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Page 32: Short Takes on Five Vermont Books

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Published January 27, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.


Seven Days writers can't possibly read, much less review, all the books that arrive in a steady stream by post, email and, in one memorable case, a sleuth of black bears. So this monthly feature is our way of introducing you to a handful of books by Vermont authors. To do that, we contextualize each book just a little and quote a single representative sentence from, yes, page 32.

Inclusion here implies neither approval nor derision on our part, but simply: Here are a bunch of books, arranged alphabetically by authors' names, that Seven Days readers might like to know about.

Equal Is Equal, Fair Is Fair: Vermont's Quest for Equity in Education Funding, Same-Sex Marriage, and Health Care

Allen Gilbert, Onion River Press, 140 pages. $12.99.
The legislature went into overdrive.

Serving as the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont from 2004 to 2016 gave Allen Gilbert a front-row seat at many of the state's legal battles during the period. After he retired, he set out to write a book that explores the major equity issues of the past 25 years of Vermont legislation and court rulings.

Gilbert describes the "common benefit clause" of the Vermont Constitution as a significant factor in the state's ability to make advances on such issues. That clause reads, in part: "The government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people..." From there, arguments for a whole slate of rights were born.

Blessedly brief and readable, Gilbert's book provides a comprehensible window into complicated policy issues and Vermont's successes and shortcomings in pursuing a more equitable future.

— M.G.

The Search for Christopher Gordon

Gordon R. Lawrence, Onion River Press, 296 pages. $12.99.
Chris had been hired as an orderly at Queen City General Hospital the summer after his sophomore year in college.

A longtime high school history teacher in a city much like Burlington, Chris Martin finds himself "near the end of a career, when most look back on their accomplishments and smile." For Chris, though, everything is "in turmoil." A friend and colleague has died, forcing him into the unwanted role of department chair. To recertify his credentials, he must spearhead an innovative project, not easy for a man who's fallen into a groove of teaching from the textbook. As he researches an ancestor — Christopher Gordon — who might have fought in the Civil War, Chris confronts the choices and accidents that shaped his own life.

Like his protagonist, Williston author Gordon R. Lawrence has taught in Vermont schools, and his knowledge shows in the details with which he fills his easygoing narrative. Chris' memories offer a rich time capsule of growing up as a baby boomer in Burlington, from freewheeling frat life to joyful days and nights on the lake. Especially poignant is the relationship of Chris and his longtime friend Jack, a downtown bartender, fisherman and artist who dreams of escape. While the revelations yielded by this "search" may not make history, they always feel true to life.

— M.H.

Poems From the Wilderness

Jack Mayer, Proverse Hong Kong, 100 pages. $22.
The trail has become my enduring house of worship,
stained glass foliage praising forest saints.

In the '60s, Jack Mayer was arrested for antiwar activism. In the '70s, he established the first pediatric practice in eastern Franklin County. Falling in love with Vermont, he embarked on 40 years of hiking the Long Trail, where it's his habit to compose verse and inscribe it in the trail logbook under his trail name, "Mountain Poet."

Those poems and others appear in the Middlebury resident's first verse collection, winner of Hong Kong's Proverse Prize. Some of these accomplished poems deal unsentimentally with Mayer's work as a rural doctor and his participation in the hospice singing group Wellspring. Many others record his life on the trail, mixing sharp, concrete observations of nature ("Green-eyed dragon-fly / Warming on a sun-drenched boulder...") with metaphysical wonderings about what it all means. Wielding both colloquial and lyrical language with ease, Mayer celebrates nature in approachable verse that it's easy to imagine his fellow hikers pausing to read. After a day in the wilderness, he writes, "I am camperized, / a line of honest dirt in my heart, / the sole sound the forest."

— M.G.

Dream Makers: Book One

Michael A. Richards, All Things That Matter Press, 272 pages. $16.99.
I'll inject the chip into your head, and I can connect to it wirelessly.

With degrees in environmental studies and architecture, Michael A. Richards has a professional passion for sustainable building and has published a book on the topic. Larry Martin, the protagonist of Richards' first novel, shares those academic pursuits, but his other experiences are presumably fictional: In addition to anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, Martin has precognitive dreams — and many of the bad ones come true.

Dream Makers begins with a nightmare vision: the end of the world, courtesy of colliding meteors and massive fireballs. Though it's hard to see how the story could go on from there, it does, in a matter-of-fact backstory narrative (occasionally marred by spelling and punctuation errors). While suffering through grad school, Martin meets a psychic researcher who convinces him a brain implant will allow him to manipulate his dreams — and thereby the course of events. Not surprisingly, things get very complicated. Though imperfectly executed, Dream Makers has a fascinating premise, and its subtitle, Book One, suggests that Richards isn't done bending minds.


The Lost Grip

Eva Zimet, Rootstock Publishing, 94 pages. $14.95.
... Maybe
stacked two-high those garbage tires will do
for next year, if we're here.

Eva Zimet is a Montpelier-based multihyphenate: a writer, dancer, illustrator, law school graduate, and yoga and meditation instructor. The Lost Grip is her first poetry collection, featuring short works of free verse and her own doodle-y illustrations. Each poem gives the reader just a moment in Zimet's mind, but she makes the most of a few words to communicate the depth of her emotions and perceptions. "The rasping breath / the spasmed chest / I don't need you. / I do," reads the entirety of a poem titled "Hold Me."

Zimet's focus usually lands on nature or interpersonal relationships, and her word choice is deliberate yet playful. Some poems touch on painful moments. But, as indicated by the page 32 quote from a poem describing her use of makeshift garden pots instead of neat garden beds, she doesn't take the world around her too seriously.

— M.G.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Short Takes on Five Vermont Books"

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