Shelf Life

Friends in the wilderness

Theodore Roosevelt admired Maine guide William Sewall (above) for his pioneer spirit. Theodore Roosevelt admired Maine guide William Sewall (above) for his pioneer spirit. (Donna Davidge-Bonham/ Sewall House)
By Jan Gardner
Globe Correspondent / April 4, 2010

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Theodore Roosevelt was a student at Harvard in 1878 when he met Maine guide William Sewall, who described him as a “thin pale youngster with bad eyes and a weak heart.” The following year the two embarked on an eight-day hike that included climbing Mt. Katahdin, a trek that Roosevelt completed wearing moccasins because he dropped one of his shoes while crossing a stream.

The lifelong bond the two forged has been mentioned by a number of Roosevelt biographers, including Carleton Putnam who wrote that Sewall was for Roosevelt “a prototype that fortified his faith in the essential soundness, hardihood and moral strength of the American Pioneer.”

Now the friendship between Sewall and Roosevelt is fully explored in “Becoming Teddy Roosevelt: How a Maine Guide Inspired America’s 26th President” (Down East) by Andrew Vietze, a Maine guide and ranger in Baxter State Park.

When Roosevelt was elected president, he invited Sewall and his family to the White House from time to time. At one reception, Sewall said, “I’m mighty glad to have come and seen it and it’ll give me something to talk about for all the rest of my life, but I’d rather go fishing for a steady thing.”

Spoofing race and religion
David Reich, formerly an editor at UU World magazine published by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, has written a satirical novel about race, a liberal religion, and office politics. “The Antiracism Trainings” (BlazeVOX) is set at the Beacon Hill headquarters of a magazine that bears a strong resemblance to UU World. (Full disclosure: I wrote a few articles for the magazine in the 1990s when Reich worked there.)

“I don’t think it’s any secret that the UUA held antiracism trainings, required staffers to attend, and they drew resistance,” said Reich, who will read from his novel at 7 p.m. Friday at Jamaicaway Books & Gifts, 676 Centre St., Jamaica Plain.

Murder or mercy killing?
The care that patients receive at the end of their lives is among the most highly charged issues in the furor over health insurance reform. In “No Good Deed: A Story of Medicine, Murder Accusations and the Debate Over How We Die” (Harper), Dr. Lewis M. Cohen lays out the issues in the contentious debate over end-of-life care as he examines a murder investigation at the Springfield hospital where he works.

In 2001, two nurses at Baystate Medical Center were accused of murdering a patient; the charges were dropped after months of investigation. The patient’s health problems included kidney failure, emphysema, high blood pressure, and a number of broken bones from a car accident. When the district attorney asked the patient’s son, “What would you say if I told you that someone gave your mother too much morphine?” he responded, “To be perfectly honest with you, I would like to know who it was so I could say thank you.”

Coming out
■ “Dimanche and Other Stories” by Irene Nemirovsky (Vintage)

■ “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” by Seth Grahame-Smith (Grand Central)

■ “Cat of the Century” by Rita Mae Brown (Bantam)

Pick of the week
Karen Harris of Andover Bookstore in Andover recommends “Anthill” by E. O. Wilson (Norton): “Three parallel viewpoints of ants, developers, and environmentalists — are woven together in this novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer, who turns to fiction at age 81. Wilson tells the wonderful story of a young boy from Alabama who grows up to do battle to save his beloved forest.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at