new england literary news | Nina maclaughlin

Why beavers matter; snapshot of history through furniture; Nantucket book fest

Eager beavers

There are about 15 million beavers in North America, give or take, up from a population of about 100,000 at the turn of the 20th century, when trappers had decimated their ranks in wetlands and streams around the country. It’s a wildlife success story, says Northampton environmental journalist Ben Goldfarb in his new book, Eager: The Surprising Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter’’ (Chelsea Green), but we still have a long way to go.

In his snappy, bright, and informed work, Goldfarb makes a strong case for why beavers are “ecological and hydrological Swiss Army knives,” able to tackle all sorts of problems. “Trying to mitigate floods or improve water quality? There’s a beaver for that.”

His writing is sharp and specific — the beaver isn’t some scrawny water rodent, but a “dense bolus of muscle and fat and milk chocolate fur,” weighing as much as a golden retriever, “the linebacker of the animal kingdom.”


“Appetite for Construction’’ is a chapter title, but the humor throughout does nothing to belittle the science and depth of research behind the book and its claims. The book lodges itself among the ranks of the best sort of environmental journalism and alerts us to how these creatures — and our relationship to them — can get at issues of river restoration and climate change. He’ll read and discuss the book at the Hingham Public Library on July 17 and Harvard Book Store on July 31.

A key moment in Boston history told through furniture

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A new piece of Boston’s furniture-making history is revealed in Robert D. Mussey Jr. and Clark Pearce’s handsome and comprehensive new book, Rather Elegant Than Showy: The Classical Furniture of Isaac Vose,’’ just out from Godine. The volume looks at the work of Vose, a top craftsman in late 18th- and early 19th-century Boston, largely forgotten, and reveals how his pieces — sideboards, card tables, bureaus, secretaries, and sofas, made primarily of mahogany — were favored by the Boston elite. Besides being a look at Vose’s skill, the book examines his relationship to his workers, many of whom were immigrants, and is a portrait of a formative time in Boston history “when the town became a city,” as Massachusetts Historical Society President emeritus Dennis M. Fiori puts it in his foreword. An accompanying exhibition, “Entrepreneurship & Classical Design in Boston’s South End: The Furniture of Isaac Vose & Thomas Seymour, 1815-1825,” runs through Sept. 14 at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Nantucket Book Festival

This coming weekend, authors will appear at the seventh annual Nantucket Book Festival, which runs June 15-17 at locations throughout the island. The theme of the opening night celebration is “Difference Is What Unites Us,” bringing together Andrew Solomon (Far and Away’), Imbolo Mbue (Behold the Dreamers’’), and Min Jin Lee (Pachinko’’). Readings, signings, and casual get-togethers at bars include Morgan Parker (There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé’’), Claire Messud (The Burning Girl’’), Eileen Myles (Afterglow’’), James Wood (Upstate’’), Dava Sobel (The Glass Universe’’), Jane Alexander (Wild Things, Wild Places’’), Nathaniel Philbrick (Second Wind’’), and many others. Most events are free, and a complete schedule can be found at

Coming out

Homelands: Four Friends, Two Countries, and the Fate of the Great Mexican-American Migration’’ by Alfredo Corchado (Bloomsbury)

The Shutters’’by Ahmed Bouanani, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan (New Directions)


You’re on an Airplane: A Self-Mythologizing Memoir’’ by Parker Posey (Blue Rider)

Pick of the week

Brenna Bellavance at the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vt., recommends The Order of Time’’ by Carlo Rovelli (Riverhead): “I think the mark of a true genius lies not in one’s ability to understand complex and difficult ideas, but in the ability to explain them, simply, to those of us who don’t speak the language. Rovelli not only manages this, but does it with such eloquence and grace that bending one’s brain to revisit how we perceive time becomes something less an agony and more a genuine pleasure. Physics as translated through poetry.”

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