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.








Jane Austen and quoting–all gone wrong?

Quoting is something I like to do.  Actually I send friends, family and colleagues quotes over email, for their birthdays, and also on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  Another little tradition have started up and kept going.

It’s quite well known, that Austen with her wicked wit, has her fair share of quotable quips.  They grace stationary and all manner of accessories but this morning my mum was a little upset.  It seems Bill Belichick, coach of the U.S. football team the New England Patriots and his companion Linda Halliday, celebrated Valentine’s Day with a tropical vacation — lovely for them.

Per CBS Sports, Halliday noted the occasion by tweeting a photo of them on the beach and: “Her caption included the following quote: ‘You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love … I love … I love you!'”

Our local CBS affiliate here in Boston, WBZ* cited the quote as belonging to Jane Austen.

Thus upsetting my mum on several levels.

Because the words just did set right with her.

She could not quite remember what they said on the air — to tell me.

Kept saying it included over and over, “I love you.”  Which didn’t ring true to me.

So I promised to search online when I had a moment at work today, which I did.

First I found the article  about their vacation and the tweet, then realized the quote was probably from the most recent Pride and Prejudice movie (2005) adaptation with Keira Knightley in the role of Elizabeth Bennet.

“Bewitched” is kind of a deal breaker here.  Right now I’m without free access to the Oxford English Dictionary, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the kind of word that would not have been used during the Regency by any author in a positive context.

With a little more searching I was able to confirm it —  “You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you.  I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.”  These were Mr. Darcy’s lines spoken by actor Matthew Macfadyn, and written by screenwriter Deborah Moggach.  Sources are writer and Janeite, Deborah Yaffe’s blog/website and also the Internet Movie Database (IMDB)/Amazon.

Most Janeites are familiar with Austen’s original scene and dialogue, where Mr. Darcy says to Elizabeth: “You are too generous to trifle with me.  If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once.  My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever.”

Austen continues the scene but only with description and not specific dialogue: “Elizabeth feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently gave him to understand, that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he had alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure, his present assurances.  The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had never felt before and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do.”

Austen excerpts from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, Penguin Classics 1985.

To be clear, I’m not slighting Ms. Moggach’s work, I enjoyed her script, and personally the only part of the 2005 film, that I disliked was the reworking/reimagining of the scene at Pemberley.

Moggach’s interpretation of Austen are expanded and quite romantic but I still prefer the original dialogue.

*Full disclosure, I was an assignment desk intern at WBZ-TV in Boston during the summer of 1991, but at that time it was an NBC not a CBS affiliate.



“I have good news.”

In Ang Lee’s film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, Emma Thompson portrays Elinor (and Thompson also wrote the screenplay for which she received an Oscar), says this line to Edward (portrayed by Hugh Grant).  The scene drawn on reams of awkwardness as in the original novel. Colonel Brandon has generously offered Edward the living at his estate at Delaford, so that Edward can realistically have a living after being cast off by his family and marry Lucy.  And the Colonel asks Elinor to deliver the news, completely unaware of course, that Elinor herself is in love with Edward.

Austen’s original lines in her book are not as succinct as in the film version: “I have something of consequence to inform you of, which I was on the pointing of communicating by paper.  I am charged with a most agreeable office, (breathing rather faster than usual as she spoke).”  Here I find Austen’s insertion of Elinor’s description of fast breathing rather telling.

Austen is setting a scene of frayed nerves, with compressed emotions, and continues to convey a very precarious scene unfolding, “What Edward felt, as he could not say it himself, it cannot be expected that anyone else should say for him  He looked all the astonishment which such unexpected, such unthought-of information could not fail of exciting; but he said only these two words:  Colonel Brandon!”

“Yes,” continued Elinor, gathering more resolution as some of the worst was over, “Colonel Brandon means it as a testimony of his concern for what has lately passed–”

And I’m going to leave off on quoting the passage there.  Returning to the the film version, the scene was awkward with Elinor (Thompson) and Edward (Grant) sort of shifting around, avoid eye contact, until Elinor (Thompson) sort of opens her arms, and gestures for Edward (Grant) to sit, while saying, “I have good news.”

Often I think of the line and it’s origins.  The idea that is a composite or a riff off one of my favorite author’s pivotal scenes often recalls me to sort of say it was a good long pause. Rather like the delivery of actor Emma Thompson, when I have the rare occasion to say it, often at work.  “I have good news,” is not something I say with any regularity and I try to keep (unlike Austen’s Elinor), a good even breath and tone.

These days as we enter the month of October, and are in reminders of the color pink and breast cancer awareness — it’s all we can hope for really.  My maternal grandmother was diagnosed in 1975, but lived until 1999.  My mom was diagnosed in 2014 right before my dad passed away, her surgery was just a small one, but the timing was terrible, she had to have it during my dad’s last days in ICU — and so I was left to run between buildings in Mass. General Hospital in Boston.  The realization of an only child’s worst nightmare.

Before my mum was diagnosed I was not considered high risk but that all changed.  And in February of 2016 my mammogram lit up.  After ultrasounds and biopsies — it wasn’t cancer but my surgeon, who like most surgeons I’ve met is not a big talker — told me simply it was a polyp in my duct and they were going to take it.  To note, he also does genetic profiling which is why I think I was assigned to him chiefly due to family history and my age, etc.  And learned about the high rate of change of cells, and read about the high incidence of cancer often beginning in the duct afterwards.  My surgery was minor, so I was back to work after a few days. Had a follow up mammogram a few months later.  As recommended my mother went in for the genetic testing and it turns out she doesn’t have any of the genes that are a pre-cursor to breast cancer — so I don’t have them either.  That was good news.

The close watch also requires an MRI every 6 months as well, which are difficult because: 1) MRI’s are very expensive and they must be pre-approved by my insurance company as medically necessary at least one week before, 2) the MRI must be done during a certain physical time of the month and Mother Nature often does not cooperate with the scheduling. The MRI is to keep an eye on a group of cysts–they are not cancerous yet (I had an MRI biopsy in the summer of 2016 they came back clear no high change of cells or anything yet) and it seems some people have a lot of cysts, just like acne or moles, but still they are just part of the whole close watch.

The last MRI was in May 2017 — after several attempts and rescheduling  it was done not at MGH Boston but outside the city, I had to go to work, leave, catch a shuttle  bus that did not take me right there, but luckily a nice lady on the bus helped me find it a few blocks away it via the GPS on her phone.  The tech was nice enough but they were short handed and one point he thought he may have perforated my vein hooking up the IV, finally it was all sorted out I just wanted to get it over with and we did. Ending up climbing out of the MRI machine myself because they were so understaffed and took a regular bus back to the train and the city.

By the time I got back to work there was only enough time left in the day to check email and mail and sort things out, and then my cell phone rang. It was the nurse practitioner (NP) covering for the NP from my surgeon/doctor’s office.  And I sort of freaked out but she said, “I have good news.”  The MRI results were back, and the cysts everything was the same, etc. She told me they would schedule me again, and the date awaits on the calendar. I’m hoping that Mother Nature and everything will comply, and again I just hope for that line, “I have good news.”