Russem launches ‘Design Brief’; Zabin reframes a riot; Marshall remembers Potter

Serena Zabin's new book tells the personal side of the Boston Massacre.
Serena Zabin's new book tells the personal side of the Boston Massacre.Henry Pelham/The New York Public Library Digital Collections

“There are (believe it or not) things too good for the Internet,” writes Michael Russem, designer and proprietor of the Katherine Small Gallery, an art space and bookshop devoted to typography and graphic design in Somerville. For those things too good, he’s created “Design Brief”, a print-only journal to appear four times a year. Each single-topic 16-page issue devotes itself to “a designer you’ve never heard of, an unknown body of work from a designer you might know of, or some collection of oddball things you’ve never thought about.” The first issue, “On Carol,” launches this month, and collects work by the Western Mass-based printer Carol J. Blinn, who Russem praises in his introduction for her confidence and understated elegance, someone “who does so much more with so much less.” The pages are filled with business cards, birth announcements, invitations to weddings. How surprising to find, in such daily matter, such a sense of intimacy, to see the names of these bookbinders, photographers, publishers, importers, contractors, proud new parents, brand new babies, in-love couples ready to wed, in print that speaks not to flare or flash but to gravitas and the graceful expression of information. Russem has a keen eye for the unexpected, the playful, and the deeply beautiful, and now it’ll come in something you can hold in your hands. Subscriptions are $60; to subscribe, visit ksmallgallery.com or 108 Beacon Street, in Somerville.



This March marks the 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre, and a new book, out this week, veers away from the well-traveled roads of loyalist and patriot, of Revere and Adams, of the public (and male) face of this incendiary event, and aims its attention on the social fabric that defined Boston in 1770. Lexington native Serena Zabin’s “The Boston Massacre: A Family History” (HMH) argues for a nuanced understanding of this moment in history, centered around the actual lives of actual people. “In public thoroughfares and unpaved lanes, the people we now think of as foes on two different sides were actually entangled in a web of social and spatial relationships that would color their lives, the event that came to be know as the Boston Massacre, and the nature of the American Revolution itself.” Intimate, lively, and thoroughly researched, the book tells the stories of the women and men, their friendships, romances, and entanglements, making the case that the fateful March night “marked not the beginning of the American revolution but the breakdown of a family.”



A new children’s book out this month by Linda Marshall, who grew up around Boston, looks at the life of Beatrix Potter, the beloved British artist and writer who created Peter Rabbit. “Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit” (Little Bee), illustrated by Ilaria Urbinati, celebrates Potter and tells the story of how she left London for the country – and how when developers threatened to destroy the land she loved, she used the money she’d earned from her books to buy as many acres as she could to save them from the bulldozers. They remain preserved today. “Beatrix Potter, a woman who was not supposed to have a job, had created something important. She had created something that mattered. And she became an excellent businesswoman.” It’s a loving, lovely, and empowering picture book portrait.


Coming Out

The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisisby Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac (Knopf)

Saint Xby Alexis Schaitkin (Celadon)

Norma Jean Baker of Troyby Anne Carson (New Directions)

Pick of the Week

Ben N. at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge recommends “The Word Exchange” by Alena Graedon (Doubleday): “A slow, steady buildup of a concept novel that morphs into a heady thriller built on words and bits. The story won me over, not immediately (but inevitably). In the end it was completely worth the dive. This one goes on the ‘read again’ shelf.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.