John A. Buehrens’s new book, “Conflagration: How the Transcendentalists Sparked the American Struggle for Racial, Gender, and Social Justice” (Beacon) focuses less on the literature and more on the “lives and deeds” of both the major and especially the lesser-known players in the Transcendentalist movement. In this engaging and thoroughly researched “group biography,” as he terms it, Buehrens, a historian and former president of the Unitarian Universalists Association, argues that the Transcendentalists were both more “religious and urban” than we’ve been led to believe, and that it was Boston, not Concord, that was the “geographic center” of the movement. (Concord was simply wealthy enough to be able to preserve more notable sites related to Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, and Hawthorne.) He pays particular attention to James Freeman Clarke, as well as the women in the movement including Elizabeth Peabody, Margaret Fuller, and Caroline Healey Dall, a feminist who wrote 22 books. Our concern with intersectionality might seem new, he argues, but is a direct result of the work of the Transcendentalists. The book, elegant and enlightening, draws lines between individuals, their “deep spiritual friendships” as they took part in the history they were making. The book is a historic-biography which also serves as welcome primer on “how to become more self-transcendent in these difficult times.”
Like the work of Mary Oliver, Theresa Hickey’s first full-length collection of poetry, “Shy” (Finishing Line) out this month, concerns itself with the subtle beauty and mysteries of the natural world, life devoted to an ongoing search, and questions of spirituality and faith. Hickey, a Boston native who now lives in Dartmouth writes of “life lived in union with spirit.” A sense of wonder — in both the awe and questioning sense — saturates these poems: “what lies ahead from this infant-of-a-day?” she asks, reminding us of the possibility for change, for something new to crack everything wide open, like love, which “chisels us towards a new beginning.” There’s both an explicit and implicit sense of returning to newness, to staying receptive, requiring maybe “a daft sense of what’s real.” And there’s a refreshing sense of the pleasure and wisdom of not being certain. She asks, “is it okay not to know?” and the collection offers unspoken answer: yes, and it is perhaps a wiser state to occupy.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The Silver Unicorn Bookstore in Acton pairs authors and eating with the next installment of its “Feast of (Non)Fiction” at Orange Door, a co-working/shared kitchen/supper club space. The evening will bring together Adrienne Brodeur, who splits her time between Cambridge and the Cape, and whose recent memoir “Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover and Me” (HMH) tells the story of how her mother’s affair with her husband’s best friend changed the trajectories of their lives; Rachel Kadish, author of the novel “The Weight of Ink” (Mariner) set in 17th-century London and the early 2000s; and Massachusetts-based Mimi Lemay, whose memoir “What We Will Become: A Mother, a Son, and a Journey of Transformation” (HMH) explores what it is to be mother to her transgender child. The event takes place Thursday, Jan. 23, at 8 p.m. and includes a copy of one book plus a four-course meal. Tickets are $65. For more information visit silverunicornbooks.com.
“Small Days and Nights” by Tishani Doshi (W.W. Norton)
“Children of the Land” by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (Harper)
“The Black Cathedral” by Marcial Gala, translated from the Spanish by Anna Kushner (FSG)
Pick of the Week
Autumn Siders at the Country Bookseller in Wolfeboro, N.H., recommends “There There” by Tommy Orange (Knopf): “Orange introduces us to 12 unforgettable characters who are all making their way to a powwow in Oakland, Calif.. Each person has a different reason for attending the event but all of their journeys merge together forming a tragic story, both past and present. The characters struggle with what it means to be Native American in the modern world as well as try to honor and understand what it meant in the past.”
Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung.” She can be reached at email@example.com.