Sometimes Amazing Things Happen

“And when an incarcerated person with a mental illness is too ill to be cared for at Rikers they go, the men that is, to the "prison ward" on the 19th floor of New York's storied Bellevue Hospital, where they remain in custody while doctors, nurses, social workers and counselors treat them, under the watchful eyes of correctional officers, until they are well enough to return to jail.”
From Psychology Today

In her author’s note, Elizabeth Ford tells us that she measures her “success as a doctor not by how well I treat mental illness but how well I respect and honor my patients’ humanity, no matter where they are or what they have done.” Her book, Sometimes amazing things happen : heartbreak and hope on the Bellevue Hospital psychiatric prison ward, chronicles the ways in which she does exactly that, sometimes with a personal struggle, though most often intuitively. Dr. Ford begins her story at the outset of her career at Bellevue Hospital in New York. Bellevue, the oldest public hospital in the country, houses, on its top floors, “one of the most famous psychiatric wards in the world,” including the Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Prison Ward. The patients here are inmates of the New York City jail system, headquartered on Rikers Island. This is where Dr. Ford works for most of this memoir, and these inmates people her stories from that time. Dr. Ford details her interactions with her patients, providing them with humanity and respect. She is skilled at turning even her most extreme outrage to empathy, aided by her capacity to listen well. “If you listen to the story long enough, you can figure out why these patients behave so badly. Then you can try to fix it.”

Ford has two young children, and like many parents, she struggles with a work-life balance, and at times finds herself unable to leave her patients’ suffering behind. Her own unraveling during her second pregnancy causes her to scale back on her work and leave Bellevue for a period of time. When she returns in 2009, it is to become the first female Director of the Forensic Psychiatry Service at Bellevue. She is continually challenged by the caring of her patients, by episodes of violence, by her frustration with the criminal justice system, but she faces these crises with boundless compassion and determination. Today, Dr. Ford is the Chief of Psychiatry for Correctional Health Services for New York City’s Health and Hospitals.

Similar medical memoirs include, No apparent distress : a doctor's coming-of-age on the front lines of American medicine by Rachel Pearson, and Admissions: life as a brain surgeon by Henry Marsh.

Fantastic Children's Non-Fiction

When Planet Earth Was New - by James Gladstone & Katherine Diemert -
This starkly beautiful picture book introduces very young readers to the geological history of planet Earth. Beginning with the very early development of the solar system, billions and billions of years ago, 'When Planet Earth Was New' shows the earth as it passes through various geological epochs, through the beginnings and the evolution of organic life, and into the human-dominated present. You'll find a great appendix at the end, giving a wealth of additional details. This little gem is a great way to show your child the basics of geological and biological history, years before they will first learn it in the classroom.

Pocket Full of Colors: the magical world of Mary Blair, Disney artist extraordinaire -by Amy Guglielmo & Jacqueline Tourville-
The authors chart the course of the life of Mary Blair, the creative talent behind Disney classics like Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. Mary's creative instincts and professional ambitions collide with gender discrimination in the highly male-dominated work-spaces of mid-century America. Mary perseveres though, and single-handedly drags the Disney Studios from it's black and white past, and into the lush colors of it's storied golden age.

While there is much to love in this slender book, as and adult, my favorite part of 'A Pocket Full of Colors' is how carefully the illustrator captured the various incarnations of Mary's personal style, from Betty Page bangs, to late 50's June Cleaver pearls, and finally into ultra-trendy 60's Mod. This beautifully illustrated, audaciously colorful picture book is a great way to introduce your little one to biographies.

Yum! MmMm! Qué rico! : Americas' sproutings - by Pat Mora -
Featuring vibrant, warm colors and a playful style, Pat Mora manages to pack an enormous amount of quality content into a tiny little picture book. 'Written as a series of haiku, Yum! MmMm! Qué rico!' teaches kids about the history of many of the great foods that originated in the Americas (chocolate, corn, peanuts, potatoes, and many more). Be sure to check out the fun and informative histories of each food item, always in small print on the left-hand side of every page. Your child will be both educated and entertained.

Poison : deadly deeds, perilous professions, and murderous medicines - by Sarah Albee -
Written for more advanced readers, this book is sure to satisfy kids with a passion for chemistry, history, spy-craft, or maybe just anything morbid. While the author is careful to state that 'Poison' is not an exhaustive index of poisonous materials, at nearly 200 pages, Sarah Albee manages to cover an enormous amount of ground. Your child will learn about how humans have wrangled with chemistry throughout history, focusing on the where, when, and why of how people have come into contact with dangerous chemical compounds. Be sure to check it out!

The 2018 Washtenaw Reads Title Has Been Selected!

After much deliberation, the book for the 2018 Washtenaw Reads program has been selected. A panel of community members from Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Northfield Township, Saline and Ypsilanti voted on the winner from two finalist titles. Without further ado, this year's title is...

Homegoing Cover Image


Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi.


Homegoing follows the parallel paths of two half sisters, born into different villages in 18th century Ghana, and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. The book has won many awards, including the PEN/ Hemingway Award, the NBCC’s John Leonard Award, New York Times Notable Book, Washington Post Notable Book and was named one of the best books of 2016 by NPR, Time,, Harper’s Bazaar, San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones, Esquire, Elle, Paste, Entertainment Weekly, the Skimm, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and BuzzFeed. One of the highlights of Washtenaw Reads each year is a visit from the author. Yaa Gyasi will appear in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, February 6 at 7:00 pm at Rackham Auditorium in a program entitled "Homegoing: A Conversation with Yaa Gyasi" - The 2018 Institute for the Humanities Jill S. Harris Memorial Lecture." The event includes a book signing and copies of the book will be for sale. Washtenaw Reads is a community initiative to promote reading and civic dialogue through the shared experience of reading and discussing a common book. Copies of Homegoing can be found at AADL and in libraries and bookstores throughout Washtenaw County. Keep an eye on the Washtenaw Reads website,, for more information on upcoming events, as well as reading and discussion resources.

Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World

Mitch Prinstein, the Director of Clinical Pyschology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, explains the science behind popularity—and why it can be so elusive for many—in his new book. Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World explains why whether or not we are “popular” as children plays such a huge role in our development. Whether or not we were popular in elementary school and high school has surprising effects on our careers, family life and friendships later on and, interestingly, it's difficult to change our “popularity level.” Prinstein explains that, although we can control to a certain extent whether we are popular or not, craving popularity and striving for it is part of our biology—it’s the way humans are wired.

Prinstein also delves into the difference between being popular because one is likable and being popular because one has high status. Both types of people are socially powerful, but the way others feel about them is vastly different. It’s interesting to read about the details and the science behind popularity, because it’s an issue that even the happiest among us struggle with from time to time. We can all relate to wanting to be well-liked and well-received, and Prinstein’s book offers useful advice for using and controlling those impulses.

Popular is a particularly interesting read today, as social media becomes ever more prevalent in our lives.

New from Arundhati Roy

Twenty years ago, the Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things hit the shelves and has remained in demand ever since. In the years since then, Arundhati Roy has published dozens of essays and non-fiction work, made documentaries, protested against government corruption, Hindu nationalism, environmental degradation and inequality, campaigned for Kashmiri independence, Maoist rebels and indigenous land rights, and was featured on Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. To her political fans, she is the radical left voice of principled resistance; to her critics, the worst sort of adolescent idealist: unrealistic and self-indulgent. She has faced criminal charges of contempt and sedition, been imprisoned, and fled India briefly last year in fear for her life. She has not, until now, published another word of fiction.

Available this summer is a new novel from author Arundhati Roy titled The ministry of utmost happiness. This new work of literary fiction is highly anticipated. While noted as a challenging read, Roy's prosaic style is highly praised for embracing in a way that sweeps you through the story.

The complexity of Roy's writing allows for more than one thread in the story which begins with Anjum, born intersex and raised as a male. Later, she moves from her childhood home in Delhi to the nearby House of Dreams, choosing to live among a group of Hijras, transgendered women with a long, marginalized history in India. Finally, when this home fails her, she builds a home for herself in a city graveyard, where the tale begins.

The other major narrative thread concerns an unorthodox South Indian woman named Tilo. “She gave the impression that she had somehow slipped off her leash,” observes a friend. “As though she was taking herself for a walk while the rest of us were being walked — like pets.” Tilo studies architecture in Delhi in the 1980s and through a beloved college classmate, Musa, is caught up in the long, violent struggle for independence in the disputed northern territory of Kashmir.

"Shifting fluidly between moods and time frames, Roy juxtaposes first-person and omniscient narration with "found" documents to weave her characters' stories with India's social and political tensions, particularly the violent retaliations to Kashmir's long fight for self-rule. Sweeping, intricate, and sometimes densely topical, the novel can be a challenging read. Yet its complexity feels essential to Roy's vision of a bewilderingly beautiful, contradictory, and broken world." - Publisher's Weekly Review

“Roy’s novel will be the unmissable literary read of the summer. With its insights into human nature, its memorable characters and its luscious prose, Ministry is well worth the wait.” –Sarah Begley, TIME

Reader's may enjoy this interview with John Cusak from November 2015, about her popular non-fiction book, Things that can and cannot be said while you await your copy!

The Summer of Love Turns 50!

The Summer of Love’s foggy origins lay in the Bay area’s 1950s Beat culture, the merry pranksters’ 1964-66 acid tests, and politically disaffected Berkeley students. In January 1967, The Doors release their eponymous album in Los Angeles and the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park promotes cultural decentralization, communal living, radical politics, and higher consciousness fueled by drug use. In February, Jefferson Airplane takes off with their breakout album, Surrealistic Pillow, and by May the Mamas and the Papas’ John Phillips writes “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” whose Scott McKenzie cover will hit #4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 by July 1. As if all this wasn’t enough, the Beatles release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band on June 1 and two weeks later The Jimi Hendrix Experience performs at the Monterey Pop Festival.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, the Detroit race riots at the end of July bring John Sinclair’s Trans-Love Energies commune (and future White Panthers) to Ann Arbor, and in August they stage a free concert by the Grateful Dead in Ann Arbor's West Park.

And this is how the summer of 1967 gave birth to the hippie!

Here are a few videos to help you make sense of all this hippie love:

Beatles Anthology
Berkeley in the Sixties
Complete Monterey Pop Festival
The Jimi Hendrix Experience live at Monterey

Michigan Fiction: Marlena

For those of us who have spent all or most of our lives in Michigan, Julie Buntin’s striking descriptions of a desolate, gray northern winter will strike a chord. Buntin lives in New York now, but she spent her formative years in northern Michigan, and this is the setting for her first novel, Marlena. The narrator of the story, Cat, has just moved to tiny Silver Lake, far up the western coast of the mitten, with her recently- divorced mother and older brother. The family struggles to make ends meet; Cat’s mother cleans houses for the wealthy tourists and her brother works nights at a plastics factory. Cat is lonely and unhappy, until she meets her next door neighbor, 17-year-old blonde, beautiful Marlena. As their lives become increasingly intertwined, Cat dives deeper into the dark world of addiction and illegal activity. An older Cat narrates portions of the novel, looking back on her time in Silver Lake with Marlena, and struggles to make sense of the beauty and tragedy she experienced there.

Set in 2006, in the early days of the opioid epidemic, the book is a fascinating and devastating testament to how easy it is to lose control. Buntin clearly writes from a place of experience and awareness, which allow the story to rise above others of its kind. Marlena, Cat, and the others who do what they must to survive in a bleak world that seems to have no future are not characters easily forgotten.

Ramona Blue

Julie Murphy is back with a new novel, Ramona Blue, a story about a strong, marginalized teen doing her best to make sense of who she is.

Ramona Leroux is a 6 foot 3, blue-haired, gay teen who lives in a FEMA trailer with her dad and sister, Hattie, in Eulogy, Mississippi. Things aren't looking so stellar for Ramona after her dreamy summer romance comes to an end, and her grand plans to leave Eulogy don't look quite as likely when her family suddenly needs her more than ever. But when her childhood friend, Freddie, moves back to town, their reconnection brings more than either of them ever expected.

Author of Dumplin’, Murphy is familiar with navigating the world of girls on the brink of self-discovery. In Ramona Blue, she addresses how we use labels and identity markers for defining the relationships we engage in. With coming of age to adulthood labels change and it's challenging to redefine who were and who we are now. Heartfelt, humorous, fun and sure to be a must-read for teens and fans of YA fiction.

A recent interview with the author can be found in current issue of Book Pages.

An exquisite, thoughtful exploration of the ties that bind and the fluidity of relationships, sexuality, and life.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry - Selected and Introduced by Paul Kingsnorth

Wendell Berry’s formula for a good life and a good community is simple and pleasingly unoriginal. Slow down. Pay attention. Do good work. Love your neighbors. Love your place. Stay in your place. Settle for less. Enjoy it more. (from the introduction)

Two of my all-time favorite authors have collaborated to produce what one, Paul Kingsnorth, considers a selection of the best of the other, Wendell Berry, into one volume, The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry. It is necessarily limited, containing none of Berry’s poetry or fiction and only 31 of his hundreds of essays. Kingsnorth hoped to represent the best of Berry’s writing and thinking over the last five decades, as an introduction to his work and an impetus to read more of it and, to that end, I believe the book succeeds. Berry is the venerable man of letters, with an earthy wisdom, unashamed traditionalism, incisive intelligence, and passionate resistance to those who would desecrate the Earth. If you have never read Wendell Berry, or have only read selectively, and don’t anticipate reading through all of his work, this collection is a splendid representation of the scope of his talent and profound understanding of the world. Paul Kingsnorth says, “I recommend reading him now. It would be the equivalent of reading Thoreau or Emerson when they were still alive and writing.”

Now in his eighties, Berry still lives and farms in the Kentucky hill country he moved back to in the 1960s, five miles from where he, his parents, and grandparents were born and raised. He left behind a promising career in NYC to return home. All his stories, poetry, and essays, all of his deep and insightful thinking about the land and how to preserve it, have been cultivated by his devotion to this place. He writes:

When I have thought of the welfare of the earth, the problems of its health and preservation, the care of its life, I have had this place before me, the part representing the whole more vividly and accurately, making clearer and more pressing demands, than any idea of the whole. When I have thought of kindness or cruelty, weariness or exuberance, devotion or betrayal, carelessness or care, doggedness or awkwardness or grace, I have had in my mind’s eye the men and women of this place, their faces and gestures and movements. p.3

Berry defies categorization in simple terms, challenges traditional labels, and embodies contradictions. He is deeply immersed in the old ways of the pre-industrial, agrarian tradition of the South, but trained in prestigious, urban universities around the world. He is extremely prolific and productive, while taking the time to plow with horses and to write with a pencil and pad of paper. He lives quietly and simply on a rural hillside, while challenging the political, economic and cultural trends of our times. He is religiously committed to his family and farm, but has risked arrest in numerous protests of strip-mining in Kentucky. He sides repeatedly with the people who have no power and the land which has no voice, yet is never maudlin or sentimental. Wendell Berry speaks truth to power, and truth to complacency, like no one else today.