Literary Boston

I recently returned from a brief stay in Boston. It was my first time visiting the charming city, and there was a lot to see and do (certainly more than I had time for). I tasted some delicious seafood, watched whales swim off into the sunset in the middle of the ocean and wandered leisurely through many beautiful public spaces. But the sojourn also had a noticeable literary angle.

On my first full day, I visited the Boston Public Library. I was impressed with the building’s design. One of my favourite areas was the Bates Hall Reading Room. It was gorgeous and quiet and serene. I could have stayed there all day.

Bates Hall Reading Room at the Boston Public Library

As I peeked through one of the building’s windows, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the library’s courtyard. Later on I took the opportunity to go downstairs and wander around in it.

courtyard at the Boston Public Library

I stopped by the rare books section of the library. The featured exhibit was on Robert Browning, with some focus on his relationship with Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I thought it was neat to see their marriage certificate up close.

Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s marriage certificate displayed in the Boston Public Library

Lucky for me, a literary landmarks walking tour was scheduled to take place during my stay. The tour started on the oldest street corner in Boston, near the building that used to be the Old Corner Bookstore. Not only was this building a bookstore, but it was also a publishing house. This is where books such as Walden and The Scarlet Letter were published. It’s now a Chipotle Mexican Grill.

What was once a bookstore and a publishing house is now a Chipotle Mexican Grill.

The tour stopped by houses that were once lived in by such literary figures as Henry James, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott. But I didn’t take many pictures of these houses. I was too busy imagining myself living in a different time.

Throughout my visit, I took the chance to browse in some of the bookstores I stumbled across. I especially enjoyed looking at books in the open air…and looking up at this neat mural. (I don’t remember the name of this bookstore, though.)

outdoor book-browsing

I told myself that I would only browse, and that I wouldn’t buy anything. But then I decided I’d let myself purchase one book. After all, it would be nice to have a souvenir. I thought Walden was appropriate enough. I picked up a copy at the Harvard Book Store.

Harvard Book Store

Harvard University

The trip had a great balance of activities and opportunities to relax. There was ample time to sit back with a book and some lovely settings in which to do so.

Public Garden

Yeah, I’d say Boston and I will meet again one day.


Dreaming of a writer’s life in Paris

I’ve got Paris on my mind.

About a month ago, I picked up a book called Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer. I was browsing in one of my favourite bookstores when I saw it. I had never heard of the book before, but the subtitle caught my eye: “A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co.” The memoir is about one Canadian writer’s experience living and writing above the famous bookstore.

I’ve spent some time writing in Paris as well. All right—my experience was nothing like Mercer’s. I was in Paris for a brief time in 2007. For the second half of September, I wandered the city streets, visited landmarks and ate pastries. But, maybe because I went alone, I ended up writing a lot, too. I took a notebook with me everywhere I went. I wrote from the lookout of the Eiffel Tower. I wrote under a tree in Père Lachaise Cemetery. I wrote in quaint cafés and on benches that line the Seine.

I made a point of visiting Shakespeare and Company, too, and was entranced by the store’s beauty and by the amount of books surrounding me. But at that time, I was unaware there were writers living upstairs, typing and scribbling away as I shopped below.

before entering the shop in September 2007

Since finishing Time Was Soft There, I’ve read a few other books that are set in Paris. Sometimes it was because of a conscious effort (Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London). Other times, it was a coincidence (David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day). I just can’t seem to kick my Paris habit. At least not yet.

I don’t believe anyone has to go to Paris in order to write. And I know the idea is a cliché. But the romantic in me can’t help but dream about living and writing in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.