You Can Take a Girl Out of Flint…

Like you, I’m a reader. I read novels and non-fiction, newspapers, magazines and blogs. I’ve got Kindle, Flipboard and iBooks on my phone so that a variety of reading material is literally at my fingertips at all times. And, like you, certain books tend to resonate with me. I’m enthralled by non-fiction and history, books that tend to turn me into the Cliff Clavin of conversations, excited to spurt acquired information like an annoying leaky hose.

When it comes to literature, last month, I wrote a post about a handful of Midwest inspired novels enshrined on my bookshelf. Tales of endurance, family and the allure the great plains has had on dreamers, immigrants and adventurers over hundreds of years.

Today, my reading suggestions zero in on a very distinctive Midwest region, the birthplace of General Motors, home of autoworker union strikes and of a once burgeoning middle class left devastated by changing economics, poor education and broken homes. This region also happens to be the place of my youth, thus the resonance, wincing and personal heartbreak I’ve felt while reading each one.

I encourage you to read these books and attempt to understand what’s happened in places like Flint and Detroit. Because if you think this wreckage can’t happen elsewhere, you need only pay attention to the state of manufacturing, housing, education, governance and family life in other pockets around the country to recognize how close communities, businesses, families and people can come to the brink of calamity.

 

RivetheadRivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line by Ben Hamper

An oldie but a goodie for anyone curious about automotive factory life in Flint Michigan during the 70s and 80s. I give credence to Hamper’s descriptions as they closely match the stories I heard from other “shoprats” while growing up in Flint. His essays hint of the disastrous and greedy collusion between the UAW and GM executives that paved the way for thousands of manufacturing workers to lose their jobs and an entire town to become abandoned; albeit nobody believed that could happen back then. There are no clean hands in this tale and your mind will be blown by factory floor exploits described in raw detail by this foul-mouthed wordsmith. An interesting read that allows the reader to decide which ingredient in this historical stew is most responsible for a city’s unsavoriness.

 

Please Don't Come Back From the MoonPlease Don’t Come Back from the Moon by Dean Bakopoulos

This novel is set in Detroit during the early 1990’s and describes a community filled with kids forced to grow up without their fathers. The turmoil created by parental abandonment seems to have become accepted as a “normal” adolescent rite of passage in contemporary life. But Bakopoulos effectively narrates the real pain of loss and how children and teens attempt to be “resilient” and navigate life mostly unsupervised and without direction.

As an all too typical fatherless child who grew up in a decaying community of way too many fatherless children, this story touched my heart. Combine this read with a viewing of Kevin Durant’s Mother’s Day speech and you’ll want to pin medals on all the single moms who’ve managed to avoid or overcome depression, frustration, drug addiction, loneliness and poverty to raise children after their husbands took, in Bakopoulos’s words, “a trip to the moon.”

 

TeardownTeardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City by Gordon Young

A recent and important book that paints with broad strokes a historical portrait of a city that was once a powerful launch pad into the middle class for thousands of hard-working families. A Flint native, Young manages to highlight the underlying culture of a city unprepared to adapt to change and contrast it with his current hometown of San Francisco–two cities that may as well be on different planets.

When I try to explain what Flint is, this place that partly shaped my young life, many react with skepticism. Could any place in America really suffer in this way? Teardown tells us the answer is yes. It also asks, “What can be done about it?”

 

MiddlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

For the more adventurous literary readers, this epic tale takes you on a journey from Greece to Detroit with an astonishing story of family, adolescence and eventual acceptance of self. Less a book about place as the others I’ve mentioned, the setting still provides some pretty interesting insight into the evolution of Detroit–a locale that cannot be described in one word or even one sentence. It is as fraught as the cast of characters in Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

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3 thoughts on “You Can Take a Girl Out of Flint…

  1. One of your best posts yet, Angela. You just keep getting better. I’m learning from you, every day. P.S. Hadn’t seen that Kevin Durant speech. Crying like a baby over here.

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