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new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

A treatise on sound, a spiritual revolution, and a walk in the woods

Cambridge-based musician and writer Damon Krukowski’s new book “Ways of Hearing” explores how we hear. Naomi Yang

Sound thinking

Ways of Hearing ,” a book based on the podcast of Cambridge-based musician and writer Damon Krukowski of Galaxie 500 fame, and published this spring by MIT Press, is such an intelligent examination how technology has changed what we hear and how we hear it. It’s not a grumpy lament nor an extended bemoan of what we’ve lost with analog giving way to digital; instead, it’s a clear-eyed look at how our experience with sound has changed. The movement to digital, Krukowski argues, has changed not just our relationship to noise, but to time, space, love, money and power. Trading “broadcast for podcast,” he explains, means that we no longer experience time together. He pulls in André Breton, Dave Grohl, Red Sox announcer Joe Castiglione, and his own mother, a jazz singer. The book is filled with images — record covers, diagrams of the ear, vintage shots of CBGBs — and, coupled with the spliced in bits of interview and dialogue, is a rare, multi-sensed reading experience. Just as John Berger, in his “Ways of Seeing ” showed us new ways to experience visual art, Krukowski is a thoughtful guide, leading us to consider new ways of understanding sound. He’ll read and discuss the book at the Brookline Booksmith on Thursday at 7 p.m.


Believe what you will

Boston University law professor and Peabody-Massachusetts raised Jay Wexler’s latest book, “Our Non-Christian Nation: How Atheists, Satanists, Pagans, and Others Are Demanding Their Rightful Place in Public Life ” (Redwood), out this week, explores the shifting battle lines between church and state, detailing how the Supreme Court has “torn down the wall of separation,” and the ways in which “Atheists and other non-Christians have taken advantage of this post-separationist legal regime to participate in public life alongside the Christian majority,” as well as the ways, positive and negative, they’ve been received. Wexler, a self-described atheist who has a master’s in religious studies from the University of Chicago, has made a timely, at times funny, and compelling piece of reportage looking at a variety of religious groups, as well as a strong argument for the importance of a pluralistic society, urging non-Christians to “demand their equal place” in the public square.


Thoreau back

In 2014, a group of activists, scholars, and members of the Penobscot Nation retraced Henry David Thoreau’s journey through the Maine Woods, a backcountry expedition through a landscape that Thoreau both feared and revered. A new collection of essays, “Rediscovering the Maine Woods: Thoreau’s Legacy in an Unsettled Land ” (University of Massachusetts), came about in part in result of that 2014 summer, and gathers a number of voices exploring the tensions that define the area now as they did in Thoreau’s time. Edited by John J. Kucich, the essays reveal “not a place apart, cast in amber and insulated from the modern world, but rather as a region that has taken shape in a complex relationship with the people whose lives are tied to its woods and waters.” As a whole, the book is a conversation between past and present, between the natural world and its human inhabitants, exploring what this wilderness means, now, then, and looking forward.

Coming Out

No Matter by Jana Prikryl (Crown/Duggan)

If: The Untold Story of Kipling’s American Years by Christopher Benfey (Penguin)

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei (Top Shelf)


Pick of the Week

Jimmy Pazlick at Tri5ent Booksellers in Boston, recommends “Your Black Friend and Other Strangers” by Ben Passmore (Silver Sprocket): “Ben Passmore has a talent for making political education into vibrant storytelling. Or, at the very least, he has an eye for drawing the art out of tense political situations. His comic style will enthrall you, his stories will make you think, and his analysis will light a spark in your soul.”

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