Author Michael Perry doesn’t remember a time when he may have participated in a Big Read, but he’s had plenty of experience with communities choosing his books to feature.
“I remember one of the first was in Lakeville, Minnesota,” Perry recalled. “I pulled up to the arts center there, and they had a fire truck out front.”
He also recalled a time when someone contacted him regarding Population 485. The reader was going to be moving from Los Angeles to Wisconsin and wanted to express his gratitude to Perry for helping him understand what life would be like living in a small town. He was moving to Eau Claire.
To those of us who know better, comparing life in tiny New Auburn, Wisconsin, to life in Eau Claire – where the population approaches 70,000 – seems silly. But it’s just one of many assumptions that readers and writers make about what life is like in the Midwest or, more specifically, in Wisconsin.
Perry’s writing both pushes against and embraces these ideas.
“My Midwest experience is just one,” he said. “Mine just happens to be a rural Wisconsin experience. But the Milwaukee experience, the person who grew up on the coast of Lake Michigan – those are all Midwest experiences. It’s not all just flannel shirts and cows.”
And although Perry does write about those things, he’s made it a point to explore a little deeper below the surface to find elements that can connect people across all regions. In fact, when working with his editors in New York, he’s tried to impress upon them that his stories won’t all be about “picket fences and picnics” because “we [Midwesterners] are just as complex and complicated as people in the big city.”
In fact, sometimes life in a small town can get quite complicated. As Perry puts it, you’re seen through the lens of everything that came before you.
“The best thing is that all your neighbors know you, and the trickiest thing is that all your neighbors know you,” he quipped.
But despite those challenges, Perry enjoys nonfiction and telling the stories of his home and the people he encounters. His writing life kicked off in the nonfiction world, but he also has some fiction titles to his credit. And both styles were informed by his first love: poetry.
Although Perry decided going down the poetry path wasn’t for him, he still likes to sneak poetry into his nonfiction books, and readers may notice a few characters from his nonfiction works in his fiction writing. Those who read Visiting Tom, for example, may recognize the character Toad from Perry’s young-adult dystopian novel, The Scavengers.
“I still love nonfiction because sometimes when you use the term ‘nonfiction,’ people think of something very dry and textbooky,” Perry said. “Whereas to me, the beauty of nonfiction is to be able to convey the facts and convey something that actually happened, but do so in a way that is hopefully poetic or humorous, so that it reads like fiction.”
This year, Door County will be creating community and conversation around two of Perry’s books, getting a peek into his life while opening space for discussion of participants’ stories and those of their neighbors. He has an extensive backlist of titles, contributes a weekly column to his local newspaper, hosts a weekly radio show and releases content once a week on Substack.
Perry also has three titles that will be upcoming releases: a sequel to The Scavengers that is under contract with HarperCollins, a nonfiction story about raising daughters that Sourcebooks will release, and a novella that explores darker topics that he intends to self-publish.
When asked whether there’s anything he wants our readers to know, Perry replied, “The number-one thing I try to convey is gratitude. I didn’t plan any of this [his writing career], and the idea that someone might be sitting down with something I wrote and giving up their time and thought is still overwhelming in the best way. When I hear about a community-reads project like this, I feel extreme gratitude.”
2022 Door County Reads Selections
This year the Door County Library will feature two books by Michael Perry as the Door County Reads selections.
Hilarious and heartfelt, Truck: A Love Story is the tale of a man who’s struggling to grow his own garden, fix his old pickup truck and resurrect a love life that’s permanently impaired by Neil Diamond. In the process, he sets his hair on fire, is attacked by wild turkeys and proposes marriage to a woman in New Orleans. The result is a surprisingly tender testament to love.
Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time welcomes readers to New Auburn, Wisconsin, where the local vigilante is a farmer’s wife armed with a pistol and a Bible; the most senior member of the volunteer fire department is a cross-eyed butcher with one kidney and two ex-wives, both of whom work at the only gas station in town; and the back roads are haunted by the ghosts of children and farmers. Against a backdrop of fires and tangled wrecks, bar fights and smelt feeds, Population: 485 is a comic and sometimes heartbreaking true tale leavened with quieter meditations on an overlooked America.
The books will be available in regular print format and in audiobook and e-book formats on Overdrive/Libby/Hoopla.
Physical copies of the books will be available starting Friday, Nov. 26, at all Door County libraries. Readers may choose between the two book options and must be present to receive a copy. Those who need help finding or accessing the titles in the digital formats may contact their library branch.
Door County Reads 2022 Events
Free and open to the public, Door County Reads events are sponsored by the Door County Library Foundation. The Friends of Door County Libraries provide the books, and participants may choose one title for free from the library while supplies last. Events are subject to change, so confirm the most up-to-date information on DoorCountyReads.org.
Friday, Nov. 26
Stop by any Door County Library branch during regular hours to pick up a free copy of this year’s featured books.
Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022
2022 Book Discussion
10:30 am, Egg Harbor Library, 7845 Church St.
Jeanine Brennan will facilitate the conversation. Get the Zoom ID and passcode at DoorCountyReads.org.
Movie and Discussion
2 pm, Sturgeon Bay Library, Jane Greene Room, 107 S. 4th Ave.
Watch Where I Come From, and engage in a discussion afterward, facilitated by Laura Kayacan.
Sunday, Jan. 30
1 pm, virtual event
Join a retrospective of Door County Reads’ 15 years. Hear from those who brought this festival to life in the county, including video cameos from the Wisconsin author community. The kickoff will be held live on Facebook, or watch it via Zoom. Find details at DoorCountyReads.org.
Tuesday, Feb. 1
10:30 am, Ephraim Library, 9996 Water St.
Mary Sawyer will facilitate a discussion of Population: 485.
1 pm, Sturgeon Bay Library, 107 S. 4th Ave.
Laura Kayacan will facilitate a discussion of Truck: A Love Story.
Movie and Discussion
4 pm, Egg Harbor Library, Great Hall, 7845 Church St.
Watch How Ya Doin’, and enjoy a discussion afterward facilitated by Jeanine Brennan.
Wednesday, Feb. 2
11 am, Washington Island Library, 910 Main Road
Laura Hale will facilitate a discussion of Population: 485.
7 pm, Baileys Harbor Library, 2392 Cty F
Tracy Opper will facilitate a discussion of Truck: A Love Story.
Thursday, Feb. 3
5:30 pm, virtual event
Joe Salmons, the Lester W.J. “Smoky” Seifert Professor of Language Sciences at UW-Madison, will explore the kinds of English spoken in our state, including pronunciation, words and word forms, and grammar. Find more details at DoorCountyReads.org.
The staff of Novel Bay Booksellers will facilitate a discussion of Population: 485.
Friday, Feb. 4
7 pm, Third Avenue PlayWorks, 239 N. 3rd Ave. in Sturgeon Bay
Performed by Third Avenue PlayWorks.
Saturday, Feb. 5
Firefighter Panel and Tour
11 am, Gibraltar Fire Station, 3496 Cty F in Fish Creek
Panelists will include volunteer firefighters from across the county, and David Siegel – author of Forces of Change: Events That Led to the Development of the Green Bay Fire Department – will moderate. The event will also be held on Facebook Live and via Zoom. Learn more at DoorCountyReads.org.
Live Keynote with Author Michael Perry
2 pm, Door Community Auditorium, 3926 Hwy 42 in Fish Creek
Featured author Michael Perry will discuss his career as a writer and life in the Midwest. His talk will also be available via Facebook Live and Zoom. Find out more at DoorCountyReads.org.
Sunday, Feb. 6
Virtual Sconnie Trivia
11 am, virtual event
Steven Rice of the Door County Historical Museum and Archives will facilitate this event, which features questions about Wisconsin language, culture, locations and history. Find the Zoom details at DoorCountyReads.org.
Griffon String Quartet
1 pm, Egg Harbor Library, 7845 Church St.
Enjoy a live performance by Midsummer’s Music’s resident quartet.
3-4:30 pm, ARTicipation Studio and Gallery, 10 E. Oak St. in Sturgeon Bay
Blues singer/songwriter Cathy Grier will lead the workshop.
Monday, Feb. 7
7 pm, Björklunden, 7590 Boynton Lane in Baileys Harbor
Performed by Peninsula Players Theatre.
Tuesday, Feb. 8
2:30 pm, Sister Bay/Liberty Grove Library, 2323 Mill Road
Christina Johnson will facilitate a discussion of Population: 485.
Wisconsin Writes Panel
7 pm, virtual event
Join Kimberly Blaeser, Christina Clancy, Andrew Graff, John Hildebrand and Patricia Skalka as they discuss how being an author in Wisconsin influences their careers and work. Rebecca Meacham will moderate the discussion. Find Zoom details at DoorCountyReads.org.
Wednesday, Feb. 9
Coffee and Conversation
10 am, Write On, Door County, 4210 Juddville Road in Juddville
Join author Kathleen Ernst in conversation about being a writer, the writing process and more.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
7 pm, Crossroads at Big Creek, 2041 Michigan St. in Sturgeon Bay
Details to come.
Thursday, Feb. 10
1 pm, NWTC Learning and Innovation Center, 2438 S. Bay Shore Dr. in Sister Bay
Lisa Tetzloff and Stephanie Pabich will facilitate a discussion of Population: 485.
Supporting Wisconsin Writers Panel
7 pm, virtual event
Learn about statewide and regional organizations dedicated to helping Wisconsin’s writers.
Friday, Feb. 11
7 pm, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 1756 Michigan St. in Sturgeon Bay
Rogue Theater will perform an adaptation of Population: 485.
Monday, Feb. 14
7 pm, Fish Creek Library, 4097 Hwy 42 Discussion of Truck: A Love Story.