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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Revere’

boston-skyline-boats

I wasn’t very familiar with Boston when I moved here. I had visited once, as a college student, and I knew it had played a key role in the American Revolution and that Bostonians harbored a bizarre passion for the Red Sox. (See below.)

ducklings beards red sox public garden boston

Naturally, I began reading everything I could get my hands on about the city, the area and its (rich, layered, deeply convoluted) history. And I have found some truly wonderful books about this gorgeous, frustrating, complicated place.

Here are my top picks:

Fiction

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay
Kalotay’s gorgeously written first novel explores the career of Nina Revskaya, a former Soviet ballerina who chooses to sell off her jewelry collection. Both Nina and her jewelry harbor a number of secrets, and Kalotay unravels them in luminous prose. Set partly in Boston’s Back Bay, it was one of the first Boston novels I read after moving here, and it evokes the neighborhood perfectly. (Kalotay’s second novel, Sight Reading, is also partly set here.)

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
Howe’s novel is a delicious blend of history, ghost story and self-discovery. Graduate student Connie spends the summer in her grandmother’s house in Salem (north of Boston, site of the notorious witch trials). The plan is to get it ready to sell, but Connie discovers a trove of family history that grabs her and won’t let go. Slightly creepy (perfect for October, when I read it) and so compelling. Howe’s second novel, The House of Velvet and Glass, is also set in Boston.

The Secret of Sarah Revere by Ann Rinaldi
I found this (rather obscure) YA novel at a library book sale not long after moving here. It gave me a window into a critical piece of the American Revolution through the eyes of Sarah Revere, daughter of Paul, and was one catalyst for my Boston book obsession.

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Brooks writes sweeping, richly detailed historical fiction, and this novel (inspired by a true story) follows a young Native American man who attended Harvard in the 17th century. It tells of a very different Boston and Cambridge than the one I know, but the new has its roots in the old, of course, and this is a glimpse of a fascinating slice of history.

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams
I love Williams’ deliciously scandalous novels about the Schuyler family, and this one has some gorgeously rendered scenes in Boston and also on Cape Cod. (I also adore Christina, the narrator.) A book to sink into (and then you’ll want to read all Williams’ other books).

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Nonfiction

Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick
No one does New England history like Philbrick (he wrote Mayflower, In the Heart of the Sea and Away Off Shore, among others). Bunker Hill tells the story of the famous battle, in the context of the colonies’ desperate struggle for freedom. John Adams and his family are key players in this story, and I live just a few miles from their houses, so I found it particularly fascinating. Well-researched and highly readable. (Bonus: this is the book that started my first conversation with my librarian friend Shelley – on an airplane a few years ago!)

Hammer Head by Nina MacLaughlin
This memoir was my favorite book of 2015 – a gorgeously written, pithy, fascinating account of a woman who becomes a carpenter’s apprentice. MacLaughlin lives and works in Boston, and she vividly describes streets and neighborhoods that I know. An insightful window into the culture of this place, plus a wonderful meditation on how to build a good life.

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, ed. Joan Reardon
These letters cover so many topics: food, marriage, the Foreign Service, Paris (of course) and various other exotic locales. But they are full of Boston, where Avis lived and Julia eventually moved. Sharp-eyed, often funny and utterly fascinating.

And, of course, no Boston book list is complete without Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. I have a deep love for those ducklings – in book and statue form – and every spring I delight in watching their real-life counterparts quack and swim their way around the Public Garden.

ducklings mama duck public garden boston

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

What are your favorite books set in Boston? I’m always looking for new gems to add to the list.

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I get a lot of questions from blog readers, real-life friends and some people who fit into both categories about “must-sees” in the Boston area. These questions ramp up in the summer, when the travel urge hits America and the tourists descend in hordes.

I love playing tour guide (real or virtual). So I’ve put together a few mini-tour posts to answer your questions. (Bonus: I can point people to these posts when they ask similar questions.)

First up: History! As we all know, Boston is teeming with it. (The series will also cover charming neighborhoods, food, gardens, college campuses and whatever else I decide you can’t miss.)

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My favorite thing about Boston’s history? It’s woven into everything else.

For example: you can spend an afternoon lounging on Boston Common and then tour the beautiful Massachusetts State House, above. (It’s free, though only open on weekdays from 9 to 5, and you can take an interesting guided tour or wander around on your own.)

You can also go for ice cream downtown (or in Harvard Square) and pop into a lovely old church or cemetery. You can tour Paul Revere’s house in the North End and walk down the street for an Italian dinner. You are always walking through – sometimes walking on – history.

The Freedom Trail links together many historical spots downtown, beginning on the Common and going all the way to the U.S.S. Constitution and Bunker Hill in Charlestown. I have a deep love for the Common itself (about which I have written many times). It is Boston’s (smaller) answer to Central Park, green and open, a hangout for all segments of Boston society. It’s also the home of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument and the Shaw Memorial (featuring the regiment from the film Glory).

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Just past the Common, behind the Park Street Church, is the Granary Burying Ground, where John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and Crispus Attucks (among others) are buried. (That’s my mom, above, perusing some of the epitaphs.) You can wander at will, or take a tour starting on the Common.

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Down the street is King’s Chapel, a lovely old Royalist church. That is an interior shot above; there are lots of helpful signs around the sanctuary. (As you walk down Tremont St. toward King’s Chapel, pause before you reach the Omni Parker Hotel and look up: you can see the spire of the Old North Church. The view is protected by city ordinance. I love that.)

paul revere house street view

There are many more stops along the Freedom Trail, varying in size and admission fees, but my other favorites are over in the North End: Paul Revere’s house (above) and the Old North Church.

The Revere House is smallish, and it gets crowded during the summer, but I love seeing where and how the Revere family lived, as well as seeing Revere’s handiwork on display (he was quite the silversmith). And it costs $3.50 per person: a bargain.

The Old North Church, where they hung the signal lanterns (“one if by land, two if by sea”) is similar in style to King’s Chapel, but larger, and quite lovely. (All the cemeteries along the Freedom Trail are free; the churches are all “suggested donation.”)

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At the other end of the Freedom Trail, the U.S.S. Constitution (above), alias “Old Ironsides,” sits anchored in the Charlestown Navy Yard. She is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat, and manned by active duty members of the U.S. Navy. They give free and informative tours every day except Monday. You can walk there over a bridge (it’s about a mile from the Old North Church), or you can take the ferry from Long Wharf to save your tired feet.

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And finally, in Quincy (where I live), you can tour three houses connected with the John Adams/John Quincy Adams family. The tour center is directly across from a subway station (on the Red Line); the tour costs $5 and includes a trolley ride. The two original Adams birthplaces stand 75 feet apart from one another, and then you board the trolley again to tour Peacefield, the family “mansion” pictured above. (It features a detached library lined with ancient, beautiful books – obviously my favorite part.)

This is just a taste of Boston’s history – but if you’re visiting for a few days, these are my can’t-miss places. Stay tuned for more mini-tours, and feel free to ask questions in the comments!

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