Aaron Burch's perspective-shifting “Year of the Buffalo” tells the tale of a road trip to reconciliation

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Author Aaron Burch is on the right; the book cover of Year of the Buffalo is on the right.

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”

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Mairead Small Staid and her book, "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

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A close-up portrait of Erin Hahn is on the left; the book cover for Built to Last is on the right.

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.

David Fenton's "The Activist’s Media Handbook" traces his life in the media, from the "Ann Arbor Sun" to progressive public relations

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

David Fenton, The Activist’s Media Handbook: Lessons from 50 Years as a Progressive Agitator

Activist and public relations firm founder David Fenton launched his very first PR campaign in Ann Arbor in 1971: Fenton worked to get John Sinclair out of prison where he was serving a sentence for giving drugs to an undercover agent.

Following this effort, Fenton wrote for the countercultural newspaper Ann Arbor Sun where he worked on a campaign to increase sales by running a contest called “Win a Pound of Colombian Marijuana.”

Fenton’s new book, The Activist’s Media Handbook: Lessons From 50 Years As a Progressive Agitator, spends two chapters on his time in A2 and also details what happened before and after.

Of his time working at the newspaper and in activism, Fenton writes:

Deep Dive: Kim Fairley's new memoir recalls how she grew up “Swimming for My Life”

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Author Kim Fairley and her book Swimming for My Life

Swimming was not just swimming for Ann Arbor author and visual artist Kim Fairley.

The sport was layered with physical challenges, abuse from coaches, and family expectations that exceeded what was reasonable, all of which she depicts in her new memoir, Swimming for My Life.

At the start of her book, Fairley shares an early, positive memory of swimming at the beach where she struggled in the waves and remembers, “The ocean reverberated in my head, but when I glanced up at Dad, I saw his pride: my daughter, my oldest.” Following that experience, Fairley’s parents encouraged her to join a swim team in third grade in Cincinnati where she grew up. While Fairley did not immediately love swimming even back then, her attempts to stop were not heard even though she tried to tell her father:

Now and Later: H.R. Webster engages in associative thinking to form her poetry in “What Follows” 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Poet HR Webster and her book What Follows

H.R. Webster’s poems in What Follows scrutinize the space after trauma, in womanhood, around death, and when someone has gone too far.

The poet does not shy away from what is unfolding but rather turns an intent eye on each scene where “There is the calf’s share / blooming in my coffee” or “A killdeer faking it in the parking lot.”

In the poem “Ritual,” we learn that things commonly desired and sought after nevertheless disappoint because “It does not light / the growing dark, does not lift its wings in flight.” 

Webster’s collection implicates the discomforting present and its aching aftershocks. The titular poem confronts how “Death came and took from you a virginity you did not know you possessed, but guarded, closely.” The poem goes on to ask, “What fruit rots first.”

This question characterizes many of the poems that start at the moment when the experience begins to decay—sometimes right away: “On first dates men often ask how would you rather die, / I kid you not, drowning or fire.”

U-M researcher Michelle Segar lays out “The Joy Choice” in her recent book on sensible eating and exercise plans

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A portrait of author Michelle Segar is next to her book cover The Joy Choice.

Exercise and eating both come down to our daily choices, and it does not have to be as hard as it seems, says author Michelle Segar, a lifestyle coach and researcher at the University of Michigan. 

In her recent book, The Joy Choice, Segar details a new way to make these decisions, including diagrams that show how to apply her research-based method. She writes: 

Our choice is our choice. It no longer represents overcoming perceived deficiencies, following someone else’s rules, or being selfish. We make room for the unanticipated while still meeting our own self-care needs, simultaneously renewing our energetic resources for the people, goals, and projects we care most about. 

Segar’s Joy Choice strategy and decision tool were designed to assist you at the point when you and your eating or exercise plans run up against real-life interruptions. The genius of this tactic comes from working with, rather than against, the unanticipated challenges so you can keep making strides toward your target despite life’s unwelcome twists.  

One way that Segar helps address these “choice points”—the moments when you are faced with continuing to pursue your exact plan or changing course—is by identifying the ways that both internal and external issues could derail making your desired healthy choice. Segar calls these forces “decision disrupters.” An example of one of the four disruptors that she features is “accommodation,” about which Segar writes, “[T]here’s real science about the damage that can occur when our automatic and consistent go-to is giving other people’s needs priority over our own. As with most things in life, seeking balance and finding compromise is key.” While our decision disrupters may not be readily apparent, we can address them once we learn about them—and prevent them from upending our goals moving forward.

Segar calls “choice points” the “true place of power” because it is at these times when you can make a choice that aligns with your greater goals. Segar says:

When the exercise and eating goals we have selected (as opposed to those that have been imposed on us by society or others) align with our core values, needs, and priorities, they become integrated into and a natural affirming part of who we are. This in turn increases the value proposition for making choices that favor healthy eating and regular exercise. Because we no longer feel that we should make those choices, our internal conflicts with them are gone or greatly reduced, and so now we want to make them and make them more effortlessly. 

Making decisions that support your healthy behavior goals becomes enjoyably straightforward with Segar’s Joy Choice strategy. 

AADL hosted Segar for a reading on June 24, a video of which is included at the end of this post. This fall, I interviewed her about The Joy Choice

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang reaches for poetry “when argument fails, when there can be no objectivity, when things have become personal”

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A portrait photo of author Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is next to her book cover for You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang’s new book, You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids, begins with desire and dreams and concludes with anger, love, and home. In the pages in between, the expansive lyric essays travel broadly from Kathmandu, which is “the ancient city of my youth while I am disappearing into summer, fire, and sea,” to the basement of the Detroit Institute of Arts where “we discover the museum’s stash of old film reels.” The essays consider how to have one’s own dreams, embrace identity, experience violence against identity, and engage with family (not to mention ex-family members). 

Leaving a place and leaving a marriage become both a backdrop and an integral part of the essays. In “Texting Nostalgic for Kathmandu,” Wang writes:

Human Nature: U-M prof Scott Hershovitz talks philosophy with his kids in the book "Nasty, Brutish, and Short"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A portrait of author Scott Hershovitz alongside his book cover for Nasty, Brutish, and Short

Author photo by Rex and Hank Hershovitz.

U-M professor Scott Hershovitz divulges conversations with his two young sons and connects those chats to philosophical concepts in his new book, Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy With My Kids. Among the topics are swearing, sports, racism, and religion.

Hershovitz delves into both questions that his children raise and questions that he and his wife, Julie, face as parents. What makes the book so approachable is that the conversations are set in humous, relatable, day-to-day scenarios. For example, the subject of individual rights emerges when one of the children, Hank, takes ages to decide what to have for lunch after being offered a quesadilla or hamburger:

Shirley Ann Higuchi tells her mother's tale and the bigger story of the Japanese American incarceration during WWII in “Setsuko’s Secret” 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Shirley Ann Higuchi and her book Setsuko's Secret

Shirley Ann Higuchi illuminates a dark time in U.S. history in her book, Setsuko’s Secret: Heart Mountain and the Legacy of the Japanese American Incarceration.

Through the lens of long unspoken family stories, Higuchi recounts how Japanese Americans were removed from their homes and businesses, then forced to live in one of the 10 concentration camps created during World War II as the result of unfounded security concerns. The memories and trauma of that time are still felt today. 

Higuchi, who grew up in Ann Arbor and went to the University of Michigan, will speak about her book at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library on Thursday, September 22, 6:30-7:30 pm. She is a lawyer for the American Psychological Association, a past president of the D.C. Bar, and chair of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, which operates a museum on the site of the former camp.

In Setsuko’s Secret, Higuchi writes of the camp where her parents met, Heart Mountain: