The torrent of books continues to pour through my mail and pool on my desk. I persist in being sort of flummoxed by the amount of serious writing that’s being done nowadays, not to mention published. It’s too much to keep detailed track of as a part-time public service, to tell you the truth. But off the radars of the New York and Boston reviews (and sometimes on them) are many Maine-associated books that could light up a winter afternoon for you. So here’s another list of quick hits on books that have crossed my path and should be mentioned before their publication dates expire in daily-newspaper-editor time.

“Paintings of Portland”

Down East Books, the book-publishing arm of Down East magazine, in Rockport, this summer released “Paintings of Portland.” Carl Little, a well-respected art critic and poet from Mount Desert Island, and his brother David, of Portland, made a selection of paintings from the city’s multifaceted trove of local art from the 19th century through the present decade; wrote concise, informative and (notably) readable commentary; and turned it all into a well-produced volume that captures the inner feel of Portland and some of its surroundings. Cityscapes by, for examples, Mary King Longfellow (1885), Robert Solotaire (1979) and Tina Ingraham (2010), together with several scenes from outlying Cape Elizabeth (e.g., an Edward Hopper view of the house at Two Lights), bring the aesthetic attraction to Portland to vivid life, really. This book is a beautiful find for the local eye.

“Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine”

From a bigger-market publisher is “Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine” by Alan Lightman, a nationally known novelist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist. It turns out he summers on an island he coyly declines to identify — except to say it’s in Casco Bay, small, and shaped like a lute — and then, deep in the book, betrays its latitude and longitude to indicate it lies in the waters of Harpswell. Anyway, the setting is important to the extent that Lightman, while returning to the island one evening in his boat, had a full-on mystical experience. I don’t have space here to explain why his roughly two-page account sounds undeniably authentic (having studied this specific subject in academic depth, I can tell you it does), but the book goes on to be partly about the natural beauty of the island, and mostly about Lightman’s efforts to square his deep knowledge of modern science with the mind- and emotion-altering experience in the boat. The two, on the surface, seem epistemologically contradictory, but Lightman’s acknowledgment of the paradox and his efforts to come to some acceptable intellectual understanding of it, in readable prose, are gratifying. If you have any interest in how modern science crosses paths with personal experience, you’ll want to read this book.



“The Paper Coast”

“Smuggle 13:07”

I want to mention three books of fiction, two of which my reviewing colleague Bill Bushnell is treating more fully — “Winterhill” by Christopher Fahy and “The Paper Coast” by Jefferson Navicky.

Fahy, of Thomaston, is one of the organizers of the annual Tenants Harbor summer poetry readings and the author of several novels, including “Chasing the Sun,” a minor classic of Maine literature based generally on the life of Rockland poet Leo Connellan. “Winterhill” is a fast read about a weird-science medical clinic on the Maine coast with parallels (unintended, the author tells me) to the operations in Rangeley that landed Wilhelm Reich in jail in the 1950s. Fahy’s wry sense of humor, skateboarding prose and distinctly recognizable characters are always entertaining.

“The Paper Coast” by Navicky, of Freeport, is a collection of very short stories set mainly in a version of coastal Maine that produce strange, often funny and/or nightmarish effects. There’s an arcanely broad range of literary allusion, from Proust to Poe to Shirley Hazzard to Ravel, and the stories are craftily written. If you read them in bed, beware what happens after you fall asleep. Navicky teaches at Southern Maine Community College and is a contributing editor to Cafe Review.

Finally, “Smuggle 13:07” is Douglas Tinsman’s first novel, based on real-life experiences with drug smuggling and the fishing community. Financial, legal, gear and regulatory problems are withering Larry Doughty’s groundfishing operation, and he gives in to temptation, leading to even bigger problems. This book offers what could be for some an eye-opening view of the whole complicated ball of wax that is the modern-day fishing life. Tinsman grew up in Cape Elizabeth (where he and I were a few years apart at the same schools but unacquainted), fished out of Portland for years and now lives in Waldo County. This book came out in 2015, and it’s not clear whether the publisher, apparently based in Portland, is still in business, but the book is listed by Amazon and Barnes and Noble. If you want to get a copy but have trouble finding it, let me know.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first Thursday of each month. Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected].

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