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NEW ENGLAND LITERARY NEWS

Of snails, Shoebert the seal, and histories of New England

Shoebert, once the star attraction at Beverly's Shoe Pond in September, is now the subject of a children's book.Josh Reynolds

Consider the snail

The humble snail, slicking its glittering slime across the rock, shell house coiled above it, moving at its own time scale. More than 750 species of snails made their home on Hawaii. Now, almost two-thirds of them are gone, most lost within the last century. The snail is disappearing from this earth at a higher rate than any other species. Why? What’s bringing about the decline? What does it mean? In “A World in a Shell: Snail Stories for a Time of Extinctions” (MIT), Sydney-based field philosopher Thom van Dooren aims his attention at the snail, and tries to answer these questions, looking at a 19th-century shell-collecting craze among missionary settlers; the tearing down of forests for timber and agriculture; climate change; and the ways introduced predators — rats, chameleons, and a carnivorous snail called the rosy wolfsnail — have played a role in the large-scale snail loss as well. He telescopes out from there, looking at the ways the massive forces of globalization, colonization, and militarization are knotted up with both conservation efforts and extinction. Keeping what species remain alive “will mean learning to see and value snails in new ways,” van Dooren writes. And such is what his book achieves, proving, clearly and convincingly, that to look closely at something is to come to know it as remarkable. And it’s worth paying attention, because the snails, and other invertebrates, are “at the core of vital ecological functions that we … are utterly dependent on.”

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Shoebert the Seal gets picture book treatment

Back in September, a 230-pound seal found its way to a pond in Beverly. From the sea, it swam up the Bass River, took a turn into a culvert, and arrived at Shoe Pond, thereby becoming a local celebrity, and dubbed Shoebert. From there, in another unexpected turn, the adventurous seal made his lumbering way to the police station where he was then transported to Mystic Aquarium. A new children’s book, published by Industry Books, which is run by the owners of the Book Shop of Beverly Farms, tells the story of Shoebert’s adventures. “Shoebert the Traveling Seal,” written and illustrated by North Shore native Sarah Hastings, is told in lively rhyming verse, and follows Shoebert, with his soulful eyes, from the ocean, to the pond, then his unlikely trundle to the precinct parking lot, on to Mystic Aquarium, and his eventual release back into the sea. The store is donating one dollar from each sale to Mystic Aquarium. They sold out of their first print run of 500 copies, which means “we’re already well over $500 in donations to the Mystic Aquarium,” write Sam Pfeifle and Hannah Harlow, owners of the book shop, “which isn’t bad for a little 1,000 square-foot bookstore in Beverly Farms.”

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Historic New England honors histories of the region’s architecture, crafts, and landscape

Historic New England recently announced the winner of its 28th annual Book Prize, which this year goes to “Boston’s Oldest Buildings and Where To Find Them” by Joseph M. Bagley (Brandeis University). The prize is given every year to a book that “advances the understanding of life in New England” through architecture, landscape, and material culture. The organization commended Bagley’s book for adding “to our knowledge of Boston’s architectural history” and expanding “our understanding of the social, economic, and demographic shifts that account for each of the building’s changing fortunes.” The book also looks at the people who lived in these buildings, as well as the neighborhoods where they now stand. The honored books also included “Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories” by Pamela Parmal, Jennifer Swope, and Lauren Whitley (MFA Publications), and “Urban Archipelago: An Environmental History of the Boston Harbor Islands” by Pavla Šimková (University of Massachusetts).

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Coming out

“The Waste Land: A Biography of a Poem” by Matthew Hollis (Norton)

“What the Ear Hears (and Doesn’t): Inside the Extraordinary Everyday World of Frequency by Richard Mainwaring (Sourcebooks)

“Simply Korean: Easy Recipes for Kimchi, Noodles, Soups, and More” by Aaron Huh (Alpha)

Pick of the week

Stef Kiper Schmidt of Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, N.H., recommends “The Book of X” by Sarah Rose Etter (Two Dollar Radio): “If you like the stories of Kelly Link and Carmen Maria Machado but think, hey these could be weirder, then ‘The Book of X’ is for you. Can you deal with a woman whose torso is twisted into an X? What about a family that farms meat, like they have a meat quarry where the meat grows and they harvest it by cutting it out of the rock? It’s absolutely revolting. Have I lost you yet? If not, this book is for you. Etter has written this strange and beautiful thing — both a polemic on the demands placed on women’s bodies and a truly moving story.”

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