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Posts Tagged ‘bookstores’

wreath tree NYC Christmas

It’s no secret that I love New York City: in the fall, in the spring, even in a sweltering summer heat wave. But I’d never seen the city decked out for Christmas, and I’d always wanted to. So, when my husband told me he had a work conference in Chicago, I made plans for a quick solo trip: 48 hours to wander on my own. It was, as you might expect, glorious.

Every time I go to New York I fall in love. This time, it was with crisp Snapdragon apples and pumpkin cookies at the tiny farmers’ market in Abingdon Square; with the stands of freshly cut Christmas trees on so many corners, tunnels of prickly green. I even fell in love a little bit with the tree-seller who called “Merry Christmas!” and actually tipped his hat.

high line view NYC blue sky

I fell in love with running on the High Line: bold blue skies and views across the Hudson, public art and the sharp angles of skyscrapers and the pounding of my own feet. After my run, I stopped at the Hudson Cafe for oatmeal and a cup of strong Earl Grey, and fell in love with a little dog named Stella. Her owner invited me to sit down and chat, and we talked public transit and city life and unexpected career moves. “How long have you lived in the neighborhood?” I asked her. She grinned, a little wickedly. “A hundred and fifty years!”

Cornelia street cafe awning NYC

I fell in love with the cheery red-striped awnings at the Cornelia Street Cafe just off Bleecker, and with their excellent eggs Florentine (oh my). I fell in love with the stunning array of artisans in the maker space at Chelsea Market, and with the quiet, unpretentious Epiphany Library branch on East 23rd Street. I ended up there when I needed a place to rest my feet and charge my phone (because Hermione is right: when in doubt, go to the library).

red decor west village

I bought a rush ticket to Saturday night’s Live from Here with Chris Thile at the Town Hall. And while I knew I loved Thile’s mandolin music (I’m a Nickel Creek fan from way back), I fell completely in love with his warmth and charm onstage. When he invited the audience to sing along with a few lines from a John Denver song about home, it felt both magical and holy. I’ve been humming those lines ever since.

Some trips to New York are full of new discoveries, and some are about revisiting old favorites. The best are a bit of both, and this was no exception: I made sure to pop into Three Lives for a browsing session and a bit of eavesdropping on the friendly booksellers. I visited Pink Olive and refueled later with Earl Grey at Joe. I went back to Bar Six, back to the Strand, back to the Bryant Park holiday market at the main NYPL branch. I went back, most of all, to the city whose streets I find endlessly fascinating.

I didn’t make it to Rockefeller Center or walk down 5th Avenue to see all the decked-out department stores. But I did get a little of that holiday sparkle. And I did my favorite thing to do in New York: wander to my heart’s content. It was, as always, exhausting and lovely.

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book apple bench sunlight

Halfway through October and I can’t believe it, as ever. Here are the books I’ve been reading on the train, before bed, and on (rare) sunny lunch breaks:

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, Rachel Held Evans
I’ve been following Evans’ work since the publication of her first book, Faith Unraveled. We’re about the same age and we come from similar evangelical backgrounds. Her latest book is an exploration of the Bible as the messy, often frustrating, powerful text it is, rather than the tidy answer book some folks would like it to be. I loved Evans’ reimaginings of well-worn biblical stories, and appreciated her broad-minded perspective on what the Bible can be.

An Act of Villainy, Ashley Weaver
Amateur sleuth Amory Ames and her dashing husband, Milo, are drawn into a mystery involving the players in a theatrical production. The director is a friend of theirs (and the leading actress is his mistress). When murder ensues, Amory and Milo work to unmask the killer. I like this elegant series, set in London between the wars; Amory is an engaging narrator and this fifth entry was fun.

Digging In, Loretta Nyhan
Two years widowed, Paige Moresco is struggling: she and her teenage son are still grieving and now her graphic design job is in jeopardy. On impulse, she digs up half her backyard and plants a garden, to the horror of her neighbors. A fun novel about digging (literally) through grief, though I wanted more depth. Reminiscent of The Garden of Small Beginnings; not as strong, but still really enjoyable.

The Lost for Words Bookshop, Stephanie Butland
Loveday Cardew has spent her whole adult life (so far) working in the same York bookshop and avoiding her past. But the appearance of a handsome magician and copies of her estranged mother’s favorite books throw all that into question. This book broke my heart with every chapter; it’s well done and lovely but so, so sad.

The Wedding Date, Jasmine Guillory
Two people meet in a stalled elevator and end up going to a wedding together; he needs a date, and she thinks he’s cute. But, of course, it doesn’t end there. This delightful, sexy novel follows Drew and Alexa as they navigate a modern-day, long-distance relationship and face their own fears (and Alexa digs into a major work project). Sweet and spicy and so much fun.

The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House, Ben Rhodes
One of my coping mechanisms in the current political climate is reading these Obama staffer memoirs. Rhodes worked on communications and foreign policy for Obama for a decade. This thoughtful, fascinating, well-written insider account recalls a saner time in national politics and helps explain how we got to where we are now. Lots of flashbacks to my last job at HKS; Rhodes’ days – not the setting but the focus and the rhythm – bore some striking parallels to mine.

Our Homesick Songs, Emma Hooper
As the fish disappear from Newfoundland’s waters in the 1990s, the local families leave to find work. Ten-year-old Finn Connor, left almost alone, hatches a plan to bring the fish back. Meanwhile, his parents are taking turns leaving the island to work, and his older sister Cora is trying to find her own way. Haunting and beautiful and sad; started off slowly but I ended up loving it. I also adored Hooper’s debut, Etta and Otto and Russell and James.

Help Me!: One Woman’s Quest to Find Out if Self-Help Really Can Change Your Life, Marianne Power
I’m a little tired of “stunt” memoirs, but gave this one a go. British journalist Power recounts her year-plus of reading and trying to follow one self-help tome per month. Predictably, she does not turn into a perfect, worry-free version of herself – but she does learn some important lessons, often with hilarious effects. Dragged in the middle (when she became a bit self-obsessed), but I thought it ended well. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 15 in the U.S.).

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, Karina Yan Glaser
When their elderly neighbor has a stroke, the Vanderbeeker kids want to do something good for him, so they begin turning an abandoned lot into a garden. Challenges and hilarity (as well as the threat of a condo complex) ensue. A heartwarming sequel to the first Vanderbeeker book. These siblings are the 21st-century Harlem version of the Melendys, whom I adore. So much fun.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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back bay church trees Hancock tower

I’m into the eighth week at my new job, and I get asked all the time: How is it? Are you settling in? Do you like it?

The answers to all these questions are mostly positive, but alongside them is another truth: adjusting to a new neighborhood has been hard.

My first job in the Boston area was at Emerson College, steps from the Common and the Boston Public Garden. My new job, at Berklee College of Music, finds me a mile or so from there, among the collection of brownstones and skyscrapers that make up the Back Bay.

I miss Harvard Square, where I’ve spent every workday for the last five years and which (as regular readers know) I adore. But there are a few things, so far, to recommend this neighborhood. Here they are, in no particular order:

Boston public library blue sky Hancock tower Boston

  • The gorgeous central Boston Public Library, above, a few blocks from my office. I often pop in during my workday or on my way to the train. Bonus: they have a good cafe.
  • The sunny, plant-filled conference room at work, where I take my laptop as often as I can.
  • The tiny Trader Joe’s down the street, which provides me with affordable flowers (when I can’t get to Brattle Square), dark chocolate peanut butter cups, and a place to grab last-minute grocery items.
  • The Copley Square farmers’ market on Tuesdays and Fridays. Related: the few intrepid vendors who come out even in the rain. I miss Amanda and her tamales, but am glad for a place to pick up fresh produce.
  • The nearest Flour location, which has $5 soup, decent chai (it’s not Darwin’s but it’ll do), and friendly employees.
  • The Commonwealth Avenue mall: green and lovely and dotted with benches.
  • So many happy dogs, walking the streets with their owners or in packs shepherded by dog walkers.
  • Trident, the newly reopened bookstore down the street.
  • The midweek Eucharist service at Trinity Church: I’ve only been once so far but it was lovely.
  • Occasional walks along the Esplanade, when I have time.

What’s saving your life these days? Heaven knows we all need to take our joy where we can find it, right now.

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Williamsburg bridge

I started a new job last week, about which more soon. But before that: one last summer weekend adventure.

My friend Kirsten was house- and dog-sitting for a friend in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and she invited me to come down for a weekend. I thought: This could be either totally crazy or just what I need.

Well, it was both. But mostly just what I needed.

I took the train down on a Friday morning and, on arrival, headed straight for the West Village. It was swampy hot outside, but iced hibiscus tea and avocado toast at Bluestone Lane went a long way toward cooling me down.

avocado toast iced tea nbc

I spent a while wandering my favorite tangle of streets, browsing Pink Olive and popping into Three Lives for some poetry and bookseller gossip. Then I headed to Astoria for iced tea with Carlee, a friend from Abilene who just moved to the city for grad school. We talked as fast as we could. It was lovely to be together.

Eventually, I made it over to Williamsburg, and Kirsten and I spent the evening wandering and talking, mostly in the company of this lovely canine.

stick dog puppy

This is Stick, and she’s a sweetheart. Aside from trying to lick us to death (which I didn’t mind terribly), she was a wonderful weekend companion. We took several long walks around the neighborhood, and she hopped up on the bed for some snuggles in the early mornings.

We enjoyed Greek food and cocktails at Ela Taverna on Friday night, and walked home through a light, cool rain.

The next morning, Stick and I walked to the nearby park and stumbled onto a farmers’ market. I bought a pastry and some blackberries, and we swung by The Bean (dog friendly!) for chai on the way back. Later on, Kirsten and I grabbed brunch at Allswell in the neighborhood.

k&k brunch allswell Williamsburg

Saturdays are perfect for wandering, and that’s what we did: up and down the neighborhood streets, into and out of funky shops, over to Domino Park with its views of Manhattan and city residents playing volleyball and soaking up the sunshine.

That evening found us grabbing a bite and heading up to Times Square to see Carousel, which was gorgeous and sad. I wasn’t familiar with the story and found it a bit convoluted, to be honest. But the dancing was beautiful, the set was exquisite and Broadway is always magical. We got ice cream afterward, and dragged our tired selves back to Brooklyn.

carousel broadway marquee sign

I had to head home on Sunday, but we did enjoy an early light lunch at a cafe before I hopped on the subway. In addition to all the wandering, we spent hours talking about work and family and life. It was a series of new adventures in a city I know and love: perfect for a weekend that served as a hinge between old and new. And, of course, the puppy snuggles didn’t hurt.

Katie stick dog heart Brooklyn

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devereux beach marblehead

On Fridays in the summer, we like to take day trips.

Since my husband is usually done early on Fridays (he’s a therapist and his schedule ebbs and flows with the school year and vacations), and I’m freelancing/job hunting, we are continuing our summer tradition of exploring the Boston area. A few weeks ago, we decided to revisit Marblehead, a little town on the North Shore that we’d visited a long while back.

It was a hot, humid afternoon, but it was – in a word – glorious.

striped petunias window box flowers

We drove up after a busy morning: sessions for him, yoga and errands and some writing work at the library for me. After a freak thunderstorm, the skies had (mostly) cleared, and we nosed our way into the pretty downtown area, and spent a couple of hours wandering.

I found a sweet blue dress at a boutique called She, and we poked in and out of several other shops. I was disappointed to find that Authors and Artists, a great old used bookstore, had closed (or at least moved?). But the Spirit of ’76 Bookstore, several streets over, is thriving. Of course we had to go for a browse.

spirit of 76 bookstore interior

We also found a garden shop overflowing with flowers, and Bella, one of the resident spaniels, sprawled out in the doorway.

garden shop flowers dog spaniel bella

We headed, with our books, over to Devereux Beach, where J settled down on my yoga mat (necessity being the mother of invention) and I waded into the waves, then walked up and down the beach for a while. I love the feel of sand under my feet, of wind and waves and sky. Eventually I stretched out next to J and read a bit of Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places, which felt fitting even though we were only a mile from town.

katie devereux beach selfie marblehead

When we got hungry, we headed back in and decided to try the local taqueria, Howling Wolf, which – glory be – was delicious. We took the leftover salsa home and snacked on it for days.

All in all, a delightful return to Marblehead. I’m sure we’ll be back (again).

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bookstore lenox sign natalie goldberg event

A couple of Sundays ago, I skipped out on church early and drove out to the Berkshires for the afternoon.

I’m a longtime fan of The Bookstore in Lenox, despite the fact that I only get out there every couple of years. Matt, the owner, writes a rambling, erudite e-newsletter which I love reading every week, and in early July I opened it to find that Natalie Goldberg was coming for a Sunday afternoon reading and book signing.

This came the day after I’d been talking to a friend about Natalie’s work – explaining how I stumbled on Writing Down the Bones the summer after I graduated from college, when an acquaintance was selling off a few of her books. I bought it and a few others (including Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water), never dreaming what an effect Natalie’s words would have on the way I thought about my writing and my life.

The whole afternoon, from start to finish, was a delight. It felt – as these things sometimes do – like grace unbidden.

bookstore lenox interior shelves

It started with the drive there, listening to good music on the radio and Elizabeth Gilbert’s delightful On Being episode, about following your curiosity. It continued when I walked into the store and heard the events manager testing the mic by reciting “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” in an Irish accent. He stopped after a couple of lines and mused, “Should I do the whole poem?” Everyone who’d already gathered responded, “Yes!”

I browsed a little while, then perched on a stool near the front counter for the event itself. Natalie arrived with her cousins in tow, and she was warm and down-to-earth, as I always hope authors will be. She read a few sections from her new book, standing in the middle of the store in a long black dress, telling us about love and illness and noticing, about grief and doctors and paying attention.

“You’re such deep listeners,” she kept saying to the group gathered in folding chairs or leaning against the back shelves. I think we were all simply fascinated. But it was clear that everyone in the room was so happy to be there.

I loved every moment: the breeze wafting through the open door, other browsers wandering in and out, my fellow audience members listening so intently and asking good questions. Most of all I loved hearing Natalie’s voice – which I have heard so often in my head over the years – in real life. Afterward, I went up and asked her to sign both her new book and my copy of Writing Down the Bones, bristling with Post-Its. “I’ll sign as many books as you want,” she had said to the crowd, and many of us took her up on that offer.

The great pleasure of any bookstore is browsing, of course, and I wandered among the shelves for a little while before and after the event. I ended up with a copy of Natalie’s new book (of course), a memoir by a 747 pilot, some Alastair Reid poetry, and Matt’s slim, self-published memoir of his years working at the now-defunct Gotham Book Mart in NYC. He exclaimed when I brought it to the register, and we had a delightful exchange. I told him I’d been there before, and how much I love the store. Matt offered to sign his book, and when I peeked inside I saw that he’d inscribed it – to my delight – “For Katie, who came back!”

I left feeling nourished in a soul-deep way: from having spent an afternoon among people who love words and good stories and this world. “I wanted to grab a hunk of living again and hold on tight,” Natalie writes in the introduction to her new memoir. That afternoon in Lenox was a vivid, flavorful hunk of living, and I savored its sweetness all the way home.

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invisible ghosts book cherries lemonade

My reading has slowed down a little as I adjust to a new rhythm (and fewer commutes). But I’ve still read some great books recently. Here’s the latest roundup:

Invisible Ghosts, Robyn Schneider
Rose Asher has gotten used to being invisible, spending most of her time watching Netflix with the ghost of her dead brother, Logan. But when her former neighbor Jamie moves back to town – and it turns out he can see Logan too – lots of things begin to change. A sweet, funny, moving YA novel about grief, love and moving on. A serendipitous find at the Harvard Book Store.

Virgil Wander, Leif Enger
I won an ARC of Enger’s new novel (out in October) from the publisher. (I loved his first novel, Peace Like a River.) This is a quiet story of some odd, likable, utterly human people living in a forgotten Minnesota town. The narrator/title character runs the nearly-defunct movie house. Full of lovely sentences and vivid details, like the intricate kites one character makes by hand. I didn’t love the ending but the rest of it was wonderful.

Death on the Menu, Lucy Burdette
I like Burdette’s cozy Key West mystery series, narrated by quirky, nosy food critic narrator Hayley Snow. This eighth entry involves a big catering event gone awry, Hemingway’s Nobel Prize medal, and (of course) murder. Fun and a bit zany, though some of the recurring plot threads are getting a little tired. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 7).

Love & Gelato, Jenna Evans Welch
Reeling from her mother’s death, Lina goes to Tuscany to spend the summer with the father she’s never met. Once there, she finds a journal her mother kept during her art-student days in Florence, which may hold clues to Lina’s own story. Sweet and romantic, if a little predictable. Made me crave gelato, of course. Recommended by my girl Allison.

The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane
I love Macfarlane’s keen-eyed, lyrical nonfiction about walking and wildness. This book traces his journeys through various wild places – forests, mountains, islands – in the British Isles. Luminous, thoughtful, keenly observed, like all his work.

My Years at the Gotham Book Mart, Matthew Tannenbaum
Matt owns and runs the wonderful Bookstore in Lenox, MA, which I recently (re)visited. This is his slim, rambling self-published memoir of working at the now-defunct Gotham Book Mart in NYC. I picked it up mostly because I love talking to him (and I got him to sign it). So fun.

Save the Date, Morgan Matson
Charlotte “Charlie” Grant’s big sister is getting married, which means Charlie’s whole family will be back together at their house for the first time in a while. But once the wedding weekend gets underway, everything starts to go wrong. A hilarious story of wedding disasters, and an insightful look at how even the people we love are more messy and complicated than we might expect. Matson’s YA novels are so much fun, and this one was no exception.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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