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    new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

    Lee to write Marvel books; featuring images of Vermont hill farms

    Robert Burroughs Newbury | 1976 From “The Last of the Hill Farms: Echoes of Vermont’s Past’’
    Richard T. Brown
    “Robert Burroughs Newbury” photographed in 1976, from “The Last of the Hill Farms: Echoes of Vermont’s Past.’’

    Focusing on anti-heroes

    Young-adult author Mackenzi Lee recently announced she’ll be writing a three-book series of historical novels based on popular anti-heroes from the Marvel universe of comics.

    The first book, due out in 2019, centers on Loki, the shapeshifting mischief maker from Norse mythology, who, Lee said on Twitter, is “established as a pansexual genderfluid character in the Marvel comics,” and is “canonically queer” — a characterization that drew negative backlash on social media.

    Lee, the pen name of Mackenzie Van Engelenhoven, is the author, most recently, of the bestselling “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’’ about a bisexual British lord escapading around Europe. “This Monstrous Thing,’’ a fantasy retelling of “Frankenstein,’’ was the first novel by the Boston resident, who is also events manager at Trident Books.

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    “Writing for Marvel is a dream come true for a geek girl like me,’’ she said in e-mail. “I’ve been a comics and sci-fi nerd since I was a kid, and now having the opportunity to write the kind of stories that impacted me so much as a person, a fan, and an author is amazing and surreal.’’

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    She was less enthusiatic about the reaction to her Loki Tweet.

    Lee, who has nearly 16,000 followers on Twitter, reported receiving hundreds of negative responses within days of that post, accusing her of misrepresenting the character. Lee responded that her view was consistent with how the character had been portrayed by Marvel and in mythology.

    “I’m not changing anything, just sticking to the canon,’’ she tweeted. “But so what if I was? Queer people need superheroes too.”

    Life on the farm so real you can smell it

    Richard T. Brown started photographing the northeast corner of Vermont in the late 1960s, traveling around in his beat-up VW, seeking to capture a fading world by making pictures of the hills and farms and people that defined the place. A striking book of these images, “The Last of the Hill Farms: Echoes of Vermont’s Past’’ just out from David R. Godine, makes an arresting, wistful portrait of an all-but-gone way of life. The deep-lined faces of farmers, stone walls marking fields, patient warm-eyed cows, big old barns in various states of decline, serve as Brown’s subjects. You can feel the cold, hear the squeak of snow beneath your feet, smell the rich, sweet pungency of manure and hay. There’s a sober and ghostly quality to the images, misty portraits of an unforgiving place and the hard work it takes to live there.

    A passion for nature

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    Bowdoin professor and naturalist Nathaniel Wheelwright and University of Vermont professor, writer, and naturalist Bernd Heinrich, came together to create “The Naturalist’s Notebook: An Observation Guide and 5-Year Calendar-Journal for Tracking Changes in the Natural World around You ’’ (Storey). Getting people to pay closer attention to what’s going on in their backyards is a way to build passion for the natural world, and hopefully, increase their desire to take better care of it, Wheelwright explains over the phone from Maine. Observing the leaves, lichens, cardinals, rocks, and frogs, “serves as anchor in a dismaying and unsettling world,” he says, a kind of “salve and medicine” to the current political turmoil. The book includes useful tips on where, how, and when to look, and how to connect with the shifting rhythms of the year. “Curiosity and passion for nature is a muscle,” he says. Once you start flexing it, “you become more curious and more empathetic and more protective of nature.”

    Pick of the week

    Isabel Berg at Book Ends in Winchester recommends“My Brigadista Year’’ by Katherine Paterson: “This great middle-school novel deals with a little known part of history — Cuba’s national literacy campaign. In the 1960s, the Cuban government sent teachers out into the rural countryside in an effort to teach every single Cuban national to read. Most of these teachers were young people between the ages of 10 and 19. The book follows one of these young women as she leaves home to teach, and to learn.”

    Coming out

    “Fisherman’s Blues: A West African Community at Sea’’by Anna Badken (Riverhead)

    “Freshwater’’ by Akwaeke Emezi (Grove)

    “A Girl in Exile’’by Ismail Kadare, translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson (Counterpoint)

    Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.