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

Published January 11, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated January 11, 2023 at 10:16 a.m.


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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 conclave of cardinals. 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.

Sugaring Down

Dan Chodorkoff, Fomite Press, 418 pages. $15.
"Yeah, it's gorgeous, like being on an acid trip or something."

The Northeast Kingdom tends to have that effect on newcomers, even if they arrive during an April snowstorm.

In Dan Chodorkoff's novel, the newcomers are anti-war activists from New York City who arrive at an uninhabited hill farm in 1968. The young couple plan to live collectively with other like-minded revolutionaries — farm the land, build a base for a social movement — once they make it up the unplowed driveway and figure out how to light the woodstove. Having slathered the dusty farmhouse in Pine-Sol, an idealistic cast of characters moves in and works together — or not — to adapt to the richly described landscape.

A lifelong peace and ecology activist, Chodorkoff also found a home in northern Vermont, where he cofounded the Institute for Social Ecology and was a longtime member of the Goddard College faculty. This back-to-the-land story is drawn from "history, memory, and imagination," he writes in an acknowledgment, capturing "a time when it seemed to us that anything was possible."

— J.B.

You Were Always There

Stephen Russell Payne, Cedar Ledge Publishing, 402 pages. $19.95.
"Just to breathe this clean air is worth the trip."

When Sarah Clements drives up to Vermont from Washington, D.C., in 1970 to visit the cabin that her federal judge dad is building on Caspian Lake, she doesn't know she's about to fall in love. She and local farm boy Luke Simms spend an idyllic summer together, frequenting a Greensboro gathering of folk musicians where classical violinist Sarah learns to love traditional fiddling. But then Luke receives his draft notice, and the circumstances of a turbulent era tear the two lovers apart.

Vermont author Stephen Russell Payne, author of Cliff Walking and Life on a Cliff, spins a tale of love lost and found that will bring readers to tears as effectively as any Nicholas Sparks novel. But he also gives the genre a distinctive Northeast Kingdom spin, paying tribute to real local musicians, such as Dave Rowell, and celebrating their grit and gusto. Even cynical readers will end up rooting for Luke as he rebuilds his life with the help of an indomitable lakeside community.

— M. H.

Pavlov's Colon

Howard Pierce, BookBaby, 492 pages. $21.39
Danni said her silent morning prayer wherein she asked yet again not to be sent to either the Pentagon or HHS.

It's 2048, and Danni Kuiu, IT expert and "polymath" for the federal government, is sent to help the International Diplomatic Corps investigate a bizarre occurrence of global consequence — the purported religious rapture of Lester Cleland, 49th president of the United States. Though video feeds captured the devout Christian ascending heavenward, naked as a jaybird, the miraculous nature of the event is immediately called into question when some Kenyan fishermen discover Cleland's severed head, one ear nibbled by their donkey.

Pavlov's Colon, book one of the trilogy A Sequence of Events by Charlotte author Howard Pierce, has ample irreverence to go around — for organized religion, global capitalism, corporate news, social media and geopolitics, all of which have coalesced into four world-governing factions in Pierce's dystopian scenario. Pavlov's Colon is all the more fascinating when you consider that writing speculative fiction is Pierce's third career, following years as a high-end home builder and CEO of a medical software company. An eminently enjoyable romp.

—K.P.

A Judge's Odyssey: From Vermont to Russia, Kazakhstan, and Georgia, Then on to War Crimes and Organ Trafficking in Kosovo

Dean B. Pineles, Rootstock Publishing, 274 pages. $18.99.
"You must be punished," Pineles said.

In this book about his legal career, Dean Pineles reprints portions of newspaper articles that concern cases he presided over as a Vermont district judge. In doing so, as our page 32 example illustrates, the author on occasion quotes himself as he was quoted in news accounts. (This remark is from a sentencing hearing in the late 1980s.)

A resident of Stowe, Pineles began his legal life in Vermont 50 years ago as an assistant attorney general. He would go on to serve as governor Richard Snelling's legal counsel in the early 1980s and, some 30 years after that, as an international criminal judge in Kosovo.

Pineles' judicial career was nearly scuttled at his 1985 confirmation hearing, he writes, due to his role in the Snelling administration's decision to raid a religious community in Island Pond. Ultimately, he was confirmed. His book is written in a tone — thoughtful, deliberative, humane — consistent with optimal judicial qualities.

—S.P.

Spirit Traffic: A Mother's Journey of Self-Discovery and Letting Go

C. Jane Taylor, Magic Hill Press, 252 pages. $18.
Absolutely elated, I eased out the clutch and inched across the parking lot in first gear, howling with delight.

AARP helpfully reminds people that they're aging by mailing membership invitations to all who are celebrating — or trying to ignore — 50th birthdays. Many will identify with C. Jane Taylor, who discloses in her memoir that she "shredded the letter into tiny pieces." Few, however, will do what Taylor did next: channel that angst into learning to drive a motorcycle so she could join her husband and 21-year-old son on a 10,000-mile cross-country journey, riding a black BMW.

With honesty and humor, Taylor chronicles the epic road trip's peaks and valleys, from the wistful tenderness of observing her son savor the Grand Canyon to the frustration and pain of her relentlessly flowing perimenopausal period. By the conclusion, she has more or less tamed her steel steed and her dread of an empty nest and learned to "Let the wind blow through you, like you're a part of it." It's Eat, Pray, Love for the midlife set.

—M.P.