It’s summer right. Which generally means a large amount of time to get reading done. And while trying to avoid the tedious things in life such as syllabus design and HCI technical readings, I’ve managed to lock down some good summer reads. Way back April way I went out to Denver for the AWP and heard Joe Mackall on panel regarding writing place. It was fascinating and the bit he read to the crowd (and it was a large one) was one of the best I heard at the conference.
Now, I don’t typically read that much non-fiction. Or, at least the non-fiction I read tends to be on the whole rather whinny day-time television stuff and thus I avoid it like the reheated street meat. But, Mackall’s The Last Street Before Cleveland: An Accidental Pilgrimage manages to break both of those previous statements for me. It’s a ballsy and occasionally highly emotional return of a man to his very troubled blue-collar environs of northern Ohio. And for various reasons that neck of the woods (most notably Cleveland, Toledo, and the Ohio lakefront) really grabs a hold of me. Maybe it was something about it being the “real” America for me, just beyond the debacle that Detroit and Southeastern Michigan seem to represent for those looking across the Detroit River. Either way Mackall’s work here is exemplary and brings with some very heavy and beautiful passages.
The occasion for the piece is Mackall’s return to his old neighbourhood to bury a very troubled friend from his past. His return home conjures up the demons of his past and pulls a lot on his experiences of growing up poor and Catholic in a factory dominated community. It is a place of heavy drinking, fast living, hard luck lives that most people familiar with Cleveland and the Rust Belt have known well over their lives. Mackall does very well to capture this section of American life. And given the continued hard luck or tough runs that Cleveland and the Lake Erie front seems to enjoy it seems rather worthwhile to look at this book for this reason alone. If you still have some space on that list and are looking for a good read, well, here you go.