Page 32: Short Takes on Five Vermont Books | Books | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published July 31, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated August 2, 2019 at 5:09 p.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 gaze of angry raccoons. 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.

Reed Brown's 1841 Journey: America Through the Eyes of a Vermont Yankee

Richard H. Allen, Onion River Press, 142 pages. $20.
And they left the steam car and hitch on 4 of nisest [sic] looking horses I ever see and went about a mile and in turning a corner run off the track and run against a building. No damage except the braking of the tung.

Who knew that a travelogue from 1841 could be so suspenseful? On his journey from Essex, Vt., to Washington, D.C., to secure a patent on his design for an improved set of carriage springs, Reed Brown documented the early infrastructure of the country's transportation system. In the first 32 pages, he's already survived the rail car derailment described above and a steamboat explosion on the Hudson.

Preserved in the Williston Historical Society's archives, Brown's journal is presented here in an artfully researched and annotated form by Richard H. Allen, author of several other local history tomes. Allen builds historical context for Reed, a blacksmith and overall average guy, by pairing his observations of the larger cities of the era (where he frequently got lost) with notes from other travelers, including Charles Dickens' writings on his 1842 tour across America.

— J.B.

On Whitcomb Hill: Land, House, and History in Rural Vermont

E.J. Myers, Montemayor Press, 251 pages. $22.95 hardcover; $16.95 paperback.
I am instantly thrilled with the experience — both the "feel" of the scythe and its elegant efficiency in cutting grass and weeds.

There are many ways to adjust to an empty nest. For E.J. Myers — the author of 41 books ranging from children's literature to ghostwritten financial planning guides — and his wife, Edith, it wasn't enough to take a vacation or pick up a new hobby. They packed up their New Jersey home and moved to an 1840s farmhouse in Orange County, Vt., where Myers threw himself into an old-fashioned version of the rural life. Hence the scythe.

On Whitcomb Hill is a collection of essays on subjects ranging from the history of the house and land to Myers' many homesteading attempts, including trying to drain a pond and grow a small patch of wheat. (Results varied widely.) He speculates on the lives of the house's previous inhabitants and provides a detailed description of his meditation practices. All of this works, ultimately, to answer a larger question: What does it mean to invest oneself in a place, to try to change it and, finally, to accept it for what it is?

— M.G.


Diane Sheehan Shovak, CreateSpace, 318 pages. $14.99.
Weighing her need for nicotine against the whispers she'd have to endure, Hannah got out of the car.

In her first novel, Connecticut- and Vermont-based author Diane Sheehan Shovak weaves together the story of a horrific crime with two parallel family dramas set in fictional Willow Bend, Vt. When a local 15-year-old girl is found brutally raped and murdered, the tragedy sets in motion more than a police investigation. Timothy Rourke, son of longtime summer residents and a freshman at nearby Ethan Allen College, is arrested on circumstantial evidence. Yet other clues eventually lead in a different direction.

Meantime, Shovak navigates the troublesome past of a small-town constable and the mother of the victim, as well as the Rourkes' splintering relationships, financial difficulties and a devastating secret. Deftly juggling multiple story lines, the author reveals information and unravels personal histories at a nail-biting pace. With compelling emotional resonance and vivid visual details, Deceit is a strong debut.

— P.P.

Woods Whys: An Exploration of Forests and Forestry

Michael Snyder, Bondcliff Books, 160 pages. $14.95.
In the phrase "critical habitat," the first word is the difficult one.

In this collection of 63 essays, Michael Snyder, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, addresses questions posed by curious local landowners. Originally published as a quarterly column in Northern Woodlands magazine from 1995 through 2015, the essays tackle questions such as "What makes the best firewood?" or "Why are paper birches so white?" or "Why do tree species produce occasional bumper crops of seed?"

Snyder's responses are peppered with science and common sense. In "What is critical habitat?" he considers the nuances of defining — and, by extension, protecting — critical habitats for animal and plant species. The word "habitat" is easy enough to understand, he writes, but "critical" is defined differently from state to state. Rather than give a definitive answer, he notes the issue's complexity and offers a guiding principle: Critical habitat should be species-specific and geography-specific.

Next time you venture into the woods, bring along this paperback. Chances are, it'll answer some questions — and inspire others.

— E.M.S.

No Stone Unturned: A Remarkable Journey to Identity

Nadean Stone, self-published, 471 pages. $22.95.
The next day, Grandma said the detective had returned and informed her that there were no files of my birth on record at the hospital.

In 1952, a Canadian couple adopted a baby girl from a Catholic hospital in Blind River, Ont. That child grew up to be Nadean Stone, an MBA and broadcast media professional eager to find her birth family. When Ontario finally opened its adoption records, Stone thought she had her chance — only to learn that the hospital had never registered her birth, let alone her adoption. "I had simply been given away," she writes. "It was like going to the pound and picking up a puppy!"

Undeterred, Stone turned to DNA and online genealogy registries, using the few clues she had about her birth mother to search for matches. That quest occupies the last quarter of the book; the rest is a memoir of Stone's eventful life, from her childhood on a rugged farm with beloved French Canadian grandparents to her marriage to a native of a Caribbean island, where she experienced glamour, hardships and heartbreak. Today, she makes her home in the Lake Champlain islands and offers her story "to readers seeking inspiration to persevere in the face of daunting life challenges."

— M.H.