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Book Bag

BROTHERS: ON THE COLT BROTHERS
AND BROTHERS IN HISTORY

By George Howe Colt

Scribner/Simon & Shuster, Inc.

George Howe Colt’s memoir of his family’s generational summer home, “The Big House,” was a National Book Award finalist in 2003. Colt, of Northampton, has again mined aspects of his family’s history — and the histories of several notable people — in his new book, “Brothers.”

Colt traces the relationships among himself and his three brothers, a story that includes familiar sibling connections — adoration, jealousy, compassion, resentment and respect. The second oldest boy, Colt was an artistic type who at first revered his older brother, Harry, especially his ability at sports.

But growing up in the turbulent 1960s, when his father’s business career meant frequent moves for the family, Colt also wondered about his place in the picture: “Part of the reason I craved attention was that with three young boys in one house, I harbored the suspicion that there might not be enough to go around and I’d better make sure I got my fair share.”

In examining how he and his brothers shaped one another, Colt also looks at the ways several famous brothers impacted each other’s lives. In alternating chapters, he tells the story of people like the famous Booth brothers of mid 19th-century America: Edwin, considered the greatest actor of his day, and John Wilkes, another talented thespian who achieved lasting fame for assassinating President Lincoln.

There are also portraits of Vincent Van Gogh and his younger brother, Theo, whose financial and emotional support was crucial to the painter’s success; Henry David Thoreau, haunted and inspired by the death of his older brother, John; and the fabled Marx brothers, who off the stage competed for women, money and fame.

Colt weaves these narratives together in a way that one reviewer says makes him “a master at balancing the personal and the universal ... the book makes a powerful case for sibling rivalry — and love — as a driving force not just in individual lives but in the world.”

Colt will read from “Brothers” on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley; the event requires purchase of the book or $5 admission. He will also read from his book at Broadside Bookshop in Northampton on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.

DANNY’S MOM

By Elaine Wolf

Arcade Publishing

www.authorelainewolf.com

Northampton writer Elaine Wolf, a former high school teacher and reading specialist, published a young adult novel, “Camp,” earlier this year about a teenage girl’s struggle against bullying. Now Wolf revisits that theme in her first adult novel, “Danny’s Mom,” a story that also examines other tensions at work in a modern high school.

Beth Maller, a high school guidance counselor, has just returned to work after the death of her teenage son, Danny, in a car accident. She’s still blanketed with grief: She blames her husband, Joe, for having allowed their son to drive in a snowstorm the night of the accident, while blaming herself for not having spoken up more forcibly against that decision.

Yet her emotional turmoil somehow gives Beth a more clear-eyed view on what’s happening at Meadowbrook High School — and it’s not pretty. Mean girls are relentlessly bullying a talented younger student, Liz, who turns to Beth for help. Someone has also hung a sign on the gym teacher’s office door, calling her a pervert because she’s a lesbian.

The macho assistant principal tries to shut Beth down when she says school officials need to speak out about this ugliness; the milquetoast principal’s main concern, meanwhile, seems to be to keep the problem as quiet as possible. And Beth’s relationship with her husband is crumbling after their son’s death: “Our marriage wasn’t strong enough to hold catastrophe.”

As she grapples with life without her son and growing turmoil at work, Beth must make tough decisions on whether she should speak out and reassess her own priorities — and in doing so risk her career, her reputation and her marriage.

Wolf will read from and sign copies of “Danny’s Mom” at a book launch Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Broadside Bookshop in Northampton. She will also discuss her book on the Bill Newman Show on WHMP-AM Monday at 9 a.m.

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