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Rattlesnakes, Ploughshares, and Print in Portland

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The Southern geographic variant of the timber rattlesnake.public domain

Tale of the timber rattler

After a public outcry, the state of Massachusetts earlier this year withdrew its plan to raise timber rattlesnakes on an island in the Quabbin Reservoir that is closed to the public. The state had hoped the protected habitat might help boost the state's rattlesnake population.

Massachusetts and other New England states command prominent attention in the new book "America's Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake'' (University of Chicago). Timber rattlesnakes — called "as American as apple pie'' by author Ted Levin — were originally found in 31 states, but the population has been in decline since Colonial times. They are extinct in Maine and Rhode Island and endangered in the other New England states. In Massachusetts, it is legal to kill a timber rattlesnake if it's an act of self-defense.


Levin has worked as a zoologist at the Bronx Zoo. Among the threats the snake faces are fatal fungal infections, automobile traffic, and inbreeding.

A reader of Levin's book might conclude that rattlesnakes have a lot more to fear from humans than humans have to fear from rattlesnakes but reason doesn't always prevail in discussions about snakes. As Levin writes, "Once you get to know timber rattlesnakes, it's hard to remain neutral; they're venomous and potentially deadly, no question, but they're also beautiful, helpful, long-lived, social, mellow . . . and predictable.'' Because they are creatures of habit who don't stray far from home, Levin changed some names and locations in his book to protect the rattlesnakes.

Ploughshares celebrates 45 years

Ploughshares literary journal is celebrating its 45th anniversary with an issue of prose guest-edited by Cambridge literary powerhouse couple novelist Claire Messud and critic James Wood. Their intention, they write, is to bring to the issue "an internationalism of voice and material, to suit a reality that is at once local and increasingly global and complex.'' Writers from Algeria, Australia, Bulgaria, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom are contributors, and the issue includes new fiction by 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen and Lydia Davis, master of the super-short short story. Davis's four new stories are "delicate as clouds, brief as a change of weather,'' in the words of the co-editors. Ploughshares, based at Emerson College, was founded in Cambridge. The issue, published July 15, can be bought online at


Veteran booksellers Emily Russo and Josh Christie are planning to open a bookstore called Print in downtown Portland this fall. They''ll get a helping hand from Emily's father, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Russo, who will interview first-time writers as part of the shop's author series. The 2,000-square- foot store at 237 Congress St. will sell children's and adult titles and offer programming for both audiences. Russo has worked at Odyssey Bookstore in South Hadley and Greenlight Bookshop in Brooklyn. Christie is a former manager and buyer for Sherman's Maine Coast Book Shops, most recently at the shop's Exchange Street location in Portland.

Coming out

“White Bone’’ by Ridley Pearson (Putnam)

“Here Comes the Sun” by Nicole Dennis-Benn (Liveright)

“The Imperial Wife’’ by Irina Reyn (Dunne)

Pick of the week

Lisa Fabiano of An Unlikely Story in Plainville recommends "The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper'' by Phaedra Patrick (Mira): "Arthur Pepper has finally gotten around to cleaning out his deceased wife's clothes when he comes across her charm bracelet. The charms pique his curiosity about the life his wife led before they met. Thus begins an adventure that will have Arthur learning to embrace life more fully.''


Jan Gardner can be reached at