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And just like that, it’s October – the asters are out, the nights are drawing in and we’re nine days away from our big fundraising gala at work. Here’s what I have been reading, to cap off September:

The Littlest Library, Poppy Alexander
After her beloved Mimi dies, Jess Metcalfe moves to a tiny country cottage on a whim. When she creates a little library out of the red phone box near her cottage, Jess finds herself becoming part of the community – but can she stay there? A sweet British rom-com – I found the ending a bit disappointing, but it was still fun.

World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, Aimee Nezhukumatathil
I loved these vivid essays about various “wonders” – trees, insects and other creatures – mixed with the author’s personal experiences. Nezhukumatathil is a poet, and you can see it in her language. Beautiful, thoughtful and often unexpected.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Taylor Jenkins Reid
Everyone from my sister to my book-blogging friends recommended this novel about a reclusive Hollywood star who finally decides to tell her life story to an up-and-coming reporter. I blew through it in an evening – Hollywood glamour, compelling storytelling, some well-drawn characters – though it ultimately made me really sad. Marriage was always a calculation for Evelyn, and her decisions ended up hurting a lot of the people she loved. Still a fascinating story.

The No-Show, Beth O’Leary
Three different women are stood up by the same man on Valentine’s Day – what’s going on? Is he a cad, or is there more to the story? O’Leary’s fourth rom-com follows Miranda, Siobhan and Jane as they deal with the implications of his actions. Really fun and clever; I liked this one a lot better than The Road Trip, but not as much as The Switch.

The Gilded Girl, Alyssa Colman
When Emma Harris comes to Miss Posterity’s school of magic, she finds it challenging, but things are going okay – until her father dies and she’s forced to work as a servant. With the help of Izzy, a servant girl with magic of her own, Emma searches for ways to keep learning magic. This had a fun premise but was just okay; very much inspired by A Little Princess. I loved Tom, the newsie who befriends the girls. Found at Phoenix Books in Burlington, VT, this summer.

Animal Life, Audur Ava Olafsdottir
As a historic storm approaches Iceland at Christmastime, Domhildur reflects on her own midwifery career and that of her great-aunt, who left behind a series of manuscripts musing on coincidences, birth, humankind and light. This slim novel was both odd and oddly charming; I couldn’t quite make sense of it, but enjoyed the journey. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 6).

The Wind at My Back: Resilience, Grace, and Other Gifts from My Mentor, Raven Wilkinson, Misty Copeland
I enjoyed Copeland’s first memoir, Life in Motion, and have the greatest admiration for her work. This book pays tribute to Raven Wilkinson, a trailblazing Black ballerina who mentored Copeland for several years. Copeland charts her own growth and struggles alongside stories of Raven’s career, and calls out the enduring racism in the ballet world. Thoughtful, vivid and warm. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 15).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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Hello, friends. It has been hot here in Boston (though I hear some relief might be on the horizon), and my workplace is still operating on a hybrid model. I like the flexibility of having a work-from-home day each week, but I can’t spend all day in my studio apartment without going a bit mad – especially when the temps are in the 90s. So I’ve been heading to (where else?) the local library on Tuesday afternoons to work.

I love the Eastie branch library: it’s airy, open and welcoming, with a cadre of friendly librarians whose faces I know now. It has air-conditioning, free wi-fi, and (of course) lots of books nearby. I bring my laptop and settle in at one of the tables, getting up occasionally to stretch or refill my water bottle. The people-watching, when I need a break from work emails, is always excellent: Eastie is truly multicultural, and the folks who use the library are multigenerational, too. There are worker bees with laptops, like me; folks who come in to use the public computers and printers; children coming in and out for summer reading programs; and lots of teenagers, who drift in and out during the afternoon.

I love both the idea and the reality of third places – those locales, neither work/school nor home, that bring people together and foster connection, as well as serving other purposes. My beloved Darwin’s in Cambridge was my third place for a long time; ZUMIX, my workplace, is a vital third place for the young people we serve. I love watching and participating in the library as a third place, too, and seeing my community thrive here.

Yes, it gets a little loud sometimes – but the presence of other people is often the whole point. I’m grateful the library is just a short bike ride away.

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We are (nearly) through a very cold January, and post-omicron, here’s what I have been reading:

Kisses and Croissants, Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau
Mia is convinced it’s her destiny to be a ballerina – especially since family legend has it her ancestor was painted by Degas. A summer program in Paris teaches her a few things about dedication, friendship, the stories we tell ourselves – and romance with a cute French boy. Fluffy and sweet – perfect isolation reading.

Our Wild Farming Life: Adventures on a Scottish Highland Croft, Lynn Cassells and Sandra Baer
I loved this memoir of two women who fell in love with a big piece of land in rural Scotland, and are pursuing their dream of a small-scale sustainable farm. A bit too much technical detail in the middle, but mostly a warm, fascinating account of the life they’ve built. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 10).

Taste: My Life Through Food, Stanley Tucci
I love Tucci’s film work (who doesn’t?) and was keen to read this memoir after hearing Anne and others recommend it. (I kept picturing him as Paul Child from Julie & Julia.) He’s definitely more of a storyteller than a writer, but this is an engaging account of his encounters with food throughout his life (plus recipes).

Blanche on the Lam, Barbara Neely
Domestic worker Blanche White goes to court for bad checks (not her fault!) – and ends up hiding out in the country, working as a maid for a wealthy family with secrets. I’d read the sequel to this one, but it was fun to read Blanche’s first adventure. Sharp and sobering.

The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts, Annie Darling
Posy Morland isn’t great at adulting, though she manages to care for herself and her teenage brother Sam. But when Posy inherits the bookshop where she works and decides to turn it into a romance bookshop, she’s faced with all sorts of new challenges. A fun, fluffy British story – I’d read one of the sequels, so I knew the characters. I found Posy rather irritating, but this was good bedtime reading.

Strange Birds: A Guide to Ruffling Feathers, Celia C. Perez
I loved Perez’s debut so much that I picked this, her second novel, up at the library. Ofelia, Cat, Aster and Lane are four oddballs who form a secret club/Scout troop one summer in their small Florida town. A funny, thoughtful story of friendship and standing up for what you believe in. I love seeing more multiracial casts of characters in middle-grade novels.

The Joy of Small Things, Hannah Jane Parkinson
I picked up this essay collection at the wonderful Three Lives in NYC. Parkinson writes a column for The Guardian on small delights, and many of those columns are collected here. Perfect January cheer.

The Reading List, Sara Nisha Adams
Mukesh is a lonely widower living in west London. Aleisha is a teenager reluctantly spending her summer working at the local library. Through a handwritten reading list, the two (and a handful of other characters) form unexpected connections. This was so lovely – both joyful and sad, lots of depth, and wonderful characters. I loved Mukesh’s relationships with his daughters and granddaughter.

Room to Dream, Kelly Yang
Mia Tang is going back to China to visit family and she can’t wait! But once she’s there, she realizes how much has changed – in the country and in herself – since she immigrated to the U.S. Back home, she’s facing challenges at school and with her parents’ motel. I loved this spunky third installment in Yang’s series, and I especially loved watching Mia grow as a writer and a person.

Majesty, Katharine McGee
Beatrice Washington is America’s first (young!) queen after the death of her father. As she tries to figure out how to rule, she’s also planning a wedding – and relationships are getting complicated for her sister Sam and their friends, too. A deliciously scandalous sequel to American Royals, with some real insight on confidence and what it means to truly love someone.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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Here we are at the end of this strange, long year. I may have more to say about 2021 soon, but for now, I wish you a gentle transition into 2022. Here’s what I have been reading:

25 Days ‘Til Christmas, Poppy Alexander
This was an impulse buy at the Trident in 2019, and I loved it just as much this time. Widowed mum Kate is barely making ends meet with her job selling Christmas trees, while Daniel is struggling after the death of his sister. They meet, become friends (and maybe something more) and help each other figure out how to move forward. Sweet, witty and heartwarming.

Swimming with Seals, Victoria Whitworth
I found this at the Booksmith a while back and have been reading it sloooowly over breakfast. Whitworth is an archaeologist and cold-weather swimmer who chronicles her swims on Orkney, along with musings on the island’s ancient cultures, her relationship with her mother, and humankind’s relationship to the sea. It dragged a bit at times but the writing is lovely – so many good sentences.

Peach Blossom Spring, Melissa Fu
As the Japanese army advances through China, a young woman named Meilin flees with her son, Renshu, and their family. This absorbing novel tells their family’s story: Meilin’s constant efforts to keep Renshu safe and happy; his eventual emigration to the U.S.; and the life he builds there as a scientist and a father. Thoughtful and vividly described; a haunting tribute to immigrant families and being caught between worlds. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 15).

All I Want for Christmas, Wendy Loggia
Bailey Briggs, Christmas fanatic, can’t wait for the holiday – but she wants to kiss someone under the mistletoe. This YA rom-com features plenty of cheer, though the plot is a little thin. Still fun – Bailey works in a bookstore, and her friends and family are sweet. Found at the charming Book Shop of Beverly Farms and saved for this season.

Marvelous Manhattan, Reggie Nadelson
I picked up this collection at the wonderful Three Lives (my favorite NYC bookstore, which is featured!) in August, and have been sloooowly reading it since. Nadelson gives an insider’s tour, peppered with history (some of it personal), cultural commentary and yummy food descriptions. I want to try a lot of these places. Mouthwatering and enjoyable.

The Body in the Garden, Katharine Schellman
English widow Lily Adler is trying to figure out what to do with herself after her husband’s death – and stumbles (literally) on a dead body. I enjoyed this first outing in Lily’s adventures; the Regency London details are fun and I like Lily herself and the other characters. (I read the sequel, Silence in the Library, earlier this fall.)

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily, Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
It’s 12 days before Christmas and Lily’s holiday spirit has all but disappeared – so Dash hatches a scheme with Lily’s brother, Langston, to bring back the cheer. I loved this sequel to Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares – sweet, funny, full of NYC Christmas magic, and a sensitive exploration of how the holidays can be tough when you’re struggling, for whatever reason.

The Bookshop of Dust and Dreams, Mindy Thompson
Poppy Fulbright adores her family’s magical bookshop, Rhyme and Reason – she feels safe there. But strange things start happening when her brother’s best friend is killed in the war and her father falls ill. A bookish middle-grade fantasy novel with an engaging protagonist.

Intimations, Zadie Smith
I heard about Smith’s pandemic essay collection a while ago, but I wasn’t ready for it then. But I picked it up at the delightful Crow Bookshop in Vermont this week and read the essays in one sitting. I think she does tiny details – tulips in a New York City garden, the small encounters in “Screengrabs” – better than high philosophy. But she also writes well about love and work and isolation.

The Last Chance LibraryFreya Sampson
Shy librarian June Jones has rarely left her home village or tried anything new – especially since her mother’s death, eight years ago. But when June’s beloved library is threatened with closure, June joins a ragtag group of protesters fighting to keep it open. An engaging British story about a woman finding her own voice and (of course) the power of libraries. Found, fittingly, at the BPL.

These Precious Days, Ann Patchett
Patchett needs no introduction from me. I picked up her new essay collection at my beloved Three Lives in NYC. These warm, wise, tender essays explore friendship, marriage, dogs, her relationship with her father (and father figures), her love of literature and so much more. A perfect book to end the year.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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Somehow, we’ve reached the end of August. I’ve been writing lots of haiku, running, riding bikes with my guy, and trying to figure out what the fall will look like. And reading, of course. Here’s the latest roundup. (Photo of my current library stack.)

The Lions of Fifth Avenue, Fiona Davis
I adore the stone lions outside the New York Public Library – Patience and Fortitude. Davis’ fifth novel links two women who have strong ties to the library (and each other), 80 years apart. I found both women compelling (and frustratingly naive, at times), and the mystery of several book thefts was clever and well done.

Riviera Gold, Laurie R. King
Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell find themselves in Monaco, not quite by accident, after the departure of their longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson. Mary falls in with a group of expats and starts unraveling a mystery involving smuggling, White Russians, a bronze sculptor and (possibly) Mrs. Hudson herself. I love this series and this was a great new installment.

The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War, Delphine Minoui
For four years, the Syrian town of Daraya endured constant siege from Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Minoui, a French journalist living in Istanbul, heard about a secret library in Daraya and tracked down the founders: young men who believed in the power of reading and the potential for peace. This book traces their story and the multiple challenges the citizens of Daraya faced. Heartbreaking, and important. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 3).

Mornings with Rosemary, Libby Page
I read this book when it was published (as The Lido) in 2018, thanks to a colleague’s review at Shelf Awareness. It’s the story of a community pool in Brixton, London, and two women who spearhead a campaign to save it from developers: Kate, a lonely young journalist, and Rosemary, age 86, who has been swimming at the lido all her life. I snagged a remainder copy at the Booksmith recently and loved rediscovering the characters – and the writing is so good.

An Irish Country Welcome, Patrick Taylor
I love Taylor’s warm, engaging series about a group of doctors in rural 1960s Ulster. In this visit to Ballybucklebo, Barry Laverty and his wife Sue are expecting their first child, while sectarian violence is rising nearby. A pleasant visit with familiar characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 6).

Clap When You Land, Elizabeth Acevedo
I’ve loved Acevedo’s two previous YA novels, and this novel-in-verse is powerful. Two teenage girls – Camino in the Dominican Republic and Yahaira in New York City – discover they share a father only after he dies in a plane crash. They each struggle to come to terms with his death, the secrets it revealed, and their new relationship. Heartbreaking, sometimes wryly funny, and so good.

500 Miles from You, Jenny Colgan
After witnessing a violent death, nurse-practitioner Lissa is sent to rural Scotland on an exchange program, to help her recover. Cormac, who takes her place in London, is completely overwhelmed by his new surroundings. I loved watching the two of them fall for each other via email and text, and I enjoyed going back to Kirrinfief (this is Colgan’s third book set there). Warmhearted and fun.

Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, Ursula K. LeGuin
In 10 no-nonsense chapters, LeGuin lays out some of the basics of writing: sentences, sound, narrative voice, point of view. Packed with exercises and examples, but my favorite part is LeGuin’s wry, wise voice. Found at Trident.

Tunnel Vision, Sara Paretsky 
Just as V.I. Warshawski’s office building is condemned, she meets a homeless woman who may be hiding out there – and then another woman is murdered in V.I.’s office. Vic’s eighth adventure pits her, as usual, against corrupt local bigwigs while she’s fighting tooth and nail for justice. All her usual helpers – snarky journalist Murray, Viennese doctor Lotty, and her elderly neighbor, Mr. Contreras – show up, too. Grim at times, but so good.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident, Frugal Bookstore and Brookline Booksmith.

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Happy Tuesday, friends. Here we are in week 11 of this strange restricted life, and the world is turning toward summer. I ran this morning by the water, through haze and humidity and (eventual) bright sunshine. The beach roses are blowing and the purple iris are budding, and I’m wearing my favorite denim shorts and growing herb seedlings in my kitchen window (until I can get some soil to pot them).

We are deep into whatever kind of “now normal” we are all creating for ourselves, and while there’s beauty and joy in that, today I wanted to acknowledge: I miss how it used to be.

Here in Massachusetts, we’re moving slowly into a phased reopening, but masks and social distancing and other restrictions will be part of our lives for a long while. There are some parts of “normal” we simply won’t get back, at least not for the foreseeable future. And that hurts. So, in no particular order, here is a list of things I miss:

  • Hugging my friends.
  • Browsing my favorite bookstores.
  • The library, especially the central BPL branch near my office.
  • Hanging out at coffee shops.
  • Making travel plans, which are all obviously on hold at the moment.
  • Running to the grocery store to grab “just one thing.”
  • Walking outside without a mask.
  • My family in Texas (the Zoom calls are fun, but not the same).
  • Going to friends’ houses for dinner or just to hang out.
  • By the same token: having people over to my house.
  • My colleagues, and the musical chitchat that passes for water-cooler talk at Berklee.
  • Sitting in on workshops and talking to our students.
  • The buzz of commencement season in Boston and Cambridge.
  • Going to yoga classes in a real studio.
  • Going to book events at a bookstore.
  • Walking to Downeast with my guy on a Saturday night to sample ciders and talk to the folks behind the counter.
  • Planning for summer festivals and concerts.
  • Going to the hair salon (they’re starting to reopen, but I’m going to wait a while).
  • My florist.
  • Waking up without the constant low-level (or higher-level) pandemic anxiety.

What do you miss?

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plot thickens boston public library steps

The second half of June has flown by – life is a bit scattered but the books are helping keep me sane. (As is my library – pictured above.) Here’s the latest roundup:

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir, Ruth Reichl
Reichl, a longtime food critic, became the editor of Gourmet magazine in 1998. This memoir is the inside-baseball story of her years there, Gourmet’s evolution, some of its most famous stories (and personalities), and its eventual end. I like Reichl’s writing, but I want to love her and I don’t quite. I can’t figure out why. Still an entertaining, well-written story for foodies.

The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good, Elizabeth L. Cline
I loved Cline’s first book, Overdressed – a hard look at the fast-fashion culture and what it’s costing us. Her second book lays out methods for clearing out our closets and then shopping consciously: buying less, recycling or donating old clothes responsibly, and buying better-quality clothing made by brands that pay fair wages and treat the earth with care. Lots of common sense, but it’s great to have all this info in one place. Several fascinating Q&As with fashion industry pros. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 20).

The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery
I’d only read this little-known Montgomery novel once, and then Jenny co-hosted a read-along on Instagram. I was way too late to join, but loved my second read of Valancy’s story. She’s a delight, and I loved watching her step into exactly the life she wanted.

Today We Go Home, Kelli Estes
When Larkin Bennett comes back home after a tour of duty in Afghanistan, she’s grieving the death of her best friend Sarah and struggling with PTSD. Among Sarah’s possessions, Larkin finds a diary written by Emily Wilson, an ancestor of Sarah’s who lived and fought as a man during the Civil War. Estes’ second novel is a solid dual-narrative story of several strong women, a century and a half apart, fighting to be taken seriously on and off the battlefield. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 3).

The Library of Lost and Found, Phaedra Patrick
Martha Storm, volunteer librarian, spends her time offering to do tasks for other people so she can feel useful. But when she reconnects with her grandmother Zelda–after believing Zelda died 30 years ago–Martha starts rethinking some of her life choices and possibilities. A sweet, engaging, bookish story, though I had trouble believing Martha was quite that naive.

The Scent Keeper, Erica Bauermeister
Emmeline spends her childhood on a remote island with her father in the Pacific Northwest. He keeps drawers full of scents in glass bottles, and they forage for food. But as a teenager, Emmeline is forced into the outside world, where she finds friends but also betrayal. I’ve loved Bauermeister’s previous novels, and this one – despite a slow start – is engaging and lovely. I don’t think the plot is quite as strong as her others, but I loved the characters and the musings on scent and memory.

The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You, Dina Nayeri
Most of us see “the refugee crisis” in the headlines but don’t have a sense of what these individual human experiences are like. Nayeri, a former refugee from Iran, delves into her own experience and that of many others: living in camps, awaiting asylum hearings, living underground (in various countries) after being rejected. She’s blistering in some of her critiques, strikingly human in her storytelling. Compassionate, prickly and compelling. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 3).

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

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wife maid mistress book soup bread
So many good books this month (including the one above). Here’s what I have been reading:

Crossing to Safety
, Wallace Stegner
I’d heard about this lovely, quiet novel from Anne and others, and am so glad I finally picked it up. It traces the friendship of two couples, the Morgans and the Langs, over several decades. So many subtle, thought-provoking insights on marriage, friendship, work and love. Beautifully written. I’ll be rereading it.

Superfluous Women, Carola Dunn
While convalescing in a country town, Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher reconnects with an old friend – and, of course, gets mixed up in a murder investigation. A quiet but thoughtful look at the issue of “superfluous” (i.e. unmarried) women in England after World War I, and a rather surprising solution to the mystery. (I love Daisy.)

Emerald Green, Kerstin Gier
Gwyneth Shepherd has discovered her destiny as a time-traveler, and met a handsome boy (her partner in crime). But things are getting desperate: they must plot to save themselves and their loved ones from the evil Count Saint-Germain. Fast-paced, funny and romantic; a great finish to this time-travel trilogy. (The magic and world-building are still a little confusing, but the story is so much fun.) A reread.

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress, Ariel Lawhon
I blew through Lawhon’s second novel, Flight of Dreams (out Feb. 23), then picked up this one (her debut). The premise: Judge Joseph Crater disappears in New York City in 1930, and the three titular women each have damaging information about the case. Lawhon skillfully moves back and forth in time, with razor-sharp banter and stylish, telling details. A gripping mystery.

Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, D.E. Ireland
Eliza Doolittle (yes, that Eliza Doolittle) is working as a language teacher and still sparring with Professor Henry Higgins, when her employer (one of Higgins’ rivals) is found dead. Higgins himself is the prime suspect, so Eliza sets out to clear his name. A fun mystery featuring the beloved characters from My Fair Lady.

I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett
Tiffany Aching is officially the witch of the Chalk, which means she does all the unglamorous work no one else will do (with help from her friends, the miniature warriors known as the Nac Mac Feegle). But when a malevolent spirit starts spreading anti-witch feeling, Tiffany must face it down once and for all. The plot dragged in places, but I love Tiffany and the Feegles. (Crivens!)

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts, Joshua Hammer
I heard about this nonfiction adventure story on All the Books and was instantly intrigued. (What a title!) It follows Abdel Kader Haidara, a librarian who amassed an astounding collection of ancient Islamic manuscripts in his home country of Mali. As the manuscripts’ safety was threatened by Al Qaeda, Haidara and his colleagues staged a daring rescue operation. The details of military campaigns dragged at times, but I was fascinated by Haidara’s work. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 19).

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, Katarina Bivald
When shy, bookish Sara travels from Sweden to Broken Wheel, Iowa, to meet her pen pal, Amy, she discovers that Amy has died. But Amy’s friends are determined to take care of Sara – and even to do a little matchmaking. Sara opens a bookstore, and both her presence and the store inspire changes in the lives of various townspeople. Fun premise, lots of book-nerd catnip, but all the characters felt like vague outlines to me.

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

What are you reading?

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chai journal pencil case darwins

For one reason and another, I have spent a lot of time working in libraries and coffee shops over the last few months. (If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen my copious photos of the chai lattes at Darwin’s.)

I love both settings, for different moods and often different kinds of work. But it occurred to me recently that both places offer a way to strike a balance between privacy and being in public.

farnsworth reading room lamont library harvard

In a library, it is of course generally expected that you won’t – or don’t have to – talk to anyone. Though many libraries now offer group study spaces, you can also settle in quite comfortably with your laptop at a table or in a deep armchair.

I spent an hour in Lamont Library (at Harvard) one recent afternoon with about fifteen other people – all of us tucked up in different corners of the Farnsworth Room, typing contentedly away at our computers or scribbling in notebooks. We weren’t oblivious of each other’s presence, but we didn’t have to acknowledge it, either.

The collective presence in the room formed a kind of reassuring cushion for me. Introvert that I am, I still like to know that there are other people out there in the world (or right next to me), working on their own projects, doing their thing. I like knowing I’m part of that collective, without having to talk to anyone.

darwins cafe cup

In a coffee shop, the boundaries are more porous. There’s food and drink, for one thing, and generally also music. (The music at Darwin’s ranges delightfully and eclectically from classic rock to indie folk to the occasional country song.) I’ve learned the names of a couple of baristas, and I know most of the other ones by sight – and I’m sure I surprise no one, any more, when I order a medium chai latte.

At Darwin’s, you still don’t have to talk to anyone – but the general volume is a little louder, the vibe chummier. People do sometimes ask if they can share tables, borrow a chair, or make use of a power strip or outlet. I know a few of the other regulars by sight, and occasionally I bump into a friend or colleague. I listen with pleasure to the baristas’ banter as they sling drinks behind the counter or bring new supplies up from the basement. (It reminds me of my days as a barista at the Ground Floor, long ago.)

Here, too, the background noise forms a sort of comforting baseline: the small noises of footsteps and chatter, the whirr and hum of the espresso machine, blend into a pleasing buzz. I can (usually) detach my brain from following individual noises, letting it rest in the general hum, as I jot down notes (or a to-do list) or type away on my computer. Around me, there’s usually a mix of fellow workers on their laptops, elderly men perusing the newspaper, the guy who brings in his pastels to sketch, and chattering pairs of friends.

I love my solitude, however I can get it: a solo lunch in Harvard Yard, a quiet evening at home alone, even disappearing into a book on a crowded subway train. But I also love this contradictory mix of privacy in public. I like being part of the rhythm of a place, even if – sometimes especially if – my thoughts and words can remain all my own.

Do you like hanging in out libraries and coffee shops?

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harvard yard memorial church view

One of the perks of working at a university: life slows down a little in the summer.

Of course, there are still students around: taking courses, working in the research labs, flying in for brief seminars or leadership programs. The number of high school students goes way up after Commencement, and the tour groups are out in full force.

But some pockets of campus, like the libraries, are quieter than usual. And lately, I’ve been spending some time over at Lamont Library.

donatelli reading room lamont library harvard

Lamont is one of the undergraduate libraries, located off the southeast corner of Harvard Yard, still on the main campus but off the most-trafficked paths. It’s smaller than Widener, the university’s main library, and it feels friendlier, less grand and imposing.

While Widener is composed mostly of dimly lit stacks (which stretch several stories underground), Lamont has a nice mix of shelves and reading rooms. It has lots of windows and more than a few quiet spaces where you can curl up in an armchair (or spread out at a desk) and spend a while working, reading or studying. (I’ve also seen a few students napping in the comfy chairs.)

farnsworth reading room lamont library harvard

I always stop to peruse the New Books shelf near the front desk on my way out, and sometimes I pop downstairs to the media stacks to check out a DVD. But Lamont is also simply a good place to perch for a few hours.

The air-conditioning hums quietly, the summer sun slants in through the windows, and the books, with their colorful spines, make a welcoming background for my work. And the views – especially from the third floor facing north – are quite lovely.

memorial church memorial hall harvard university

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