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Page 32: Short Takes on Five Vermont Books

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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 parliament of great horned owls. 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. m

Mars Poetica

Wyn Cooper, White Pine Press, 102 pages. $16.

as it lifts us off

this earth we bet

would never raise us,


gravity a collar

we were sure

would keep us down.

This excerpt from Wyn Cooper's poem "Hurricane" is a haunting reminder of the unsettling nature of a changing natural world. Throughout his fifth and latest book of poems, Mars Poetica, Cooper offers somewhat surreal glimpses of the outer world to illuminate cracks in our inner ones. In "Plaza de Toros," a bull's proud disdain fuels a bullfighter's fear. In the titular poem, we are astronauts looking at Earth from Mars and being asked what we miss, an entry into "how words mean things / we didn't know we knew." Cooper's poems range in length from six short lines to single paragraphs and use an economy of words and various poetic forms to explore everything from love and loss to the vagaries of memory and time. This skilled poet is a former editor of Quarterly West and the recipient of a fellowship from the Ucross Foundation.

— E.M.S.

Unschooling in Paradise

Kathleen Kesson, Innerworld Publications, 214 pages. $16.

Peter Rabbit was renown [sic] in the Huerfano for his poetry and his temper and his homebrewed Cottontail Ale (with the hip hops), a potent hallucinogenic brew that contained an ounce of strong marijuana bud leaf in each case of quart bottles.

In this passage, Barre author Kathleen Kesson describes one of the memorable characters she encountered during her years of rural homesteading in the Southwest in the 1970s and '80s. These days, Kesson is an academic who has held leadership posts in the education departments of Goddard College and the University of Vermont. Her book offers a primer on "unschooling," the unstructured-homeschooling trend with which many Vermonters are no doubt familiar. But those who dread preaching or academese need not fear, because the book doubles as a vivid, absorbing memoir of the author's own experiences unschooling her four sons. Writing in a frank, funny and self-deprecating style, Kesson fully acknowledges "just how hard it is to 'unhook' from the system," but she makes a powerful case for giving it a try.

— M.H.

Let's Go! Benjamin Orr and the Cars

Joe Milliken, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 248 pages. $34.

"He really loved that axe, because the Beatles, Byrds and Rolling Stones were all playing them at the time."

So remembers musician Chris Kamburoff of his friend and former bandmate Benjamin Orr in Joe Milliken's book Let's Go! Benjamin Orr and the Cars. But Kamburoff didn't play with Orr in the Cars, the Boston-based hit machine known for singles such as "My Best Friend's Girl," "Just What I Needed" and "Drive." He was part of Orr's life before he was famous, in Cleveland-based rock band the Mixed Emotions.

Through interviews with nearly 100 people, Milliken explores the entirety of the rock star's life: his musical origins in the Rust Belt in the 1960s, the Cars' formation in the mid-'70s, mass success and the band's dissolution in the '80s, and Orr's passing from pancreatic cancer in 2000.

Light on original prose and heavy on quotes, the book is essentially an oral history. But no other tome has delved so deeply into the life of the singer-songwriter and bassist. For rabid fans of the Cars, the minutiae of Orr's career should be fascinating. Casual followers will be less inclined to take the ride.

Milliken hosts a book launch, Q&A and multimedia presentation on Saturday, November 17, 5 p.m., at Village Square Booksellers in Bellows Falls.

— J.A.

Doodlebug: A Road Trip Journal

Robby Porter, Bar Nothing Books, 216 pages. $10.

And one feels immediately the presence of people on the land, not as disconnected pieces using the land merely as a foundation for the houses, which are, in turn, a foundation for their beds, but of people who work where they live, whose lives are entwined with those of their neighbors.

In Vermont, writes Robby Porter, a "doodlebug" is "a homemade tractor assembled from parts of several other machines and usually used for logging." In 1994, then 28-year-old Porter took a cross-country road trip with his brother Louis (now commissioner of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department). Using a portable Olivetti typewriter, Porter produced a journal that shares some qualities with a doodlebug: rambling, "ungainly," colorful. Judiciously edited after the fact, his journal offers lively anecdotes and trenchant descriptions of a land growing progressively more parceled, developed and regulated — although some places, like the Amish country described in the excerpt above, retain deep-rooted traditions. Now a frequent VTDigger.org commentator, Porter evokes a slice of Clinton-era Americana with fluency and power.

— M.H.

The Animal One Thousand Miles Long: Seven Lengths of Vermont and Other Adventures

Leath Tonino, Trinity University Press, 224 pages. $17.95.

It was as though all the rugged, remote landscapes she'd explored over her long life were present inside her.

The book's title is borrowed from Aristotle, who referred to a sprawling entity that cannot be wholly seen from a single perspective. Leath Tonino builds on that idea by playing a mental game: grabbing tiny, crenellated Vermont by its eastern and western sides and stretching it out flat. Thus the state becomes vast, illustrating his idea of "the inexhaustibility of home."

By this Tonino means Vermont has much to explore, including its wilderness. And that's exactly what he has done, repeatedly and by various methods. The book consists of 20 essays, the last of which, "Seven Lengths of Vermont," was previously published in Seven Days as a series. With evocative, gently humorous and reflective prose, Tonino conveys an impassioned embrace of untold adventures that can — and should — be found nearby.

— P.P.

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