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    the new englad literary news | NINA MACLAUGHLIN

    Books that can change your life’s path and celebrating indie booksellers

    Lemonheads drummer David Ryan contributes an essay in which writers reflect on a work that altered their life.
    Lemonheads drummer David Ryan contributes an essay in which writers reflect on a work that altered their life.

    Books that
    left an imprint

    “Certain books change you,” writes author, editor, and former Lemonheads drummer David Ryan in his new essay coming out as part of Ig Publishing’s Bookmarked series in which writers reflect on a work that altered their life. Ryan, who moved to Boston from Illinois at 17, writes of Malcolm Lowry’s seething modernist masterpiece, “Under the Volcano.’’ Also contributing to the series is Jaime Clarke, novelist, editor, and co-owner of Newtonville Books, who writes on “The Great Gatsby.’’

    These aren’t academic, insidery essays. They speak to the fervency of youth and being moved by particular pieces of writing. Ryan recalls the “engine of Desire” in “Volcano’’ and being “blinded by the heat of what I was internalizing.” The reader gets a sense not only of the dreamy-nightmare quality of the book, but also a thoughtful look at the madness of stage life and being on tour. “You find yourself lost in the middle of the night with a bunch of people and you realize you don’t know a single one of their names. You realize you don’t know what city you’re in.”

    Clarke’s look at “Gatsby’’ takes us from a fancy prep school to Phoenix to an Alaskan fishing boat and eventually to Emerson College and Newton, where he happens upon Newtonville Books, “Boston’s answer to Shakespeare & Company.” He tells the story of a romance with a Mormon girl named Jenny: “I was convinced that Jay Gatsby was me, and Jenny was Daisy, and it wasn’t money that was keeping us apart, but Mormonism.” Both books are passionate, probing looks at how certain books, read at just the right time, can change the trajectory of your days.

    Independent spirit


    Having a relationship with your independent bookstore is a little like being a regular at a bar. You walk in, are greeted by the booksellers, and instead of pouring your favorite drink, they pull a new release off the shelf and say, “You’ll love this.” No algorithm will ever make you feel as special. Next Saturday, April 29, is the day to celebrate your indie bookshop. Independent Bookstore Day started in California in 2014, and this year, nearly 500 bookstores across 48 states will celebrate with readings and special items for sale (including a signed, limited edition of an excerpt from Michael Chabon’s novel “Moonglow’’). In Jamaica Plain, Papercuts J.P. will offer cake and cocktails, and host Min Jin Lee, author of “Free Food for Millionaires’’ and the recent “Pachinko,’’ as a guest bookseller. Raise a glass to your local indie; or better yet, buy a book.

    Thoreau and trees

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    In “Thoreau and the Language of Trees’’ (University of California), writer and former Boston Globe reporter Richard Higgins culls a selection of Thoreau’s writings on trees from his voluminous journals. Higgins gathers a satisfying assemblage, one that showcases Thoreau’s deep reverence for the oaks and elms, pines and birches, rising into the sky in Concord. Short essays open each chapter, revealing Higgins to be a sensitive observer both of his environment and of Thoreau’s writing. “Old trees connected Thoreau to a realm of time not counted on the town clock,” he writes, “an endless moment of fable and possibility.” The book makes a fine companion to the recently released “Thoreau’s Animals’’ edited by Geoff Wisner (Yale). It jostles us awake and allows us to better see nature’s spires. As Thoreau counseled: “So let our life stand to heaven as some fair, sunlit tree against the western horizon, and by sunrise be planted on some eastern hill to glisten in the first rays of the dawn.”

    Coming out

    “The Worlds We Think We Know’’ by Dalia Rosenfeld (Milkweed)

    “Prose Architectures’’ by Renee Gladman (Wave)

    “Black Hole Blues (And Other Songs from Outer Space)’’by Janna Levin (Knopf)

    Pick of the week


    Roxie Mack of Broadside Bookshop in Northampton recommends “I Hotel’’ by Karen Tei Yamashita: “ ‘I Hotel; is a fictional account of the lives of Asian-American activists in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The story traces the intertwined lives of revolutionaries, in their contradictions and complexities, their elegant hipness, their naiveté, their courage. Yamashita brings to light intriguing parallels between the then-emerging Black Power movement and the Asian activists. A refreshing change from the usual mainstream offerings.’’

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