In March 2020, as the world started shutting down, three photographers — Robin Fader in Washington, D.C., Victor Mirontschuk in New York, and Susan Baggett in Boston — set out to capture how the pandemic was altering life in the urban landscape. Their project soon expanded to encompass racial justice protests and the presidential election. The resulting book of photographs, “2020 Unmasked” (Lightning), captures the tumult and intensity of one singular year. Their images show blocks-long lines for COVID tests, empty train stations, squares, movie theaters. Graffiti and protest signs announce the divided atmosphere. Cops in riot gear, nurses in plastic face shields, a sign on the side of a Boston building that reads, simply, “STOP KILLING BLACK PEOPLE.” There’s fear in the eyes of a Black toddler wearing a mask held in someone’s arms at a protest. A woman in the back of a pick-up points her finger, hollering, her face mangled in anger. The photographers capture the fear, fury, frenzy, and energy of a year defined by death and isolation, by unrest and fervent calls for reform, and by people trying to find calm and hope and glimmers of joy when they could. Kids shoot hoops, swing on monkey bars, a just-married couple smooches on Boston Common. It’s a powerful document of time like no other time.
October now, and so begins the haunted season of the year. A new anthology of ghost stories, edited by Midcoast Maine writer and editor Paul Guernsey, and including a selection of stories by authors from all over the world, traffics in the uncanny, the strange, the inexplicable. “21st Century Ghost Stories: Volume II” (Wyrd Harvest) is striking for its variety of approaches to the supernatural. “Corpse Walks into a Bar” by Somerville-based author and Halloween scholar Lesley Bannatyne hints at the grateful dead folktale motif, and is set in Dorchester; it mixes a distinctly Boston humor and atmosphere with the haunting questions of what we could’ve done differently. In “The Mission Bell,” Maine author and musician Lara Tupper offers Lynchian surreality in her twist-up of the Eagles’ “Hotel California. “Fairies, vampires, demons, The Devil Himself, snakes . . . mystery animals, ancient curses, contemporary curses . . . and a number of haunted objects, including . . . a stuffed rabbit with a bad attitude” make up these stories, as Guernsey writes. The collection is strange and smart and upends ideas of what a ghost story is, and expands, with verve and unsettling bizarrity, what it can be.
Gardner for the littles
A lively new picture book tells the story of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. “What Isabella Wanted” by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Neal Porter) depicts a “brash, extravagant” Gardner, strolling up Beacon Street with lions, wearing baseball gear to the symphony, and traveling abroad to acquire art and arranging it just so, collecting more, “so much more, always more, exactly as Isabella wanted.” She opened her museum home in 1903, each item, each piece of art, each object placed exactly, unchanged and untouched. That changes when thieves steal in and tuck paintings away, their empty frames evidence that the crime has not been solved. The book opens a window into a big and bright personality, revealing the history of beloved Boston institution.
“The Swank Hotel” by Lucy Corin (Graywolf)
“Search History” by Eugene Lim (Coffee House)
“Shelf Life: Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller” by Nadia Wassef (FSG)
Pick of the Week
Geri Zeller at Island Books in Middletown, R.I., recommends “Transcendent Kingdom” by Yaa Gyasi (Knopf): “This is the powerful portrait of Ghanaian immigrants, a beautiful story of a brilliant young woman, who through her graduate study on mice in her lab, tries to understand depression and addiction as it ravages her beloved mother and talented brother. This is my over-simplification of a story of faith, science, grief, depression, addiction and, most of all, love.”