From the woods
“I never know what I’m going to find in the woods—it’s a queer place,” writes Gretchen Legler in her new book, “Woodsqueer: Crafting a Sustainable Life in Rural Maine” (Trinity University). She moved with her partner to Maine from Alaska, buying 80 acres of woodland with a house and a shed. In the two decades since, they’ve worked together to make gardens that would feed them all year, raised goats, hunted, hiked, and connected with the varied and abundant life around them. Legler, who teaches at the University of Maine in Farmington, has written a warm and clear-eyed book about her experiences, detailing an intimate connection to place and people as Legler and her partner opt for a slower pace, closer to nature. Even in its challenges, she makes a strong case for the deep value in knowing the plants and animals where you live, the joy and compassion that knowledge and connection provokes, not just for the sparrows, the milkweed, the doe, but also for one another and for our own selves. Legler has an abiding faith in the “things we cannot see or prove,” and the book is as much a case for the soul-level nourishment and healing that is possible when we’re open to learning from land, as it is a description of the texture of life lived that bows away from the pace and ease of modern life, and how it offers, over time, a bridge to “the pulsing, thrumming energy” that joins us all, human, plant, creature.
History of Kendall Square
Kendall Square, a pocket in Cambridge where world-altering developments are made, has a long history of being a national leader. In the early 20th century, it was soap-making, candies, printing, and high-tech rubber. Now, biotech dominates the neighborhood, and its small size — one square kilometer — belies the influence and impact of the ideas that rise from it. “Where Futures Converge: Kendall Square and the Making of a Global Innovation Hub” by Robert Buderi (MIT Press) is a biogeography of the area, a compelling history of the place, and a lively portrait of what it is today. He treats the area as an ecosystem, one that’s in constant flux. “The story of Kendall Square is one of relentless change and evolution,” he writes. He talks with professors, entrepreneurs, members of the Kendall Square Association, historians, scientists, in trying to understand what makes the place what it is, as well as the challenges it faces: it has some of the highest rent in the country, people can’t afford to live there, it’s dead in the evenings and on weekends, lowering the opportunity for serendipitous encounters that lead to bigger brainstorms and even more fresh ideas. And he looks towards what’s possible in Kendall Square’s future, making stronger links between the science and the humanities, and continuing to change the ways the world approaches climate change, medicine, energy, transportation, and tech. It’s not only a look the biotech jungle, but a history of some of the most important developments in the last century.
In 2018, Chloe Maxmin defeated a Republican challenger in a campaign for the Maine House of Representatives in Augusta, a rural and deeply red district, becoming the first Democrat to do so. In 2020, she defeated the incumbent Senate Minority Leader. The success of these campaigns is the subject of “Dirt Road Revival: How To Rebuild Rural Politics and Why Our Future Depends on It,” written by Maxmin and her Harvard classmate and campaign manager Canyon Woodward (Beacon). The book is a lucid look at rural America, and reads as a thrilling political story, told with warmth and smarts. It reveals the lessons they learned, approaching their campaigns “determined to figure out a new theory and practice for a Democratic resurgence in rural America.” Their on-the-ground, person-to-person approach has led to a lively, informative look at how Democrats might approach the rural red parts of the country. “Shake enough hands and the hands shake you.”
“Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces” by Elamin Abdelmahmoud (Ballantine)
“We Measure the Earth With Our Bodies” by Tsering Yangzom Lama (Bloomsbury)
“Rainbow Rainbow” by Lydia Conklin (Catapult)
Pick of the week
Josh Cook at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, recommends “Revenge of the Scapegoat” by Caren Beilin (Dorothy): “What does it feel like to be held responsible for a world you have no power over? A wildly original, darkly funny, occasionally unsettling story of burden, patriarchy, art, escape, and cows that step on your heart if you lie down in their field. A surprise in plot, image, and phrase on every page. ‘Revenge of the Scapegoat’ is unlike anything you’ve ever read.”
Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren.” She can be reached at email@example.com.