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new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

Honoring children’s book biography of Nimoy; deadly mishaps on Mount Washington

Leonard Nimoy pictured in 2009. ap file photo

A ‘Fascinating’ life

Each year as a part of the Great Reads program at the Library of Congress National Book Festival, every state offers a book that highlights its literary culture and history. At this year’s festival, which takes place in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 1, Massachusetts will celebrate “Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy’’ by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Edel Rodriguez (Knopf).

The picture book is a biography of the inimitable actor best known for playing Spock on the hit TV series “Star Trek.’’ It focuses on his childhood in Boston and growing up Jewish, the son of Ukrainian immigrants.


Michelson, who lives in Northampton, has produced a sensitive and intelligent portrait of the young boy paying particular attention to his perseverance and dedication to following his dreams. Other Massachusetts writers participating at the Festival will include Celeste Ng, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Joseph Finder, Patrick Downes, and Jessica Kensky.

Chronicling the challenge of climbing Mt. Washington

Mount Washington is a veritable dwarf compared to Everest, Denali, K2. But the nearly 6,300-foot peak in New Hampshire has some of the most extreme weather on the planet. It holds the record for the second highest wind gust ever recorded at 231 miles per hour. And though four miles sounds like a manageable distance to walk up, with an elevation gain of 4,000 feet and weather that can shift with speed and force, it’s a hike riddled with hazards for newbie day trekkers and veterans alike. Randi Minetor’s new book, “Death on Mount Washington: Stories of Accidents and Foolhardiness on the Northeast’s Highest Peak’’ (Lyons) relays the tales of the fatal mishaps and missteps of a number of Mount Washington climbers (along with the Mount Adams death of Kate Matrosova as that case answers the question: “Why on earth would someone walk out in these mountains for an extended solo hike in the coldest months of the year?”). Chapters are broken down by types of accidents — falls, falling objects, drownings, avalanches, hypothermia, skiing disasters — as well as stories of hikers gone missing. The book includes a list of every fatality between 1849 and 2017, along with tips on how to stay alive (don’t hike alone; know your limits; dress in layers, bring first aid and more food than you think you’ll need). In highlighting the risks of the mountain and telling stories of the people who perished, Minetor inspires, guides, and warns.


War and poetry

Brookline poet laureate Zvi Sesling’s new collection of poetry, “War Zones,’’ published by local publisher Nixes Mate Books, is a potent and plainspoken grapple with combat, the before, the during, the after. The book serves as a lament and a critique, with its anger and pain made clear in wrought, restrained lines. In the opening poem, “Eleven Guys, USN, 1968,’’ Sesling creates character sketches that feel like full biographies in 10 lines. “If ever there was an alcoholic it was Stark”; “Commander Balls was the leader.” A resignation defines the book, a continued sense of “war never ends, just shifts battlefields” and “Inside the head the war rages on.” A series on the Vietnam Memorial is particularly strong: “just names and tears from those who stare at the names.”

Coming out

Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises’’ by Rebecca Solnit (Haymarket)

So Far So Good’’ by Ursula K. Le Guin (Copper Canyon)


The Wildlands’’  by Abby Geni (Counterpoint)

Pick of the week

Meghan at Sherman’s in Maine recommends “Hunting and Gathering” by Anna Gavalda (Riverhead): “A redemptive French novel about depressed weirdoes who find fulfillment in their togetherness. Dark and heartwarming! The nice, wary feeling of slowly backing up from the lip of a deep hole.”

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