Category Archives: books

There’s Just Something About a Spool

From slender filaments to giant cables, spools get the job done right. The big daddy on the left appeared down the road a piece. It made my day.

My sister-in-law, an extremely talented fiber artist, has dozens of spools. I An Artist's Spools are best.have a lowly 30. If you’ve never wound a bobbin on a sewing machine before, you’re missing out. If mankind wound more bobbins, there’d be less misery and lower crime rates.

This place, El Taller (“The Studio”), in Lawrence, MA is a cool coffee shop with books and…spools. They write in your coffee. What’s better than that?

Bienvenudo, baby.

Spools stools

Go here!

Calling All Readers: Book Suggestions Needed

Gone Girl pngFriends, your nominations are requested for the Valentine’s column on suggested reading. Please send your top picks with a 10-wordish pitch as to why we must read them.

Spelling counts. No it doesn’t. But as I’ll be ripping your referral word for word,  packaging counts. And in a world where beauty matters, I admit that book covers can sway the Decider, me.

Nepotism Allowed. Only you have to pitch it, ‘kay?

Examples courtesy of Lynn-O and Stonehenge:The Goldfinch

Gone Girl — Gillian Flynn — Annoying because the characters are SO unlikeable.  Despite that, you can’t help but sticking with it to figure out what’s going to happen (and ultimately you care).
The Goldfinch — Donna Tartt — post-modern David Copperfield + Holden Caulfield rolled into one.  MUST READ!
NOTE: Whoever writes the best pitch, subjectively and arbitrarily selected by the Decider, will receive (eventually) a very good book via Media Mail.

A YA Mystery Both Smart and Charming

Hard Magic book coverAt the 2013 San Francisco Book Festival on May 18, Braintree author John Caruso’s textured novel Hard Magic received an Honorable Mention for Young Adult Fiction, in what organizers called “a very, very tough competition.”  A dark yet sparkly mystery comprising multifaceted characters, dialogue among kids and adults that is neither corny nor precious, and rural issues—with clues, clues, and more clues — it is written with a deft hand requiring young readers to not only pay attention, but to look up the occasional vocabulary word. Hear, hear!

A story involving magic and teen sleuths begs comparison to other YA works, but important elements separate Hard Magic from the pack. First and foremost: superior writing. Caruso is a writer’s writer. He includes brilliant metaphoric turns of phrase, a nuanced tone, and observations about rural life that delight adult readers while rendering young readers just plain lucky to have him directing his writing, for the first time, their way.  Second: it is expertly plotted (and sub-plotted), without overly descriptive passages to spoil a calculated pace that begins as lazily as a summer’s day, then barrels ahead in a race to the finish. Third, it has the intelligence to let the reader decide who’s good or bad, and why; it is more about exploring how the world works and who controls things than delivering a clichéd battle between good and evil. Fourth: it is poignant, with characters worth caring about. That’s because, Caruso says, he wanted in his book the emotional payoff of YA books he read as a young adult himself.

As for the title, one reader interpreted it this way: “Real change comes from hard magic, real work, not comic human hopes in the supernatural.” The characters must work for what they want; there is no magic fix, and the reader sees each making choices for thought-out reasons. Caruso’s teens are determined sleuths that use their smarts—they do not serendipitously stumble upon clues like my generation’s ever-lucky Nancy Drew.  The players are complex people with good and bad qualities, and vulnerabilities. Even the most cutthroat among them displays wit, style, and heart.

With a generous mix of male and female characters that pop in and out, there are delectable hints at romance, but in this book the mystery’s the thing.

Hard Magic took the author two years to write plus one year of revisions, the key to excellence in writing. A natural born novelist, Caruso (a Vermont resident since 2001), refuses to “write down to” young readers, as he puts it. His style encourages them to ask, “What is really going on here?”; “What does that phrase mean?” and—which makes it a page turner—“What happens next?”

This tale set in Vermont has something summery for everyone: intrigue, family, fireworks, spells gone awry, cookouts, contraptions, junkyards, bewitched teachers, swimming holes, enchanted flora, evil fauna, magic potions, carnivals, Vermonty characters, word games, diabolical forces, weird behavior, and the long arm of the law. The magical parts are deliciously crafted. A passing reference to a possible physical or sexual assault renders it suitable for readers over age 13, depending upon the child and parents.  Most importantly, the book fosters…reading. Imagine that.

Hard Magic is available at Bud and Bella’s Bookshop in Randolph, at The Yankee Bookshop and Shiretown Books in Woodstock, and online at, (print or Kindle), or

Get it. Read it. Love it.  coverphoto

If This Doesn’t Blow Your Mind Wide Open ~

sarah kay~ whether you like photography, metaphysics, New York City in the snow, non-combative spoken-word poetry, young people with insane talent, or Ted Talks ~ if this piece by Sarah Kay doesn’t blow your mind wide open, you are already dead.

And I say that with utmost respect, from the sticks, well on my own way to Kepler 22-b.

“Spittle crackles at forty below.”

Also bad for Outdoor Concert and Ocean Cruising.So said a Jack London character, although you will find evidence to the contrary online.

What crackles at 18 below? Your resolve, for one thing. And according to my favorite weather application, AccuWeather, this temperature is POOR for Barbeque, Kite Flying, Outdoor Activity, and Lawn Mowing.  Hair Frizz Risk is LOW, so there’s that.

Mad as a March Hare, Mad as a Hatter

“Dwarf Hare” by Capt. McGee, 2012, crayon and Sharpie® on paper

The March Hare is not a randomly named character in Alice in Wonderland. “Mad as a March hare” is an English expression referring to the peculiar behavior of hares during mating season when, among other odd activities, disinterested females use their forelegs to box off amorous males. I didn’t know any of this an American child and, further, thought “mad” meant “angry”.  Why was the Mad Hatter angry?
He wasn’t, of course. “Mad” means “nutty” to the English, and “mad as a hatter” comes from when mercury was used to process hat felt. Hat factory workers eventually got mercury poisoning and went “mad.” Those crazy Brits. They have another word for everything.

What’s making me mad is climate change. It’s not just those irrepressible mental images of crumbling, far-away polar ice in Al Gore’s documentary giving me a rash; it’s how at least one season every year is now whacked out. So far: a truncated, nearly snowless winter. That snow is gone. Even the mud is almost gone. Golf courses are opening and people are smacking balls—no doubt to the distracting aroma of liquid manure, as farmers have gotten clearance to spread the vile potion earlier this year.
A friend mentioned a column I wrote 15 years ago about those Vermont homes you see with mass quantities of cut wood outside, inducing jealousy with their display of cozy security and relative wealth. She recalled that column as being about “wood envy”, which is much funnier than what I actually wrote. Our conversational point being that even ordinary people didn’t use up their wood this winter.
What’s been good for home-heaters has been bad for the ski industry. Which affected our tourism industry; no one comes to Vermont for MUD. Our sugaring season was totally screwy, and now Sugar on Snow parties are being conducted with antiquated Sno-Cone® machines retrieved from attics. Hey, we have Sugar on Snow parties in March, snow or no snow. It’s what we do. The show must go on.
For those of us whose preferred season is winter and whose favorite spice is bacon, an early onset spring is a drag. I for one am hardly ready for gardening, golf, or mosquitoes. And I’m definitely not ready for salads. When temps hit the 80s last week (in March?), many were McLovin’ it, scampering about in terry rompers yelling “This is great!” I’m thinking: “This is creepy.”  My ‘hood smelled like a hot sheet of baking septic. Which says something about the “mud” liberally spread chez nous by Irene.
Like some of you, I’m just not ready, man.  I miss my long winter’s naps and digging into a good book under a heavy blanket. Snowshoes in the corner now seem quaint relics better suited as decorative wall hanging purposes than tools of fun.  But you know March: mad as a hatter and out like a lion. After some torrid days, it’s back to that limbo when you’ve got the WINTER box of clothes cozied up next to the SUMMER box until…Mother Nature makes up her bloomin’ mind. It’s an excellent time of year to get sick. And to kill seedlings left on the porch at night by mistake.
Might as well run with it; we can fight the weather no more than we can the passage of time. Pretty soon mother mooses, pregnant with the next round, will be giving their yearlings the hoof and those bewildered sons will roam the Land wreaking havoc.   Mother humans will be handing their babies to the last Republican standing (“Here, take this!” Snap.) With shorts season thrust unexpectedly upon us ahead of schedule, we must quickly trade in our doughy thighs, Ben and Jerry’s “camel’s hump in front”,   and pastry bottoms for firm haunches, ripped abs, and glutes of concrete.
Sounds like a lot of work. Wellll, the alternative is sporting thick swags of mottled goobermeat in our bathing suits two months earlier than usual.  So shelve the bacon and break out your juicers, kayaks, and athletic supports. It’s maddening but we’ll adjust. With felt hat on head and racket in hand and crazy, glowing Village of the Damned eyeballs rolling in our heads, we’ll sally forth in an energetic manner as if this were all a perfectly normal—and good—day.

Your Christmastide Present: A List of Books

Not only do these lists drive my editors crazy, they seem like a breeze (read: copout) for me to assemble when in fact they are a bear. But what decent gift doesn’t entail a lot of work?  Dear Reader’s prize this Kwanzaatide is thus…a list. Of books I read this year I think you might like.

As a celebrity businessman once said to me with a wink, “Charity begins at home!” While a nod to a talented writer is hardly charity, it is a plug, and I shamelessly command you now: turn on, dig in, and kindle up to Vermont’s own Archer Mayor if you like mysteries with snowy backdrops. Mayor has penned 22 books in his Joe Gunther detective series. Even if you’re clever at plot prediction, Mayor keeps you guessing.  His novels take place in Vermont, and the new one looks hot.

Cloud Atlas by nutter Brit, David Mitchell, winner of and short-listed for coveted awards, is a crazy-smart patchwork of genres spanning the globe from the 18th century to a post-apocalyptic future.  Warning: you can’t be tired or dumb when you read it. Dennis Lehane’s Shelter Island boggles the bean; don’t see the movie first because the plot is the whole thing. Hotel World by Scottish-born Ali Smith won awards, but I preferred her The Accidental which is dark, with things that make you go Ooh. Meg Wolitzer’s The Uncoupling received accolades though I wasn’t wooed.  Then, when you read a book can make all the difference. Timing was clearly good for Charlotte Brontes Jane Eyre because I bathed in its dated melodrama.  Her sister’s Wuthering Heights got canned, and Bronte fans will can me for saying so. We hags don’t finish books we’re not thoroughly digging.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day is frustrating as hell but, oh, the scene where the townspeople think the butler is a gentleman…painfully aws for Dear Reader made omniscient by Ishiguro. Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has a Murder on the Orient Express quality, with satisfying retaliatory violence (sorry, Jesus!) I enjoyed Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero more than his latest, but Ondaatje fanatics might spank me for saying so. Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen is Calgon Take Me Away to a Nunnery, depositing you in a world as foreign as The Handmaid’s Tale, if less menacing—both divinely spare.

20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill is a brain-liquefying short story collection. His father taught him well, else he was born with it. Forgetting English by Seattle’s Midge Raymond is another artful collection; it whisks you to foreign lands wherein you totally buy her characters. A writer’s writer.

Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You is funny, foul, funny. His characters speak like my people in New York; you was warned. The Help is terrific on tape. The readers are so good I can’t imagine reading it yourself would be better. Murder in the 11th House by Mitchell Scott Lewis is a treat if you really know astrology.

For nonfiction, I dug Ellen Langer’s Counterclockwise (on atypical aging) and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. The Soloist by Steve Lopez describes with delicacy an L.A. journalist befriending a schizophrenic music prodigy. Water Cooler Diaries, a compilation of women’s workday diaries by Joni B. Cole, is perfectly edited and reminiscent of an older treasure, Gig: American talk about Their Jobs.

Some older gems. Nonfiction: Woe is I and Eats, Shoots & Leaves (both grammar), Freakanomics, The Tipping Point. Fiction: The Ice Storm, The Wonder Boys, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, The Kite Runner, The Hours, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter’s  Daughter.  Memoir: I Feel Bad about My Neck (on tape!), The Year of Magical Thinking, A Girl Named Zippy (fave charmer of all time), and The Glass Castle—all terrific.

Here on Earth is Alice Hoffman’s rewrite of one book on this list. Weirdly, I happened to read it right after the original and thought she’d ripped off the plot. Snort.

The Most Brilliant Jewel of my 2011 Reads is a tie between The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by French genius Muriel Burbery, and A Visit from the Good Squad by American genius Jennifer Egan. I’m not spoiling it if I tell you that the goon squad, as Egan told NPR, is time. Or that I bawled with abandon at Burbery’s poetic sparkler. To both authors—all authors, really—I say: we are not worthy. Good day.

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