A man riding an alligator with a musket in one hand and a whip in the other. A burlesque dancer with a feathered headdress. Whaling ships and dapper sailors. These and other intricately-carved images from the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s scrimshaw collection animate the new book “Ingenious Contrivances, Curiously Carved” (Godine) by Stuart M. Frank, the museum’s senior curator.
The 700 photographs in the 4.5-pound volume highlight the artistic output associated with New Bedford’s role in the 1800s as the whaling capital of the world. Putting their idle hours to use, whalers took painstaking care to carve teeth and bones from whales. Many of the pieces were made as gifts for loved ones at home. Yet scrimshaw was never purely a decorative art. Whalers, frequently adding a touch of whimsy, also made practical objects, such as canes, pie crimpers, and letter openers.
Scrimshandering in the evening, they worked their jackknives by the glow of candles and lamps, an effect that Frank has sought to recreate in lighting the museum’s new scrimshaw exhibit. Herman Melville, himself once a New Bedford whaler, referred to these creations in “Moby-Dick” as “ingenious contrivances.”
Lehane to preview new book
At a reading on July 9, Dennis Lehane, Boston’s master crime writer, will offer a preview of his 10th novel, “Live by Night,” about a charismatic young gangster in Prohibition-era America. The reading is part of a weeklong series featuring instructors from Pine Manor College’s Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program. A founding faculty member, Lehane underwrites an annual fellowship for a promising fiction writer. “Live by Night,” to be published in October by HarperCollins, follows up on “The Given Day,” about the Boston policemen’s strike in 1919 and brings some of the characters into Prohibition. Warner Bros. has acquired the film rights with Leonardo DiCaprio set to star in it.
Pine Manor’s summer series will open on July 6 with a reading by Colombian-born Jaime Manrique. His novel “Cervantes Street” (Akashic) about the life of Miguel de Cervantes, author of “Don Quixote,” will be published in September. Manrique has taught at a number of colleges as well as in small workshops at his home. In the acknowledgments to his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” Junot Díaz called Manrique the “first writer to take me serious.”
On July 7, Meg Kearney, founding director of the Pine Manor program as well as a poet and novelist, will join David Yoo, author of “The Choke Artist: Confessions of a Chronic Underachiever” (Grand Central), a collection of autobiographical essays that focus on his college years at Skidmore and the subsequent decades in which he worked to develop a writing career while holding down a series of temp jobs.
The readings take place at 7:30 p.m. in the Founder’s Room at the college, 400 Heath St., Chestnut Hill. The full schedule is at www.pmc.edu/mfa-reading-series.
■ “The Historic Unfulfilled Promise”by Howard Zinn (City Lights)
■ “Gold”by Chris Cleave (Simon and Schuster)
■ “Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety”by Daniel Smith (Simon and Schuster)
Pick of the week
Marilyn Lustig of Wellesley Books recommends “The Uninvited Guests” by Sadie Jones (Harper): “For fans of the ‘Downton Abbey’ time period and ‘of the manor born’ style, this is a quirky, fun read. After a train accident, the survivors – or are they victims? – arrive at a birthday party that has many twists and delightfully dark turns.”