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First blood (9/15/2010)
Hemingway's 'Last Good Country' (7/7/2010)
Minstrelsy biopsy (6/23/2010)
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Lit up (6/2/2010)
Lit Up (7/29/2009)
Picturing Hemingway's Michigan
Michael R. Federspiel
Wayne State University Press (Painted Turtle), $40, 200 pp.
This past Fourth of July weekend, thousands of people from Chicago and its surrounding suburbs, such as Oak Park, holidayed at quaint bed-and-breakfast houses, new and rickety resorts, and family cottages along Lake Michigan's eastern shoreline, in such "up North" towns as Petoskey, Glen Harbor, and Traverse City. It's a regional tradition of more than 100 years. Unbeknownst to most travelers, however, is how, from 1899 to 1921, great American novelist Ernest Hemingway spent large amounts of time with his family at Windemere Cottage on Walloon Lake near Petoskey. It was there young Ernest and his siblings camped, canoed, fished, hunted, explored and gallivanted through the woods, lakes and dusted streets around Petoskey. Ernest's father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, was intolerant of idle time, and his mother, Grace, spent afternoons micromanaging her children's activities. Ernest, as we learned in his fiction, soaked it up.
In his book Picturing Hemingway's Michigan, Central Michigan University history professor Michael R. Federspiel depicts Hemingway summers at Windemere as intense reunions with the wild, opposed to tranquil escapes. With the support of more than 250 photos, Federspiel's account is inspired and, at times, even sentimental.
Before we arrive at the page on which the Hemingway family first boards a steamship to voyage across a great lake to Michigan's wilderness, Federspiel recounts the effect the post-lumber boom had on areas that would become — and remain to this day — nationally popular vacation grounds. Via an attractive and casual coffee-table page-turner, the author delves, just enough, into the initial plan for Michigan's tourism industry, dissecting the ways in which railroad lines and steamship port stops were directly connected to areas that saw thousands of acres of pine forests clearcut, abandoned and idealistically repurposed for cottages, resorts and the like. The turn-of-the-century photos, postcards and blueprints transport us to a time and place where we can better understand the experience of the Hemingway clan.
For Hemingway enthusiasts, these pages go lengths to enlighten on the ways in which Michigan affected his writing, most notably his collection of Nick Adams stories. But it also functions as a biography of the family. The book sometimes breaks from chronicling the family and becomes a testament to a region in flux, which makes for a welcome reprieve for readers not as obsessed with Hemingway but maybe more the region. Others will find the photos as fascinating or more than anything Federspiel puts down in ink. Still, the Hemingways are a notably weird yet mighty pack of folks, and their story is as tragic and triumphant as America itself. Ernest and his family are used as a conduit to tell what was, then, a common American experience. It so happened he'd later pen some of the world's most prized prose.
Though Federspiel bounces between familial and regional history, there's no interruption of flow, which actually makes for a practical, albeit quick summertime read. —Travis R. Wright
Topless Prophet: The True Story of America's Most Successful Gentleman's Club Entrepreneur
by Alan Markovitz with Thomas Stevens
AM Productions, $25, 307 pp.
How does a middle-class Jewish kid with a wild streak end up as the kingpin of topless entertainment? Those answers and more are revealed in Topless Prophet, the story of how an Oak Park kid named Alan Markovitz exploited and capitalized upon unmet desires of the strip club business.
Markovitz claims to have revolutionized the concept of a gentleman's club. In these pages, he takes credit for transforming the traditionally seedy atmosphere of strip clubs into a version of an upscale environment, in which gentlemen could enjoy both the sight and sway of nude women, as well as an imported cigar, a glass of single-barrel scotch and a filet mignon cooked to order. As he'll be sure to tell you, he owns some of the more lavish strip clubs in the country, including the Flight Club and multiple Penthouse Clubs (including the latter's most recent addition to Detroit's strip of strip clubs on Eight Mile Road).
With writer Thomas Stevens along to help smooth the text, Markovitz portrays himself as a sex-trade outlier, recounting his ability to cleverly bypass city ordinances, outwit biker gangs, and deal with the sleazy characters who wade around strip clubs, no matter how upscale or downtrodden. He's survived two violent shootings, had a hit put out on him by his partner, was a witness in an FBI investigation involving the mafia, and all while created a small empire built on boobs, butts and booze. —Christa Buchanan