Book Bag

Last modified: Wednesday, November 07, 2012

By Karen Osborn

Vandalia Press


Amherst novelist Karen Osborn’s new book, “Centerville,” opens with a bang — literally.

In a Midwest town in 1967, a man leaves behind a homemade bomb in a drugstore where his estranged wife works. When it detonates, it kills his wife and a dozen other people and upends the lives of others, revealing fault lines in their relationships.

Elizabeth, the wife of the now-dead drugstore owner, realizes her marriage had been failing. Bert, her teenage daughter, takes out her anger and grief on her mother and her best friend, Sandi. And Sandi believes her father, the town minister, is more concerned with other people’s welfare than her own in the wake of the bombing.

Meanwhile, the minister is forced to confront his own connection to the tragedy: The bombing suspect is a former parishioner named George Fowler, and the minister wonders if he should have been more aware of Fowler’s marital problems.

Osborn, a visiting professor of English at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, based “Centerville” in part on her own experience. As a teenager in 1967, she was about to go into a drugstore in her own Midwestern hometown but for some reason did not, which may well have saved her life: A bomb tore apart the store minutes later.

Osborn will read from and sign copies of “Centerville” at Amherst Books Thursday at 7 p.m.


By Maya Janson

Hedgerow Books/Levellers Press


Maya Janson, a community health nurse and lecturer in poetry at Smith College in Northampton, has published her first collection with Hedgegrow Books, the literary and poetry division of Levellers Press of Amherst.

The poems in “Murmur & Crush” look at the world with both seriousness and a sense of humor. Janson, of Florence, is dismayed by environmental abuse and the relentless pace of modernity, but she also writes about finding joy in unexpected places and savoring the moment.

In “Forged,” the narrator returns to a place once seen through a child’s eye and reflects on the quest for identity: “The field where your brother once clubbed a nest of hornets / is now a road besieged by split-levels. / Here’s the place in the woods where you found / a stack of National Enquirers, where you read / beneath a beech that a man locked in a sauna became / a human lobster ...”

As one critic writes of the collection: “These poems are sensual, dark, whimsical, intelligent — full of delight and abandon while at the same time precise and expertly made.”

Janson will read from “Murmur & Crush” at the Smith College Poetry Center Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.


By Russell Steven Powell

Book Hollow Press


Hatfield writer and documentary filmmaker Russell Steven Powell has worked for years in agricultural education, including directing a nonprofit group that promotes the region’s apple industry. He’s drawn on that experience to write “America’s Apple,” an illustrated celebration of the colorful fruit and its history in the United States.

In “America’s Apple,” Powell examines all aspects of the apple industry, such as the myriad challenges growers face, from the vagaries of weather, to animal and insect pests, to competition from other fruits. There’s a perennial problem, Powell writes, for many growers when it comes to harvesting their crop: “Not many people are physically able or willing to pick apples.”

Powell traces his own background in the subject — several generations of his family managed apple orchards or were otherwise involved in farming — and he examines the legend of John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, the Massachusetts man who planted dozens of apple orchards in the eastern U.S. in the early 1800s.

Powell will read from and discuss “America’s Apples” Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Hadley Public Library.