italy, studies the concept and feeling of happiness, and critiques art and literature. Staid’s chapters form individual essays that roam through concepts such as whether a person is different when in different places and look at sculptures and paintings by artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Italo Calvino’s novel, Invisible Cities, is a focal point to which the book repeatedly circles back.
The exploration itself brings novelty and thus pleasure. Staid writes that, “Here lies another possible explanation for my happiness, this sustained and sustaining newness: it’s November, after all, and still each ordinary day—each breakfast, each cigarette—is tinged with cinematic light.” The fresh sights and circumstances can reinvigorate one’s outlook.
Sparks and Sawdust: Erin Hahn's romance novel "Built to Last" reunites childhood sweethearts on a home renovation TV show
A house is not the only thing being fixed up in Erin Hahn’s new novel, Built to Last.
Two childhood stars, Shelby Springfield and Cameron Riggs, try to rekindle their love when they are brought back together for a home renovation TV program set in Michigan—though things get off to a rocky start, not unlike how things ended. Lyle Jessup, their other costar and the person who caused conflict when Shelby dated him after Cameron, turns out to be the one who brings them together with his TV pilot proposal. While Lyle never left Hollywood and its gossip, Shelby and Cameron have diverged on their paths and must find out if they can work together again—and even have another try at a relationship.
During a visit from Lyle, who becomes the showrunner, the now sober Shelby watches Cameron’s longtime friends, Beth and Kevin, at their bar:
My cheeks hurt from smiling so hard and the fizzy ginger ale does a little swirl in my stomach. These two make it look so simple. You meet, you fall in love, you get married and have babies, and you spend the rest of your life with that one person who likes you best, who you like best.
Both Cameron and Shelby are wildly attracted to each other, but the question becomes whether they can push past the drama of filming and reconnect.
Cameron reflects, “Maybe I wasn’t looking for something to tie me down. Maybe I’ve been looking for someone, an anchor. And not just any someone. Not like the proverbial 'someone,' but her. As in, she is the only one.” He senses how important Shelby is, but their relationship could either be just a pivotal part of growing up or a long-lost—and now found—real deal.
Hahn lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and two kids. Previously, I interviewed her about her last book, 2021's Never Saw You Coming. We connected again to discuss Built to Last, Hahn’s fourth book.