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Page 32: Short Takes on Five New Vermont Books

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Seven Days' writers can't possibly read, much less review, the number of books that arrive in a steady stream by post, email and, in one memorable case, an irruption of purple finches. So this monthly feature is our way of introducing you to five 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 is a bunch of books, arranged alphabetically by authors' names, that Seven Days readers might like to know about.

The Bear and the Nightingale

Katherine Arden, Del Rey, 336 pages. $27.

"Seeing her eyes sad, he knelt in the snow beside her and pressed the remainder of his bread into her hand."

Centuries before Vladimir Putin and Russia as we know it, there was Rus' — as it is referred to in Katherine Arden's enchanting debut novel. The times are medieval, and beliefs in pagan spirits collide with the punitive theocracy of Christianity. While several real historical figures make appearances, this story is fantasy and filled with vividly drawn characters. Arden's focus is a family living at the edge of a vast forest, particularly a girl named Vasilisa. Fiercely independent, she is gifted with the ability to see and speak with spirits of the house, the woods, the water. As she evolves from wild child to heroic young woman, she is tested — by a not-so-nice stepmother, the strictures of patriarchal society and, of course, evil forces. Fans of the book will be happy to learn that a second one is in the works.

Arden will appear on Thursday, January 26, 6:30 p.m. at Phoenix Books Burlington, and on Thursday, February 9, 6:30 p.m. at the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury.

—P.P.

Broken Wing

David Budbill, Green Writers Press, 216 pages. $19.95.

"Broken Wing was a rusty blackbird, which explained why The Man saw Broken Wing descend out of the high bog behind the house each morning."

The hermit poet was a recurrent motif for the late poet and playwright David Budbill. His respect for a reclusive life came through in his love for ancient Chinese poets and his own elegant, often elegiac verses. It was partially manifest in his homesteading lifestyle in Wolcott. In Broken Wing, Budbill's posthumously published novel, the hermit finds literary life as a character called, simply, The Man Who Lives Alone in the Mountains. The story of how the Man has come to his remote northern quarters unfolds gradually. But it is his relationship with an injured rusty blackbird that gives this tale its narrative arc and allegorical heft. Written in deceptively simple prose, Broken Wing is a deeply affecting meditation on solitude, nature and, ultimately, race and music.

—P.P.

The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis: Healing Personal, Cultural, and Ecological Imbalance With Chinese Medicine

Brendan Kelly, North Atlantic Books, 248 pages. $17.95.

"But just as in the treatment room, where it's not only possible to treat multiple physical symptoms simultaneously but address mental and emotional issues as well, Chinese medicine can help us clarify what we are seeing and allow a clear pattern to emerge."

Brendan Kelly wants us to stop hurting the planet, and ourselves. His prescription? A dose of Chinese medicine — or, more specifically, the use of acupuncture and diet and lifestyle changes to foster balance in the body. His broader prescription calls for making peace with ourselves, rather than going to war with climate change, to right the wrongs we've done to the planet. The Vermont acupuncturist and herbalist posits a poetic yet strong parallel between ailments of the human body and those afflicting our home, Earth. His solution of eating local, buying better and using less sounds pretty Vermonty. Those prescriptions may seem simple, but Kelly's central message is deeper: We can't fix the planet until we fix how we exist on it.

—S.W.

Containment

Hank Parker, Touchstone, 320 pages. $25.99.

"It was just like him to call Mariah in here, toss her onto assignment with someone she'd just met, and then grill her in front of this guy, who clearly had some kind of strong-silent-type complex."

Reading the thriller Containment, you might wish that it were sheer imagination at work. But Vermont-based author Hank Parker, a former U.S. government adviser on agro-terrorism, knows what he's talking about, and his debut novel seems frighteningly plausible. The story follows a brainy scientist, Mariah Rossi, and her CIA companion, Curt Kennedy, as they race across the world, hot on the trail of a tick-borne super-virus that threatens to destroy humanity. The narrative is a reminder of just how vulnerable we are to biological attacks. You might not sleep well after reading this, but Parker's breakneck plot and down-to-earth storytelling will keep you entertained.

—S.W.

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The Ta Ta Weenie Club

Bill Torrey, Green Writers Press, 224 pages. $19.95.

"Some brave, daring soldier of our rebel alliance had struck a small but effective blow into Assburn's backside."

A sixth-generation Vermonter who spent 40 years as a logger, Bill Torrey has found a new calling in oral storytelling. He's won four of National Public Radio's "The Moth" local story slams and runs his own storytelling event, "Tell It at Twiggs," in St. Albans. The Ta Ta Weenie Club offers 21 of Torrey's brief, pungent tales of his youth in the 1960s and early '70s, an era when "[t]hey brought us home to our lead-base-painted bedrooms and placed us on our bellies in cribs that could fold up like a bear trap." Expect Tom Sawyer-esque shenanigans, good-natured political incorrectness and more gleefully colorful similes than you can shake a stick of Vermont rock maple at.

—M.H.


The original print version of this article was headlined "Page 32: Five Short Takes on New Vermont Books"

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