exterior view of Brattle Bookshop in Boston

Photo Credit: Brattle Bookshop by Francisco Seoane Perez

When we lived in Boston, the Hacker worked a couple of blocks over from the Brattle Bookshop. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the Peabody sisters or the significance of this bookshop, and I was just as likely to wander across the street to Windsor Button (now closed) to look at bamboo knitting needles and wool yarn as I was to visit Brattle.

I regret it now, but at the time this decision was mostly practical. Brattle was genius at pricing books and (I was convinced) knowing exactly what I was thinking and how much cash I had in my pocket, and if I wasn’t careful, I’d find myself meeting the Hacker on Park Street with a pile of books that was impossible for one person to carry. Which wouldn’t have been so bad except that we lived in Brighton, almost at the end of the B line, and so I’d sheepishly ask the Hacker to carry most of the books standing (because getting a seat on the B line at that hour was a miracle worth celebrating) on that bouncy train all the way home.

a view from the floor of a T train in Boston

Photo Credit: From the Floor by walkinboston

When we moved to California, I was forced to give away many of my Brattle books, along with my typewriter collection. (This was before the hipsters with typewriters craze really hit, so you were able to get a decent electric typewriter at the Flea at MIT for a dollar or two.) Since we had less than a week between learning that the Hacker got a job in San Francisco and his start date, the books that have managed to stay in my library are an odd bunch, a snapshot of who I was at the time.

Women at Work by Thomas Dublin

Women at Work by Thomas Dublin

Thomas Dublin’s Columbia dissertation on Lowell mill workers, Women at Work was research for a novel I started in New Hampshire, but I’ve kept it as evidence that I’m not the only person in the world who looks at the remains of old brick mills and wonders what happened there.

The Young Housekeeper's Friend by Mrs. Cornelius

The Young Housekeeper’s Friend by Mrs. Cornelius

The Young Housekeeper’s Friend is a survival guide written in 1859 for young women thrown into household management with no idea what they were doing. It is a bit like the Joy of Cooking of its day except instead of only having entries like “How to Salt Shad to Keep a Year” there are also instructions for how to make laundry starch and wash carpets. It came to me so well-preserved, I thought it was one of those well-intentioned books that sat on a shelf for generations, but then I smelled it, and mixed in with the old book smell you can faintly smell onions and old flour and furniture polish.

Salt Water Poems and Ballads by John Mansfield

Salt Water Poems and Ballads by John Mansfield

Whenever I open Salt Water Poems and Ballads, I half expect to hear the ocean. I reach for it whenever I hunger for the sea’s edge, the limits of the land / where the wild old Atlantic is shouting on the sand.

I love the language of the physicality of books, how before you’ve read a word they can tell you who they are.  Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is so heavy it’s exhausting to hold it up reading after awhile and seems even more weighty when compared to how slender and ghostly Marguerite Duras’s The Lover is.

And, yet, I’m an editor of an online magazine. Sometimes I wonder why that is when so much of what I read on the Internet is instantly forgotten.

Fence, End of Summer Fiction

Fence, End of Summer Fiction

A few days ago, I got a copy of Fence’s End of Summer Fiction. It’s a small collection–seven stories, 31 pages–so small I almost missed it in my mailbox. I haven’t read it yet because I’ve been lingering over the last paragraph of the introduction by Rivka Galchen:

Many of these stories appeared in a downloadable digital issue, and now appear here in print…The web has a way of moving words at unknowable velocities, and we wanted to try to float these favored words out there, among the fainting goat videos, the gun control pontificating, and the news of whether Taylor Swift is buying chocolates.

Photo Credit: Other Imprint’s Slush Pile by Kate Sullivan

Volumes have been writing about liter-a-ture in the age of the Internet, but I like this idea of Internet as a global slush pile where space is abundant and risk is cheap and a few good pieces have a chance of being schlepped across a continent in a moving truck.

Photo Credit: Small Old Book by ladytimeless