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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, the number of books that arrive in a steady stream by post, email and, in one memorable case, a conspiracy of lemurs. 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.

Kings & Queens in Their Castles

Tom Atwood, Damiani, 144 pages. $45.

[Photo caption] Michael Musto, Village Voice columnist and television personality, New York, NY

Tom Atwood grew up in rural Vermont, but his photography career has taken him around the world for glamorous jobs and exhibitions. Now based in New York, Atwood has released a unique book featuring 160 portraits, culled from 350 taken over 15 years. His mission was to explore "the LGBTQ experience in the U.S.A.," he writes in an introduction, explaining, "I felt there was a need for a contemplative photo series of the community." The individuals are pictured at home, indoors or out; some images are posed, others capture quotidian activity. In the photo cited above, the longtime Village Voice writer sits on his bed in a typically shoebox-size New York City apartment crammed with bookshelves, cabinets and stacks of belongings. Some of Atwood's subjects are famous, such as singer Rufus Wainwright, actor Alan Cumming and writer-director John Waters. Among the Vermonters represented are cartoonist-writer Alison Bechdel and her partner, Holly Taylor, standing by a lush garden in Jericho. Another is Anthony Barreto-Neto, identified as a transgender sheriff in Barton, Vt. From eccentric urbanites to earthy homesteaders, Atwood's subjects represent a spectrum of American experiences and definitions of "castle."

— P.P.

A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis From a Modern-Day Pilgrim

Abigail Carroll, Eerdmans, 96 pages. $12.99.

Did wanderlust

Send you to Rome,

Or your mother, Pica,

Who must have thought it would do you

Some good?

This Vermont-based "pilgrim" is the author of Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal and a pastor of arts and spiritual formation at the Church at the Well, a nondenominational enterprise in Burlington. In this volume, Abigail Carroll's métier is poetry, imagined as letters to the titular 12th-century saint, whom she considers "a complex man who lived a life of radical faith." In approaching St. Francis from her 21st-century perspective, Carroll seems to consider her queries as exemplars for questions — and answers — that might help readers better understand the world we live in now. In her introduction, she notes that St. Francis has, at this point, been relegated primarily to garden statuary. Yet she seeks "to parse man and saint — getting under his halo, so to speak." In so doing, the author strives to invite the saint into her "spiritual landscape" and to bridge the gulf between his life and her own.

— P.P

Cautionary Chronicles: An Illustrated Compendium of Human Striving

David Ross Gunn, Fomite, 164 pages. $15.

"If you want proof that statutes [sic] are not among the most sharp-witted of inanimate objects, you need only revisit the 1999 All Species Invitational Diving Competition, held on the campus of the Dinklaker Zoological Research Institute."

David Ross Gunn's cryptic new book presents a collection of peculiar black-and-white photographs culled from the internet without explanation or context. A composer by trade, the Barre resident has instead appended to each image a very short, humorous fiction that riffs on the content of the pictures. Images of a prostrate man screaming at a frog, a Bible saleswoman and a person dangling from a propeller airplane — to cite three — take on comical meaning with the aid of Gunn's bizarre anecdotes. Cautionary Chronicles began as a collection of postcards — numbering more than 300, Gunn says — that he sent over the course of several years to a friend. Marc Estrin, founder of Burlington-based Fomite press, apparently saw promise in the pictures and suggested Gunn compile them in book form. Without an introduction, it's impossible to understand what this is all about. Still, it's a funny trip. Recommended as a bathroom book, consumed in small doses.

— S.W.

Wrongly Executed: The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution

Thomas Hunt, Seven • Seven • Eight, 260 pages. $25.80.

"Anarchists instead awaited the international revolution that they felt would dismantle the empires and bring real power to working men and women."

Wrongly Executed is Thomas Hunt's third book on Mafia-related subjects. All his works are self-published and heavily researched, and this one draws on numerous government documents and news articles from the 1930s. The nonfiction tale focuses on Charles Sberna, who was accused of killing a New York police officer and sentenced to death by electrocution in 1939. Sberna had family ties to the Mafia and "political subversives" — a factor that, Hunt implies, influenced the justice system to send him to his death despite inadequate evidence. In the introduction, the central Vermont author — who maintains an American Mafia history website — also links the apparent desire to do away with this particular man to the eugenics movement in 1930s America. Hunt refrains from pronouncing Sberna innocent or guilty, instead painting a picture of both the accused and the political and social environment of the era that conspired to kill him.

— S.W.

An American Harvest: How One Family Moved From Dirt-Poor Farming to a Better Life in the Early 1900s

Cardy Raper, Green Writers Press, 188 pages. $19.95.

"All these foods along with chickens and eggs, milk, cottage cheese and butter — which we churned once a week — an occasional slaughtered calf and two or three hogs, kept us amply supplied throughout the year."

Imagine this: A family of grown siblings gathers in an ocean-side hotel room in Maine. An in-law has asked them to prepare recollections of their youth on a farm in Welcome, N.C. Younger generations crowd onto the large beds to hear the six siblings recount the tales. Cardy Raper — University of Vermont professor emerita, author of A Woman of Science: An Extraordinary Journey of Love, Discovery, and the Sex Life of Mushrooms, and married to one of the siblings — records the proceedings. The resulting book is essentially a transcript of the conversation that took place in that hotel room. The recollections cover grueling physical labor, a homesteader's kitchen and quirks of the tobacco trade. Another recurring theme is each sibling's impetus for seeking something beyond the agricultural life with which their parents were so content. Throughout, Raper interjects her own reflections. The conversational text offers insights into recent American history through the evolution of one rural family.

— S.W.

Abigail Carroll celebrates her book launch on Thursday, March 16, 6:30 p.m. at Phoenix Books Burlington.