“The Overstory” by Richard Powers in a new Arnold Arboretum exhibit
“What you make from a tree should be at least as miraculous as what you cut down,” writes Richard Powers in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2019 novel “The Overstory.” Artist Diane Samuels has made something at least as miraculous. Samuels has created a scroll, 160 feet long, writing out “The Overstory” in its entirety in tiny script across swaths of rich texture and color, and it’s on display now at the Arnold Arboretum. Some sections approximate the look of bark: striated, active, living. Tiny lines spread across the scroll like mycelia, the sub-soil threads that connect life to life; leaves feature on the back of the scroll. Samuels employs woodblock prints, drawings, and words on layers of paper and silk. Mulberry paper is used for the prints on the back side in a nod to the mulberry tree grown by the father of one of the main characters in the book. The tip-to-tip height of the scroll is the height of a small coast redwood, one of the defining trees of Powers’s book. “I have been to the redwoods,” Samuels has said in an interview. “I have stood in front of the giant and seen what tiny specks we are compared to trees.” “The Overstory by Richard Powers” will be on display at the Arboretum through January 30. For more information, visit arboretum.harvard.edu.
“Ancient Lives” from Yale University Press
“Ancient Lives,” a new series from Yale University Press, looks at the “thinkers, writers, kings, queens, conquerors, and politicians” from across the ancient world, delving into their humanity and creating biographical portraits with psychological depth and insight. The series launches with Francine Prose’s “Cleopatra: Her History, Her Myth,” out earlier this month, in which she considers “what it has meant for our understanding of Cleopatra to have had her story — her history — so often told by writers who had a political agenda, by authors who distrusted her motives, by chroniclers who were suspicious of her public and private behavior, and by historians who, to put it bluntly, believed she was a liar.” Prose looks at the works of Plutarch, Shakespeare, and Shaw, as well as more recent representations of the Egyptian queen in film, art, and theater, to create a nuanced portrait of a powerful woman of enduring fascination. The series also includes Emma Southon on Agrippina the Elder, James Romm on Demetrius, Sarah Ruden on Vergil, Toby Wilkinson on Ramesses the Great, and Peter Stothard on Horace, among others. Prose will be in a virtual panel with Stothard and Romm this Tuesday, November 29, at 5 pm. To register, visit oblongbooks.com/event. And for more information on the series, visit yalebooks.yale.edu.
A seasonal celebration of children’s books in Concord
The Concord Museum is filled with Christmas trees, thirty-four altogether, each one bedecked with ornaments that take inspiration from beloved children’s books as part of the 27th annual “Family Trees: A Celebration of Children’s Literature,” which runs through January 2. Some of the books include “Imagine a WOLF: What Do You See?” by Lucky Platt; “If I Built a House” by Chris Van Dusen; “Memory Jars” by Vera Brosgol; “One Million Trees” by Kristen Balouch; “The Puffin Keeper” by Michael Morpugo, illustrated by Beni Davies; and “The Lost Words” by Robert Macfarlane, illustrated by Jackie Morris. Award-winning author and naturalist Sy Montgomery has been selected as this year’s honorary chair, part of a list of honorees that includes Tomie dePaola, Gregory Maguire, and Jane Yolen, among others. Montgomery will appear as part of an “Afternoon with Authors and Illustrators” event taking place next Sunday, December 4, from 1-3 pm. She’ll be joined by Jannie Ho, Shawn Fields, Lucky Platt, Susan Edward Richmond, Linda Boot Sweeney, Melissa Stewart, and Maggie van Galen. For more information and a complete list of books, visit concordmuseum.org.
“How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures” by Sabrina Imbler (Little, Brown)
“Animal Life” by Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir, translated from the Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon (Black Cat)
“Eat Your Mind: The Radical Life and Work of Kathy Acker” by Jason McBride (Simon & Schuster)
Pick of the week
Yu-Mei Balasingamchow at Papercuts in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, recommends “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” by Ken Liu (Gallery/Saga): “Utterly magical science fiction that makes you think AND feel. They immerse you in deeply technological worlds, yet are always anchored in matters of the human heart. Some stories dip into mythology, others transport us across time and space to explore the meaning of consciousness and the self. All told in a gentle, mesmerizing voice. I loved reading them, and I still love rereading them.”