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

Published May 8, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated May 9, 2019 at 4:03 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 labor of moles. 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

Walter Benjamin Reimagined: A Graphic Translation of Poetry, Prose, Aphorisms and Dreams

Frances Cannon, MIT Press, 184 pages. $24.95.
Work on good prose has three steps: a musical phase when it is composed, an architectonic one when it is built, & a textile one when it is woven.

The words on this page 32 come from the mind of Frankfurt School philosopher and famously quotable essayist Walter Benjamin (1892-1940). But they're only half the page; the other half are the savvy, whimsical images with which Vermont artist and writer Frances Cannon has accompanied Benjamin's aphorism. Graceful violin shapes seem to swallow and digest mathematical diagrams — or is it the other way around? It's a beautiful way to convey Benjamin's fascination with the materiality of artistic expression.

In a preface, Cannon calls her unique book "a graphic literary response to the work of Walter Benjamin" that aims "to render his words in hybrid form: a visual echo of his work." A foreword by Esther Leslie and an afterword by Scott Bukatman — both scholars — offer ample context and justification for translating Benjamin's words into images.

Casual readers, though, may want to skip the academic prose and get straight to the pairing of pithy text with equally rich visuals. More complex than they appear at first glance, Cannon's drawings reward study, just as Benjamin's still-provocative thoughts do.

— M.H.

On My Way Out: A Reflection on Closure

Richard A. Hawley, Orchises Press, 312 pages. $24.95.
A bright sunny Saturday, but by midmorning I am overcome by oppressive heat and humidity, the kind that makes me conscious of every physical gesture, every step.

Glancing at the title and severe black cover of this memoir by Richard Hawley, one might be forgiven for assuming the author is at death's door. On the contrary, writes Hawley in a preface, he is in his early seventies and "reasonably fit and healthy, domestically blessed." A retired private school headmaster and founding president of the International Boys' Schools Coalition, the Ripton author already has 20 books and numerous contributions to prominent journals under his belt. With On My Way Out, he launches a multi-volume opus that he describes as "a careful charting of the passage from full sentience and physical capacity to less and still less and then to none."

The book is essentially Hawley's journal, recording small events (golf games) alongside monumental ones (deaths of parents). While some readers might wish for more editing and shaping, all will appreciate the virtuosity and humor with which Hawley describes everything from Ripton Community Coffee House open mics to his physical ailments. He'll read from and sign the book on Friday, May 10, 5-6:30 p.m., at Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury.

— M.H.

Trump, Trump, Trump: The March of Folly

Susan Ohanian, Onion River Press, 112 pages. $14.99.
Ere donning his "values" dog tags,"You can do anything," he brags."Grab 'em by the pussy," advice is.Move on her "like a bitch": prizes.Sordid swagger of a two-bit stag.

On the heels of the Mueller Report, the potential impeachment of President Donald Trump is a hot topic. But Vermont author Susan Ohanian has been banging that drum longer than most. At a Charlotte town meeting in March 2017, she introduced a successful advisory motion to impeach Trump based on Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution, the "emoluments clause."

That motion hasn't registered on a national level yet, but Ohanian has been busy nonetheless, penning her latest book: Trump, Trump, Trump: The March of Folly. Through clever and often funny poems — such as "Trumpitch," above — she excoriates the commander in chief for his staggering array of alleged high crimes, misdemeanors and just plain gross behavior.

Ohanian's criticisms carry more weight than the garden-variety diatribes you'll find on social media. Alongside every poetic putdown, lacerating lyric and rhyming riposte, she cites related media reports or, even more compellingly, Trump's own words. Taken together, her sonnets and citations form an epopee of condemnation, an elegant union of artistry and reportage that's as damning as it is entertaining.

— D.B.

You're Mine, Walker and All

Written by Kristina M. Parker, illustrated by Chad J. Rabideau, 37 pages. $11.95.
KC laughed and said, "Mommy, I wish we could find a flat mountain for you to hike, but since we can't, I bring back pictures to show you."

For those of us who do not live with a disability, it can be hard to appreciate the countless ways, large and small, in which daily life is more challenging for those who do. The same holds true of the young children of people with disabilities, who eventually realize how their own parents are different from those of their friends.

So it is for young KC, the little boy at the center of the picture book You're Mine, Walker and All. As he shops with his mom in the supermarket or runs around the playground, KC slowly comes to realize that his mother's reliance on her walker, though limiting at times, doesn't define her existence. Written and self-published by West Chazy, N.Y., author Kristina M. Parker, who uses a walker herself because of cerebral palsy, this delightful children's book is yet another helpful tool for teaching kids of all abilities simple truths about the multitudinous ways we move through this world.

— K.P.

In a Twinkling

Nancy S. Remsen, Maine Authors Publishing, 144 pages. $14.95.
She had yanked the ring off her finger, ripped it loose from the mitten threads and left it spinning on the counter in her rush to catch her bus.

Retired journalist Nancy Remsen has taken to fiction with this middle-grade novel. She's also taken to time travel.

Twelve-year-old Jennifer Stetson is helping to clean out her deceased great-grandmother's attic when she comes on a gold band with a small garnet. She slips it on a pinky finger and finds that it fits perfectly — and begins to sparkle. This ring is more than pretty; Jennifer is suddenly transported to 1890 and into the life of young Marion Mitchell — her great-grandmother.

In engaging, straightforward prose, Remsen describes the modest farmhouse; the bleak, cold Maine winter; and Marion's family and friends in this alter-universe. Though it's not clear whether Jennifer becomes Marion or simply observes her, it is evident what the two girls have in common. Remsen allows Jennifer to slip between present day and the late 19th century with ease.

In the book's introduction, Remsen notes that her grandmother, Marion Mitchell Stetson, was a storyteller, and that her written recollections helped ground this story with historical details. The magic is all Remsen's own.

— P.P.

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