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NEW ENGLAND LITERARY NEWS

A book about mushrooms, new poetry pondering what we humans need, and a publishing experiment that blends book-buying and philanthropy

Doug Bierend makes a few stops in Massachusetts in his exploration of the world of mushrooms.
Doug Bierend makes a few stops in Massachusetts in his exploration of the world of mushrooms.Alanna Burns

Bringing new meaning to digging mushrooms

Doug Bierend’s lively, engaging, and enlightening new book, “In Search of Mycotopia: Citizen Science, Fungi Fanatics, and the Untapped Potential of Mushrooms” (Chelsea Green) initiates readers into the rich world of the mushroom and its multiple powerful uses: as food, medicine, assistors in environmental remediation, a model to how to exist in a more symbiotic and reciprocal way. He establishes what fungi are, in nature and culture, then guides us in to the “mycelium underground” of enthusiasts, farmers, and foragers looking to broaden mushrooms’ uses and appeal. And all the while the book is undergirded by the question of how looking at mushrooms — or other aspects of nature — can “inform the ways we engage with the world and with one another.” Bierend writes with sensual verve and specificity, enthusiasm, and humor, too: There’s something irresistible about the phrase “indulging in the sense of abundance that comes from fungal fellowship.” Bierend introduces us to the staggering variety of mushrooms, their mystery, their funk, and the way they captivate our imaginations, as well as to the array of characters involved in this “mycological renaissance.” Plus, there is simple pleasure of the actual names: artist’s conk, lion’s mane, mycenas, maitake.

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Generosity-based model

The Concord Free Press does things a little differently. Looking to widen what publishing can look like and deepen connections across communities, the all-volunteer press publishes books — by Brian Evenson, Paul Tremblay, Lucius Shepard, and father-daughter team Jenny and Ron Slate, among others — and gives them away for free, requesting only that readers make a voluntary donation to a charity or a community member who might be in need. In over a decade of this renegade, generosity-based model, they’ve brought about over $3.6 million in donations. They also request that once the reader is finished with the book, they share it along, making for a book with a life ongoing, and multiple contributions to organizations and people. Their latest book, “Revolver,” by the New England-based Evan I. Schwartz, is a rock ’n’ roll novel set at the end of the 1970s and follows two high schoolers as their lives intersect with John Lennon. People who’ve gotten a copy of the book have donated to the Greater Boston Food Bank, the Canadian Red Cross, Sandy Hook Promise, Four Harbors Audubon Society, Everytown for Gun Safety, and a number of other local, national, and international organizations. Visit concordfreepress.com to request a copy of “Revolver.”

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Excavations and lamentations

“Necropastorals” is the title of a poem in Jonathan Weinert’s haunted, earthy, outstanding new poetry collection, “A Slow Green Sleep” (Saturnalia), and the word speaks to the death-nature nexus that Weinert excavates so deftly. There’s an attentive, mournful mood, a sense of trying to make oneself at home with rot-present and rot-future. Weinert laments: “We humans love the wrongest things: eternity,/ our histories, our brains.” And he pairs the fumes, motor roars, smartphones with the oaks, the crows, the rain. There’s a frothy, fervent feel to the book, an alchemical energy that seethes. His lines spill and split like seeds in “a kingdom for milkweed and lichen and spider and mold.” Read it out loud: “Here’s a recipe for seeing: slow green sleep,/ and feeling as a long-expected season feels/ the day the sky entrusts its new campaign/ of sails and sheets.” People stare “with their flatscreen eyes,” and Weinert looks to what is “wet and animal.” There is something fearful here, and potent, and ferociously, elementally, true.

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Coming out

My Heartby Semezdin Mehmedinović, translated from the Bosnian by Celia Hawkesworth (Catapult)

The Impudent Onesby Marguerite Duras, translated from the French by Kelsey L. Haskett (New Press)

Absentees: On Variously Missing Personsby Daniel Heller-Roazen (Zone)


Pick of the week Autumn Siders at the Country Bookseller in Wolfeboro, N.H., recommends “Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West” by Lauren Redniss (Random House): “Beautiful illustrations help to tell the story of Oak Flat, a holy place to the Apache, rich in copper and sought out by mining conglomerates. Redniss does a wonderful job of sewing together the voices of multiple generations and opposing views. While the story is current and pressing, she also captures the never-ending struggles of Indigenous people and the constant battle of protecting land and those caught in the crossfire from companies looking to turn a profit.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.