Over the course of a year, a lot of books cross my desk for potential review or as the subject of a news feature. This year was no different.
There was a time when the newsroom had the resources to review books by Vermont authors (or books about Vermont). And there used to be a time when I had more time to read, too.
Most years, the books stack up, and I hand them off to staff for their consideration. Some books get coverage; many do not. And, to be honest, many of them do not warrant attention. They are self-published or made-to-order. They read like that.
This year, the crop of books that landed on my desk was unique. It was a fascinating blend of topics and talents. A few of them are worth noting as the holiday season gets into full swing.
Note: All of these books are available at local, independent bookstores, so in the interest of supporting the local economy, please start there before you go online or elsewhere.
The state lost a giant this year in Howard Frank Mosher. The author of 13 books, Mosher’s final book, “Points North,” is a wonderful collection of stories that feel as familiar as old friends. Published by St. Martin’s Press, this is a grand achievement. Mosher is the grand storyteller of Vermont. His death almost a year ago leaves a hole. Fortunately, this book, and his others, are here for all time.
A few weeks ago on these pages, I wrote a quick profile about Bill McKibben’s first foray into fiction after more than a dozen books about climate change and the movement that came to shape his organization, 350.org.
“Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance” is a fictitious accounting of that movement through the lens of an unusual team of Vermonters. The Ripton activist/author pulls no punches in overlaying the things that make us love Vermont onto a good (and timely) story. It is published by Blue Rider Press.
Beloved Vermont author Katherine Paterson released another gem this year, as well. The Montpelier resident (formerly a longtime Barre citizen) released “My Brigadista Year” (Candlewick Press), which is a lovely story based in Cuba. It is one girl’s coming-of-age story inspired by the socially tumultuous and violent real-life events of 1961. It is a story only Paterson can tell with such grace and elegance.
In May, Jeffrey Lent followed up his acclaimed first novel, “In the Fall,” with “Before we Sleep” (Bloomsbury). It is an intergenerational story set in Vermont. It is a touching story about family and the profound effects war can have on interpersonal relationships and dynamics. It will feel very familiar to central Vermonters.
And while Jensen Beach’s “Swallowed by the Cold” was published in 2016, the collection of short stories won the Vermont Book Award for 2017 this past September. For its latest accolades, it is worth noting as a worthy contribution to this year.
Rep. Peter Welch might be feeling left out this holiday season.
Both Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy had books about them published in 2017.
Sanders, an independent, published an autobiography titled “Our Revolution” (St. Martin’s Press) that examines his life and political career and the influences and driving forces that prompted him to run for the presidency. It is very much a detailed accounting of his platform, but to Bernie loyalists it is a must-have.
Philip Baruth has penned “Senator Leahy: A Life in Scenes” (University Press of New England) that is just that: a series of scenes and anecdotes that come to tell the life of Vermont’s senior senator. It gets deep into politics and is a who’s who of Vermont and Washington, D.C., but politicos will love it.
Two notable anthologies came out in 2017.
“Roads Taken: Contemporary Vermont Poetry” (Green Writers Press) is as comprehensive a collection of Vermont’s finest poets, past and present, as you will find for at least another century or more. It features such names as Robert Frost, Robert Penn Warren and Grace Paley, but also the late Leland Kinsey (a dear friend of the aforementioned Mosher), Ruth Stone, David Budbill and Major Jackson, to name a few. It is definitely a road worth taking.
Galway Kinnell is featured in “Roads Taken,” but a long-awaited volume of his collected poetry was also released this fall. Kinnell, who died in 2014, loved Vermont and wrote about it often in various styles. Suffice it to say this book, “Galway Kinnell: Collected Poems,” published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is the definitive Kinnell legacy. In poetry circles, it is getting the highest praise.
A handful of nonfiction came over the transom in 2017. A few of them were photography driven, mass-produced books on Vermont foliage and winter fun. (No mention of those here … sorry.)
Peter Miller’s new collection of portraits is a must-have. “Vanishing Vermonters: Loss of Rural Culture” is Miller’s fifth book. These stunning blackand white portraits highlight Vermont through the eyes and lens of one of the state’s finest visual storytellers. All of Miller’s books should be part of any Vermonter’s home library.
Jeff Danziger and Bill Mares rolled out a short book of essays and satire titled “The Full Vermonty: Vermont in the Age of Trump.” Some Vermont notables offer their thoughts on 45. Some of it is funny; a lot of it is scathing. Liberals will love it; conservatives will hate it.
“Good Fortune Next Time” (Dryad Press) by Will Wootten, the former president of Sterling College in Craftsbury, is subtitled “Life, Death, Irony, and The Administration of Very Small Colleges.” Parents whose children are nearing college age and are considering a small college should have a look at this. It is written in a conversational style, and sounds stuffy and highly specific, but it is a great dissection of the role academia plays in Vermont, and the nuances associated with them.
On these pages two or so months ago, Sarah Galbraith did a feature on a book by Mark Mikolas titled “A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees of the Northeast” (The Countryman Press). Mikolas, of Brattleboro, does a wonderful job with this illustrated guide that should make any nature lover happy. Again, for Vermonters interested in the outdoors, hiking or the environment, this book should be on your shelf.
Willard Sterne Randall, who a few years ago wrote a compelling biography of Ethan Allen, published “Unshackling America: How the War of 1812 Truly Ended The American Revolution” (St. Martin’s Press). While not specific to Vermont, the Green Mountain Boys had a major part to play, and certainly this corner of our nation was instrumental to the British conflict. It is a fresh look at the well-heeled track of history. It’s a good read on an important topic.
And lastly, we can’t ignore cooking. Tracey Medeiros put out “The Vermont Non-GMO Cookbook: 125 Organic and Farm-to-Fork Recipes from the Green Mountain State” (Skyhorse Publishing). This hardcover book is filled with recipes, cooking tips, and features on farmers and providers, as well as gorgeous photography. The recipes are for everyday cooking (and a few special occasions), and Medeiros is mindful of time, energy and chasing down ingredients. Nothing is overly outrageous, except to the taste buds.
A few recommendations for the holidays. Enjoy, and happy holidays to all the readers among us.