Literary Digression: Bookstore Memories-Barnes & Noble, Washington St., Boston, MA, US (Downtown Crossing).

Awhile ago, a colleague told me that he: “Grew up in a law firm.”  Which upon reflection was I thought, one of the saddest things anyone’s really ever said to me.  The phrase still rattles in my brain and modified remains with me, because if I were to borrow and tweak the expression, into how I  “grew up” in a bookstore, it was at the Barnes & Noble on Washington Street in Boston.

Downtown Crossing is a shopping district over the last decade or so, going through a transition into a full city neighborhood.  But during my youth, when you said you were going “into town,” that meant the city (Boston), and State Street (formerly King St.), into Washington Street leading into Downtown Crossing, the intersections of Summer and Winter Streets up to Tremont Street.

First ventured into the city with my junior high school friends, we as early teenagers, left the safe confines of Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, which back in the 1980’s was still diverse as part of an urban development, was a growing tourist destination and slowly transforming into a gentrified mall, although there were still small boutiques and vendors which were different, often local and interesting.

Had to walk quite a few blocks away to find Downtown Crossing, full of shoe stores, clothing stores (local and national chains), and our two (2) main department stores, Filene’s (the original location of the popular, discount Filene’s Basement) and Jordan Marsh.  Nearby was also Lauriet’s a local, beloved bookstore, but I didn’t discover it until my 20’s (and saving it for another post).

Barnes & Nobles (B&N) was located a few doors down from Strawberries a music store chain, which was usually our primary destination.  In those days, the early-to mid 1980’s you had to check your bags.  Clearly I remember checking our bags and things at Strawberries, (and the scowls of whoever had to work the security desk in their bright red vests) but not at B&N.

Vast with a ground floor filled with tables piled with books.  Years later I would find and get to know, the well-worn rhythms and patterns of book promotions — books being set up to lead you back to others, and books being discounted and then cleared away.  Back then — not so much.  Just was an immense maze — novels, poetry and authors that I would browse in wonder.

My best memory of the main floor is crowded, they had a large amount of floor space walled off for the classical music section which had a security doorway.  There was also a large information desk added years later.  Once, I went to pick up my friend Clive’s book I pre-ordered at the desk, and later another colleague told me he stopped by to pick up a book.  And they gave him Clive’s in error, which was kind of a joke because our mail was often mixed up at reception too.  But he brought Clive’s book back to the desk and alerted them, and I was able to pick it up later.

There was a large escalator that lead you up to the second floor which was non-fiction.  Here I’m pretty sure, is one location where I purchased all kinds of college/university study guides for the required U.S. testing, the SATs, and the GRE’s.  Later on, as a 20-something trying to find work post university and deciding about graduate studies, I remember often being in a bewildered slash overwhelmed daze, flipping through the popular “For Dummies” guides with their bright yellow covers.

For years, spent a lot of time browsing the discount tables by the escalators.  Honestly probably was my favorite part of the store.  Even after a large Border’s opened a few blocks away at the corner of Washington and School Streets — B&N continued to be busy in an old school way — it wasn’t as tricked out as the newer B&N Superstores out in the suburbs.  There was no cafe and oddly have no memories of attending any author readings there.

For a short time, during the late 90’s into the 00’s — in Downtown Crossing there were two (2) large chains B&N and Border’s, which made gift/book shopping easy.  To paraphrase, Nora Ephron in her film You’ve Got Mail, if one bookstore didn’t have it (the book you were looking for), the other probably did.  And I do recall searching for and purchasing many children’s books for gifts at this B&N for younger cousins and children of friends — although I cannot exactly recall if the children’s department, was originally located on the main floor and then moved upstairs or not, but I think it was moved at some point.

Something had to give I suppose, with the advent e-readers and rising rents both contributed to the collapse of the mega chain bookstores in the US.  In 2007 and 2008, I took a dance classes and a rotating schedule, and met a Harry Potter loving reader/bookseller that worked in the Downtown Crossing B&N.  Eventually she told me of the stores’ struggles and very sadly it closed within the year or so. And I was worried about her job but she was transferred to a newer outlet/superstore in the Prudential Center complex, a mall in the Copley Square area of Boston.

The former B&N storefront still remains empty to this day.  My dream is they will re-open and bring a bookstore back to Downtown Crossing.








Literary Digression: Stumbling upon a friend’s book @ my town’s lovely bookstore and cafe.

So was out and about this morning, doing the usual errands, bank, dry cleaners and post office.  Thought I pop round the Winthrop Book Depot & Cafe, our local bookstore/cafe for a little gift shopping.  It’s a cozy little oasis with a nice selection of multicultural children’s books and other offerings, Y/A, fiction, nonfiction, and bestsellers, as well as local authors and what do I see on the shelf? My friend and indie author, Farha Hasan’s most recent book — Beauty Sleeping — a modern twist/mystical re-telling of the traditional story.  Which is a a fun and fascinating read, especially during the gray days we are dealing with in the middle of winter.  And if you are ever lost between East Boston and the airport, or severely delayed out of Boston’s Logan Airport, with some time to spare set your GPS  and please venture out and pay the Winthrop Book Depot a visit at 11 Somerset Ave. Winthrop, MA 02152.  The Winthrop Book Depot & Cafe is family run, with a menu of coffees, teas, baked goods and treats to enjoy, along with exhibits featuring the work of local artists, as well as special events including author readings and performances.


Literary Digression: One Indie Bookstore’s four (4) most stolen authors.

Yesterday, I visited Porter Square Books in Cambridge.  It is a wonderful independent, local, bookstore and whenever I’m in the area I try to pay a visit.  Was a beautiful day so the bookstore was as quiet as I’ve ever seen it, even post-Boston marathon bombing in 2013.*

Started to browse in the front of the store, in the fiction section. My cousin’s 16th birthday is coming up so was thinking about a book for him.  And I see this sign: “If you are looking for F. Scott Fitzgerald ask at the counter.”  Which I thought was weird, like did I miss something?  Did Fitzgerald get banned in Boston and just totally missed it?

This sort of bothered me, while I continued taking a look around the store, found a few gifts in their lovely children’s section which has a nice selection of multi-cultural books and authors, before I checked my watch and I realized I’d lost track of time.  So I went to the counter to check out.  The clerk rang up my books and I said, “Can I ask you a quick question? Why is F. Scott Fitzgerald behind the counter?”  And he was very sweet and explained to me that F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of their top four (4) most stolen authors.

This sort of blew me away and I went to meet my Bookcrossing friends at a Panera Bread Cafe a few doors down. Everyone unpacked the books we swap and trade and got some lunch and started to catch up.  And told them my little adventure over a few doors down and before I could recite the rest of the authors — everyone wanted to guess.  So that was fun — everyone was contributing names and they got two of them, but the remaining slot was unknown so when they were done guessing I told them.

Here goes:

S. Scott Fitzgerald —



And this was the stumper:


While Bukowski and Vonnegut make sense to me, I don’t really understand Fitzgerald or Hemingway because I think of them as required, high school reading.  When our teachers used to just hand out the copies for required reading, but maybe they don’t do this any longer.

Figuring each indie bookstore has their own list–and I should ask and every time I visit one and see what they say.

*In April 2013, the U.S. was still participating in World Book Night.  My friend lives in North Cambridge, so she and I signed up to pick up our books at Porter Square Books, and there was to be a sort of party.  My friend and I arranged to meet earlier in the day, a sort of belated birthday celebration for me, we saw an independent movie based on a true story about Australian/Aboriginal girls that formed a Motown group and sang for the U.S. troops in Vietnam.  During the film, they showed them performing in Vietnam, when there was an attack and they had to run for cover as bombs exploded.  Hadn’t been to the movies in awhile and commented to my friend in a whisper — my god this sound system — feels like the building is shaking.  Which of course, it was from the bombs going off across the Charles River at the marathon. But we had no idea until we left and went to a nearby restaurant for an early dinner and found out what happened. We went back to her apartment to see the news and call the bookstore to see if we could still pick up the books. Which we did — the party was off but the clerk gave us some cookies they had set up earlier that day.  Think she was relieved to see us.  My friend actually drove me and the books back home which was very generous of her, because at that point no one knew really what was going on and/or if the attacks were over. Days later, my friend called Porter Square Books and ended up picking up several boxes of books never claimed.  She and I managed to give them out/away about a month after.





Letter to Cassandra Sunday, November 1798

One of many letters sent by Austen from Steventon to her older Sister Cassandra at their brother’s Godmersham Park estate — per the notes another letter missing in between in Austen’s correspondence.  Austen starts off with a bit of wicked wit, apparently the sisters were exchanging news between Godemersham and Steventon: “I shall not take the trouble of announcing to you any more of Mary’s children, if, instead of thanking me for the intelligence, you always sit down and write to James.  I am sure nobody can desire your letters so much as I do, and I don’t think anybody deserves them so well.  Having now relieved my heart of a great deal of malevolence, I will proceed to tell you that Mary continues quite well, and my mother tolerably so.”

Austen continues on with family news including an update on their brother Henry and his commission as well as news of extended family, neighbors, her report on a very small ball, Nanny (Mrs.) Hilliard, and the Littleworths — per the notes the Littleworths were often employed as servants by the Austens at Steventon.

Gives her sister also a shopping update about items purchased from a traveling pedaler  including Irish linen, detailing amounts and quality.  She then updates her sister on their father’s reading purchase, “We have got ‘Fitz-Albini’; my father bought it against my private wishes, for it does not satisfy my feelings that we should purchase the only one of Egerton’s work of which his family are ashamed.  That these scruples, however, do not at all interfere with my reading it, you will easily believe. We have neither of us yet finished the first volume.  My father is disappointed — I am not, for I expected nothing better.”

Continues on with the literary review for her sister: “There is very little story, and what there is told in a strange, unconnected way.  There are many characters introduced, apparently merely to be delineated.”

Austen then skips over to news about Mr. Austen selling sheep and requesting some of their brother Edward’s pigs before returning to literature and books incorporating mention of a favorite poet.  “We have got Boswell’s ‘Tour to the Hebrides’, and are to have the ‘Life of Johnson’; and, as some money will yet remain in Burdon’s hands, it is to be laid out in the purchase of Cowper’s works.”  Per the notes, Burdon is probably a reference to a book seller.

The letter concludes with Austen updating her sister on her efforts at correspondence which as seemed to exhaust her although she sends a whimsical message to her nephew Edward, “so that altogether I am tolerably tired of letter-writing, and, unless I have anything new to tell you or my mother or Mary, I shall not write again for many days; perhaps a little repose may restore my regard for a pen.  Ask little Edward whether Bob Brown wears a great coat this cold weather.”

All notes/cites to Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deirdre LeFaye, Fourth edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.