New England Literary News | Nina MacLaughlin

A global collection of hair; a Q&A on Mount Desert Island

Hair from John Quincy Adams pictured in “Specimens of Hair: The Curious Collection of Peter A. Browne.”
Hair from John Quincy Adams pictured in “Specimens of Hair: The Curious Collection of Peter A. Browne.”(Blast Books)

Peter A. Browne, a naturalist born in 1782, had an obsession with hair.

He collected samples from people and animals all over the world, hoping his “pile,” as he referred to his collection (from the Latin pilus for hair) would help answer questions about human evolution.

He put together 12 volumes of samples, from the manes of lions, the fleece of sheep, from men and women around the globe: artists, criminals, writers, ministers, carnival workers, lunatics, as well as locks from the first 14 US presidents.

Specimens of Hair: The Curious Collection of Peter A. Browne’’ (Blast), released last month, offers a look at Browne’s inventory. Written by Robert Peck, it’s beautifully, meticulously photographed by local photographer and artist Rosamond Purcell, celebrated for the depth of detail in her nature photography.


In the strands and curls and whisps and fuzz, in the coarse, the beardy, the satiny, the blond, brown, strawberry, black, and shades in between, we see the animal in us, our shocking fur. The volume is at once both exquisite and grotesque, which, it turns out, can also be said about hair itself.

Q&A about Acadia

Jean Marie Ivey and Donna Marie Lee set the stakes of their new book, Facts and Fancy’’ (Page) from the outset: “The purpose of this book is to provide practical information as well as to weave history with the experience of natural beauty” of Acadia National Park, a resource and guide for those who live on Mount Desert Island, and those who visit. The book is organized by questions about flora, fauna, history, and myth. So, “How did the Porcupine Islands get their name?” Turns out it has to do with a legend of Asticou, chief of the Penobscot Tribe, who was annoyed at being followed by a pack of porcupines and threw them into the bay. Both playful and informative — “How did the mountains get their names?” “Are there otters in Otter Creek?” “Eagles at Eagle Lake?” — the book celebrates a shining gem of the Northeast and advocates for continued stewardship.


North Shore bookstore news

Dogtown Books in Gloucester has new owners, who took over last month at the start of the holiday shopping season. Caroline Harvey, a lifetime Gloucester resident and Berklee professor, and Lucas Cotterman, a lighting director for rock bands, took the reins from Bob Ritchie, who retired. They aim to focus on customers by widening some aisles and bringing authors in for events.

Last holiday season, John Hugo, owner of bookstores in Beverly, Marblehead, and Andover, opened a pop-up shop in Rockport to fill the gap left by the closing of Toad Hall. Though they made some money, it was clear from the holiday sales that the spot likely wouldn’t support a year-round store. He’s trying again with a pop-up, this time in Amesbury. The temporary shop opened right before Thanksgiving at 41 Main St. And, like last year, future plans will depend on how things go in the coming weeks.

Coming out

Advanced Love’’ by Ari Seth Cohen (Abrams)

Mothers Over Nangarhar’’ by Pamela Hart (Sarabande)

The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai’’ by Ha Jin (Pantheon)

Pick of the week

Nichole at White Birch Books in North Conway, N.H., recommends Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire’’ by Susan Tan, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte: “This is today’s ‘Harriet the Spy.’ Stories about her biracial family’s traditions, her soon-to-be-born little sister (who she’s named The Blob), and how she dealt with being bald until she was 5 will have you laughing along with Cilla.”


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Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at