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New England Literary News

An anthology of New England food writing, a tribute to a pathbreaking bookseller, and new poetry

Marshall Smith, founder of the Brookline Booksmith, died earlier this month at age 90.COURTESY OF JED SMITH

Stories about food, life

Writer and editor Deborah Joy Corey, in the preface to a new book of essays she co-edited with Debra Spark, writes that the phrase “food insecurity” doesn’t get to the heart of what it is to feel hunger, to not know if you have enough to eat. In “Breaking Bread: Essays from New England on Food, Hunger, and Family” (Beacon), Corey and Spark gather almost 70 writers reflecting on the ways food plays into the strongest moments and memories of our lives, both warm and dark. Phuc Tran writes of his mother’s way of making pizza: ketchup on white bread with a slice of American cheese in the toaster oven. Kate Christensen writes an ode to the humble PB&J, “a classic three-ingredient dish of peerless perfection, an alchemy of texture and taste.” Reza Jalali writes of the secrets and storytelling of the kofta, a large stuffed meatball, her mother made. For Susan Minot, when she remembers the food she was raised on, “I am not nostalgic; I am appalled.” Ron Currie writes of his mother working as a lunch lady at his middle school cafeteria. The anthology also includes pieces by Lily King, Roxana Robinson, Jonathan and Desmond Lethem, Arielle Greenberg, Bill Roorbach, Mary Plouffe, and Jennifer Finney Boyle, among others, and is a tender and varied look at the place food occupies in our memories and lives. Proceeds of the book will benefit Blue Angel, an organization founded by Corey which delivers fresh, local foods to local homes in Maine.


A bookstore pioneer

Marshall Smith, the longtime co-owner of the Brookline Booksmith, died earlier this month at age 90. At age 29, he left his job on Wall Street to open the Booksmith. Originally called Paperback Booksmith, the store opened in 1961, the first of a chain of 75 stores in the northeast. Besides a successful entrepreneurial career, Smith was a dedicated civil rights activist, and his passion and politics are part of the abiding spirit of the Booksmith to this day. He served as chairman of the board of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, was the founder of a prison books program, and chairman to what would become the Diversity and Inclusion Committee in Brookline, among other roles. In a statement, Smith’s son Jed quoted his father: “Over the decades the Booksmith was filled with drama, outrage, sadness, excitement and great changes in the world of civilizations: the Civil Rights Movement; the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; the Black Panthers; the Hippy upheaval; the Vietnam War; assassinations of MLK, RFK; the Watergate scandal and more . . . We reflected on all of that.” Jed Smith suggests that “it is these roots that helped the Brookline Booksmith become a cultural center for the Town of Brookline and eventually Greater Boston.” Certain bookstores, especially ones with creaky floors and an energy of welcome and curiosity, are hallowed spaces. Such is the Booksmith.


Debut poetry collection

In her moving and powerful debut collection, “When Light Shifts: A Memoir in Poems” (Kelsay), Jennifer L. Freed writes of her mother’s cerebral hemorrhage and its aftermath. She captures the surreality of the world continuing to spin in the midst of crisis. Her mother has a stroke on the driveway, as “The chipmunks raced on round the junipers. / The sun went on bleaching the clapboards.” A matter-of-factness speaks to the gravity of the moment: sometimes facts are all we can express. Freed’s poems are precise, but never unfeeling, and she is alert to the moments when words won’t take us where we need to go. These poems operate in the deepest wells of experience: fear and frustration and love and pain. “If I can name what I miss, / will I know where to look — / how to find it in her?”


Coming out

This Body I Woreby Diana Goetsch (FSG)

You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beautyby Akwaeke Emezi (Atria)

Nightcrawlingby Leila Mottley (Knopf)

Pick of the week

Nancy Brown at RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut, recommends “The Colony” by Audrey Magee (FSG): “There are layers on layers here — art, revolution, passion and cheating, who is lying to whom, and how much do we lie to ourselves. The writing is soothing until we realize that the people we want to trust are willing to sacrifice anyone and anything for their art. What price are we willing to pay for creativity and fame?”

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