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    new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

    Rediscovering the father of the new left; running a tree farm

    Emmet Van Driesche writes about life on a Christmas tree farm in his new book.
    Timothy Wilcox
    Emmet Van Driesche writes about life on a Christmas tree farm in his new book.

    A Marcuse moment

    The 1960s counterculture movement was fueled in part by the ideas of radical philosopher Herbert Marcuse, an impassioned voice arguing against technology, consumerism, and capitalism, all of which he viewed as tools of mass social control. He was an enemy of the Nazis, and his own ideas were, in turn, opposed by Nixon’s first vice president, Spiro Agnew, then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan, and the American Legion. The Klan threatened to kill him.

    Unsurprisingly the anti-authoritarian Marcuse is currently having something of a moment. Enter Boston cartoonist Nick Thorkelson, whose new book is “Herbert Marcuse: Philosopher of Utopia, A Graphic Biography (City Lights). Thorkelson’s loose and lively drawings depict the progression of Marcuse’s life and thought, from his Weimar Germany kidhood, to his relationship with Heidegger, to his reception and growing fame in Europe and the United States. The book achieves a difficult balance — at once heady, humorous, and accessible. Thorkelson will read and discuss his work (which includes a preface by academic and activist Angela Y. Davis) on May 28 at 7 pm at Harvard Book Store.

    Life on the tree farm

    Emmet Van Driesche runs a Christmas tree farm with his wife Cecilia in Western Massachusetts, and his new book, Carving Out a Living on the Land: Lessons in Resourcefulness and Craft from an Unusual Christmas Tree Farm(Chelsea Green), out this week, lays a groundwork on his specific approach to farming. “Our farm is a living example of how to make a landscape economically productive while at the same time respecting the function of a complex ecology.”


    Van Driesche couples a respect for physical work and a clear-headed pragmatism, and his discussion of coppicing (his trees grow from stumps), tying wreaths, and carving spoons, reminds one of the pleasures to be found working with one’s hands with the materials of the earth. The lessons here, cleanly told, serve the aspiring farmer, small business owner, and demonstrate not just how to run a farm, but how to build a sustainable and deeply satisfying life with the skills you have, and the ones you can learn.

    Telling stories for a good cause

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    The guiding vision of RIA House in Framingham is “a world where people are not victimized, exploited, bought or sold for the sexual gratification of another person.” The service organization works to support survivors of the commercial sex trade, particularly those who’ve experienced exploitation and trafficking. An upcoming fund-raiser brings together a dozen poets, writers, and spoken-word performers for an evening of “Stories I Haven’t Yet Told.” The writers include Lisa Borders, Elizabeth Searle, Tova Mirvis, Harold Cox, winner of this year’s MassMouth Big Mouth Off, Emily Cherin, Brendyn Schneider, Jon Mattleman, Christopher Boucher, Catherine Con, Yvette Modestin, Toni Rose, and Joseph Corazzini. The event takes place Wednesday, May 29 at 7 p.m. at the Regent Theatre in Arlington. Tickets are $45 ($25 for students and seniors). For more information visit

    Coming out

    On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeousby Ocean Vuong (Penguin)

    “A Tradition of Rupture” by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated from the Spanish by Cole Heinowitz (Ugly Duckling)

    Mare Nostrumby Khaled Mattawa (Sarabande)

    Pick of the week


    Kim Knowlton at Wakefield Books in Wakefield, R.I., recommends The Bridge Homeby Padma Venkatraman (Nancy Paulsen): “The latest from local [R.I.] author Padma Venkatraman is an amazing middle-grade novel about two young sisters who must survive the harsh realities of the city on their own. On their journey they meet two homeless boys and the four of them, along with an unforgettable street dog, form a makeshift family. A moving book about friendship, grief, resilience, and joy.”

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