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Looking for some good reads? Keith Taylor has your back

Feb 23, 2016

Credit flickr user Hung Thai / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Poet and writer Keith Taylor joins us today to offer a quick list of recommendations for some good reading.

Gold Fame Citrus

Taylor starts us off with Claire Vaye Watkins’ first novel, Gold Fame Citrus. He tells us Watkins, born in Death Valley and raised in the desert of Nevada, is relatively new to Michigan. She made a name for herself with Battleborn, a book of short stories that “takes on all the old myths of the Southwest and kind of breaks them against our contemporary expectations,” Taylor says.

That book won her “just about everything a young writer can win,” he says, including being named one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” fiction writers of 2012.

According to Taylor, Watkins’ latest work pulls its title from the three things that have historically brought people to California: gold, fame, and citrus. He tells us it’s a futuristic, almost post-apocalyptic story that takes the California drought to an extreme conclusion.

"Gold Fame Citrus" by Claire Vaye Watkins

“It has continued and continued and continued, and most of the population has been forced by the government to leave,” save for “a few rebellious souls” who survive on Diet Cola instead of water, Taylor says. The novel follows former model and reality TV star Luz, her lover Ray, and a baby called Ig as they try to rediscover their place in a society that has been transformed by drought.

“There’s something in me that, I really dig these post-apocalyptic novels by young women. Somebody’s got to write a big critical book on this,” Taylor says, pointing also to Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and Edan Lepucki’s California, among others. “I don’t quite know what my attraction to these books is. They’re political in one sense, like 1984 or Brave New World, but yeah, I’m really drawn to them.”

A Walk in the Animal Kingdom

Traverse City writer Jerry Dennis is next on Taylor’s list. He tells us that aside from spending a few school years out of state, Dennis is a Michigan man through and through.

“There’s nobody more Michigan than Jerry Dennis,” he says.

Dennis was Michigan Author of the Year in 1999, and in 2003 published a book called The Living Great Lakes, “which is a book that is still, even a dozen years later, is still getting picked by Michigan libraries for Community Reads events,” Taylor says.

He tells us that for 30 years Dennis has made his living as an outdoor writer, and with the help of illustrator and longtime collaborator Glenn Wolff recently set up an independent publishing company, Big Maple Press

The two acquired the rights to a couple of books they had published in the mid-90s, The Bird in the Waterfall and It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes

"A Walk in the Animal Kingdom" by Jerry Dennis

and have republished them alongside their newest, A Walk in the Animal Kingdom

“If the first book was about the wonders in the sky and the second in the world’s waters, this new one is about life on the ground,” Taylor says. “Dennis’ essays start from the perennial questions many of us ask about the world around us. Where do all the spiders come from? What kinds of parents do animals make? Did all those starlings really come from the guy who wanted to bring over all the birds in Shakespeare? And how many birds are there in Shakespeare anyway?”

“And then he goes out and he finds the answers. But no matter how far afield he has to go to find those answers, he always reconnects to his own life in rural northern Michigan. And by connecting them to his life, he brings them to ours. We, too, are connected that way.”

Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

"Here: Women Writing on Michigan's Upper Peninsula," an anthology edited by Ronald Reikki

Rounding out Taylor’s list of recommendations is an anthology of writing edited by Ronald Reikki. Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula eschews the sort of rugged outdoorsman writing that Taylor says is typically associated with the Upper Peninsula in favor of what Reikki argues may define the U.P. most: its women.

Also notable is Stellanova Osborn, the “very young second wife of Chase Osborn, who was the only Michigan governor born in the U.P.,” Taylor says. Her writing is strongly reminiscent of the imagism movement that dominated much of American writing in the early part of the 20th century, Taylor tells us, “but her images have definite U.P. in them.”

Keith Taylor is a poet and writer, and coordinates the undergrad creative writing program at the University of Michigan. He tells us more about his recommendations and reads excerpts from each in our conversation above.