Tag Archives: Once in a Great City

Meeting Author David Maraniss

30 May

My community chose David Maraniss’s book Once in a Great City for our Everyone’s Reading book this year. I’ve already posted my book review and my book club reflection on the book and last week, I heard the author himself speak.

Maraniss was born in Detroit but spent much of his childhood in Wisconsin. He spoke about watching the Superbowl in 2011 and when this ad came on, he felt a pull to the city.

I really connected with this. I was living in Southern Indiana in 2011 and was watching the Superbowl with a bunch of other friends from the business school. As nerdy business students, we were more focused on the half-time commercials than on the game. It went completely silent in the room while that 2-minute ad went on and then when it was over, the whole room looked at me like I was the ambassador for the whole city. I just said, “Heck yes!” and grabbed more guac. It seems I wasn’t the only one with an experience like this, but Maraniss wrote a book because of it.

Once in a Great City is Maraniss’s 12th book. He uses the same research system for each book which he likens to digging an oil rig and getting as deep as he can to get all the information. The first step is to go to the place. When writing about Bill Clinton, he went to Hope, Arkansas. When writing about Vince Lombardi, he went to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Doing so has given him access to first-hand accounts and stories he wouldn’t have found otherwise. The second step is always to get the documents. For this book, it was letters from Mayor Cavanagh and Police Commissioner Edwards that were at the Wayne State University Reuther Library. He visited 11-12 other libraries and archives including an Olympic archive in Los Angeles and Duke University’s advertising archive for the documents about the Mustang. He found during his research that the Mustang tagline was originally Imported from Detroit. Well, at least it was finally used.

Maraniss’s third step is to talk to people. Being in the target area helps with this. Many of the major figures for the Detroit novel had passed but he was able to talk to a few including Berry Gordie Jr. and Martha Reeve. His final step is to look for what’s not there. For Maraniss, he saw the influence of the rest of the Gordie family, not just Berry. He saw the access to musical instruments, specifically pianos as a reason for the musical movement in the city at that time. He also saw the influence of public school music teachers and how that pushed many musicians to follow a musical career.

Maraniss expressed that the bittersweet tone of his book wasn’t intentional but grew as he wrote and edited the novel. He feels Detroit is still a great city but that the neighborhoods and schools need support to match earlier splendor. Due to length, there were other topics Maraniss chose to not cover including architects and other auto companies.  This book has been optioned into a 4-part documentary series on CNN with Anthony Bourdain that will likely release in early 2018. The makers are currently looking for home movies of that era to add to the series.

In answering questions from the audience, Maraniss revealed that on a recent trip, he went to see his childhood home and it had been knocked down the day before! He’d seen it other times on trips to the city for research but was really struck by the timing. He revealed that his next book will deal with the McCarthy era. Maraniss also said that there’s not really a set time it takes him to write a book and that the process is ongoing for him. He did say he often signs 2-book contracts and that it’s usually 8-12 months between book delivery to his editor and publication.

I decided not to buy a copy of this book because as much as I liked it, it’s not one I’ll read again and I’m trying to limit the books I own, even the signed ones, to ones I would want to lend out or read again. No pictures this time.

Until next time, write on!

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Book Club Reflection: Once in a Great City by David Maraniss

16 May

I’m back to my book clubs! My class is over for the semester which means I’m free on Monday nights again and can join in on the discussions. I read Once in a Great City a couple of weeks ago and I’ll be posting about it again in a few weeks when author David Maraniss comes to speak in my area.

One issue some people had with the book was the title. We felt it implied that Detroit was no longer a great city, that it had lost that greatness. Our moderator likened it to watching the Titanic movie. This thing is so wonderful and great and you’re looking at it thinking, “Wow! How incredible is this!” and the whole time, you know it’s going to sink because that’s history and you can’t change it. Seeing Detroit built up as this pillar of American modernity and progress just to know that it will be home to terrible race riots, high murder rates, government corruption, economic depression, and bankruptcy feels like watching a beautiful ship sink to the bottom of the ocean. Many of our members remembered when Detroit’s offering of steady employment and strong industry was a draw and sense of price for the city. That’s since faded.

The best description of the book a member gave was “interesting and tedious.” The topics were interesting and Maraniss picked a good time in Detroit history to focus on. It was very well researched, maybe too much so. The level of detail made it dense. For someone from Detroit, the topic was engaging enough because we are around the thing he’s talking about. For someone from another area, they’d likely get bogged down in the details and not want to continue.

Speaking of being from here, many of us were surprised to hear about the Ford Rotunda. It does help explain the road in Dearborn called Rotunda, though. The number of tourists and fame described was astounding and those in our group who were alive to see it feel it may have been a bit exaggerated.

We enjoyed the chapters about Detroit’s Olympic bid. We were all surprised to hear about it. The way Maraniss built it up it seemed like it would be a close battle between Detroit and Mexico City, but the results were a blowout. I wonder if Detroit will ever be a serious contender for the Olympics again.

There were some things we felt were missing from the book. The mob story was glossed over a bit. People think of Chicago when they think of the mob in America but Detroit has a strong mob background as well. The book also focused very strongly on Ford, ignoring General Motors and Chrysler culture. Maybe GM and Chrysler are less controversial and scandalous as they’re not run by a single family. The Fords have dark sides like anti-Semitic backgrounds, affairs, and a distaste for immigrants. That makes for a good book in the times leading to a race riot.

It was great to be back with these ladies and discuss a book again. We’re moving back to fiction next month and I’ll be reading that book soon. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 12-April-2017

12 Apr

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

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The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: I was an hour early for a conference on Friday so I spent the time reading The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler at Starbucks. I got through a few chapters and I’m about halfway through the book now. Slow and steady but really enjoying this one.
A Son of the Circus has been a slow start. I’m hoping it picks up because this brick is over 600 pages long! I love Irving but this is very different from his earlier books. I hope I can still enjoy it.
I started listening to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See on Saturday for a two-hour workout so I made great progress in it already. It’s not too long so I’m hoping I can get through this one quickly.

Recently finished: I finally finished Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs! Hubby and I split up to finish it and I came through on Friday, him on Saturday. My review of it went up yesterday and I warn you, it is not glowing. I gave it 2 out of 5 Stars. We watched the movie as well and I’ll post about that tomorrow.
I also got through Once In a Great City by David Maraniss. This was really fun to listen to and for anyone based in Detroit, I think it’s worth reading. It gives a great image of what our city was and what it could be again. I gave it 4 out of 5 Stars. I’ll be posting about this book again as Maraniss visits Detroit to talk about the book.

Reading Next: I think I’ll need another audiobook next, which seems crazy after finishing two this week! Next on my list is Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie. It’s been years since I read the first in this series so I may have to read some summaries to refresh myself. The subsequent books are also available on audio so I hope to move through some of them soon.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: Once in a Great City by David Maraniss (4/5)

10 Apr

My library brings in an author each year and every few years, it’s a non-fiction writer and when that happens, the discussion usually focuses on Detroit and Michigan. David Maraniss’s ballad to the once-great (and now recovering) Detroit was this year’s selection. My book club discussion on it isn’t for a while, but I figured I’d get a head start on the audiobook so I didn’t have to rush it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story by David Maraniss

Summary from Goodreads:

It’s 1963 and Detroit is on top of the world. The city’s leaders are among the most visionary in America: Grandson of the first Ford; Henry Ford II; influential labor leader Walter Reuther; Motown’s founder Berry Gordy; the Reverend C.L. Franklin and his daughter, the amazing Aretha; Governor George Romney, Mormon and Civil Rights advocate; super car salesman Lee Iacocca; Mayor Jerome Cavanagh, a Kennedy acolyte; Police Commissioner George Edwards; Martin Luther King. It was the American auto makers’ best year; the revolution in music and politics was underway. Reuther’s UAW had helped lift the middle class.

The time was full of promise. The auto industry was selling more cars than ever before and inventing the Mustang. Motown was capturing the world with its amazing artists. The progressive labor movement was rooted in Detroit with the UAW. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech there two months before he made it famous in the Washington march.

Once in a Great City shows that the shadows of collapse were evident even then. Before the devastating riot. Before the decades of civic corruption and neglect, and white flight. Before people trotted out the grab bag of rust belt infirmities—from harsh weather to high labor costs—and competition from abroad to explain Detroit’s collapse.

I’ve lived in Metro Detroit my whole life. Growing up in the 90s and 2000s, we didn’t go into the city. It was dangerous and there was nothing worth doing there unless you were going to a Tigers game and even then, you went straight to the game and straight home. Now that I’m in my 20s and the city is rebounding, I go a lot more. It’s great to see the city rebounding and I can see how it strives to be the city it was in the 60s (less some obvious racial problems). Maraniss has an obvious love for the city and it’s portrayed in this book and touches on all aspects of city life ranging from Motown to politics to automotive. I listened to this book while driving and hearing about the Mustang concept car kept at World HQ while driving on the Southfield past the Glass Castle (local name for that building) gave me shivers. Going to Wayne State for an event while hearing about students from campus was awesome. I felt like I was walking through this book while I read it. I felt like Woodward Ave would be closed as I approached it for the Walk to Freedom despite it happening over 50 years ago. Maraniss brought the city to a life I hope it can see again soon.

I loved how Maraniss portrayed the figures in this book. Reuther was probably my favorite. My parents were GM engineers and I grew up thinking of the UAW as devils so seeing their infamous leader portrayed so positively made me think a lot. Hearing about George Romney, whose son Mitt would run for President in 2012, seemed like a strange precursor to that election. It was really cool to hear about these people via interviews Maraniss conducted and get a feel for how they lived and what they saw.

 

I could feel Maraniss’s pride for his city in this book. Wherever I travel, I say I’m from Detroit and I get looks like I’m going to whip a pistol out of my back pocket and shoot the person in the face. It’s not like that! Detroit has a rough reputation and it’s fought that for years. Maraniss notes how it was fighting that during the time period he selected, a great time period for the city. It got worse after that and is only now starting to get better.

David Maraniss
Image via Simon and Schuster

I’d never heard about the Walk to Freedom and I really enjoyed that part of the story. Hearing about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in Cobo Hall was really moving and hearing the positive things he said about the city gave me chills. I wish the city had been able to make more progress for racial equality without the violence that broke out a few years after the book ended. It seems the city was open to it, but also resisted the change that was really needed.

I wasn’t as interested in some of the plot lines, the Motown one for example. The Motown plotline didn’t seem to connect to the others the same way the rest of them intertwined and it made me lose interest in it very quickly. The civil rights one connected slightly, but it wasn’t strong enough to feel like it was all part of a cohesive story.

Having Maraniss narrated the story was great. He pronounced everything right! I’ve found that non-native narrators don’t always say local names correctly and as a Detroiter, this could have been very distracting. It was great to have a man who knew all the right names say them.

Detroit was a great city. It makes me sad to say that, but Maraniss is right. It was a great city that fell off the tracks and is trying to get back on. The years in this book were boom years for the Motor City and show what Detroit could be again. On a personal note, I heard a speech from the current mayor, Mike Duggan, on Friday and his hopes and dreams for Detroit reminded me of this book. I hope we will be there again soon.

Writer’s Takeaway: When choosing several plot lines, it’s important that they alight. The political landscape of Detroit and far-reaching connections of the auto executives helped most plot lines interact with similar characters and events but the Motown plot seemed forced. It’s a defining sound of Detroit and that era, but the Gordy’s weren’t political and the Jim Crow laws that touched the performers wasn’t touching them in Detroit. I think the book could have been stronger without it but it’s a good note for a writer.

I enjoyed this book and it made me optimistic about what my city can become again. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the 1960-1979 time period in the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Post:
Review: Once in a Great City- A Detroit Story | Da Tech Guy Blog

WWW Wednesday, 5-April-2017

5 Apr

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

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The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: My husband and I made some major progress on Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs this weekend! We have about 2:30 left on it and we might just finish it separately because we don’t have another road trip coming up soon. Yay for progress!
I read a few pages of The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler when I forgot my textbook for lunch reading. I’m still really enjoying this book, but it’s slow going for sure.
I think I’ll finish Once In a Great City by David Maraniss  this week. It’s a good one to listen to during my long runs and it’s fun listening to it while I drive because more than once, I’ve been on the freeways or in sight of the buildings he mentions and it’s really exhilarating.
I started a new physical book, A Son of the Circus by John Irving. Many of you know how much I love Irving and I’m also a big fan of circus books so this is one I’m really looking forward to! It’s a long one so I expect it to be here a while.

Recently finished: I finished Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano Saturday night. It was a lot faster of a read than I thought and I was glad to get through it. The images in it were beautiful and the story was a big puzzle to solve which was a cool structure. My review is already up so please go check it out. I gave it 4 out of 5 Stars.

Reading Next: The plan is still to listen to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See on audio, though I may power through Library of Souls before I pick it up, just depending on what the hubby and I decide to do with that one. I’m looking forward to See’s book, though!


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 29-March-2017

29 Mar

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

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The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: I decided not to take Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs off of this list. Hubby and I are going on a road trip for a friend’s baby shower this weekend so we’ll have six hours in the car and I hope we can make some decent progress on this book!
I’ve been picking up The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler as much as possible because I’m really enjoying the story and I don’t want to forget what I’ve read each time I pick it up. I think I’m getting close to some major action and I can’t wait!
I’ve made steady progress on Once In a Great City by David Maraniss because of long runs and time spent cooking so I’m happy with how this one is going. I think I’ll have it finished next week!
I started  Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano! I’m so excited to finally be reading this one. I bought it two years ago because I thought it was pretty, haha. I don’t normally pick books out by their covers so this was a fun treat for myself.

Recently finished: I finally finished Night Soldiers by Alan Furst! It was a mad scramble to finish it over the weekend before I had to return it on Tuesday but I managed and I’m so proud, woo! The review went up yesterday so go check it out!

Reading Next: I think I’ll need an audiobook next and at the top of my list is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I have a signed copy of this one but I’m making an effort to knock down my TBR through audio whenever possible so I’ll go for it. Besides, then I don’t have to worry about my signed copy getting battered at all!


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 22-March-2017

22 Mar

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: I’m tempted to take Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs off of this list because I’m barely moving with it. I was only moderately enjoying it while reading it and I don’t feel any pressure to get back to it. Plus, hubs and I usually only listen to these on long car rides and there are none of those coming up soon.
I was really hoping to make progress with The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler during Spring Break but no luck! I read for school during lunch instead of reading at home, which felt like a treat, but meant I was slow on making progress here.
I got through another big chunk of Night Soldiers by Alan Furst this weekend. I’m still not sure I’ll finish it, but it will be close! I’m trying to keep my TV ban, but I did allow myself an hour on Saturday. It’s too hard to resist getting some quality knitting time in, haha.
I was hoping to be further in Once In a Great City by David Maraniss but I forgot headphones for my long workout on Saturday! I was so mad. So there’s 90 of listening time I won’t get back. I’m really enjoying the book and the focus on a city I know so well.

Recently finished: Noting! I’m so sad about this one. I’m really hoping to make progress this week, honestly! I’m in the middle of a few long books now and I swear I’m making steady progress, haha. Maybe next week?

Reading Next: I keep staring longingly at my bookshelf when I walk past, wondering what I will read next. I have it boiled down to two, Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano or You Are An Ironman by Jacques Steinberg. The first looks like a quick read and there are beautiful images in it. The second seems like something I should read before triathlon season gets into full swing. What do you guys think?


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 15-March-2017

15 Mar

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: Again, nothing with Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs. Husband has been traveling a lot lately, which is very unlike him! I’m usually the one out and about, haha.
I think I read five pages of The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler on Friday and I was really excited about it. Still reading has been bogging me down a lot and with Spring Break this week (WOO!) I’m hoping to get back to this a bit.
I made myself read a good chunk of Night Soldiers by Alan Furst over the weekend. I gave myself a no-TV rule and it really worked! It’s still going to be tight to finish it before it’s due, though.
At my library board meeting, I was reminded that we have an author coming to visit soon, David Maraniss, who will talk about his book Once In a Great City about Detroit. I got an audiobook copy of this one over the weekend and started in on it right away.

Recently finished: Was able to finish up The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson during a long workout on Saturday. I’m so relieved to have finished something! My review went up Monday so please go check it out!

Reading Next: Again, nothing planned. I think I’ll need a physical book next and I’ll grab whatever looks right off of my shelf. I’m going to let myself enjoy the freedom in that for once!


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!