"Books Across America" documentary visits 50 places in 50 days, including Ann Arbor

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW

Mason Engel standing against a white background, leaning against a pile of fake books whose spines each list the name of a state.

Literati Bookstore has a relatively small physical footprint. But what the space lacks in size, it makes up for in reputation and has become one of the most beloved independent bookstores in the literature world.

That's one reason why writer and filmmaker Mason Engel picked Literati in Ann Arbor to represent the state of Michigan in his upcoming film, Books Across America.

Scheduled to come out in 2024, the documentary tracks Engel—a self-described "struggling writer"—traveling to 50 states in 50 days to interview 50 authors about 50 books. His Literati / Ann Arbor stop includes an interview with author and University of Michigan professor Peter Ho Davies.

Some of the other authors who appear in Books Across America include James Patterson, David Baldacci, and Joyce Carol Oates.

The press release calls the film a "real-life version of the Great American novel," and says the "characters are all obsessed with books, and they’re all searching for a happily ever after."

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Engel explained the reason why he decided to make a film rather than write about his experience: "[T]he film is to introduce or to depict reading to people who typically don’t read in a way that makes them want to pick up a book. I’m trying to meet people, my target audience, where they are—which is not in a bookstore, but on Netflix, on public television, on anywhere you find movies and shows."

Books Across America is wrapping up its Kickstarter campaign soon, with the film scheduled for release in 2024. After costs are covered, the film's proceeds will benefit Read Across America.

Watch the trailer below:

"Ghost" Stories: Jonathan Edwards explores a sparser sound on his lyrical new solo album

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jonathan Edwards sitting down in a studio playing guitar.

Jonathan Edwards recorded, produced, and performed the 13 songs on Wild Ghosts almost entirely by himself, playing everything from bass and drums to synthesizers and Wurlitzer organ.

But he could have just as easily performed the beautiful songs on Wild Ghost solely with his guitar, the instrument at the heart of the album, with Edwards displaying excellent fingerstyle playing throughout the record.

"Wild Ghosts is definitely more of a singer-songwriter album than anything I have done in the past and is something I have wanted to do for a long time," said Edwards, who studied music at Indiana University and Eastern Michigan. “Most of the songs on Wild Ghosts can be distilled down to more traditional folk tune-type influences, although there are still some more elaborate and dense arrangements with songs like ‘Paper Birds’ and ‘Mask of Bees.' Simplification is an art I am still learning."

I talked with Edwards about his musical upbringing, his influences, his writing process, Wild Ghosts, and more. 

Heading East: Grand Rapids Outlaw-Country Band The Bootstrap Boys Perform July 22 at Saline's Acoustic Routes Concert Series

MUSIC PREVIEW

The Bootstrap Boys include bassist Jonny Bruha, vocalist-songwriter Jake Stilson, drummer Jeff Knol, and guitarist Nick Alexander. The four men stand on an old wooden wagon during late fall.

The Bootstrap Boys share honest country stories on Hungry & Sober. Photo taken from the band's website.

The Bootstrap Boys are driving their outlaw-country anthems eastward to Saline later this month.

The Grand Rapids quartet plans to unpack rowdy tales from their five-album catalog during a July 22 Acoustic Routes show at Stony Lake Brewing Co.

The show serves as The Bootstrap Boys’ debut appearance at the decade-old Saline concert series. It’s also the only Washtenaw County stop on a current summer tour in support of their latest album, Hungry & Sober.

Throughout the album, vocalist-songwriter Jake Stilson (Big Jake Bootstrap), guitarist Nick Alexander (Nicky Bootstrap), bassist Jonny Bruha (Jonny “Bubba” Bootstrap), and drummer Jeff Knol (Jeff Bootstrap), share “cheerily nihilistic road tunes” and “sincere ruminations on family and queer identity” alongside hard-hitting, country-rock instrumentation.

“This album has more honest poetry to accompany the storytelling that’s always a part of my work,” notes Stilson on the band’s website, which credits Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Bob Wills among the band’s biggest influences. “I edited myself a lot less.”

Golden Years: Purple Rose Theatre's "Jukebox for the Algonquin" focuses on seniors living and loving

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Cast and crew of Jukebox for the Algonquin tour the set at Purple Rose Theatre.

Cast and crew of Jukebox for the Algonquin tour the set at Purple Rose Theatre. Photo by Danna Segrest.

Billed as “a serious comedy about sex, drugs, and rocking chairs,” Paul Stroili’s Jukebox for the Algonquin transpires at Placid Pines, a senior living community in the Adirondack region of New York, circa 2003.

This Purple Rose Theatre Company world premiere, which runs July 7-September 2, features characters who hail from the boroughs of New York City. They now find themselves removed from their usual surroundings and the people they loved, but they are ready to accept new challenges—even to create them.

Audiences may recognize playwright Stroili from his first-rate performances on the Rose stage—God of Carnage, Welcome to Paradise, and Watson in David MacGregor’s Sherlock Holmes series—or from TV appearances on Empire, Chicago P.D., Undercover Bridesmaid, and more.

Stroili says his venture into playwriting was “born of adversity.” He was booking roles in Los Angeles only sporadically and decided to write something for himself. Straight Up With a Twist enjoyed more than 1,000 performances nationwide and culminated in a twice-extended Off-Broadway run.

Capturing the Cosmos: Jason Guenzel photographs the beauty of space from Earth

VISUAL ART PULP LIFE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jason Guenzel's photo of IC342.

Arch Rock on Mackinac Island with the Milky Way in the background. Photo by Jason Guenzel.

Jason Guenzel has a passion for exploring the cosmos with his camera. 

The Michigan-based astrophotographer will appear at the Ann Arbor District Library's Downtown location at 7 pm on June 29 to discuss his love of astrophotography. Guenzel will talk about his journey to the stars, the equipment he uses, and how you can get started in this discipline, which mixes science and art. He'll also present many of his fascinating photos of the cosmos, explaining the specialized techniques he used to capture these breathtaking images.

I spoke with Guenzel ahead of his AADL appearance.

Between the Lines: The City Lines use a mix of Americana, power-pop, and punk to explore emotional 'Memories' on second album

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The City Lines' Skott Schoonover, Bob Zammit, Pat Deneau, Megan Marcoux, and Jason Rhoades perform at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor.

The City Lines' Skott Schoonover, Bob Zammit, Pat Deneau, Megan Marcoux, and Jason Rhoades perform at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. Photo by Sam Harms Photography.

The City Lines’ vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and songwriter Pat Deneau links personal stories as a father, husband, firefighter, and tribal member into a perceptive collection of songs on his band’s latest album, Analog Memories.

“Particularly, I like the idea that every song—kind of like city lines—butts up to each other … and continues some sort of throughline,” said Deneau, who is a firefighter with the Ann Arbor Fire Department and a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

“I like how the first tune ‘Different This Year’ opens up with this thought like, ‘OK, a fresh start,’ and I reference [our first album] Waiting on a Win in the second line. It’s this idea of ‘I’m tired of waiting on wins; I just gotta go out and get one.’

“That feeling is carried through to the end of the record on the final song [‘Finding a Way’] where I’m singing to my daughter. The notion there is I have to be better for her and how do you get there? You just have to find a way.”

While wrestling with existential ideas on Analog Memories’ seven tracks, Deneau finds his way forward through spirited choruses, propulsive power-pop-punk instrumentation, and a touch of classic Americana twang.

“There’s a line from ‘Far Enough’ that says ‘Looking back far enough / So I can move forward,’” said Bob Zammit, The City Lines’ drummer. “If you’re going to grab a lyric and be like, ‘Here’s the creative brief for what we’re doing here after the fact,’ I think it’s that.”

The City Lines will bring their Analog Memories tracks to life on June 21 outside the Downtown Library for Make Music Day, a free musical celebration with concerts by musicians across the city on the summer solstice.

Bandmates Skott Schoonover (bass), Jason Rhoades (lead guitar), and Megan Marcoux (acoustic guitar, backing vocals), will join Deneau and Zammit for the performance.

We recently spoke to Deneau and Zammit about their backgrounds, the band’s formation, the creative process for Analog Memories, select tracks from the album, their Make Music Day performance, and upcoming plans.

My Make Music: A personal guide to Ann Arbor's first Make Music Day

MUSIC PREVIEW

Kenji Lee and Olivia Cirisan

Kenji Lee and Olivia Cirisan are two of the 29 acts scheduled for the first Make Music Ann Arbor Day, June 21. Photos courtesy of the artists.

The summer solstice is a day of maximum tilt.

Not just because the Earth's northern hemisphere comes closest to the sun on June 21 but also because cities around the globe will be turning things up to 11 for Make Music Day, which encourages a celebration of sounds in plazas, parks, and porches by artists of all genres—all presented for free.

Make Music started in 1982 as Fête de la Musique in France and has expanded internationally to more than 1,000 cities in 120 countries. The first Ann Arbor edition debuts June 21 with 29 musical acts at 13 venues across town, including the Ann Arbor District Library, which is also the local coordinator of Make Music Day.

The Make Music website allows you to filter artists by genres and the shows by venues, so I went through and made my own personal festival guide, one that takes me from a forward-looking jazz trio to a forward-looking world-jazz quartet with some Indian classical, Latin-classical, techno, electronic pop, power pop, flower pots, and indie rock in between.

Stamps Gallery launches its second annual "Envision" exhibition, which highlights Michigan-based contemporary artists

VISUAL ART PREVIEW

Three pieces by Stamps' Envision 2023 finalists.

Left to right clockwise:
➥ Bakpak Durden, Double Crown of the Distant One, 2022, Khēmia Series. Oil and archival ink on wood panel, 48” x 72” Diptych. Image courtesy the artist.
➥ Levon Kafafian, The Summoner, Hyürabed, 2020. Handwoven cotton, rayon, silk, wool, dye, found fabrics, beads, leather, metal, and wood, 5’7” x 20” x 10.” Image courtesy the artist. 
➥ Parisa Ghaderi, For Dancing in the Streets, 2023. Video installation. Image courtesy the artist. 

The University of Michigan's Stamps Gallery recently opened its second annual exhibit Envision: The Michigan Artist Initiative 2023, featuring works by contemporary artists living and working in the state. 

But the finalist for the $5,000 grand prize won't be announced until June 29 at an awards ceremony.

Parisa Ghaderi, Levon Kafafian, and Bakpak Durden are the 2023 Envision finalists and you can see their multimedia pieces on display through July 29. All three artists will make individual appearances at Stamps in July to discuss their work.

You can learn more about the artists and watch four short videos documenting the Envision: The Michigan Artist Initiative 2023 below:

U-M's North Campus Research Complex galleries debut three new exhibitions

VISUAL ART PREVIEW

Images from the NCRC summer 2023 exhibitions

Clockwise from the left, works in the North Campus Research Complex's summer exhibitions by Matthew Zivich, Cristina Joya, and Julianne Orlyk Walsh. Photos courtesy of the Rotunda and Connection galleries.

The University of Michigan's North Campus Research Complex (NCRC) is a place for scientists and businesses to develop ideas and projects that can affect real-world change.

The NCRC is also the home of two low-key galleries that run regular exhibitions featuring artists with connections to Michigan (the state and/or the university).

On June 15, 4-7 pm, the NCRC will host a reception for three new exhibits running in the Rotunda and Connection galleries through August 11:

Matthew Zivich, Americana
Cristina Joya, Something Holy
Julianne Orlyk Walsh, Chronicle

Read more about the artists and their works below:

Ice Capades & Identity: Caroline Huntoon’s “Skating on Mars” follows a nonbinary middle schooler trying to find their place in the world

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Skating on Mars book on the left; author Caroline Huntoon on the right.

Author photo by Hannah Holland.

In the new middle-grade novel Skating on Mars by Ypsilanti writer and educator Caroline Huntoon, Mars is a nonbinary figure skater who is not only navigating how to be who they are but also grieving their father and experiencing the tumult of middle school friendships.

One of Mars’ challenges is to figure out how to express themselves in different aspects of their life, from revealing their preferred name and pronouns to their mom and sister to dealing with critical peers. Even though skating has always been a refuge for them, one of their coaches pushes them to bring their own style to their skating program. After demonstrating, Dmitri clarifies his request, which Mars questions: 

“See, that’s not you,” Dmitri says.

“What?” I ask.

“It was the same steps, but not what you did before. And not what you should do in your own program.”

“Okay…” I’m still not sure what he expects from me. 

“You have to find yourself. And the rest will come.”

“Yeah,” I say, my voice flat and low. In my head, I’m screaming, JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO! And somewhere else altogether, I feel this horrible uncertainty about what Dmitri is telling me to do. Find myself? I’m not lost. That’s not the problem. Not really. 

This issue is one for which Mars must live their way into an answer. The book chronicles their journey in first-person narration by Mars, including their perspective on their sport, friends’ betrayals, a first crush, and emotional processing. 

Mars’ competitive nature sets the scene for a showdown with another skater and for pushing the gender boundaries on the ice. Whether they can manage the pressure, shift their family and friend’s understanding of who they are, and continue doing what they love become ongoing questions through the book. One thing is clear: Mars cannot chart their own path solely by themself. 

AADL’s Downtown Library is hosting Huntoon for a reading, Q&A, and signing Thursday, June 15, at 2 pm.

I caught up with Huntoon for an interview.