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.

Good old-fashioned letter-writing

I’m going to write a letter—a real letter. You know, the kind you write with actual paper and a pen. I haven’t written one of these in quite some time. Sure, I’ll often jot down short notes in birthday cards, or I’ll type out emails. But I can’t remember the last time I filled multiple pages of paper using a pen, then sent it off for someone else to read. I even bought some new stationery for this occasion.

My new stationery and trusty pen, waiting patiently for me.

If you’re wondering who the lucky recipient is (and I know you’re on the edge of your seat), I’m writing to my grandmother. The truth is, I probably wouldn’t write this letter if she had ever learned how to use email. But, despite my attempts to convince her to try it, it’s become clear that’s not going to happen. And because I’m not too crazy about telephone conversations, I decided mailing a note would be a good way to stay in touch between family gatherings.

I know I’m not the only who’s been thinking about letter-writing. Earlier this week, I heard people will gather this Sunday at Toronto’s First Post Office to write letters. This reminded me of something I read in the Toronto Star about the Post a Letter Social Activity Club. The club consists of a group of people who meet regularly to write letters and notes.

The fascination doesn’t seem to stop with writing letters, or even with receiving them. We also like to read ones addressed to people other than ourselves. Entire books of letters have been published. On Valentine’s Day, I read about the letters of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning going online. Instead of just reading transcriptions, the handwritten words can be viewed as Barrett or Browning would have seen them.

Maybe this interest in letter-writing is simply a matter of nostalgia. Or perhaps it shows that some forms of communication are forever relevant. In any case, I’m going to write this letter. I’m not sure yet what it will say, but I don’t think I’ll have a problem filling at least a few pages. This is why writing to your grandmother is a good choice—she’ll care to read every last word, no matter how much of it is drivel. I just hope she isn’t too critical of my penmanship.