The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamine Chan

The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamine Chan (Simon & Schuster, 325 pages)

Parents are more likely to have a child taken away from them by the government than by a stranger. Yet for most of us, Child Protective Services enters our consciousness only when we hear of its failure.

An alternate world is presented in Jessamine Chan’s debut novel, The School for Good Mothers, in which the state vastly oversteps its bounds and is given terrifying power over families when someone is accused of child neglect or abuse.

The story is about a single mother, Frida, who, overcome by exhaustion and stress, makes the shockingly bad decision to leave her toddler alone while she goes to get coffee and pick up some forgotten work at the office. Neighbors call the police when the child, named Harriet, starts crying.

When the police call Frida to say they have her child, she is overcome with guilt and rushes to the station, expecting to pick up her child after sufficient explanation and groveling. Instead, she finds herself in a cascading nightmare.

The police let Frida’s ex-husband, Gust, take Harriett to the home he shares with his young girlfriend. They tell Frida that she will have to convince Child Protective Services of her worthiness before she can have her child again. This isn’t just today’s Social Services, however, but a 1984-ish imagining of a state darkly empowered by surveillance technology and the belief that the state knows more about proper child-rearing than parents.

Soon after Harriett goes home, two men from Child Protective Services arrive to inspect her home and outfit it with cameras. They will be watching, even without Harriett in the home, in order to assess Frida’s fitness to mother her child. They explain that artificial intelligence will use the footage to analyze her feelings, that this will be fair because it eliminates human error.

Frida accepts this because she has no choice; it’s a condition for getting her child back. But so are monitored visits with Harriett with a social worker watching — visits in which she is expected to play with her toddler in her ex-husband’s house, the same daughter who now feels abandoned by her mother.

Not surprisingly, these visits go spectacularly poorly, and eventually Frida is deemed “insufficiently contrite” and a “narcissist with anger-management issues and … poor impulse control.” She is given her last option: to submit to a year’s stay at a state-run facility at which she and other mothers accused of neglect or abuse are taught how to be “good” mothers. At the end of the year, the state will decide whether she can have her child back.

Chan engages a politically fraught topic in the age of debate over free-range parenting, the ethics of nanny cams and other forms of surveillance, and whether parents or educators should decide what children are taught in public school. But she has crafted an elegant and engrossing story that only once steps out of the narrative (and then only briefly) to mention contemporary conflicts. Other than a few paragraphs, this is a story about Frida alone, and she is a complicated and bewilderingly sympathetic protagonist.

Although Frida insists she had one very bad day in her mothering career — her lawyer coaches her to call it a “lapse in judgment” — it was an extraordinarily bad day, and the fact that she had barely slept the night before does not absolve her of leaving a toddler alone in an exercise saucer for nearly two hours. Even though the child wasn’t hurt, it was a horrific offense, and it seems right that the state conduct a review for Harriet’s sake.

But compassion grows as we learn more about Frida’s circumstances — the discovery of her husband’s affair while she was still pregnant, the over-involved girlfriend who texts parenting advice to Frida and posts pictures of Harriett on social media, the shared custody arrangement that forces Frida to work while caring for a sick child on her own.

But again, there are no stereotypes here, just human beings in varying stages of imperfection. The father who left Frida also held her hand in divorce court; the girlfriend who seems to want the child for her own testifies on behalf of Frida’s parenting.

The only true villains here are the smug, condescending “playground moms” who look down on the parenting of others, and of course the state.

Its arrogant and overreaching arm, which coldly keeps Frida from the child who gives her life purpose and meaning, becomes so much of a villain that we wish the Avengers would swoop in.

Chan has a delicate touch and she refrains from overt moralizing; moreover, The School for Good Mothers is an extraordinary first novel because Frida is not one-dimensional. She did a terrible thing and we never really understand why she did it. But Frida is not quite an antihero, either; she loves her child desperately and did many things right before the state began training its eye on the things it believes she does wrong. As such, it’s a nuanced and intelligent novel that is also thoroughly absorbing, the sort of book you can breeze through on a weekend but will think about all the next week. A


Book Notes

Last week, we started running through a literal Book of the Month club for 2022, choosing the best-reviewed books that have a month in the title.

So far, we’ve had The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow; February House by Sherill Tippins; March: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks; One Friday in April by Donald Antrim; Eight Days in May by Volker Ullrich; and Seven Days in June by Tia Williams. On to the rest of the year.

July: The most recent is a book of poetry, July (Sarabande Books, 120 pages), published last June by New York writer Kathleen Ossip. NPR named it one of its “books we love.” But you can also go back to 2014 for the Tim O’Brien novel July, July (Houghton Mifflin, 322 pages), a story of 10 friends attending their 30th college reunion.

August: Snow in August (Little, Brown & Co., 320 pages) by the late Pete Hamill, former editor of the New York Daily News, is the best we can do, although this takes us back to 1997. It’s the story of a friendship that bloomed between an Irish Catholic boy and a lonely Brooklyn rabbi.

September: The Fortnight in September (Scribner, 304 pages) is a 1931 novel by R.C. Sheriff that was reissued last fall as a 90th anniversary paperback edition. NPR called it a “gift” that came back into the public consciousness during the pandemic. It’s also described as a “timeless classic” and is about a family of five vacationing on the coast of England.

October: The End of October (Knopf, 400 pages) by Lawrence Wright, a writer for The New Yorker, is about a deadly pandemic that begins in Indonesia and spreads across the world. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

November: November Road (William Morrow, 320 pages) is a 2019 thriller by Lou Berney. It’s set at the time of the John F. Kennedy assassination, and involves a mobster on the run who picks up a mother and kids on the side of the road and gives them a ride in exchange for his cover: disguising himself as an insurance salesman on a trip with his family.

December: Lots of choices here, many of them terrible, but let’s go with Lost in December (Simon & Schuster, 368 pages), a novelized retelling of the Bible’s “prodigal son” story by the wildly popular Richard Paul Evans, author of The Christmas Box. Scoff all you want, but it’s got five stars on Amazon. Guess we’ll need to read The Christmas Box, too.


Book Events

Author events

TOM RAFFIO Author presents Prepare for Crisis, Plan to Thrive. The Bookery, 844 Elm St., Manchester. Thurs., Jan. 27, 5:30 p.m. Visit bookerymht.com.

CHAD ORZEL Author presents A Brief History of Timekeeping. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Thurs., Jan. 27, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

ISABEL ALLENDE Author presents Violeta. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Sat., Jan. 29, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration and tickets required, to include the purchase of the book. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

JOHN NICHOLS Author presents Coronavirus Criminals and Pandemic Profiters. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Tues., Feb. 1, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

GARY SAMPSON AND INEZ MCDERMOTT Photographer Sampson and art historian McDermott discuss New Hampshire Now: A Photographic Diary of Life in the Granite State. Sat., Feb. 19, 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough. Visit monadnockwriters.org.

Poetry

ROB AZEVEDO Poet reads from his new book of poetry, Don’t Order the Calamari. The Bookery, 844 Elm St., Manchester. Thurs., Feb. 3, 6 p.m. Visit bookerymht.com.

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Online. Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. Bookstore based in Manchester. Visit bookerymht.com/online-book-club or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com/gibsons-book-club-2020-2021 or call 224-0562.

Out of Office, The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home, by Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen

Out of Office, The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home, by Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen (Knopf, 272 pages)

We are just now beginning to see how Americans’ work lives may have forever been changed by the pandemic, and in Out of Office, Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen craft a vision for how things could be better for the so-called “knowledge workers” who are able to do some or all of their jobs remotely. With some companies already announcing that they will be fully or partially remote even after the pandemic ends, this isn’t necessarily cause for celebration for people sick of working in their basements. But the authors begin by arguing that what we’ve been doing for the past two years isn’t truly remote work, but remote work during a stressful pandemic while homeschooling and wondering where the next roll of toilet paper is coming from. In other words, forget the past two years. Instead, dream with them about working fewer hours with no commute, fewer unnecessary meetings, more time to focus on the most important and fulfilling aspect of your job. It’s not The 4-Hour Workweek promoted by Tim Ferriss, but a more realistic fantasy.

And it’s necessary, the authors say, because the workforce is “collapsing” under the pressure of what they called fetishized standards of productivity and the hours we work: more than workers in other Western nations.

Among their points:

• To improve work life, we need not boundaries but guardrails. Boundaries are permeable. Guardrails protect. “Not because we’re fragile or undisciplined, but because the forces that undergird work today — especially the obsession with growth and productivity — are indiscriminate in their destruction,” the authors write. Other countries have guardrails that have been legislated, such as France, which passed a law in 2016 aimed at discouraging people who work at large companies from sending or replying to emails after working hours.

• Four-day work weeks can be achieved when companies eschew “faux productivity” and focus on getting important stuff done in less time. Companies can create policies that don’t accidentally discriminate — for example, childless people should be entitled to leave or sabbaticals without going to the trouble of having a baby. Like remote work, flexibility in employment is not necessarily a perk, the authors argue, but an opportunity to work 24-7. True flexibility would be like the software developer who gets much of his thinking done on a hiking trail, or the graphic designer who works for a few hours in the middle of the day, then three hours in the evening, building her day around the needs of her young children.

Companies like theirs operate with a culture of trust, “granting real freedom to make small and occasionally large decisions about when work should be done. … They’re focused not on immediate growth but on long-term vision: retaining valuable employees in a competitive industry.”

• Be suspicious of companies that present themselves as a family, rhetoric that emerged in the past half-century. “Treating your organization as a family, no matter how altruistic its goals, is a means of breaking down boundaries between work and life.” What many of us need is not a work “family” to compete with our own, but more emotional distance from all-consuming work.

In recent years, tech companies have normalized lavish perks that have contributed to this sense of work being a second home, from pool tables and pinball in break rooms, to free gourmet coffee and snacks, to bring-your-dog-to-work days. In order for a new hybrid model of work to succeed, offices need to be less appealing to workers, not more. Otherwise, remote workers already anxious about their relative invisibility, compared to people who keep showing up, suffer FOMO, fear of missing out, leading to even more stress. Companies need to create a culture in which there is truly a level playing field whether you’re remote or in an office building, Petersen and Warzel say.

• Remote workers contribute to their own stress by doing something that the authors call LARPing; the acronym stands for live-action role playing, and we do it at work when we become obsessed with constantly looking like we’re working, even when we ostensibly shouldn’t be. (An after-hours response to an email or Slack message is an example.) “A flare sent into the air to show you’re working incites others to send up their flares, too,” the others write.

In the end, Petersen and Warzel describe today’s knowledge workers as enduring a sort of carnival horror house of employment. In doing so, they make remote work sound worse than it is; there’s a reason so many workers are refusing to go back to the office, and it’s not all Covid-19-related. On the other hand, there’s also a reason for what’s been called the Great Resignation, and it’s not that we’re all clamoring to drive for Amazon.

Post-pandemic, we’re not going back to the lives we led in 2019, and Out of Office is part of the thoughtful conversation that needs to take place before we mindlessly take on other ghastly routines. Not every idea presented here is sterling; I’m deeply suspicious of the authors’ argument that cutting back on office time frees us to volunteer in our communities. That may solve some societal problems, but still leaves us with exhausted citizens. Also, the ideas presented in Out of Office may inspire hope among knowledge workers, but most have little power to change their own circumstances; it’s their bosses who need to read this book and sign on to the ideas. Workers can, however, help to foster change by thinking about why they revere hyperproductivity, a mindset the authors argue is a relic of the agrarian past. “Who would you be if work ceased to be the axis of your life?” they ask. While much of this book could be condensed into an article in The Atlantic, it’s good that the authors are posing the question they raise here. B-


Book Notes

Reader’s Digest Condensed Books are a thing of the past (we have SparkNotes with which to cheat-read now), but there are still “Book of the Month” clubs out there that offer to send you a book every month in the genre of your choice. Given that Americans read 12.6 books, on average, in 2021, according to Gallup,they’ve at least got the pacing down right.

But there’s another way to see books of the month — quite literally.

Last year, for example, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow came out in paperback (Redhook, 416 pages). It’s a well-reviewed novel about a 17-year-old girl from Vermont named January who finds a peculiar book that leads her on a fantastical adventure. Reviewers called it magical and inventive.

Let’s move onto February: February House (Mariner Books, 336 pages) is “the story of W.H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, under one roof in Brooklyn.” And you thought your bathroom was crowded. Sounds a bit like the Algonquin Roundtable, 24-7.

March: No way to begin spring without Little Women, so let’s do March: A Novel (Viking, 288 pages) by Geraldine Brooks, who envisions the Civil War experiences of the absent father of Meg, Beth, Jo and Amy.

April: One Friday in April: A Story of Suicide and Survival (W.W. Norton, 144 pages) is a gripping memoir by Donald Antrim, released last fall about his near suicide and struggles with depression.

May: Eight Days in May (Liveright, 336 pages) is another fall 2021 book that examines the collapse of the Third Reich. The author, Volker Ullrich, is a German historian, and the book was translated into English by Jefferson Chase.

June: Seven Days in June (yes, there’s a pattern here) is a celebrated novel by former beauty editor Tia Williams released last June (Grand Central Publishing, 336 pages). It’s about a pair of writers who had a fleeting romance as teenagers, then parted ways yet continued to write about each other in their books — while pretending not to know each other as adults.

Promising stuff here, if you missed these books when they first came out. Next week: July through December.


Book Events

Author events

TOM RAFFIO Author presents Prepare for Crisis, Plan to Thrive. The Bookery, 844 Elm St., Manchester. Thurs., Jan. 27, 5:30 p.m. Visit bookerymht.com.

CHAD ORZEL Author presents A Brief History of Timekeeping. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Thurs., Jan. 27, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

ISABEL ALLENDE Author presents Violeta. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Sat., Jan. 29, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration and tickets required, to include the purchase of the book. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

JOHN NICHOLS Author presents Coronavirus Criminals and Pandemic Profiters. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Tues., Feb. 1, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

Book Sales

USED BOOK SALE Used books for $1, $3 and $5. GoodLife Programs & Activities, 254 N. State St., Unit L, Concord. Jan. 10 through Jan. 21 (closed Jan. 17). Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit goodlifenh.org.

Poetry

CAROL WESTBURG AND SUE BURTON Virtual poetry reading hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Thurs., Jan. 20, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

ROB AZEVEDO Poet reads from his new book of poetry, Don’t Order the Calamari. The Bookery, 844 Elm St., Manchester. Thurs., Feb. 3, 6 p.m. Visit bookerymht.com.

Sweat, A History of Exercise, by Bill Hayes

Sweat, A History of Exercise, by Bill Hayes (Bloomsbury, 221 pages)

Every time a new study comes out about the benefit of exercise, there’s a sort of breathlessness about it, as if the authors have come across some undiscovered bit of wisdom that will change hearts and minds — and bodies.

Exercise does that, of course, but this is not a new development. Joe De Sena built a fitness empire on the concept of “Spartan Fit” and Sparta was last a player in ancient Greece. Most of us know at least a vague history of the Olympic games, and that physical fitness was a key component in the education of young men in ancient societies. “To achieve excellence, we first must sweat,” the Greek poet Hesiod wrote in 700 B.C.

It’s surprising, then, that when New York writer Bill Hayes set out to learn more about how exercise became a human compulsion, he found few contemporary histories on the subject, but found a comprehensive one written in 1573. Called De arte gymnastica (in English, the Art of Gymnastics), the work was compiled by an Italian physician, Girolamo Mercuriale, and written in medieval Latin. It was, Hayes would later be told, the sort of book that medieval intellectuals kept on their bookshelves but never read, “like the Bible or Infinite Jest.”

Mercuriale himself had set out to do precisely what Hayes does here: to comb through centuries of accounts of how people exercised and why they exercised, going back to the fifth century BC. There was, of course, exercise as a form of preparation for war. The Spartans, in particular, organized their society around principles of building not just men but warriors. But in other Greek societies, there was a culture of exercise more similar to the luxurious athletic clubs of today: While men went to athletic facilities known as “palestras” to strenuously train and challenge their bodies, there were also physical pleasures to be found there, such as saunas, bathing rooms and “oiling” rooms, where athletes would be rubbed with scented olive oil.

The goal, however, according to Mercuriale, should not be to become more physically attractive but to live a long and healthy life — in contemporary lingo, to have not just a long lifespan but a long healthspan. “Those who exercise moderately and appropriately can lead a healthy life that does not depend on any drugs, but those who do so without proper care are racked by perpetual ill health, and require constant medication.”

What’s amazing about Mercuriale’s conclusions, and similar ones by Plato, Hippocrates and the second-century physician Galen, is that they came in a time in which people got a lot of things wrong about health. They believed, for example, that illness was caused by imbalance in the four humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile and bile), and that people could be healed with practices such as letting leeches suck their blood. But on exercise generally, these guys got it right, even if they did some weird things along the way, like collecting the sweat of athletes to use as a healing balm for hemorrhoids and genital warts.

Hayes is the the author of six other books, including Sleep Demons, a memoir about insomnia, and Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood. He is also known as the partner of the legendary late physician Oliver Sacks, and has written about other aspects of medical history before, including a nonfiction book that examines how the medical classic Gray’s Anatomy came to be. So it’s a little disappointing that Sweat sometimes devolves into more of a personal blog rather than an erudite history. This happens when Hayes drops in his own workouts, from mastering the crow pose in yoga to taking a boxing class. He may be an accomplished author, but he never convinces me to care deeply about his sports injuries, even when he slammed into a rock once while he was swimming. Not that I’m not sympathetic to head injuries, but it wasn’t what I came for.

That said, it was interesting to learn about the exercise habits of diverse, interesting people, from the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who famously did 20 military-style push-ups each day, even in her 80s, to an Italian publisher and translator of Mercuriale who rings 600-pound church bells for exercise. Fun fact on the topic of unusual forms of exercise: Mercuriale counted laughing, crying and holding one’s breath as exercise, another reason to like him. And again Mercuriale was prescient: a belly laugh has been likened to “jogging for the innards.”

Hayes received funding from two foundations that enabled him to travel around the world to research this book, in part by inspecting old and rare books, aided by friendly librarians. (This in itself offered a glimpse into a strange world, as when he wrote that the librarian “placed a clean white pillow on the table top — a soft bed for these often fragile volumes — and provided a fresh package of handwipes” in order that he could clean his hands thoroughly in between books.) He also took an eight-week class that certifies people to become personal trainers, not to become one (although he did become certified), but just to learn about the process and more about the human body.

As with any book that runs the gamut from Pliny the Elder to Jane Fonda, Sweat attempts to cover a marathon in the space of a 5K. It’s a perfectly serviceable book, but not one that’s particularly memorable, since for so much of it the reader is subjected to watching the author travel and exercise. At least he had fun, so there’s that. As for advice, it’s hard to top this from Galen’s The Art of Medicine, dating from 180 A.D.: “Exercise should cease as soon as the body begins to suffer.” If, for you, that’s the moment you step out the door, best move on to another title. B-


Book Notes

If you haven’t heard, birds aren’t real. They’re drones sent by the federal government to spy on us, according to a tongue-in-cheek movement. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feed them and enjoy looking at them when we’re trapped inside by miserable weather.

There is no “birds aren’t real” book — not yet, anyway — but there’s been an equally cheeky book leading the “bird field guides” genre on Amazon recently. The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of the Whole Stupid World (Chronicle, 176 pages) is Matt Kracht’s followup to his The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America, published in 2019 (Chronicle, 176 pages). Kracht, who lives in the Pacific Northwest, is gaming the system by showing up here. While the books are in the field-guide format, and technically about birds, they’re pure humor, and crude humor at that.

What’s really fascinating, though, is that Kracht’s take is not especially original. The same year Kracht’s first book came out, Aaron Reynolds gave the world the Effin’ Birds: A Field Guide to Identification (Ten Speed Press, 208 pages), which has even more profanity and absurdity than Kracht’s books offer. (Who knew there was such animosity toward birds?)

Effin’ Birds is cultural commentary wrapped in bird bodies, with Reynolds inventing creatures such as the “spotted do-nothing” and the “peevish ringneck.” It too is kind of juvenile in its humor, but also kind of funny, as we all have a spotted do-nothing in our life.

If you prefer to take your birding more seriously, Princeton University Press recently published How Birds Evolve, What Science Reveals About Their Origin, Lives and Diversity by New York evolutionary biologist Douglas Futuyma (320 pages).

And last year, Deckle Edge published a new version of The Bedside Book of Birds, an Avian Miscellany, by the late Canadian novelist Graeme Gibson, with a foreword by Margaret Atwood (392 pages).

But you’ll have to wait a few months for the book you really need: an actual field guide, snark-free: Birds of New Hampshire. It’s by Marc Parnell and is part of the Birding Pro series. (Naturalist and Traveler Press, 272 pages, coming March 22).


Book Events

Author events

TIMOTHY BOUDREAU Author presents on the craft of writing short stories. Sat., Jan. 15, 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough. Visit monadnockwriters.org.

TOM RAFFIO Author presents Prepare for Crisis, Plan to Thrive. The Bookery, 844 Elm St., Manchester. Thurs., Jan. 27, 5:30 p.m. Visit bookerymht.com.

CHAD ORZEL Author presents A Brief History of Timekeeping. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Thurs., Jan. 27, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

ISABEL ALLENDE Author presents Violeta. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Sat., Jan. 29, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration and tickets required, to include the purchase of the book. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

JOHN NICHOLS Author presents Coronavirus Criminals and Pandemic Profiters. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Tues., Feb. 1, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

GARY SAMPSON AND INEZ MCDERMOTT Photographer Sampson and art historian McDermott discuss New Hampshire Now: A Photographic Diary of Life in the Granite State. Sat., Feb. 19, 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough. Visit monadnockwriters.org.

Book Sales

USED BOOK SALE Used books for $1, $3 and $5. GoodLife Programs & Activities, 254 N. State St., Unit L, Concord. Jan. 10 through Jan. 21 (closed Jan. 17). Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit goodlifenh.org.

Poetry

CAROL WESTBURG AND SUE BURTON Virtual poetry reading hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Thurs., Jan. 20, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

How To Live Like a Monk, Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life, by Daniele Cybulskie

How To Live Like a Monk, Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life, by Daniele Cybulskie (Abbeville Press, 175 pages)

When modernity fails, antiquity beckons. That is the conclusion to be drawn from renewed interest in lifestyles vastly different from the high-consumption, low-contemplation and tech-driven models so prevalent today.

This is seen in the popularity of Twitter’s “Lindy Man,” a lawyer turned lifestyle guru who exhorts people to consult ancestral wisdom in order to lead a more fulfilling life, and the trend toward tiny houses, minimalism and other scaled-back systems of living that previous generations of poor people sought to escape. Into this space comes Daniele Cybulskie, a medieval historian and self-described professional nerd who has built up a niche following with a podcast on medieval life. Her fourth book, How to Live Like Monk, seemed a promising escape from the excesses of the holiday season, and it has glimpses of potential, but ultimately devolves into boilerplate cheerleading for gratitude and simplicity, a la Sarah Ban Breathnach of the Simple Abundance brand. That said, it’s a book well worth skimming, especially if you’re a trivia buff.

“Abundance” is not a word typically associated with monks, whose lifestyle, as we all know, is distinguished by austerity. But here’s the thing. What do you really know about monks, or nuns or other people of disparate religious beliefs who lead cloistered lives? You have Trappist beer or jelly in the house but know nothing about why monks make beer anyway. Cybulskie does not examine the lives of modern monks (which seems an oxymoron), but looks at their predecessors, and when she is focusing on history, and not giving advice, this handbook is fascinating.

Who knew, for example, that early monks were allotted a gallon of beer a day, or that despite their rigid schedule of prayer and chores, their lives were pretty much an intellectual’s dream, filled as they were with mealtime lectures and quiet reading hours? Monastery life was often foisted on young children, whose parents would turn them over to an order if they could not afford to raise or educate them (or if they wanted bonus points in the afterlife). And sometimes criminals took refuge in a monastery to avoid punishment (think Jean Valean). But many people chose the lifestyle freely, as there is something to be said for living in a peaceful commune where you don’t have to worry about how to pay the rent or what to wear. (Monks were typically given two outfits — one to wear while the other was being washed — and one pair of shoes, which were replaced every year.)

For all their simplicity, the grounds of a monastery were typically glorious, not only because they were to be a reflection of God’s glory, but because a key ministry of monks was providing comfortable lodging for travelers, a tradition that continues today, or at least that did before Covid. As for food, monks are not known for feasting, but they were Whole Foods before Whole Foods existed, with their own orchards, herb and vegetable gardens, and fish ponds. They generally shunned the flesh of four-legged animals, but ate poultry and fish, and there is record of one medieval monastery accepting eels as payment for rent. Monks were also way ahead of us on the whole green burial thing, accepting “dust to dust” as a lifestyle and even burying their dead in their orchards. Like the early Christians, monks of the Middle Ages were somewhat obsessed with death, ordering their lives around their hopes for the afterlife and sincerely believing that they lived in end times. Of course, like everyone else who lived before antibiotics, death was always a breath or two away, which gave rise to skull art and jewelry known as “memento mori” — Latin for “remember you must die.”

Cybulski concedes this to be a sort of “grotesque emphasis” on death and struggles to recommend it to her readers, but finds other monkish practices to suggest. Some are banal: Embrace minimalism! Don’t overspend! Supercharge habits! But there are nuggets of seriousness here, thought truffles worth digging for, and one of the monks’ most famous traditions, an emphasis on silence, is something sorely needed in the noisy lives that many of us live. Saint Benedict, originator of arguably the most famous guide for living like a monk, the Rule of St. Benedict, decreed that monks should not speak out loud except by permission or in services. He believed that “mindless chatter was at best distracting and at worst destructive.” By cutting out the small talk, he effectively kept monks from grumbling, and instead filled their minds with edifying words read during their communal meals.

On the website for Saint Anselm College in Manchester, home to a community of Benedictine monks, you can read Brother Isaac’s blog, which shows that despite a societal yearning for the past, the past’s institutions are keeping up with modern times. The concept of a blog might have been distressing for St. Benedict, but at least you can write one in silence. This saintly little handbook fails to ascend to intellectual heights, and its compact size reduces the usefulness and beauty of its otherwise compelling photographs and art, but it will nonetheless stimulate interest about cloistered life, past and present. C


Book Notes, New Year Edition

According to social scientists, you will likely abandon your new year resolutions between Jan. 19 and Feb. 1, but until then, keep the faith. In order to help with your plans to be thinner, smarter, kinder, richer, more organized and better dressed, here’s a lineup of books, both from past years and upcoming, that promise to help with your goals, fleeting as they may be.

Atomic Habits (Avery, 320 pages) by James Clear was published in 2018 but is still atop Amazon’s bestseller list. The author promises “tiny changes, remarkable results” that can apply to anything you’re resolved to do this year.

Brene Brown was a research professor before she broke into the Oprah-esque popular culture space. Her new book, Atlas of the Heart, is about “mapping meaningful connection and the language of human experience,” whatever that means (Random House, 336 pages). Its genre is emotional self-help. That said, Amazon has said it’s one of the best books of the year, so worth checking out.

The Blue Zones Challenge is the latest from Dan Buettner, who studies people who live in the blue zones, the areas of the world where people live the longest. This workbook encompasses four weeks of changes with the goal of having a “longer, better life,” which fits nicely with the four weeks with which most of us stick with our resolutions. It’s from National Geographic, 240 pages.

Organizing for the Rest of Us (Thomas Nelson, 224 pages) comes out Jan. 22. Dana K. White offers 100 “realistic” strategies to keep our homes under control. She says that cleaning is the last step of a three-step process; the first is decluttering and the second is managing day-to-day stuff. Doesn’t look like there’s much new here, but could be an inspirational pep talk.

Baby Steps Millionaires (Ramsey Press, 224 pages) is by financial guru Dave Ramsey, who has taken some PR hits this year in accusations of a cult-like atmosphere at his Tennessee headquarters. Millions of people follow his plans, however, and his new book, releasing Jan. 11, promises to teach ordinary people how to build extraordinary wealth. Don’t read unless you’re willing to cut up your credit cards.

Finally, in what’s possibly the most unappealing title of a diet book ever, there is Dr. Kellyann’s Bone Broth Diet (Rodale, 416 pages), which is only slightly more appetizing than my proposed counter-title, Lose Weight and Gain Energy Eating the Slimy Contrails of Backyard Slugs. But OK. Kellyann Petrucci is a “concierge physician” for celebrities, and she says we can lose 15 pounds, 4 inches and an unspecified number of wrinkles by following her plan. At $17.99, it’s cheaper than Botox. Let me know if it works.


Book Events

Author events

JAMES ROLLINS Author presents The Starless Crown, in conversation with Terry Brooks. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Mon., Jan. 10, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

TIMOTHY BOUDREAU Author presents on the craft of writing short stories. Sat., Jan. 15, 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough. Visit monadnockwriters.org.

TOM RAFFIO Author presents Prepare for Crisis, Plan to Thrive. The Bookery, 844 Elm St., Manchester. Thurs., Jan. 27, 5:30 p.m. Visit bookerymht.com.

CHAD ORZEL Author presents A Brief History of Timekeeping. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Thurs., Jan. 27, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

ISABEL ALLENDE Author presents Violeta. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Sat., Jan. 29, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration and tickets required, to include the purchase of the book. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

Book Sales

USED BOOK SALE Used books for $1, $3 and $5. GoodLife Programs & Activities, 254 N. State St., Unit L, Concord. Jan. 10 through Jan. 21 (closed Jan. 17). Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit goodlifenh.org.

Poetry

CAROL WESTBURG AND SUE BURTON Virtual poetry reading hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Thurs., Jan. 20, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

These Precious Days, by Ann Patchett

These Precious Days, by Ann Patchett (Harper, 320 pages)

The Ann Patchett craze somehow eluded me, although I know people who wait breathlessly for her next book. She is not as famous as Stephen King nor as prolific as Jodi Picoult, having “just” eight novels and two children’s books to her name, but she enjoys those writers’ commercial success, and has developed an auxiliary fame as co-owner of a Nashville bookstore and as an advocate for independent booksellers.

As such, there’s been breathless anticipation all year for Patchett’s fourth book of nonfiction, These Precious Days, which is a pandemic book — not a book about a pandemic, but a book set in the pandemic. In fact, some of what occurs in the essays here pre-dates Covid-19 and has been published before, in The New Yorker and elsewhere. That, it turns out, matters not one whit.

The essays are finely strung, like a strand of Mikimoto pearls, and are so well-crafted as to have sprung fully formed from Zeus’s head. Patchett identifies as a novelist but says she’s always writing essays to fill in the gaps, to remind her that she’s still a writer when she’s not consumed by a work of fiction. Amusingly, she says that when working on a novel, she’s stalked by the idea of death, thinking that she could die at any time and the undertaker would bury all her beloved characters with her. The pandemic made that worse. “What was the point of starting [a novel] if I wasn’t going to be around to finish? This didn’t necessarily mean I believed I was going to die of the coronavirus, any more than I believed I was going to drown in the Atlantic or be eaten by a bear, but all those scenarios were possible. The year 2020 didn’t seem like a great time to start a family, or a business, or a novel.” And so she spent the time working on essays, which Patchett says death didn’t seem all that interested in.

The collection starts with a remembrance published in The New Yorker on Patchett’s “three fathers,” her biological dad and two stepfathers. (“Marriage has always proved irresistible to my family. We try and fail and try again, somehow maintaining our belief in an institution that has made fools of us all.”) The next essay, “The First Thanksgiving,” is a pithier reflection on Patchett’s experience as a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, when she couldn’t go home for the holiday and instead decided to cook a traditional dinner in her dorm for other stranded friends. Having never cooked a turkey or any other Thanksgiving dish before. “I made yeast rolls, for heaven’s sake! I cooked down fresh cranberries into sauce!”

Only having enough quarters to call her mother from the pay phone when she was finished (we’re talking about a woman who is now 60), she used recipes from The Joy of Cooking and writes that “even now, when someone claims they don’t know how to cook, I find myself snapping, ‘Do you know how to read?’”

Not to take away from Patchett’s talents, but part of the appeal of her essays is simply that she lives such an interesting life. Take, for example, the beginning of her essay, “Flight Plan,” in which she writes: “Three of us were in a 1947 de Havilland Beaver, floating in the middle of a crater lake in the southwest quadrant of Alaska.”

What?

It is a declarative statement, simply crafted, but dares the reader not to read on to learn more. It turns out that the essay is not about this particular excursion that Patchett took with her physician husband, Karl, but about his lifelong obsession with aviation (and by extension, every other amateur pilot), and her coming to grips with it, with reactions that range from bewilderment to fear.

We learn much from this essay about aviation culture, such as that a certain model of small plane is known as a doctor killer. (“Doctors have enough money to buy them,” Karl said, “but they aren’t good enough pilots to fly them.”) But we also go deep inside Patchett’s marriage, her terror about the possibility of Karl dying in a plane crash, her struggle to understand why dangerous pastimes were so important to him. “I understood he wasn’t interested in baking bread, that there would be no Scrabble or yoga in our future as a couple, but couldn’t there be a hobby in which death was not a likely outcome?”

But death is, of course, a likely outcome for us all, and despite Patchett’s insistence that death had no interest in essays, it enshrouds the titular essay, which is about her relationship with a woman named Sooki, who was the actor Tom Hanks’ personal assistant for nearly 20 years.

Patchett had come to know Hanks after writing a jacket blurb for his book of short stories, Uncommon Type, and came to know Sooki when Hanks later agreed to narrate the audio book of her novel The Dutch House. Through increasingly intimate emails, the women evolved from “affectionate strangers” to housemates while Sooki was in an experimental treatment for pancreatic cancer.

No spoilers here, but it is a deeply moving story about friendship, and utterly riveting. As is the collection in its entirety. A


Book Notes

As the end of 2021 mercifully approaches, here’s a look back at the books that made our A list. Some won critical acclaim nationwide; others, not much more than here, but they’re worth your attention if you haven’t read them already.

Bewilderment, by Richard Powers (W.W. Norton, 278 pages), novel: A widowed dad struggles with raising his neurologically untypical son while pondering possible other worlds beyond our universe.

The Anthropocene Reviewed, John Green(Dutton, 274 pages), nonfiction, essays: The author of The Fault in Our Stars gives 1- to 5-star reviews of everything from Canada geese to Diet Dr Pepper to the “wintry mix.”

Love Like That, by Emma Duffy-Comparone(Henry Holt and Co., 211 pages), short stories: Nine stories about love, both brittle and vibrant, all set in New England, two on the Granite State coast.

The Audacity of Sara Grayson, by Joani Elliott (Post Hill Press, 400 pages), novel: Part of the genre often dismissed as “chick lit,” this is a fun, original and New Englandish story of a daughter tasked with writing the ending to a best-selling series after the author, her mother, dies.

The Five Wounds, by Kirstin Valdez Quade (W.W. Norton, 416 pages), novel: A troubled Catholic family in New Mexico grapples with an unwed pregnancy, poverty and illness in this moving portrait of real life, the kind that doesn’t show up on Twitter.

The Blizzard Party, by Jack Livings (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 400 pages), novel: Engrossing fiction set during the very real blizzard of 1978.

Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf, 303 pages), novel: This Booker Prize-winning story of a young girl and her “artificial friend” asks us to think seriously about the costs of companion robots, both to us and to them.

Chasing Eden, A Book of Seekersby Howard Mansfield (Bauhan Publishing, 216 pages), nonfiction: An intelligent and contemplative book by a New Hampshire author about an unusual cast of Americans who bid the founders’ call to pursue happiness in their own unique ways.


Book Events

Author events

JAMES ROLLINS Author presents The Starless Crown, in conversation with Terry Brooks. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Mon., Jan. 10, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

CHAD ORZEL Author presents A Brief History of Timekeeping. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Thurs., Jan. 27, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

ISABEL ALLENDE Author presents Violeta. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Sat., Jan. 29, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration and tickets required, to include the purchase of the book. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

JOHN NICHOLS Author presents Coronavirus Criminals and Pandemic Profiters. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Tues., Feb. 1, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

GARY SAMPSON AND INEZ MCDERMOTT Photographer Sampson and art historian McDermott discuss New Hampshire Now: A Photographic Diary of Life in the Granite State. Sat., Feb. 19, 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough. Visit monadnockwriters.org.

TIMOTHY BOUDREAU Author presents on the craft of writing short stories. Sat., Jan. 15, 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough. Visit monadnockwriters.org.

Poetry

CAROL WESTBURG AND SUE BURTON Virtual poetry reading hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Thurs., Jan. 20, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

DOWN CELLAR POETRY SALON Poetry event series presented by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Monthly. First Sunday. Visit poetrysocietynh.wordpress.com.

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Online. Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. Bookstore based in Manchester. Visit bookerymht.com/online-book-club or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com/gibsons-book-club-2020-2021 or call 224-0562.

TO SHARE BREWING CO. 720 Union St., Manchester. Monthly. Second Thursday, 6 p.m. RSVP required. Visit tosharebrewing.com or call 836-6947.

GOFFSTOWN PUBLIC LIBRARY 2 High St., Goffstown. Monthly. Third Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. Call 497-2102, email elizabethw@goffstownlibrary.com or visit goffstownlibrary.com

BELKNAP MILL Online. Monthly. Last Wednesday, 6 p.m. Based in Laconia. Email bookclub@belknapmill.org.

NASHUA PUBLIC LIBRARY Online. Monthly. Second Friday, 3 p.m. Call 589-4611, email information@nashualibrary.org or visit nashualibrary.org.

Language

FRENCH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE CLASSES

Offered remotely by the Franco-American Centre. Six-week session with classes held Thursdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. $225. Visit facnh.com/education or call 623-1093.

Powder Days, by Heather Hansman

Powder Days, by Heather Hansman (Hanover Square Press, 264 pages)

Heather Hansman learned to love skiing in New England, even though she’s more of a West Coast woman these days. An accomplished writer and editor who has worked for magazines such as Outside, Backcountry and Powder, Hansman doesn’t qualify as a ski bum, the skiing-obsessed person who will take on low-paying jobs at ski resorts in order to indulge the passion full-time. But she was for a while and brings deep insider knowledge to Powder Days, an examination of what rising temperatures are doing to the ski industry, wrapped in a love letter to the sport and to winter.

“I know that skiing is ephemeral and selfish, but I ache when I’m away from it for too long, and I don’t think it’s just the dopamine drop that drives the fixation,” Hansman writes.

Before you non-skiers depart for lack of interest, you should know that while this is a book written by a skier for other skiers, this shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for the sedentary and clumsy (myself the latter). Hansman is a graceful writer, as lithe in language as in body, and while she occasionally slips into skier-speak, with a little Googling, you will learn many interesting things, such as that dangerous clumps of snow on a ski route are called frozen chicken heads, a term I enthusiastically welcome to my vocabulary. In short, I don’t ski, and I still found this book engrossing.

Hansmen begins by recalling her early ski-bum days, which began around a campfire in Maine when another skier offered Hansman a job scanning lift tickets at a ski resort in Colorado. “I latched on to the idea that if I went west, I would be braver and truer and more exciting,” she writes.

She had become a skier like most people do — because her parents paid for lessons. “You don’t become a skier by accident — it’s an objectively stupid, expensive, gear-intensive sport — but my parents enabled it early, cramming my brother and me into hand-me-down boots and carting us to New Hampshire, so they could ski too,” she writes. “ … In college, I’d wake up in the post-party, predawn dark to drive across Maine and New Hampshire just to ski knobby backcountry lines in the White Mountains. I’ve always felt clearer in motion.”

That said, Hansman came from a family of occasional skiers, not those who strap toddlers to skis while they are learning to walk. Her obsession with the sport and lifestyle grew organically, somewhat to her bewilderment. “Skiers chase snow and freedom and wildness, at the expense of a lot of other things. I’m still trying to understand how something so ephemeral can shape your whole life.”

Hansman dips into the history of skiing in the U.S, acknowledging “the ski industry starts where my ski story starts, in the knobby mountains of New England.” She recalls skiing the Tuckerman Ravine and the Sherburne Trail of Mount Washington, created in the 1930s, back when runs were “steep and skinny, just a couple of skis wide.”

“That was skiing for a long time, no lifts, just a grind uphill and a slide back down.”

She then zips through how the sport exploded, its growth tracking with the lives of baby boomers, and how its popularity in the 1970s led to today’s elaborate resorts and McMountain trails that she fears have taken the soul out of the sport and tarnished it with elitism. (Fun fact: more than 50 billionaires have homes in Aspen.)

The bigger problem for the industry, however, is not the unaffordability of homes in ski country, but the warming climate. There’s less snow these days than there was a quarter-century ago, and it’s not always cold enough to make snow, as 88 percent of ski resorts do. We are seeing, as Hansman puts it, “the winnowing of winter.” She quotes a meteorologist friend who says that what concerns him most is that low temperatures are increasing faster than high temperatures. This means that places like New England have fewer days when the temperature falls below freezing.

“Depending on the emissions scenario you choose, snowfall is predicted to shrink by up to a third by the end of the century. That thin margin of winter is going to have a huge bearing on the future of skiing, and on whether or not people can keep counting on the seasons to eke out a way of life.”

Hansman’s worries that Aspen could be the new Amarillo by century’s end may strike some as the hysteria of the climate-grief-stricken. By the end of January, her fear of “hot, snowless winters” may actually hold some appeal. But there is real concern about what will happen if recent trends continue. Resorts can make snow, sure, but it still has to be cold enough. “I get a deep gut ache when I think about losing snow, about the contrast between my childhood memories of snow and the gray slush of right now. … New England skiing feels almost too painful now. How could it have gotten this bad so fast?”

Hansman ends with another kind of grief, the acknowledgement that skiing can be deadly. “If you get deep into skiing, eventually you have to acknowledge that the thing you love can kill the people you love.” Then, she pivots into the tendency for thrill-seekers like skiers to abuse drugs and alcohol, and sometimes to kill themselves. Deaths of despair are on the rise in the U.S. and this is an important topic, but it was a bit jarring to have this conversation take place at the end of the book. That said, it’s a small quibble with an otherwise solid book, which might even be more interesting for nonskiers than skiers, who already know about frozen chicken heads.


Book Events

Author events

JAMES ROLLINS Author presents The Starless Crown, in conversation with Terry Brooks. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Mon., Jan. 10, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com.

TIMOTHY BOUDREAU Author presents on the craft of writing short stories. Sat., Jan. 15, 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough. Visit monadnockwriters.org.

CHAD ORZEL Author presents A Brief History of Timekeeping. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Thurs., Jan. 27, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com.

ISABEL ALLENDE Author presents Violeta. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Sat., Jan. 29, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration and tickets required, to include the purchase of the book. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com.

JOHN NICHOLS Author presents Coronavirus Criminals and Pandemic Profiters. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Tues., Feb. 1, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com.

GARY SAMPSON AND INEZ MCDERMOTT Photographer Sampson and art historian McDermott discuss New Hampshire Now: A Photographic Diary of Life in the Granite State. Sat., Feb. 19, 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough. Visit monadnockwriters.org.

Poetry

CAROL WESTBURG AND SUE BURTON Virtual poetry reading hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Thurs., Jan. 20, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

DOWN CELLAR POETRY SALON Poetry event series presented by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Monthly. First Sunday. Visit poetrysocietynh.wordpress.com.

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Online. Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. Bookstore based in Manchester. Visit bookerymht.com/online-book-club or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com/gibsons-book-club-2020-2021 or call 224-0562.

TO SHARE BREWING CO. 720 Union St., Manchester. Monthly. Second Thursday, 6 p.m. RSVP required. Visit tosharebrewing.com or call 836-6947.

GOFFSTOWN PUBLIC LIBRARY 2 High St., Goffstown. Monthly. Third Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. Call 497-2102, email elizabethw@goffstownlibrary.com or visit goffstownlibrary.com

BELKNAP MILL Online. Monthly. Last Wednesday, 6 p.m. Based in Laconia. Email bookclub@belknapmill.org.

NASHUA PUBLIC LIBRARY Online. Monthly. Second Friday, 3 p.m. Call 589-4611, email information@nashualibrary.org or visit nashualibrary.org.

Language

FRENCH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE CLASSES

Offered remotely by the Franco-American Centre. Six-week session with classes held Thursdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. $225. Visit facnh.com/education or call 623-1093.

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