SUMMER OVER AUTUMN: A SMALL BOOK OF SMALL-TOWN LIFE
by Howard Mansfield
“A wonderful book. An insightful but droll glimpse inside the life of one New England town. Bringing us the small events and encounters with neighbors and townspeople, Howard goes straight to the heart of the inscrutable nature of small-town life, of New England life. We are left with no choice but to love this book.”
— Edie Clark, author of The Place He Made
“Whenever Howard Mansfield writes about the world around him, whether it be small-town New England, or what compels us to preserve the artifacts of our lives, or the mystery of Time, I pay attention. When I finish a Howard Mansfield story or book I look upon a world changed. His curiosity propels every sentence he writes, no more so than in Summer Over Autumn.”
— Mel Allen, editor, Yankee magazine
“Howard Mansfield truly understands New Hampshire, and he’s clearly at home here. He has a journalist’s instinct for digging up a good story, an historian’s deep knowledge of his subject, an old soul’s insights into life and a poet’s gift for turning a phrase. Howard can be hysterically funny, philosophical and erudite—all in one paragraph. His writing is a joy to read.”
— Andi Axman, editor, New Hampshire Home
“Howard Mansfield’s vision for the small town is integrated with his prose, which is at turns funny, sad and beautiful, but always smart. This is a great book if all you’re looking for is a learning experience, but it’s also extremely entertaining, full of arcane knowledge (how to wind a giant clock), insight into small town life, and fabulous profiles of Mansfield’s friends, neighbors, sometimes adversaries, and even a celebrity hog. My favorite essay is ‘The People in the Photo,’ which has an emotional and lyrical quality rare among essayists and which I feel is destined to be a classic of American nonfiction writing of our time period. It’s as if Walt Whitman had come out of the grave in the persona of Howard Mansfield for one more epic. I highly recommend this ‘small book’ full of big ideas.”
— Ernie Hebert, author of Howard Elman’s Farewell, The Old American, and nine other novels
“Summer Over Autumn is a marvelous book, deep and extremely funny at the same time (a feat!). I wish I could buy a copy for every one of my New Hampshire friends, but I guess they’re on their own.”
— Rosellen Brown, author of Before & After, Street Games, and Cora Fry’s Pillow Book
“A charmer of a book.”
– The Keene Sentinel
“Howard Mansfield has done it again, writing so eloquently about our everyday lives, making the normal feel extraordinary.”
— The Concord Monitor
Top 12 Nonfiction Book for 2017 – Water Street Bookstore, Exeter, New Hampshire.
Howard Mansfield “is one of those writers who is not only gracious to bookstore staff and part time book reviewers (and probably everyone else) and whose writing is warm and funny but also, as they say in these parts, wicked smart. He’s a kind of a people’s intellectual, whose cultural and historical knowledge sparkles on the page but whose ability to read other human beings, and not surprisingly since he is married to Sy, animals, infuses his essays with a generosity that makes you feel like you’re sharing in his brilliance, not having it bestowed upon you, the lowly reader.
“… I just really admire the way Howard takes ordinary things like yard sales or his local garage and creates something beautiful on the page not only because he notices things and writes well but because he cares about people’s stories. In “On Going Late to Yard Sales,” for example, he writes about the “puzzles that are left when the boxes are nearly empty,” and the way the sellers seem to have “watched themselves scatter to the winds.” Something I had never really thought about, but I recognized when I read his essay.
“It’s a good time to read this book as we’re in what Howard refers to in the title essay: “Summer Over Autumn isn’t a season. It’s a glimpse, the moment when we see the skull beneath the skin, the death that is always a part of life.” A few leaves are changing, but it’s still warm, even sometimes hot during the day. Evenings and mornings are chilly enough to cause us to think about a coat was we rush to the car. There are both wonderful tomatoes and wonderful apples at the Farmers’ Market. There is both observation and deep human truth in Howard’s essays.”
— Deb Baker, Bookconscious
At a time of change, when common ground is becoming less common, it helps to have a tour guide who can navigate the American landscape. That’s a job for Howard Mansfield, who offers a unique lens on our history, customs and habits. A cultural historian and author of eight books, Mansfield is the guy you wish could accompany you on a long walk. You just know he would see things that you’d miss along the way.
“Summer Over Autumn: A Small Book of Small-Town Life” is Mansfield’s latest title, a collection of short essays that’s modest only in size. These 21 eclectic pieces find the author out and about in his hometown of Hancock, New Hampshire; running in a local election; working his land; and tending to Christopher Hogwood, his very theatrical pig.
“Our pig is a Zen eater. He becomes his food,” Mansfield says. “No remorse. No guilty dinner chat about fat or sugar or pesticides.”
The book highlights Mansfield’s range, showing him to be equal parts citizen, philosopher and cultural critic, weighing in on issues large and small. Among his musings, he tackles the thorny problem of elders behind the wheel; considers the jagged history of a Queen Anne chair that he inherited upon buying his house; and laments the planting of invasive roses that won’t give up.
In “The Skeezix Chronicles,” Mansfield recalls the story of an antique Ford 9N tractor that his wife bought for his birthday. “To operate a 9N is to step back to our machine past,” he says, “to a time before cars had power steering, power brakes, and automatic transmissions, before cars got so easy to drive that some people busy themselves texting.”
In the title story, Mansfeld adds to the mythology of northern New England weather, describing the period in late August – “Summer Over Autumn” – when the two seasons co-exist. “It’s a moment poised on the seesaw, right at the fulcrum,” he notes. “Sitting still, you can feel summer passing, retreating as fog retreats. It’s like passing through a doorway.”
If Mansfield has a knack for elevating the ordinary and seeing it fresh, he is equally adept at decoding transactions that are often mired in complication. Two of the best pieces in the book exemplify this skill: In “The Ask,” Mansfield takes on the matter of fundraising and how the ritual dance of asking for donations clashes with our sensibilities.
“In small towns, and society in general, we live by the Don’t Ask. We let our neighbors pursue their lives in happiness or sorrow,” he writes. “We give our neighbors the room to live. We don’t question their contradictions. When I was younger, I would have called this hypocrisy. Now I think it may be kindness, or just the mercy we show each other.”
And his essay, “On Going Late to Yard Sales,” is sufficiently astute that you’ll think twice about showing up early.
“Summer Over Autumn” is one of those books that you read, nodding in assent. Mansfield delivers an embarrassment of quotable lines and passages – more than many writers manage in a lifetime. While much of the book centers on small-town life, the takeaway from each piece tends to be universal. Mansfield’s wry, humane, poetic brand of common sense has no geographic bounds.
— Joan Silverman, Portland Press Herald
“Regional writing is my favorite kind. It is not big or ambitious. It’s about something other than self. It often is a love letter. I am crazy about Howard Mansfield’s books. His depictions of New England towns and buildings and weather and friends embody the idealized America for a lot of us around my age (79), even if we have never been there. They are about meeting houses and churches, barns, inherited clocks – and the kindness of discretion. How badly we need these reminders of what it takes to belong with others in community, in communion. This slender book of essays focuses on one place, Hancock, New Hampshire, and its inhabitants. But Hancock is a jumping off place for this thoughtful writer. From the get-go, he captures the shared qualities of American small-town life in observations, such as, “…villages are the story of the rise and fall of one commodity: clothespins, shoes, rocking chairs, buggy whips.” He notes: ‘The biggest house is next door to one of the smallest.’ He tells us that the American version of the ubiquitous Queen Anne dining chair is like a gown made of denim instead of silk. The reader, wherever she is from, is compelled to do a lot of bracketing and underlining.
“There is a kind of plot to Summer Over Autumn. The central question might be, ‘What will America be if this iconic lifestyle is no longer sustainable?’ It’s like global warming. You know something is being lost incrementally, but you don’t usually see it slipping away. (The recent dramatic videos of the calving off of glaciers present an exception.) The essay titled “Summer Over Autumn” suggests that changes are anticipated. But those moments when one season becomes another are hard to identify, much less to predict. The author’s particular experience, seated in a kayak on a pond, evokes in my mind Emily Dickinson (‘There’s a certain slant of light…’); he knows ‘the party’s over’ and that the change from one season into the next is like ‘passing through a doorway.’ Mansfield wonders: ‘If we could inhabit a still-point, floating as if we were in a kayak, would we be aware of the many doorways we daily pass through?’ Yet he acknowledges cycles. A young loon attempts to lift off the pond, flapping the length, gradually rising, having to circle to get above the trees. A new creature pretending to be a bird. As always….
“Mansfield is best known as an historic preservationist, but not of the kind who merely celebrates the superior craftsmanship of the past. More fittingly, he’s been called “a cultural psychologist.” He uses living traditions and artifacts as reflections of character. Notably, what we have is imperfect. The minister is not insightful. We allow the old woman to drive blind. Cellar holes, denoting failure and abandonment, dot our landscape. Mansfield’s last book was SHEDS. It had pictures. They are meant to be looked at closely for a long time. I feel the same way about these essays. I can’t effectively share his words of wisdom so deeply imbedded in the New England context — and in his caring psyche — that it’s like, “you have to have been there” (to understand why I’m telling you this), so it’s best I advise you to keep a copy by your bedside and read a chapter a night.”
— Karen Dahood, Bookpleasures.com
“This is the kind of book you don’t have to read from first page to last—you can dip into it at any place between the covers, at any time—I turned to a brief chapter titled “Fourth of July.” In just three pages about the different effects that the fireworks celebration in the author’s small town of Hancock, New Hampshire, had on several of his neighbors, his words evoked an emotional reaction that made me put the book down for a couple of minutes to think about what I had just read…and then turn the pages to begin reading another chapter.
“I was hooked! At that one sitting, which I had intended to be for only a brief glance at the Table of Contents, I devoted three hours to reading more than half of “Summer Over Autumn.” I would have completed even more except for the fact that, after each essay, I closed the book, sat back and thought about the story I had just read—the feeling it had stirred in me, and the message it had passed along. The very next day, I returned to read the rest, savoring author Mansfield’s warm, perceptive and heartfelt descriptions about the people, places and daily events of his small town life….
“One reviewer, in describing this author’s ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, stated, “It’s as if Walt Whitman had come out of the grave in the persona of Howard Mansfield for one more epic.” It’s true that this author has the same gift shared by Mark Twain, Will Rogers and “Prairie Home Companion’s” Garrison Keillor of being able to express the humanness of life in a way that inspires, comforts and brings joy in the simple telling of it.”
— Nils A. Shapiro, Boca Club News
“A delicious little collection that I received as an ARC from the publisher. I knew little of the author or the publisher prior to getting this in the mail. When I opened the book and began reading, I was actually surprised that all of the essays that I encountered in the book were in locations that I was intimately familiar with. From Marlborough, to New Ipswich, to Peterborough and Keene, New Hampshire, this book contains a handful of essays that concern country living and aging in the hard-weathered atmosphere of New England. Each piece effectively and beautifully straddles the lines between the old and the new. The local and the national. Each essay is uniquely American, showcasing a life that no matter how far into the future we travel, is one we all will live. A gorgeous collection that will certainly find great success as it has already traversed the pages of Yankee, The Boston Globe, and New Hampshire Home, but will become quiet, meditative a staple on New England bookshelves.
“As a frequent performer with Actors’ Circle Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park in Peterborough, and a writer who often walks the same streets that Mansfield covers in these pages, I can attest to the authenticity of these quiet, beautifully authentic portraits.”
— Garrett Zecker, publisher, actor, and teacher of writing and literature, Goodreads
“Excellent book. I want to re-read it and savor each essay. For those who want a glimpse of small-town life, this will more than satisfy. If you live in a small town, you may smile in recognition. I’ve dreamed of living in New England in a small town. This book was like almost crossing this off the bucket list… or maybe moving it up further on the bucket list.
“I am so excited about Howard Mansfield’s writing that I am going to read more.”
“Excellent, like finding a small treasure.”
— Shannon Mckenzie, Goodreads