October Photo Album

As I looked back at the photos I took in October, I realized it was worth recording a few here. These are mostly chronological throughout the month.

My mother-in-law, Linda Janecke, died in October; she was 81 years old — Judy wrote a loving tribute/obituary to her mom. Linda was a beacon of encouragement and optimism. Though she had bouts of worrying, she had a strong faith. Linda was always quick with a smile or a memory to share. Here’s a link to some photos that Rachel and I put together.


Aaron moved to a house in Lansing and is living with a couple guys.


Rachel makes a wicked good squash soup.


Judy and her cousin, Rob, enjoyed their coffee & tea, as well as the garden.


We visited the lighthouse at the northern point of Old Mission Peninsula.


We also saw a movie (Downton Abbey) at theater in Elk Rapids; Judy met a woman whose children had taken piano lessons from her mother.


The waves were high on East Traverse Bay at Mary Anne and John’s house/cottage — a blessed retreat.


I enjoyed a campfire and a World Series game at the same time.


Tracy the pirate and Aram the clown…and a curious face in-between.

Bonus poem by Bob Rentschler read by me

Will these Tigers go down in history?

We began the year talking about how terrible the Baltimore Orioles would be this year. Unfortunately, somewhere in the middle of the year, the Tigers became the story. I’ve watched many a Tiger game this year (even went to one) and this team is full of intriguing, talented players. They’re fun to watch. The announcers hype them quite well and a decent number of fans show up for most games.

If you haven’t checked lately, though, they currently have the worst record in major league baseball. The Tigers are playing .306 ball as of this morning — that’s 37 wins and 84 losses.

Let’s be clear. I love the Tigers. I grew up watching them at Tiger Stadium, I’ve come to enjoy the atmosphere at Comerica Park, and I’m not planning on switching my allegiance. It’s difficult these days to talk/write frankly about politics, race, religion, and death (teaser…those are the topics of upcoming posts); baseball is usually the safe, go-to subject (like the weather), but it’s time to start considering where this Tiger team will show up on the list of worst MLB records. It’s a distinct possibility.

Here’s the list that teams don’t want to be on (from Wikipedia):

And here’s what it comes down to: 17 of the Tigers’ final 41 games are against teams that are currently in first place. We’ll be playing Houston (4 games), Minnesota (10), New York (3) in this final stretch. It will be tough for this Tiger squad to get many wins out of those games. I was wondering how that compared to Baltimore and Kansas City’s final stretch. As it turns out, Baltimore only plays three games against first place teams and Kansas City will play 10 games. The Tigers have the more difficult final stretch.

What’s a fan to do? Well, here’s my suggestion. Let’s root for them to get at least 10 more wins in the final 41 games. That way, they will be only in the ballpark of the 2018 Orioles at .290. I did the Math and if they only win five more games, they will be worse than the 2003 Tigers (see chart above) at .265. I’m going to go out on a limb and say we don’t have to worry about being on the top of that ‘worst’ list; we would have to only win one more game this entire season to top the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics for first place. I feel confident in this team to win at least a few more games, so we don’t have to worry about that.


GO TIGERS!!!!

Commencing into Success…and a poem

Two thousand nineteen is about half over, and it has felt like ‘opposite day’ for that entire time, so here are two blog entries in one, to celebrate its half-ness and its oppositeness (as the math crowd knows, 1/2 multiplied by its opposite (2) is actually one, so yeah).

Here’s a draft of a poem that may have promise.

Instead, at 6 am

I need the cool breeze
Coming in through the screen

And that pervasive silence,
That welcome absence —

I need distant bird chatter
As the loudest sound

And an orange burst,
Pink spray, green leaved

Morning.

Instead of physical activity
And its expectations.

I need this pen and my journal,
A few moments alone,

Time to contemplate the day
With a glass of water

In a soft recliner
That rocks when I say.

Stillness without sleep
Thought and observation without action

Morning bliss

————
I began the next entry around graduation time. It’s incomplete, unfinished, lacking something…but then again, aren’t most graduates? Aren’t most of us?

Congratulations to the class of 2019 at every level.
Congratulations to those choosing retirement.
Congratulations to everyone who just breathed in and out.

Success is so hard to define. So, for everyone moving from one thing to another thing, I recommend the following podcast: How Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? (You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript by following that link). It’s a recent On Being discussion on that elusive thing called “success” involving Krista Tippett, Abraham Verghese, and Denise Pope.

Here are a few highlights designed to heighten your interest:

* “Follow your heart…within reason”

* The importance of friendships across generations (a type of mentoring) — “I think it’s really a calling for this century because the wisdom of young adulthood, I think, is actually an urgency and an impatience and this longing and this aspiration to see the world whole and make it better. We want that. But there’s something so relaxing about living for a while and knowing in your body that life is long and knowing that there will be another side to whatever is happening. And so that’s really the experience you have of failure.”

*“on a small scale, [resilience is about raising] your hand in class and risk ‘sounding stupid.’”

* “failure, what goes wrong, what you get through that you didn’t know how you’d get through, this is the breeding ground of becoming wise and mature.”

I liked the discussion, partly, because of the speakers’ collective awareness that there is no one path to success. And their understanding that one hurdle toward whatever success is most assuredly involves failure. Many of the seventh graders I taught in the final years of my career were downright afraid of failing. That leads to a lack of taking risks (in writing, in class participation, in leadership…) and that can be quite immobilizing.


Generations of Allium look like waves of students over time

I recently had the honor and privilege of participating in the East Lansing High School Commencement. Two graduates asked that I give them their diplomas. That allowed me to have a seat on the stage. I became a witness to the graduates’ pride. A co-celebrator in their joy. As a retired teacher, this was a rare and singular moment. Our district (like many, I would imagine) is not that adept at using the talents of retired teachers, paraprofessionals, and secretaries in an on-going, integral way. The occasional invitation to be included in commencement, however, excuses that educational faux pas just a bit.

Witnessing young person after young person hearing his, her, or their name spoken, finally, at Commencement felt like seeing sunrise after sunrise after glorious sunrise. Each one had a face that mixed exhilaration, expectation, and trepidation with a dose of amazed wonder. They were beacons of hope, one after another. Each a success, but not in a ‘final package’ way; they found a way to cross the stage and it will lead to many more successes —— laced with failures —— on their journeys.

A teacher friend suggested I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Intrigued, I found the TED Talk by the author and I share it here for its important messages; it is, in an odd way, a success story. Not the author’s story, per se, but her awareness that generalizing one experience to fit a whole group (stereotyping) is at the heart of what’s dangerous in our world today.

2009

Danger of a Single Story

I found a wonderful reflection on Adichie’s video that includes a way to incorporate it into a meaningful lesson, for you teachers out there. Both breaking stereotypes and offering self-awareness, this lesson seems important at this time in history.

Other resources:

* Challenge Success is an organization that helps schools and communities re-think what they are asking of students. They offer a way to re-think what success means for each student.

* Success in a concentrated way is a version of flow, a concept I use with students to help them find balance and confidence. Here is Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk on the subject.


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

* As the Women’s World Cup winds down, here’s an eye-opening article about how women’s professional soccer players do what they love in the midst of sacrifices.
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Finally, a blessing to all of us as we strive to live the most whole, rich lives we can…

May you live in peace
May your heart always be open
May you awaken to the divine light deep within
May you be healed
May you be a source of healing for others

(This may be from a Tibetan Buddhist Prayer)

Loss of

Loss of

The same people that research
Family histories —
They still write physical letters
To others.
Besides that, letter writing is dead.

And I’m still grieving
The fun
I had with it.

Creating a letter
Was like writing a symphony.
It was mine
But I was gifting it
So someone else —
That I cared about —
Could have this message, this song,
This part of my mind and heart.

Letter writing was an opportunity to share
A bit of my creative soul
With a loved one.

(That old-person-thing where they can’t stand all the changes in the world — I’m feeling it)

Innovation is allegedly a sign of creativity
But
Creativity is a sign of blending heart and mind
And soul

Most days
I don’t miss changing the ribbon on
A typewriter

It was messy and often tricky to get right

And yet
Maybe this phone-focused life, world,
These relationships

Need some messy time. Need to feel that
Uneasiness

Relationships are tricky to get right
In ways emoticons
And textspeak lingo
Can’t convey.
We’ve come to expect our
Relationships to load quickly.
When the dreaded, perpetual spinning
Circle of waiting
Appears,
In human form,
We are flustered, confused, stymied.

Can we go back
To simpler times?
Has too much changed?
Progress at ANY cost?

There are moments in
Our days
When we have time
To disconnect from our work at hand.
Instead of singing
Or
Writing a letter
Or
Calling a friend
Or
Meditating
Or
Resting —
We open our phones.

We suckle at
The techno breast
And it feeds us
Techno milk
And it’s not what we need.
It’s mind-numbing shit.
It’s not symphony writing.
It’s escape
When we need
Touch
Rest
Contact
Attention from

“What do you want from me?”

This poem was included in the Writer’s Almanac for today and spoke to me about expectations.

House Poet Wanted
by Anita S. Pulier

Experienced, articulate,
references required.
Job requires weaving
the fibers of household matter
and daily routines into an examined life.
Must explain the dagger through the heart,
the nail piercing the skull,
memories triggered by the scent
of Mamas over-salted soup.
Applicant must define the life worth living,
identify ancestors stuck together
in that box of sepia photos,
be plain spoken, persistent,
willing to be misunderstood,
interpreted to death.

Reading “New” Poets

Here are two poems by poets who are new to me. The first was recommended by a poet friend and I had the honor of hearing the second poet read her poems recently (thanks for the book, Janine!). I’m sharing these poems — on this last day of Poetry Month — as a reminder to look for new poets, new perspectives, new expressions of life’s joys…even in sorrow. These poems touched my heart as I think back over loved ones who have died in recent years; somewhere between dreams, embraces, and memories I see them still. For more information about each poet, click on the poem’s title.

The Embrace
by Mark Doty, 1953

You weren’t well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.

I didn’t for a moment doubt you were dead.
I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You’d been out — at work maybe? —
having a good day, almost energetic.

We seemed to be moving from some old house
where we’d lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the story of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of the narrative

by your face, the physical fact of your face:
inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without a photograph, without strain?

So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of you—warm brown tea—we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.

Bless you. You came back, so I could see you
once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.

Water Lilies at the Musee D’Orsay
by Janine Certo

I study my father across the gallery
in his wheelchair, bald head angled up,
swaying under eight by eight feet
of psychedelic blues and living greens.
I once read that water lilies are always
hungry, and suddenly I picture them
voraciously pulling him into the pond,
his morphine pump loosened
and drifting away, his body turning,
nerves finally cooled. Blossoms
cover his skin, their petals cocoon him.
Then my father wheels his chair
around, his face shocked with light.
He’s searching for me, water in his eyes,
my red purse ridiculous on his lap.

Literary Nonsense

I look forward to reading the daily Writer’s Almanac post in my email. Everyday, I learn something new and practically everyday I am intrigued by much of what I read, which often leads me to read related poems, biographies, or other texts.

Today, I enjoyed it so, that I’m re-posting the whole entry below (to use the links, you’ll have to go to the actual website). I’ll comment on it more, under the entry.

——————
Friday, February 22, 2019
The Writer’s Almanac
with Garrison Keillor

“Be Careful Darkness”
by Erica Jong

Whitman wrote.
He knew
the claws & paws
of darkness,
how they capture
light & try
to blind
our eyes to hope.

Darkness
at the edges
of our being.
We ourselves are light
pushing aside
the darkness
as we move.

Standing still
lets the darkness
in.

“‘Be Careful Darkness’” by Erica Jong from The World Began with Yes. © Red Hen Press, 2019. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

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It’s the birthday of George Washington, born in Westmoreland County, Virginia (1732), whose favorite foods were mashed sweet potatoes with coconut, string beans with mushrooms, cream of peanut soup, salt cod, and pineapples. He lost all of his teeth except for one by cracking Brazilian nuts between his jaws. He got dentures made out of a hippopotamus tusk, which caused him great pain, which he tried to alleviate with opium.

He was not good at spelling and he had a speech impediment. His inaugural address was the shortest in history: 133 words long, and it took him just 90 seconds to deliver.

After two terms, he retired to Mt. Vernon in 1797. He died two years later after inspecting his plantation on horseback in snow and freezing rain.
__
On this date in 1632, Galileo published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in which he argued against the belief of the church. He argued that the Earth was not the center of the Universe, and that in fact the Sun is the center of the solar system, with the Earth circling around it.

The book was placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books the following year, and Galileo was tried and convicted for heresy. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest, and none of his later books were permitted to be published in his lifetime.
__

It’s the birthday of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (books by this author), born in Rockland, Maine (1892). She went to Vassar and then moved to Greenwich Village where she lived a Bohemian life involving poetry and love affairs. She was beautiful and alluring and many men and women fell in love with her. She was one of the icons of the Jazz Age. When she went on tour, she drew huge crowds, and she recited her poetry from memory, very dramatically.

Millay wrote, “My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — / It gives a lovely light!”

__
On this day in 1980, in one of the most dramatic upsets in Olympics history, the underdog U.S. hockey team, made up of collegians and second-tier professional players, defeated the defending champion Soviet team, 4-3, at the Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.

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It’s the birthday of Seán Ó Faoláin (books by this author), the Irish author, born in County Cork, in 1900. He is best known for his unflattering but sympathetic portraits of modern Irish life, his criticisms of church-inspired censorship, the narrowness of the Irish clergy, and restrictive family traditions. Thus, he was controversial but also a hero to other writers including Patrick Kavanaugh, Flann O’Brien, Frank O’Connor, and Brendan Behan.

__
It’s the birthday of the author and illustrator Edward Gorey (books by this author), born in Chicago, 1925. He was well known for creating drawings for the animated title sequence to the PBS series Mystery!, and he produced picture books such as The Beastly Baby (1962) and The Ghastlycrumb Tinies (1963), which begins:

A is for Amy who fell down the stairs
B is for Basil assaulted by bears
C is for Clara who wasted away
D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh

A new biography just came out about him this past November; it’s called Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey.

__
Frank Woolworth opened the first of his dime stores on this date in 1878 in Utica, New York; his innovation was to put the merchandise out where the customer could pick it up and look at it. By 1919, there were more than a thousand Woolworth stores worldwide.

——————–

Garrison surprises me with little-known facts about people I thought I knew (I assume they are facts…though he is a fiction writer, so…). The father of our country had a speech impediment and loved cream of peanut soup? Edna St. Vincent Millay was an icon of the Jazz Age? Investigating Edward Gorey a bit on my own, I saw that he was part of the Literary Nonsense movement, according to Wikipedia. That Wikipedia page listed many writers who also have written in this genre that “balances elements that make sense with some that do not, with the effect of subverting language conventions or logical reasoning.” I was surprised at how many from the list I considered my favorite authors: Lewis Carroll, Woody Allen, Dave Eggers, Eric Idle, John Lennon, Jack Pretlusky, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, T.S. Eliot, and even John Flansburgh (from They Might Be Giants); I would add e.e. cummings to the list. And Bob Rentschler. I began to realize that literary nonsense and I had been courting for years without being introduced. The fact that “Jabberwocky” is the only poem I have completely memorized (not counting song lyrics) should have clued me into knowing that I am drawn to literary works of a nonsensical nature. The looks on my students’ faces when I played “Impossible” by They Might Be Giants also might have been evidence worth noting. In addition, I enjoy the Borowitz Report and the Onion more than most things I read. David Byrne is my musical choice of late (Musical Nonsense). And lately I’m writing limericks of all things. I feel like I’m ‘coming out’ as a lover of Literary Nonsense.

A few recent attempts at limericks:

Some say the times are depressin’
And that we can’t learn our lesson
Think before you vote
For God’s sake don’t gloat
Mistakes are always worth confessin.


There once was a lass from Kent
Taken with an artsy gent
Shacked up for fun
When it was all done
Neither one could afford the rent.


The Electoral College is quite bent
The people is does not represent
Elected a crook
A real Donnybrook
Let’s say it together: “impeachment!”

I mentioned my interest in Literary Nonsense to Aaron and he pulled a book out of his library for me to read: A Nonsense Anthology, collected by Carolyn Wells and published in 1902. “Jabberwocky” was on the first page. I found another gem by Rudyard Kipling which seems to fit the day —

There was a small boy of Quebec,
Who was buried in snow to his neck;
When they said, “Are you friz?”
He replied, “Yes, I is —
But we don’t call this cold in Quebec.”

A Tribute

Every so often, Bob Hubbard would remind me that I have the choice to get grumpy or get silly as I journey through life. He always suggested I choose silly. It was more than a reminder to have a positive attitude; it was a call to find the humor in life. To go out of my way to be funny and promote funny with others. He (like Bob Rentschler before him who preached making a fool of myself daily) advocated for that narrow band of humor called silliness. I’ve done my best to ask the silly question, make the silly observation, and do the silliest thing I can think of at any given moment. It hasn’t been easy in certain contexts, but I survived over 25 years in education without getting fired and 58 years in church environments so I must have learned something along the way.

Bob’s body succumbed to the ravages of a Parkinsons-like illness yesterday. I was honored to be with him moments before he died. Jim Coty, Allan Martling, and I sat with Bob and sang songs for him, not knowing it would for the last time. JoAnn, Bob’s wife and another of my mentors, was with us at times also. Here’s an impromptu set list from that time:

“It’s in Every One of Us”
“Joy to the World”
“Secret of Life”
“How Can I Keep from Singing?”
“Walk Together Children”

I first met Bob in the bass section of the Edgewood United Church of Christ choir in 1983 or so. He began his silliness training during those choir practices. We would make each other laugh and ask far-out questions of Paul Schultz, the director.

I didn’t know him as an MSU professor or really grasp the importance of his work on the HANS Device (His work inventing the HANS device was highlighted in his obituary published on Autosport,. Check out the video on that link) Over the years, my wife, Judy and I, were blest to live with Bob and JoAnn two different times (once JUST before children…nudge, nudge, you know what I mean…in the basement and once with two children as I completed my Masters Degree in Special Education at MSU). Both generous invitations were catalysts to most of the success I have enjoyed in my life. I was fortunate to work with JoAnn for years, worked as the youth leader at Edgewood when his children, Matt and Cristin, were in the group; we went on an epic mission trip working on the Appalachian Trail that I’ll never forget. They invited us to their amazing cottage up north and we saw Cristin marry Billy in a fairy tale of a wedding. Matt gifted me with juggling lessons that I used as a teacher and for my own enjoyment for years. Bob was my third father and he made me feel a part of his family.

Our families traveled together to Grand Rapids, Chicago, New York City, and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (more than once). The last destination was to work with Re-Member, attempting to mend relationships with the Lakota people. His dedication to that cause inspired and challenged me regularly. We shared a love of James Taylor’s music (and the wide variety of musical types) and attended a JT concert together years ago.

I was blessed again to sing with Bob a few years ago with the Earl Nelson Singers choir. We were a subdued version of our earlier silliness, but still found ways to have fun while singing the tragic and joyful story of the Negro spirituals.

His relationship with JoAnn has always intrigued me. They have been models of the most independent, yet loving, couple I’ve known. He and JoAnn taught me the Personal Property rule (clean up after yourself…though I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it), the kids-should-know-how-to-play-the-piano-and-swim-if-nothing-else rule, and about acceptance and generosity as a way of life. Here are a few photos from all of those memories living life together (you may need to log in to icloud).

Gone, but not forgotten. Love you, Bob.

This is not the greatest blog entry in the world, it’s just a tribute.

Memoirs & Memory

I’m reading Donald Hall’s last book, A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety. His poetry and essays have impressed me for years and his recollections and insights in this memoir are surprising. (Sidenote: I didn’t know he died last year until after I had started the book.) Page after page, he recalls incidents from much earlier in his life when he knew Steinbeck, Faulkner, Roethke, Wright (who he called Jim), and many other famous authors. He is frank and specific in his recollections. I’ve heard that long-term memory is sharper later in life; that could be how he remembers things so clearly or maybe he was like that all along. Or, I suppose, he could be using poetic license to fill in the blanks. Whatever the cause, I recommend the book to anyone who is interested in the lives of literary figures from the last century.

Biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs have always been a curiosity of mine. On one level, I am fascinated to learn about the lives of people, famous or ordinary, just because our life experiences are so amazingly varied. The more I read about the particular contexts in which people grew up, the more I appreciate the complexity of being human. And (hopefully) the less my default reaction is to jump to certain conclusions (stereotypes) when reading the news or Facebook. There’s almost always more to the story than we initially realize. The more we read (and travel) the more our minds are open and informed.

Beyond that fascination, though, I am constantly wondering if what I’m reading is true. Just because it’s in print (or online), just because someone “remembers” it, does not make it factual. While it is the best representation of what the person remembers, as I read a memoir like Hall’s, I am aware that the mind plays tricks on us and our memories distort what truly happened years ago. I have been journaling for over 30 years and looking back at my words, I sometimes don’t remember events the way I wrote about them. Listening to my wife or my mother talk about events from 10 years ago, I begin to wonder if I was really there…the differences in our memories of the same event are quite pronounced.

Here’s an example of me writing about a particular time from early in my life:

In seventh grade, my mom suggested I make new friends. I was hesistant, but started hanging out with a guy named Chris who lived about a quarter mile from our house. Between our houses was a grassy field with little pockets of trees and bushes. When Chris and I hung out, I usually went to his house because I enjoyed walking through the field and he wasn’t much of an outdoor person. We would play cards (War and Go Fish mostly), watch Batman and Columbo (when his mom was in a good mood), and annoy his older sister, Madonna. I had never met anyone named Madonna and, being Catholic, felt that maybe we should be nice to her. Instead, we would kick her bedroom door open as we passed and yell random things into her space. She would always scream back at us and turn up her music (often “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” by Cher), as if that would keep us out. Years later, after Chris and I stopped spending time together, Madonna became almost as big of a household name as her namesake.

That’s the sort of thing I would write if I had exceptional recall. It holds a person’s attention and seems plausible.

Some of it is even true.
Chris and I hung out. We bugged Madonna (yes, THAT Madonna). We were over at his house more often than my house. Madonna did play her music loudly.

Besides that, it’s all a blur. But isn’t my first rendition more interesting than ‘just the facts’? And all the detail that Hall puts in his memoir makes me wonder about how much and what parts are poetic license (otherwise known as fiction or pretend).

I enjoy a telling story. I think we all do. Maybe it’s true, maybe not, but if there are colorful characters, intriguing elements, and a genuine point or lesson, I want to hear it. Yes, I read Hall’s work and other memoirs critically — wondering about truth — part of the enjoyment, though, is in the remembered anecdotes, the individual moments that give life pizzazz and flavor. It’s a gift I wish my memory granted more often than it does…and so I read memoirs and other people’s memories to fill the void.


Suggested Memoirs, Biographies, and Autobiographies

* A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety by Donald Hall

* Black Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian (an Armenian-American’s memoir…I have an extra copy if you want it)

* dreams in the mirror by Richard Kennedy (about E.E. Cummings)

* Born Standing Steve Martin’s autobiography

* The Life and Wisdom of Gwen Frostic by Sheryl James

* Kiss Me Like a Stranger Gene Wilder’s autobiography

* It’s Always Something Gilda Radner’s autobiography (includes much about Gene Wilder)

* I Wonder As I Wander Lansgston Hughes’ autobiography

* The Love of Many Things: A Life of Vincent Van Gogh by David Sweetman

* A Memoir by John Hannah (former president of MSU)