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Book Bag


Edited by Ronald Rice and Booksellers Across America

Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.


We’ve been hearing for years now about the struggles of independent bookstores, whether from competition from chains, the growing popularity of eBooks, or a general decline in readership. But in a new collection of essays, 84 writers from across the country sound off on what they find special about independent bookstores, including two popular area shops.

Martha Ackmann, a writer, commentator and public speaker on a number of women’s issues, provides a compelling mini-history of the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, tracing her long connection to the store, first as a student at Mount Holyoke College, also in South Hadley, and now as a good friend of the store’s owner, Joan Grenier.

Ackmann, who now teaches at Mount Holyoke, notes that the Odyssey has flourished for almost 50 years, surviving two fires and a challenging business climate. Along the way, she writes, it has earned a loyal regional following. “To a region that claimed Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and Richard Wilbur as locals, the Odyssey was the very embodiment of what residents valued: Literature was as important as breathing.”

Northampton children’s writer Jeanne Birdsall often seeks solace at her hometown store, Broadside Bookshop, particularly if she has hit an impasse in her work. “Reading is the best excuse for not writing,” she writes, and Broadside offers her lots of excuses, with its “floor-to-ceiling shelves on every wall plus extra shelves placed enticingly here and there, full of books that pull at me like sirens on the rocks.”

And Birdsall, author of the children’s book series “The Penderwicks,” praises the Broadside staff for their knowledge of books and their grace and charm at handling her and the other “local writers who wander in too often” to check on their sales.

“My Bookstore” also includes an essay by Hatfield wood engraver and book illustrator Barry Moser, who developed a friendship over the years with John Evans, owner of Lemuria Books in Jackson, Miss. — a friendship that was cemented during many book tours that took Moser to the store, and which helped introduce Moser to his future wife.

The Odyssey Bookshop will celebrate its 49th anniversary on Tuesday at 7 p.m. with music and food. At the event, Martha Ackmann will read her essay from “My Bookstore.”


By Marisa Labozzetta

Guernica Editions


Northampton novelist Marisa Labozzetta has previously written about Italian-Americans and their struggles to navigate the vicissitudes of modern life. In her new book, “Sometimes it Snows in America,” Labozzetta tackles a very different story: the saga of a young African girl whose life is turned upside down when she comes to America.

Fatma is born into luxurious wealth, the product of a powerful Somali general and a rich Saudi woman. But she is given away when she’s 3 days old to an aunt and uncle by a mother who doesn’t seem to care for her. Worse, she’s married off at age 12 to a young man, a Peace Corps worker, in a previously arranged marriage.

Later, Fatma will come to America with her husband, a place that will never quite seem like home: “She hobbled on one foot in America, while the other remained implanted in rich African soil soaked in tradition and human blood. ... Her African foot never caught up with the American one: it merely kept her displaced and off balance.”

The dramatic story of the rebellious Fatma covers 30 years and includes a miscarriage, attempted murder, alcoholism and jail. Fatma’s personal odyssey also mirrors the descent of Somalia into chaos and civil war: Labozzetta has loosely based her novel on the story of a real-life African woman who confronted cultural clashes and prejudice in her adopted home.

Labozzetta will read from her new novel at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Broadside Bookshop in Northampton. She will also appear on the Bill Newman show on WHMP-AM/FM at 9 a.m. Tuesday.


By Ronald Story

University of Massachusetts Press


Jonathan Edwards, one of Northampton’s most famous figures, has long been portrayed as a grim Calvinist, a preacher who railed about people’s sinfulness and the fires of hell that awaited them if they did not mend their ways.

But as Ronald Story sees it, Edwards, the 18th-century preacher who may be best known for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” was a more complex figure than history has painted. Story, a professor of history emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, writes in his new book, “Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love,” that Edwards had a deeper view of humanity and believed a love of God could translate to greater love between people — creating a world of charity, forgiveness and peace.

Story notes that the book grew out of his joining the congregation of First Churches in Northampton in the late 1990s — the site of Edwards’ church in the 1700s — where he began to study Edwards’ sermons and other writings. It was a revelation, he notes, one he felt he needed to write about to dispel the portrait he’d painted of the minister in a U.S. history textbook he’d previously written.

As he writes, “[My book] is ... my atonement for having helped perpetuate an unfair and misleading stereotype of a remarkable man whose lessons of charity, community and love we need now more than ever.”

Story will read from his new book Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Nielson Library at Smith College in Northampton.

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