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Boston for Spenser Fans

Boston for Spenser Fans

This post was written by Brian McCann, Librarian at Black & Veatch

When you hear the word “Boston”, the first thing to come to mind is different for everyone.  Though many would cite its role in the American Revolution or its notoriety as the home of the Boston Red Sox, for me Boston is the home of fictional detective Spenser (whose first name we never learn).  There are more than 40 Spenser novels written by Robert B. Parker, and all—for the most part—are set in Boston.  He is also featured in a television series (Spenser: For Hire) and a series of TV movies based on the novels.

I started reading Spenser novels when I was in high school, loving his wit and tenacity.  I have come back to Spenser in recent years, and I am more in love with these books now as an adult.  The mysteries are always good, but I especially love the colorful characters and descriptions of place.  I am in awe at how Parker uses the Spenser books as morality plays (a common function for current mysteries).

Spenser is a morally-centered outsider who enters situations of ethical and emotional chaos. Spenser as a detective is tough but sensitive, a poetic thug.  He interacts with the grime of human existence, but he also holds onto the beauty and goodness around him.  He often enjoys a fine drink at a classy hotel bar or makes foodie-quality corncakes for Sunday brunch with champagne or takes his dog Pearl for a run along the harbor.  And of course, he cracks wise.  A lot.

If you’re like me, and you want to see where Spenser lived (Marlborough Street) and worked (Boylston and Berkeley) and got shot (on the bridge in the Public Gardens) and drank (too many places to list), you might find this map helpful.  I’ve included the SLA conference on the map just so everyone has a common reference point.  If you have questions or you’d like to rave with a fellow Spenser fan, feel free to contact me on twitter @writerbrarian.

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Boston for Bibliophiles: Libraries

Boston for Bibliophiles: Libraries

by SLA New England member Nicole Dutton, MLIS — Librarian and Records Management Analyst at the Charles S. Morgan Technical Library of the National Fire Protection Agency

See also “Boston for Bibliophiles: Bookstores

All librarians know you don’t need to buy books to enjoy them. Here are some great places to visit when you’re in the city and don’t have any room left in your luggage for books.

The Boston Public Library Central Library in Boston
One of the oldest public libraries in the country, the BPL’s central library in Copley Square is worth a visit for the building alone, never mind the amazing book collection. The hour-long walking tours are on a variable schedule, so email or call 617-859-2216 for more information. You can also check out the John Singer Sargent murals in the eponymous gallery, the decorative art by Puvis de Chavannes, or The Quest and Achievement of the Holy Grail, a fifteen-piece artistic telling of the Grail legend by Edwin Austen Abbey.  Literary Landscapes: Maps from Fiction will be on exhibit this summer. If you’re peckish, consider lunch or tea at the Courtyard Restaurant, overlooking the Italianate central courtyard, or breakfast or lunch at the Maproom.

The Cambridge Public Library Main Branch in Cambridge
There are two main buildings to the CPL, a towering stone wing carved with gargoyles and a shiny new glass-and-steel wing. The gargoyles alone are almost worth the trip to this lovely spot outside of Harvard Square. But don’t miss the Cambridge room, which houses special collections relating to all things Cantabridgian. There’s an airy and light-filled reading room and one of the better graphic novel and comic collections you’re likely to find in a public library anywhere. There are no on-site restaurants, but you’re literally a few blocks from Harvard Square.

Longfellow House National Historic Site outside of Harvard Square
“Listen my children and you shall hear…” about one of our young nation’s most famous poets. A quick walk from Harvard Square, this historic house and gardens are steeped in the history that Longfellow helped make famous. Many of great men and women have visited this house at one point or another, including Dickens, Hawthorne, and, most famously, George Washington, who used it as his HQ during the siege of Boston.

Make Way for Ducklings statues, the Boston Common
Officially the only statue dedicated to heroic waterfowl in the U.S., this is one of the most popular photo ops in the city. Based, of course, on the Robert McCloskey book of the same title, you can’t visit the city without pausing to pat Mama Duck and her little ones (Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack). Expect some friendly jostling with tourists, nannies, mamas, and small children to get near the famous ducks.

Boston’s Literary District, Boston
Do you want to see where Lois Lowry lived? What about Louisa May Alcott, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, Henry James, Al Capp, John Updike, Khalil Gibran, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and too many others to list? If you are content to gaze on the exteriors of these places (rather than actually go inside), then you should get the Boston Lit District Map and take a walking tour. Walk the same streets as your literary heroes and see where they ate, wrote, and published.

Boston Athenæum, Boston
A 200-year-old private library with a red door, the Athenæum elicits mixed emotions for many. Part library, part museum, part social club, entirely members-only, the Athenæum is wholly Bostonian in its combination of deep cultural appreciation combined with quiet exclusivity. There are five floors of (reportedly) lovely rooms and collections.  Alas, as a visitor you can only see them during the twice-a-week Art and Architecture tours on Tuesday and Thursdays at 3.

Edgar Allen Poe statue, near Boston Common
Check out this recently unveiled statue of the Boston native striding down Boylston Street, cape flowing behind him.

If you want to venture beyond Boston you can also visit: 

Orchard House and other sites in Concord, MA
Meg, Jo, Amy, Beth, Marmee…. If those names summon childhood memories that makes you smile, then you have to take a trip out of the city to nearby Concord for a visit to Louisa May Alcott’s famous Orchard House, the autobiographical setting for Little Women. The tours are first-come-first-serve, so you can’t book ahead and sometimes they fill up fast, but this is a must-see for many bibliophiles. In addition to Orchard House, you can also visit The Ralph Waldo Emerson House, The Old Manse, The Wayside, Walden Pond, and The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery while you’re in Concord. Be aware that there’s no public transportation and parking can be tricky at all these sites (or anywhere in Concord, really).

The House of the Seven Gables in Salem, MA
Explore the house made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The House of the Seven Gables. Constituting its own National Historic Landmark District, the 2.5 acre museum campus includes carefully preserved 17th and 18th century period homes, three-season Colonial Revival Gardens and breathtaking views of Salem Harbor, Derby Wharf, and the tall ship Friendship.  Salem is about a 45 minute drive from Boston or you can get there via public transporation.

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Boston for Bibliophiles: Bookstores

Boston for Bibliophiles: Bookstores

by SLA New England member Nicole Dutton, MLIS — Librarian and Records Management Analyst at the Charles S. Morgan Technical Library of the National Fire Protection Agency

See also “Boston for Bibliophiles: Libraries

Boston is known as the Athens of America for a good reason. In Boston, we don’t care what you’re wearing, we want to know what you’re reading. Which means that even though the independent bookstore is dying elsewhere, we can still support a decent-sized eco system of indie booksellers. Many of them boast superlatives like the “oldest” or “largest” of their sort in the country.

Brookline Booksmith in Brookline
A fantastic all-round bookstore, with used books in the basement, new books upstairs, and one of the best reading schedules in the city. It boasts an excellent selection and a friendly staff. It’s also open late (well, late for Boston), with Friday and Saturday hours until 11 pm. Foodies take note: America’s Test Kitchen isn’t too far away, so Christopher Kimball reads here often.

Porter Square Books in Cambridge
Another excellent all-round bookstore tucked into a shopping center on the edge of Cambridge. No used books, but a wide selection of new books and an impressive author line up. Zing Cafe, inside the shop, sells sandwiches, coffee, tea, excellent Vietnamese spring rolls, and baked goods. Cambridge has a lot of famous authors who like to shop here, so keep your eyes peeled for celebrity sightings.

Pandemonium Books and Games in Central Square, Cambridge
Geeks, here’s your shop. Upstairs you’ll find new and used science fiction and fantasy books and downstairs you’ll find games, gamers, and gaming space. Even though the staff knows their stuff, you’re just as likely to have any question answered by a fellow shopper, who are equally knowledgeable. If you want to catch a game of Magic, The Gathering and do some role playing or board gaming, check out the online calendar.

Million Year Picnic in Harvard Square
Comic book geeks, here’s your shop. Tiny and a little hard to find, this is nonetheless one of the best comic shops in Boston. With all the latest from big and small publishers alike, plus a huge selection of back issue, you’re almost certain to find what you’re looking for. The staff is welcoming and friendly and happy to make a suggestion, without the brusque attitude you get in some comic stores. There’s also an adult-only section, if that’s your thing.

Harvard Book Store in Harvard Square
Named after the square and unaffiliated with the university, Harvard Book Store is nonetheless more erudite than many general bookstores. This isn’t where you go to grab the latest best seller, it’s where you go when you some heavy reading. Also, their cooking section is exceptional. The used book department in the basement feature some lovely coffee table books at remainder prices. It’s right next to Mr. Bartley’s, another Harvard institution that sells burgers and sandwiches.

Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Harvard Square
The oldest poetry bookstore in America! Tiny and full of poets, this is the place to be if you’re in the market for small press or university press books of poetry, in addition to the trade options. They also offer CDs of spoken word. But the biggest attraction is the deeply knowledgeable staff and the fascinating (sometimes quirky) clientele.

Raven Used Books in Harvard Square
If you really want to just browse for hours, consider this old-school used bookstore, which has a high turnover of books each week and a wide selection. Located right near Harvard University, you’ll find a heavy emphasis on scholarly and literary books, as well as art and architecture books. A lot of book for your buck.

Trident Books and Cafe in Boston
Trident is a good general bookstore and the cafe is a great place to put up your feet if you’ve been window-shopping on Newbury Street. The book selection is quite good and the people watching is exceptional: old-school hippies, tweed-jacketed academics, Prada-wearing socialites, funky musicians from nearby Berklee College of Music.

Brattle Book Shop in Boston
Established in 1825, this gem has all the gravitas and musty perfume that you expect from an antiquarian and rare-book shop. A sprawling, three-story shop, it has everything from maps and postcards to leather-bound first editions. Owner Ken Gloss is remarkably knowledgeable (he consults for libraries and universities around the world), as are his staff members.

Ars Libri in the South End
If you’re interested in art, you must visit Ars Libri. It has the country’s largest selection of rare and out-of-print books on art. The stock covers all fields from photography and architecture, as well as all eras, from antiquity to right now.

Commonwealth Books in Boston
You’ll find this bookshop down Spring Lane, which happens to be the oldest street in Boston, a gently curving cobblestoned alley. (There’s another on Milk Street, not far away.) Both locations stock used and rare books, as well as antique maps and prints.  Convenient to the Freedom Trail, it’s a great place if you need a quiet break from the bustling crowds of the tourist areas.

Schoenhof’s Foreign Books in Harvard Square
If you’re looking for foreign-language books, this is the largest such store in the country. You’ll find titles in Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish, among others. They also stock foreign-language audio books, children’s books, and language learning books and audio.

The Curious George Store in Harvard Square
Recently re-opened, this children’s bookstore sells books for kids from picture books to Y.A. (Adults who love Y.A. should be sure to go down the stairs.)  Inevitably, you’ll also find a wide selection of toys and games for the little ones. There’s a lot of Curious George-branded apparel and toys, as well.

Calamus Books in Boston
Boston’s largest selection of books for, by, and about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans people. The eclectic selection ranges from queer theory to fiction, with new and used books intermingled. The cozy shop feels very like a community center, with lots of chatting between shoppers and staff members.

Seven Stars in Central Square, Cambridge
If you can’t get up to Salem during your visit, Seven Stars is the next best thing. A spiritual bookstore, its esoteric stock covers everything from New Age to Wicca to Buddhism to Christianity. There’s a selection of paraphernalia, including crystals and jewelry. In keeping with the low-fi vibe, there’s no website but you can call (617) 547-1317 for hours and more information.


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