Shelf life

The Leominster grave of Joseph Palmer, a Massachusetts rebel persecuted for wearing a beard. The Leominster grave of Joseph Palmer, a Massachusetts rebel persecuted for wearing a beard.
By Jan Gardner
February 8, 2009
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Blue lines
"Six Writers in Search of a Little Action" at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education is being advertised as an evening of humorous readings on love, sex, and rejection. Charles Coe, a never-been-married middle-aged man, and Elizabeth Searle, founder of PEN New England's series of erotic readings, are among those who will be making their confessions beginning at 7 p.m. Friday at the Cambridge Center, 42 Brattle St. Cost is $14.

Lives transformed
The story behind the publication of Lisa Genova's debut novel, "Still Alice," is as dramatic as the trajectory of the life of its protagonist, an Alzheimer's patient. In 2007, Genova, who lives in Chatham, self-published her novel with iUniverse. The following year Simon & Schuster paid Genova about $500,000 for the rights. The book recently hit The New York Times bestseller list.

Genova was inspired to write the novel (see a review in "Short Takes," Page L5) after witnessing the decline in her grandmother, who had Alzheimer's disease. Having earned a PhD in neuroscience at Harvard, Genova understood the science behind the disease. Yet she wanted to know what Alzheimer's felt like for the patient.

After consulting scientists, doctors, and people with early-onset Alzheimer's, Genova created the character of Alice Howland, a respected Harvard professor in her 50s who is married and has three grown children. Howland initially chalks up her disorientation and forgetfulness to being overworked. Then a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's plunges her and her family into uncharted territory.

Millions of readers 6 years old and up have been carried away by Mary Pope Osborne's series of "Magic Tree House" books, in which a structure in Jack and Annie's yard transports the siblings to other times and places. They meet William Shakespeare, discover mummies in Egypt, explore Antarctica, and get swept up in a hurricane in 1800s America.

On Saturday, Osborne and her husband, Will Osborne, will make an appearance and sign books in Wellesley. Visit for details. The following weekend "Magic Tree House: The Musical" will take to the stage at the Colonial Theatre. Co-written by Will Osborne and Randy Courts, the musical debuted in Torrington, Conn., not far from the Osbornes' home, in Goshen.

Independent minds
"Massachusetts Troublemakers: Rebels, Reformers, and Radicals From the Bay State" (Globe Pequot), by Paul Della Valle, highlights a few little-known figures from the 1800s. One is Joseph Palmer, a member of the Fruitlands utopian community, who was persecuted for wearing a beard. Another is Elihu Burritt, a blacksmith who was fluent in 50 languages. His League of Universal Brotherhood attracted tens of thousands of followers in America and Europe.

Coming out
"A Rose by Any Name: The Little-Known Lore and Deep-Rooted History of Rose Names," by Douglas Brenner and Stephen Scanniello (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)

"Murder at the Academy Awards," by Joan Rivers (Pocket)

"War Child: A Child Soldier's Story," by Emmanuel Jal (St. Martin's)

Pick of the week
Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books, in Mystic, Conn., recommends "Disquiet," by Julia Leigh (Penguin): "It's a wonderful, atmospheric novella about loss: loss of a parent, a love, and a child. In this gothic tale, a dead baby is kept in the freezer because its mother cannot let go, and a stranger keeps calling on the phone. Leigh's prose holds you in tense suspense with vivid imagery."

Jan Gardner can be reached at

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