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new england literary news | Nina maclaughlin

BC professor’s Gorey turn; Newton high schooler’s children’s book on disability

A page from Paul Lewis’s new picture book, “A Is for Asteroids, Z Is for Zombies: A Bedtime Book about the Coming Apocalypse.’’

A picture book on the apocalypse

The literary bent of Paul Lewis, a Boston College professor and president of the Poe Studies Association, sometimes tilts gothward, and the publication of his new picture book is well-timed for Halloween — as well as for this global moment of feeling as if we’re nearing end times.

Featuring the elegant and grisly illustrations of Ken Lamug, “A Is for Asteroids, Z Is for Zombies: A Bedtime Book about the Coming Apocalypse’’ (Andrews McNeel) has the sinister humor of Edward Gorey, the (“pre-Disneyfied,” as Lewis puts it) darkness and violence of the Brothers Grimm, and the subversive feel of Adam Mansbach’s “Go the F**ck to Sleep.’’

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Amid all the recent disasters, natural and political, people are walking around holding a lot of horror in their heads, he explains, and his book serves as a kind of antidote. Take this entry: “O is for oceans/ Expanding and hot./ Reefs bleaching, whales beaching,/ Fish living? Guess not!” This is a book of gallows humor, says Lewis, who led the charge for the creation of the statue honoring Poe in Boston. But even gallows humor is a “desperate strategy,” he explains. “It doesn’t get you off the gallows, but it lets you laugh a little bit while you’re there.”

Lewis will read from his book on Saturday, Nov. 4 at 3:30 pm at the Boston Public Library.

Raising disability awareness

Fourteen-year-old Melissa Shang made headlines in 2013 when she and older sister Eva created a petition calling for American Girl, the makers of pricey, prized dolls, to create one with a disability. The petition went viral and cemented Shang, now a freshman at Newton South High School who has a form of muscular dystrophy called Charcot-Marie-Tooth, as a disability-rights activist. Her resume includes speaking on disability representation in children’s literature at the United Nations, as part of the TEDx-Youth program, and introducing Malala Yousafzai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, at a National Constitution Center talk. Despite the nearly 150,000 signatures on their American Doll petition, the sisters failed to persuade the company to adopt their doll idea. Undeterred in their efforts to raise disability awareness, the two wrote a book, “Mia Lee Is Wheeling Through Middle School’’ (Woodgate). The story follows sixth-grader Mia Lee who’s just starting middle school, wants to be a stop-motion filmmaker, and also happens to use a wheelchair. Shang will read and discuss her book on Thursday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. at Newton South High School; a donation of $10 is requested to benefit the Newton-based organization Understanding Our Differences.

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A real success story

Over the past 11 years, Steve Fischer has had a front-row seat in the surprising resurgence in interest in local bookstores. Fischer, 67, who recently announced his retirement, has been the executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association since 2006. He is credited with starting the All About the Books program, which brings authors with forthcoming titles and introduces them to area booksellers. “That’s where we all got to know Amor Towles, Geraldine Brooks, Sy Montgomery, Richard Russo,” he says over the phone from his office in Cambridge. Fischer says bookselling has changed quite a bit during his tenure. “When I took this job, we were coming out of a bad economic time,” he says. “Retail was battered; stores were closing. And I have to say, I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted how many healthy independent bookstores are still alive and still thriving. We’ve got a new generation of booksellers, and new stores are opening.’’ A story with a happy ending.

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Coming out

“Why Bob Dylan Matters’’ by Richard F. Thomas (Dey Street)

“Sometimes I Think About It’’ by Stephen Elliott (Graywolf)

“The World Goes On’’ by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes, Ottilie Mulzet, and John Batki (New Directions)

Pick of the week

Marika McCoola at Porter Square Books in Cambridge recommends “There’s a Mystery There: The Primal Vision of Maurice Sendak’’ by Jonathan Cott (Doubleday): “Highly recommended for anyone interested in children’s literature, illustration, or storytelling. In each chapter, Cott speaks with a different expert on Sendak’s masterpiece “Outside Over There,’’ examining the book through different lenses. Cott did a number of interviews with Sendak and his quotes fill the pages. The result is readable, compelling, and inspiring.”


Nina MacLaughlin can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.