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Book Bag: ‘Air Logic’ by Laurie J. Marks; ‘Hearth and Soul: A History of the Jones Library at One Hundred’ by Bruce Watson

Published: 6/14/2019 9:39:33 AM


By Laurie J. Marks

Small Beer Press

In 2002, fantasy writer Laurie J. Marks offered the first book in an ambitious series (called “Elemental Logic”) of an imaginary land, Shaftal, a formerly peaceful nation that has been overrun by the Sainnites, a warrior people who now rule Shaftal with an iron fist. 

“Fire Logic” was the first of four planned books in the series, each named after a basic element of life: fire, earth, water and air. And the series, published in part by Small Beer Press of Easthampton, initially came out at a regular clip, with “Earth Logic” arriving in 2004 and “Water Logic” (published by Small Beer Press) in 2007.

There’s been quite a gap in getting to “Air Logic,” the fourth and final book of the series, but it’s now arrived, along with new editions of “Fire Logic” and “Earth Logic” by Small Beer Press. “Air Logic” is also published by Small Beer.

Marks, who teaches English at the University of Massachusetts Boston, has received high praise over the years for the series; one critic called “Fire Logic” a “delightful, feminist fantasy epic featuring a ragtag bunch of misfits, swashbuckling, romance, and some weird elemental magic.”

It’s not lighthearted reading, though. The series opened with the Sainnite armies having invaded Shaftal, a land where magic is a huge part of people’s lives. The Sainnites, hating this magic, killed off Shaftal’s witches, but some of the Shaftal children still have magic in their blood, and they use it to help build a guerilla movement to fight back against the Sainnites, which produces new cycles of violence.

In a Q&A on her website, Marks addresses some of the mayhem her characters are subjected to. “It's because terrible things happen in war zones, not because I like misery and horror. In fact, I had to rewrite certain scenes many times because I couldn't bring myself to make things as awful as they needed to be.”

In “Air Logic,” one of the central characters in the series, a witch named Karis, is trying, along with some of her allies, to restore the shattered legacy of Shaftal and create a new world for its people and Sainnites alike. But it’s a tough task that must contend, among many things, with what one reviewer describes as “a traitor from within their own home who threatens not only to undo all their efforts at peace, but also the bonds of their family.”

“This final book goes one step further to champion the value of long, committed friendships as equal to, and sometimes even superior to, the passions of romantic love,” says Kirkus Reviews. “Shaftal is a convincing world, lovingly detailed and fiercely envisioned.”



By Bruce Watson

Off the Common Books/Levellers Press

To recognize its 100th anniversary, staff at the Jones Library in Amherst decided to commission a short history of the library, and to do it they turned to a writer who’s done much of his work inside that very building: Bruce Watson, a former humor columnist for the Amherst Bulletin.

It’s a good choice. Watson has written a number of acclaimed books on history as well as numerous articles for publications ranging from Smithsonian magazine to The Los Angeles Times to the Wall Street Journal. In “Hearth and Soul: A History of the Jones Library at One Hundred,” he brings both his dry wit and a good sense of historical context to help make the library’s story a lively read.  

As Watson writes in an introduction, the Jones has “grown in its first century from a second-floor space in an old hotel to span fifty thousand square feet, from four thousand to a quarter of a million items.”

The library, he notes, owes its name and origin to Samuel Minot Jones, who grew up in Amherst in the 1840s and 1850s, served in the Union Army in the Civil War, and later made a fortune in the construction business while living in Chicago. Jones returned to Amherst regularly to visit family, and in the early 1900s, legend has it he had a conversation with an old friend, George Cutler, Jr., while the two walked along Amity Street, where the library now stands. Jones asked Cutler how he might help his old hometown, and Cutler suggested funding a library.

Jones, whose wife and son both died close to the time he did, ended up leaving almost $662,000 to the town — the equivalent in 2018 of $10.7 million, Watson writes — and in 1919 plans were drawn up to create a major library in town center (Amherst had four tiny libraries at the time, counting one at Amherst College and another at “Mass Aggie,” the forerunner of the University of Massachusetts). This new one would not just be a “storehouse for books,” though, but a place to sit and read, as the Jones’ first director, Charles Green, put it.

The Jones had two temporary locations (one of which burned down) in town before the current building opened in November 1928. Watson takes the story through the years, noting how the Jones became home to collected works by Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Robert Francis, Julius Lester and others (the book includes photos of Frost and Francis in the library) and how the library weathered trends such as the introduction of cheap paperback books and television that saw circulation fall off.

The library has continued to reinvent itself and broaden its mission over the years, Watson writes, to meet new community needs “[i]n an increasingly cluttered age” — from hosting children’s activities and English classes for immigrants to offering computer use and audio-visual items. He notes that the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, in a short story, once wrote that though the human species might seem to “teeter on the edge of extinction,” libraries — “enlightened, solitary, infinite, perfectly unmoving, armed with precious volumes … will endure.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at

All sales of “Hearth and Soul,” which costs $14, will benefit Friends of the Jones Library. The book is available at the library, Amherst Books, and Collective Copies.




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