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"The next best thing to reading Elmore Leonard is re-reading him." -- Mike Lupica,
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Monday, August 20, 2012

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Carl Levin, Elmore Leonard help Oak Park’s Book Beat mark 30-year anniversary

By Susan Whitall
The Detroit News


Book lovers, authors, musicians, politicians and even a counterculture hero or two gathered Sunday afternoon in the parking lot of The Book Beat on Greenfield in Oak Park to celebrate the feisty independent store’s 30th anniversary.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, perused the author tables with his wife, Barbara, as jazz buffs swarmed saxophonist James Carter, and Detroit’s best-known scribe Elmore Leonard strolled around, chatting with fans, posing for cellphone snaps and signing books. Leonard was accompanied by his thriller writer son Peter. (Full disclosure: I was there signing my book “Fever,” alongside a dozen other authors.)

The elder Leonard even dispensed some of his famous, somewhat Zen writing advice. When a fan told him that she felt anxious because her Ph.D. adviser told her to write her dissertation “as Elmore Leonard would,” the author of “Raylan” and “Freaky Deaky” took her by the elbow.

“Don’t think about it, just write,” he advised.

Writer/poet John Sinclair, who divides his time between Europe, New Orleans and Detroit, perused books and posters, some depicting his young, white Afro-ed self back when he managed the MC5. A few feet away Grande Ballroom poster artist Gary Grimshaw sold T-shirts bearing his famous MC5/White Panther/Zenta logo.

Around the corner, Sinclair’s ex-wife Leni had a selection of postcard reproductions for sale of her photos of music greats such as Funk Brother Pistol Allen, Iggy and John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

The funky bash reflected the quirky charm and warmth of The Book Beat and its co-owners, husband-wife team Cary Loren and Colleen Kammer.

Kammer is known for her expertise in children’s books — the store won a prestigious national Pannell Award for 2012 for its excellence in children’s literature — and many notable children’s authors were on hand to sign their work and socialize.

Loren was with the art/rock group Destroy All Monsters and produces short films and art projects (an upcoming one is for MOCAD, designing album boxes for a Sun Ra project), and has known everybody in Detroit’s art/music/neo-bohemian circles for years. Thus, the jam-packed bookstore has a deep selection of books, posters and objects relating to Detroit music and culture.

With so many chain bookstores either closing or doing fewer community-based events, authors have come to rely heavily on independents like The Book Beat. But the last few years have been tough for brick-and-mortar bookstores, with so much competition from online booksellers such as Amazon (The Book Beat’s Facebook page features the logo, “A No-Amazon Zone.”).

Under a tent in the parking lot, poet/professor M.L. Liebler sang some literary blues touching on Hastings Street and Detroit culture, followed by singer Shahida Nurullah and a jazz band. The tent also sheltered a buffet line of salad, chips and tacos, while in the back of the store, three different kinds of birthday cake were served up by a helper.

Support from an author as high profile as Leonard is invaluable. “The Book Beat always sells books for us when Elmore or I do a book signing,” Peter Leonard said. “We were glad to come. I used to pass by here and not even know it was here.”

Saxophonist Carter, relaxed in a track suit on his day off, said: “I’m here to see what’s going on, and to see my friend Jim,” referring to jazz historian Jim Gallert, who was signing his “Before Motown” jazz history of Detroit. Carter left with a sizeable bag of book purchases in hand.

The first 30th anniversary party drew such a crowd that it might become a tradition, particularly if a few sponsors step up. “I would like to do it again next year,” Kammer said.

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