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New England Literary News

An exhibit that combines books and nature, a richly told history of Necco, a community cookbook from Maine

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord's "Chambered Congruity" appears at an exhibit at the Arnold Arboretum.Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord/Arnold Arboretum

Books of life and living

We know the shape of a book: a spine and binding, covers, front and back, the pages fluttering in between. An exhibit of artists’ books at the Arnold Arboretum showcases the range of possibilities for the shape of books to take. The in-out folds of accordion; pages like petals opening in a flower; a cover made of a nest of seeds. In “The Nature of Art/The Art of Nature” fourteen members of New England Book Artists translated their individual idea of nature into the form of a book. Stephanie Stigliano’s “Mead & Moonshine” brings to mind the hexagonal beeswax caverns of a beehive, as well as middle school cootie catchers; its patchwork panels show pollinators and blooms, a honeyed sense of relationship and action. In Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord’s “Chambered Congruity,” the textured pages of a book sit nestled in a swell of pods from a sweet gum tree, a spiky nest that somehow also resembles a cloud. Lilypads spill from their box on umbilical strands, waterlilies bloom, and a sense of attachment and float comes from Rebecca Goodale’s “Nymphaea Ieibergii, Pygmy Waterlily.” The browns and grays in James Reid-Cunningham’s “Ashes” suggest the late stages of a bonfire, and its upward lift speaks to rising smoke. The piece captures the mothy, post-fire feel. The exhibit will be on view at the Arboretum’s Hunnewell Visitor Center through September 5. For more information, visit arboretum.harvard.edu.

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Sweet history

Necco Wafers, those dusty chalky candy discs with their mysterious, hard-to-place flavors and muted, dusky colors, were distributed to Union soldiers during the Civil War and called “hub wafers” at the time. The company was founded in 1847, with the confectionary firm based in Boston. And from 1927 to 2003, the wafers were produced and headquartered on Mass Ave. in Central Square. Time was the scent of their sweetness drifted down the street. In “Necco: An Epic Candy Tale,” Darlene Lacey celebrates the sweet, and gives a loving and engaging history of when Necco — short for New England Confectionary Company — was as an institution locally and nationally. The book is rich with photographs and illustrations, of the unmistakable packaging, ads from the archives, and images of the factories. You can almost feel the crack of the candy between the teeth and smell their subtle candy smell. And as for the flavors? The buttery yellow is lemon; the pale green one, lime; the peachy one, orange. The light purple is clove. The snow white one is cinnamon. The Pepto-pink one is wintergreen. The brick colored one is chocolate. And the blue-slate is licorice.

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Community of cooking

There’s a humility to the community cookbook, to the compilations of recipes collected and collated and often sold to benefit a group or organization, and it’s a humility that belies its power. Its power to capture, in the ingredients and instructions, in the shared history of preparing food, a specific place, a specific group of people, and the sacred practice of gathering around a table. “Maine Community Cookbook Volume 2,” compiled and edited by Margaret Hathaway and Karl Schatz (Islandport), includes 200 recipes that highlight and celebrate food traditions in the Pine Tree State. There are the full chapters on blueberries (including cobbler, buckle, and grunt), apples (pandowdy, pudding, kuchen), and lobster (thermidor, chili, tails with kelp pesto). Besides a great range of stories and dishes from Maine families in each of the state’s 16 counties, the book includes recipes by a 101-year-old lobsterwoman named Virginia Oliver, the former senator Olympia Snowe, and the historian Heather Cox Richardson. It’s a book of great bounty.

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Coming out

Mothby Melody Razak (Harper)

Brightby Kiki Petrosino (Sarabande)

Dead End Memoriesby Banana Yoshimoto, translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda (Counterpoint)

Pick of the week

Jacob Fricke at Hello Hello Books in Rockland, Maine, recommends “The Third Person” by Emma Grove (Drawn & Quarterly): “In the dark days of 2004, a young trans woman is trying to convince her therapist that she’s worthy of HRT. One hitch: she alternately shows up as the sunny, confident, stubborn Katina, the self-effacing Emma, and the depressive workaholic Ed, and shares no memories between these personae. Is her transmasc therapist, who could use a little validation of his own, in way over his head? And if the woman’s personae aren’t ‘real’ but clearly mean something to her, what will become of her alter-ego ‘best friends?’ This graphic novel memoir is seriously brilliant, folks.”

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