Category Archives: Books

Refuge at the Boston Public Library

August is one of my least favorite months every year. The heat gets very tiresome by now; the humidity takes all the wind out of my sails.  We had that fabulous cool June, and then Peter and I  were fortunate to be in Maine during the worst heat waves in July, although even Maine was hotter than I would have liked some of the time. Now August is being difficult, and I just want summer to be over and crispness to return to the air. I want the freedom to move around outside and live my life without being dominated by the oppressive weather.

Boston Public Library_McKim Building

Today I decided to escape to the library in Copley Square. We have only two air conditioned rooms at home, and I get tired of being cooped up in there; I realized I could take advantage of the library’s air conditioning and spend the day there instead. Shortly after a small breakfast, I took the air conditioned bus to Copley Square and went right into the library, where it was cool and quiet still in the morning.  First stop was the café, for second breakfast, a cup of iced tea and a cheese Danish (Friday treat).  While sipping the tea very slowly, I read my current library book, Diana Athill’s Alive, Alive Oh!, reflections of a 97-year-old English writer on what seems important as she looks back on her life–my kind of book.  I looked through the Globe on my phone, wrote an email to a former colleague who is still working while I’m blissfully retired, and looked at photos on the 365 Project, which I’ve recently started, all while luxuriating in having the whole day ahead of me to spend in the library in whatever way I wished–a play day!
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The Memoir Project Celebration in Boston

Streets of EchoesFor ten years the City of Boston and the writing center Grub Street have collaborated on The Memoir Project, offering eight-week writing workshops to seniors in all neighborhoods of Boston and then publishing anthologies of their short memoir pieces. Ever since I heard about the project several years ago, I have been proud of Boston’s involvement in such a worthwhile endeavor and the support of our late, beloved Mayor Thomas Menino. I treasure my copies of all the volumes and have read every essay with keen interest and enjoyment and attended some of the public readings.

On Wednesday evening May 11 there was a celebration of the release of the fifth and final volume,  Streets of Echoes: Stories from Boston’s  Most Enduring Neighborhoods, Back Bay-Fenway, Beacon Hill-West End, and Dorchester. It was a beautiful spring late afternoon, and I walked over the bridge to the Seaport District, stopping to have tea at a table on Fan Pier looking back at the downtown skyline. The event was held at the new District Hall, in the midst of all the intense construction in the Seaport.

Downtown from Fan Pier

Michelle Seaton, who taught writing workshops in all the neighborhoods, told us the senior participants generally start out saying nothing important ever happened to them, so they don’t know what they’ll have to write about. By the end of the eight weeks, their notebooks are brimming with stories and they don’t know how they’ll fit them all in.  Each person is then assigned to a writing coach to help them hone their selected story for the publication. Some of the seniors have had previous writing experience, and others are quite new to writing. Continue reading

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The Florist’s Daughter

I just read Patricia Hampl’s The Florist’s Daughter, and I’m in awe of her prose and her ability to evoke the world of St. Paul in the 1950s and 60s and make an enthralling story out of the lives of “ordinary” people.  This book was such an extraordinary pleasure to read, I looked forward to each time I got to open its covers and re-enter its world.

In  this most recent of a series of memoirs, Patricia Hampl focuses on her parents, middle class people  (having risen slightly from their origins) living in the middle of the country in the middle of the 20th century, who believed the middle was the best place to be.  St. Paul was their world–“Why go to Minneapolis?” her father would say.  As her mother lies dying, Hampl looks back over her parents’ lives and her own.  “Look, look!” her very visual, man-of-few-words florist father often exhorted, while her mother, a college library file clerk, loved reading, story telling, and the written word more than anything.  Quite the set of parents for a writer!

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A cup of tea

tea in cupRecently I re-read Barbara Pym’s novel A Glass of Blessings for about the third time.  All of her novels can be read again and again for the pleasure of her prose and the precision and humor of her observations–and, of course, their delicious Englishness. I’m sure I’ll be reading them all my life; I find them cheering in good times and comforting in bad. I feel at home in her milieu of Anglican clergymen and middle-aged excellent women.

One of my favorite Pym lines occurs in A Glass of Blessings, spoken by Father Ransome at  a church gathering in the parish hall:  “Life has to go on, and I suppose a cup of tea does make it seem to be doing so more than anything else.”

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