Book biz booms

Local authors shine bright in 2021.


“Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me”: That title has been rattling around my head for the past year. Richard Fariña’s 1966 cult-status novel about a 1960s lifestyle also has it about right for 2021. I mean, from Jan. 6 on, things that aren’t supposed to happen are happening like clockwork. For example, say you’ve got a killer disease, call it COVID, and the white coats develop a cure. Everyone’s on it in a heartbeat, right? Well, no, actually.

The insane comments and stances from not a few elected officials? When did our national gene pool go sideways?

But we got some good news on this wacky what-can-you-count-on? thing. The book business has become measurably stronger in this era of uncertainty. Independent bookstores, on deathwatch business lists for years, have particularly rebounded in the past two years. Times assistant news editor Brian Dowd wrote a prescient report (“‘November is the new December’ for book buying,” Nov. 18) on this welcome national display of brand loyalty. Worth a read for a dollop of holiday cheer.

Unexpected surprises are a remarkably consistent element in the book business, and 2021 was no exception. We had a handful of books by local authors that deserve to be read, and will reward readers perhaps to a greater degree than the horrifics of political behavior that we learn from the torrent of tell-alls.

My personal favorite this year was “Leaving Coy’s Hill,” a fictionalized version of the true life of the dimly remembered Lucy Stone, a Massachusetts farm girl who literally broke trail for racial and women’s rights in the mid-1800s.

Writer Katharine A. Sherbrooke, a longtime Island habitué, proved that commitment to a task and overwhelming amounts of research can result in a page-turner like the Lucy Stone story. We’ll likely hear a lot more from Sherbrooke.

West Tisbury resident John Hough Jr.’s newest novel, “The Sweetest Days,” shows us the success a writer in the fullness of his years can achieve working outside his comfort zone; Hough’s awardwinning sweet spot has been historical fiction, but in “The Sweetest Days,” he tells both an endearing love story as well as a 40-year-old backstory that create a path to coming to terms with tragedy.

“Mighty Oak” by Jeff W. Bens somehow bounced through the mailbox, rolled into our office, and skittered to a stop in front of us. Hmm. Bens is a Boston-area guy who runs collegiate creative writing programs. “Mighty Oak” is a true slice-of-life in Boston’s warrior blue-collar neighborhoods in the era before millennials and their small dogs took them over. Hockey, a true warrior sport, is the metier, and we root for the personal resurrection of Tim O’Connor, known as “Oak.” 

There is an implacability in the truth telling from Henry Louis (“Skip”) Gates’ books about U.S. racial history. Now, public truth telling is not in vogue just now, so that’s a welcome aspect of “Black Church,” Gates’ latest, about the salvatory role the Black church has performed for its enslaved, then freed, worshippers over the past four centuries. 

If you read Gates’ “Stony the Road” in 2020, the truths therein likely stunned you. “Black Church” is cut from the same cloth, and is a companion to Gates’ four-hour PBS miniseries of the same name. 

On the subject of truth-telling, Island novelist Fred Waitzkin reminds us in “Strange Love” of the trouble we get into when we don’t tell ourselves or others the truth. His fifth novel is both a strange and lovely new novel. It’s a complex story, riven with threads of disillusionment, self-deception, and wacky and ironically funny twists.

Speaking of unexpected twists, Waitzkin reports that his iconic “Searching for Bobby Fischer” (1988) shot back up on the NYT bestseller lists this summer, following airing of “The Queen’s Gambit,” the Netflix chess-based drama series written and directed by Islander Scott Frank. 

With “Atlantis: The Accidental Invasion,” Island resident Gregory Mone displays why he’s a star in the New York Times’ young adult genre. Mone hit the bestseller lists with “Fish” a decade ago.

Atlantis is a futuristic story of teens, two from the undersea country of Atlantis and two from the post-climate change mess that America has become. Wonderfully written, plotted, and researched, this one would make a great holiday gift. And keep your eye on it; you’ll want to read it when they are finished.


  1. I can vouch for the increase in book sales this year. My latest book, Martha’s Vineyard in the American Revolution, sold out at both Bunch of Grapes and Phillips Hardware. (Who knew books sell well in a hardware store?). Book signings at Edgartown Books were popular. And personally I sold over a hundred copies. This has been a great year for the published author on Island.

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