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A Sampling of Regional Books: Home, Heart, Race and More

For such small states, New Hampshire and Vermont have an outsized population of writers and artists, with a prodigious output. Some of that may be due to New England’s literary heritage, or the number of fine colleges and universities or, perhaps, the long winters and relative isolation.

What else is there to do here in the winter but hole up with a pen and paper, or a computer? The weather is frequently terrible, it’s miserably cold and for many, there’s little in the way of tempting distractions. Judging by a recent influx of books, writers have been hunched over their keyboards, hearing the call of the muse. Here’s a listing of some recent, noteworthy books.

∎  Howard Mansfield’s Dwelling in Possibility: Searching for the Soul of Shelter (Bauhan Publishing). Mansfield, the author of In the Memory House, Skylark and The Bones of the Earth, lives in Peterborough, N.H., with his wife, writer Sy Montgomery. Mansfield is a perceptive writer about an American sense of place, and how people pass through and how they settle down.

Dwelling in Possibility is a collection of essays about how we think about home. He looks at the development of home decorating, clutter versus order, the way that World War II generals on both the Allied and Axis sides targeted people’s homes for destruction in massive air bombing campaigns, and the efforts to build New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Mansfield is that rara avis, an eloquent master of the discursive essay.

∎ Steerforth Press of Hanover has just released The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan, a novel about the fall out from the 2008 global recession, which hit Ireland hard, and its rural areas even harder. Ryan uses the voices of 21 different characters to tell the story of a small community that had banked on the pre-recession housing bubble.

The Spinning Heart won the Guardian First Book prize in 2013 and Book of the Year from the Irish Times and it was on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize. A review in the Guardian wrote, “What is so special about Ryan’s novel is that it seems to draw speech out of the deepest silences; the testimony of his characters rings rich and true — funny and poignant and banal and extraordinary — and we can’t help but listen.”

Mixed: Multiracial College Students Tell Their Life Stories, edited by Andrew Garrod, Robert Kilkenny and Christina Gomez. Cornell University Press. A fascinating collection of reminiscences edited by Garrod, a professor emeritus of education at Dartmouth College. Students write about what it’s like to come from a multi-racial heritage in an era that is allegedly post-racial. Turns out, as you’d expect, that there really is no such thing in America as post-racial, and that questions of self-identification are very complex.

What is it like to be a light-skinned African American, or a dark-skinned African or a Danish-Moroccan or a Cherokee-Chinese-African-American in American society, and in the relatively insular world of Dartmouth College? How do the markers by which we’re primarily defined in society — gender, race, sexuality — complement and tussle with each other?

∎ Poet Jeff Friedman, who lives in West Lebanon and teaches at Keene State College, has a new book called Pretenders (Carnegie Mellon University Press), which is his sixth collection of poems. Friedman’s humor is here in abundance, as is his exploration of male and Jewish identity. Poet Carol Frost praises the way Friedman’s “conversational ease has lifted into fable.”

∎ In The Sugar Season (Da Capo) , journalist Douglas Whynott, who lives in Langdon, N.H., in the lower reaches of Sullivan County, looks at the lore, science and e tradition of maple sugaring in New England, which has come down through generations of families. What does climate change augur for the sugaring industry? Why are there maple syrup rustlers? Whynott has written for the Boston Globe, Outsider magazine and Smithsonian.

∎ Poet Peter Money, the guiding force behind Harbor Mountain Press in White River Junction, which publishes the work of international poets, has a new book titled American Drone, his first volume of poetry in some time. Former Maine poet laureate Baron Wormser says, “Peter Money has taken on full-bore, straight-up, flat-out the necessary charge to the poet in these global/electronic times. ... He has the chops and range...from page-long, all-verbal-hands-on-deck meditations and urgings to brief, exquisite lyrics (Peter Money has) an enormous appetite for language as a transfiguring force.”

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com .