Monthly Archives: January 2012

Essays and Credits and Recs, Oh My! Korelitz Spins Tale Around Secrets of ‘Admission’

AdmissionThe complex process of college admissions is a high-pressured business that few of us will ever see from the inside. With big money on the line and parents pushing their kids to the brink of insanity, applying to college has become a game of high emotional and monetary stakes. Suffice it to say, the days of easy-flow transition from high school to college are definitely a thing of the past.

There are some 37,000 secondary schools in the United States, yet those who attend  posh prep schools up the ante and level of admissions play by deploying an annual mass of glowing curricula vitae to America’s finest universities. Not only do these high caliber students put the squeeze on the competition, but they also turn up the heat for admission officers as they attempt to bring only the best and brightest to their respective campuses.

Author Jean Hanff Korelitz provides a glimpse into the chaotic, mystifying world of university admissions in her engaging novel Admission. Korelitz has firsthand experience with the process of Princeton University admissions where she was a part-time reader for their Office of Admission during the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Intimate with student essays, credentials, and recommendations, Korelitz fuels her story with the angst and crush of desperate 18 year olds determined to make a difference.

Main character Portia Nathan, also an admissions officer for Princeton University, takes us inside the big machine of Ivy student acceptance and decline. Hand picking from thousands of applicants across the globe leaves Portia emotionally drained as the future lives of the finest students teeter on the brink of her decision. The “ordinarily qualified, the usually brilliant, and the expectedly talented” are all relative when moving through the towering stacks of mega potential.

The drama surrounding Portia’s personal life is a bit predictable and overdone, but the characters are vidid and certainly entertain. Admission exposes the shocking world of inflated ego, poor parent behavior, privilege, entitlement, and the lengths that people will go to access the ivory tower.

Not everyone was as entertained by Admission as I was, particularly this high school senior who reviewed Korelitz’s “silly novel” for The New York Times. Regardless, should you live in an area of privilege and affluence and think your child is a shoo-in for the ivy league, Admission is a must read and will definitely leave you thinking again.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Filed under Admission, Authors, Book Reviews, Jean Hanff Korelitz

Bruce Allen Kopytek Brings “Jake’s” Back to Birmingham – ‘Jacobson’s: I Miss It So!’

Jacobson's: I Miss It So!I clearly remember sunny strolls through the streets of Birmingham as a young girl. Hoping to hit my dad up for a new pair of Levi’s at Here and Now, popping into Machus for their famous savory salad, or ogling the infinite selection of Pappagallo purse covers  were often on my little shopping list of likes as we walked easy around 1980’s downtown Birmingham.

The one store that I never had to plead a visit to was Jacobson’s. If you lived in the Birmingham area, you’ll recall that Jacobson’s, in it’s day, was a fashionable destination that offered everything from wedding gowns to baby booties. Elegant sales men and women would efficiently assist as you browsed, quietly calculate your totals on small hand-written pads, and deftly tissue your purchases and send you on your way.

From it’s opening in 1950 until it’s closing in 2002, “Jake’s” was a mainstay of  Birmingham’s bustling retail district. The modest store that began in Reed City, Michigan in 1868 not only expanded across the state, but into the hearts and memories of its patrons as well.

Shelby Township author and architect Bruce Allen Kopytek has carved a unique literary niche for himself as a department store historian. Kopytek’s interest in department stores that either no longer exist or have changed beyond recognition are, in fact, the impetus behind his book Jacobson’s: I Miss It So! The Story of a Michigan Fashion Institution (The History Press).

Kopytek’s Jacobson’s: I Miss It So! takes a look at the much loved Michigan institution, the various buildings and personalities behind the upscale outfitter, and Nathan Rosenfeld, the retail genius behind it all. Kopytek’s nostalgic retail story and study Jacobson’s: I Miss It So! was also recently selected as a 2012 Michigan Notable Book.

Though Jacobson’s no longer  exists physically, Mr. Kopytek has managed to preserve it virtually. If you have the time, it is well worth a visit to Kopytek’s blog, the Department Store Museum. This online site  is a beauty designed to pay homage to “America’s great, late-lamented department stores.” Other stores featured include Gimbels, I. Magnin & Co., and Sage-Allen with fabulous pictures and intriguing information.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

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Filed under Authors, Bruce Allen Koytek

Ayad Akhtar’s ‘American Dervish’ – Muslim from the Midwest

American DervishAyad Akhtar’s anticipated debut novel, American Dervish, hit shelves this past Monday. Though I reviewed it for the upcoming issue at Bookbrowse.com, I will share that it is a solid, accessible work that both delights and disturbs.

Akhtar is an American-born, first-generation Pakistani-American from Milwaukee. As such, there’s an authenticity to his work that offers readers an open, innocent approach to Islam, and allows an inside look at Muslim life in America prior to 9/11.

It will come as no surprise to readers of Dervish that Akhtar is a screenwriter. Entertaining yet provoking, Dervish is a page-flipper that will leave those in the movie industry fighting for film rights.

Ayad Akhtar on American Dervish

Review Links (Beware of possible spoilers)

NPR – Growing Up Muslim and Midwestern in ’Dervish’

New York Times – Stumbling Through an American Muslim Maze

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Filed under American Dervish, Authors, Ayad Akhtar, Book Reviews

2012 Michigan Notable Books Announced

The much anticipated 2012 Michigan Notable Books were announced today. The Library of Michigan annually decides on 20 of the most notable books that “are reflective of Michigan’s diverse ethnic, historical, literary, and cultural experience” and feature “high-quality titles with wide public appeal.” (via)

This year’s list, which features fiction, nonfiction, picture and children’s books alike, were either penned by a Michigan resident or written about a subject related to the Great Lakes region.

“The list has been a year-end tradition since 1991 with selections made by a panel under the umbrella of the official state library, part of the Michigan Department of Education,” states the Detroit Free Press. “Authors don’t receive prize money for the award, but the prestige of appearing on what has become a high-profile list does invite greater visibility and a potential bump in sales.”

This year Night Light Revue weighs in on only three of the 20 titles, and all fiction at that. I must say that Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River is not only my favorite book of 2011, but now falls into my “best book of all time” list. Also, Ellen Airgood’s South of Superior is highly entertaining while Scott Sparling’s Wire to Wire is a dark and dirty little ride.

Sales aside, Michigan now holds some of the country’s hottest authors in its mittened hand. Regardless, our authors modestly accept their awards and graciously make themselves available to Michigan readers through library tours, appearances and literary engagements. In addition, our university presses get a big boost and a much deserved nod for their remarkable, prolific publications.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Filed under Bonnie Jo Campbell, Ellen Airgood, Scott Sparling, South of Superior, Steve Hamilton, Wire To Wire