Bookshelf

Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Grand Rapids
edited by Reinder Van Til '67 and Gordon Olson, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing, 2007, 360 pp.

While this book is a fascinating collection of life stories about people who grew up in Grand Rapids, "it doesn't have to be our town," said co-editor Reinder Van Til. "There are universal themes about coming of age that are communicated in each of the stories; many of the stories could have happened in a lot of different places."

Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Grand RapidsBut they didn't. And that is also where the appeal of this book lies: repeated themes by writers and other famous Grand Rapidians tied together by place-Grand Rapids, Mich., to be exact.

The book was inspired by a piece Van Til read in Harper's magazine more than 35 years ago, the first in a series in which writers reflected on growing up in their hometowns across America. The article's writer was John Thompson, a poet, novelist and essayist who had grown up on Grand Rapids' east side. (Thin Ice includes the article.)

"That inaugural piece particularly caught my eye because it was about my hometown," Van Til wrote in the book's preface.

The concept for a coming-of-age retrospective developed after Van Til began reading through some previously published works.

"I found that the teenage years, whether they were bad or good, for a significant number of people are very memorable," Van Til said.

Half of the book's 28 narratives were drawn from existing books, journals and magazines; the other half were solicited from active writers.

Gordon Olson, former Grand Rapids city historian, was especially helpful in finding historical reflections for the collection, Van Til said.

The book includes reminiscences of some of Grand Rapids' more famous figures-Gerald R. and Betty Ford, Hank Meijer and the Rev. Al Green-along with reflections by talented writers, including seven Calvin alumni, among them Bill Brashler, Paul Schrader and Van Til himself.

The stories are a mix of Grand Rapids history and vivid vignettes that reflect the themes of intergenerational and racial conflicts, the strictures of religious belief and practice, and the joys and sorrows of young romance.

"What struck me is the amount of emotion that is exhibited in the writings," Van Til said. "People thinking back to their adolescence clearly brought back extremely sharp word pictures."

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For Bich Minh Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam and immigrated to Grand Rapids in 1975, the recollection of being unaccepted is harsh. "More than once, I was given the assignment of writing a report about my family history. I loathed this task, for I was dreadfully aware that my history could not be faked; it already showed on my face," she wrote. "My greatest fear was being called on, or in any way standing out more than I already did in the class that was, except for me and one black student, dough-white."

Alumna Sheri Venema '69 shares a piece of little-known Grand Rapids history, which includes her Aunt Mux, who was born premature, but became part of the Preemie Show at Ramona Park in Grand Rapids to save her life. "As it happened, Aunt Mux-she was called Grietje then, and her twin was Arentje-was born on the cusp of a new technology: baby incubators. And that summer, baby incubators were packing in crowds at amusement parks all over the country [including Ramona Park]," she wrote. Aunt Mux, but not her twin sister, was saved by the unlikely event.

Others tell of growing up black in Grand Rapids, of first love and of childhood dreams.

Like these examples, each narrative has its own irreverent, humorous and sometimes tragic twist, Van Til said, "but altogether it is quite an interesting picture of the history of Grand Rapids."

Economics and the LawEconomics and the Law, Second Edition: From Posner to Postmodernism and Beyond by Nicholas Mercuro and Steven Medema '85, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006, 398 pp.

This is an expanded second edition of Economics and the Law , whose publication in 1998 marked the most comprehensive overview of the various schools of thought in the burgeoning field of law and economics. These competing yet complementary traditions have both redefined the study of law and exposed the key economic implications of the legal environment. The book remains true to the scope and aims of the first edition, but also takes account of the field's evolution.

The Book of GodThe Book of God: Secularization and Design in the Romantic Era by Colin Jager '94, Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006, 296 pp.

The Book of God is a penetrating study of the argument for design as it emerged and circulated in the Romantic era. This argument holds that the intricacy and complexity of the natural world point to a divine designer and that nature is to be read as God's book. A literary and philosophical study of this idea, The Book of God revisits the familiar equation of Romanticism, modernity and secularization. 

Out of the Mouths of GrandbabesOut of the Mouths of Grandbabes: Bedtime Stories for Grandparents by Donna Veltkamp Vander Griend ex'63, Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 2007, 124 pp.

Parents and grandparents alike will be inspired, refreshed and encouraged to view the world through the children in their lives. Author Donna Vander Griend offers this book featuring more than 40 surprising stories that uncover biblical truths-and all from the mouths of grandbabies. Stories are based on such topics as simple truths, child-eyed creation and childlike faith.